Sotheby’s Contemporary Day sale in London on 27 June will feature two works by celebrated artist Hurvin Anderson, nominee for the 2017 Turner Prize.
Born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents, Anderson’s work often explores a multiplicity of place, a feeling of being caught between one place and another, and references the Carribbean, ‘that other place’, as he often calls it.
Whilst I was in Trinidad, there was this moment where you felt part of it, not part of it. I was this interloper, coming through the veldt, a bit of a spy, but I was found out.
In many cases images are doubled, with London greys finding their way into scenes of Carribbean colour, while obstructions – scenes observed through fences, latticework grilles, chicken wire, or palm trees — are a recurrent theme. These ideas of doubling and restriction, with the viewer of the painting at odds with a restrictive barrier to the image, begin to convey a politicisation of space and culture.
The first of the works in the sale, Ball Watching, is based on a photograph taken of Anderson and some of his friends playing football in a park. The ball has just been kicked into a pond, and the players stand on the shore, trying to work out how to recover it. However, as is so often the case with Anderson’s work, this image is repurposed and takes on a series of ulterior meanings when transposed into painting. In the artist’s words, “It was odd because it brought up so many other things for me. Like the idea of everyone waiting on the edge of the water. It looked like they were waiting for something, or waiting for something to happen. They also seemed to be going somewhere. Or wanting to be somewhere else… there was the question of space and territory.” The water figures as a barrier to entry, an obstacle to progress, and the uncertainty of the subjects as to how to proceed serves as a metaphor for the liminal status of Afro-Carribean immigrants to the United Kingdom, where structural inequalities have for years meant that non-white citizens have many more hurdles to clear.
When you’re making the painting, you feel as though you’re not supposed to be setting this thing in front of it […] If that’s how it feels making the painting, how does it feel living somewhere surrounded by these grilles? It’s a form of oppression.
As Anderson explained, “it is a political discussion. To get to the place where we played football, we had to cross mainline railway tracks and climb over a fence… for some odd reason it never seemed like I had enough time to cross…[this] brought up ideas associated with crossing the tracks” (Ibid.). This phrase, “to cross the tracks”, which implies a movement from good to bad, rich to poor, one community to another, and the fact that he had to do this in order to reach the field provided for Anderson a powerful crutch to illustrate a pervasive feeling. Just as the literal construction of barriers in the form of window grilles epitomised his feeling of dislocation upon visiting Trinidad in the early 2000s, as he immortalised in the Welcome series, the stranded figures on the shore, looking forlornly at a football floating out of reach, reflect the sense of transgression and opposition that many share following their immigration into a new country.
The second of Anderson’s works, Untitled, presages many of the conceptual concerns regarding black identity in the United Kingdom and the status of the post-colonial Caribbean that have led to Anderson becoming one of the most celebrated British painters of his generation. The artist has said that the Cuban flags in the upper register are in homage to the Black Star Line, Marcus’s Garvey’s all-black shipping corporation, which transported goods and people between Central America, the United States and the African continent. Anderson’s reference to the Black Star Line in the present work is hugely significant. Garvey’s corporation served as an attempt to give autonomy and heritage back to an institutionally marginalised and de-historicised group, and for Anderson, a man whose parents were members of the Windrush generation, the lingering rhetorical power of this attempt must have been extremely powerful. Untitled shows itself to be a work of immense quality that foreshadows many of the qualities that have brought Hurvin Anderson to international acclaim.
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