Saturday, 27 December 2008

Sweet Toof & Martin Lea Brown Shows

Martin Lea Brown: Fools Gold
Upstairs, Sartorial Art, Kings Cross,

Sweet Toof
Downstairs, Sartorial Art,

Both Dec 19-20 2008, Jan 13 – Feb 4 2009

All photos: NoLionsInEngland

Imagine a line between the mean streets of Kings Cross and the regency drawing rooms of Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury, and somewhere along that line physically and spiritually you will find both the Martin Lea Brown show and the raffish rogues populating his paintings.

Two shows, three identities – that’s the Martin Lea Brown show upstairs at Sartorial Art, Sweet Toof showing downstairs and of course, a mere 2 months ago Sweet Toof was a significant part of the Burning Candy crew show at the same venue.

What separates the two rooms is readily identifiable, it’s those teef and gums ever present for Sweet Toof and missing in action for MLB. A hell of a lot unites the two rooms, stylistically and even thematically so you can see a sort of logic in putting these two artists on in parallel.

Martin Lea Brown

Martin Lea Brown: Fools Gold

Every MLB picture in this show is constructed around the tension of a crime prosecuted, the aftermath of a villainous episode or a violent moment captured. Crimes involving bank heists, hostage taking, GBH and extortion are captured in very dynamic freizes. Virtually every picture involves a gun and a perpetrator and some form of disguise.

Cry Wolf

The crims’ disguises range from simple clown’s face paint to animal masks, skull masks and outlandish wigs. Crooks in the MLB world come stylishly dressed in various ensembles including patent black brogues, jackets, white blouses and heavy trench coats. They carry out their nefarious deeds with a stylish panache which calls to mind the Ex-Presidents of Point Break

Sharp Exit (detail)

The subject matter reaches as far as double-crossing and murderous crim-on-crim violence.

Tears Of A Clown

All of the low-life subjects are male and the virility enhancing effect of a hand pistol is most obviously thrust in the viewer’s face in After Math, a picture whose title baffles but punctuation puzzle is as likely a gallery typo as an intended conundrum, in which the cocked pistol becomes a shadow’s cock.

After Math

The MLB painting style is a heavy and rich combination of colours, the thickly applied oil positively glows on the canvas.

Step On It (detail)

Martin Lea Brown - Fools Gold

Sweet Toof

In the other show, Sweet Toof goes hell for leather with the familiar ST motifs, the skull, the gums and the teef. The same luminous oil on canvas technique a la MLB is used to celebrate an underground life, a life of crimes committed, art created and penances paid. Whilst the street artist works in a murky borderline illegal art gallery, Sweet Toof plays merrily with the emergence of the clandestine painter out of such shadows and into the gaze of the art world. In Studio Crits, the dandified painter is grandiously presenting his latest work to a set of critics gathered around a plush velvet armchair, one of whom is evidently not impressed. The tools of the studio lie close to hand, the gallerists grin with avarice whilst the evidence of the artist’s street credentials lies tucked away, discarded perhaps, in the background.

Studio Crit

The characters are all teef and grins, one imagines their shoulders shaking as they snigger like Mutley the dog. Even a painter and his watcher placed in front of an easel executing some kind of bucolic pastoral piece are evidently chuckling with glee at some devilish detail in the landscape they are observing, the canvas they are chuckling at suggests they have perverted some beautiful rural scenery by mashing up with crosses and gravestones.

Paint In Piece

Sweet Toof uses skeletons as the characters in his drawings, drawing on the Mexican Dia De Los Muertos tradition of life after death to symbolise the shady after dark trade of the street artist. One of the most amusing pieces recalls a real life incident of recent times where total power failure in London’s east end had street artists scooting around the streets of Shoreditch with spray cans and delirious grins on their faces as complete darkness provided them with perfect cover and no CCTV surveillance.

Brick Lane Black Out

Sweet Toof’s characters populate thick as thieves gangs, complicit co-conspirators sharing a maverick ne’er-do-well outlaw’s sense of camaraderie, reflecting Sweet Toof’s membership of Burning Candy, one of London’s pre-eminent crews. The sunken haunted eyes of the skull characters gleam with fiendish fun and a relish for illicit adventure, heightening the sense of rascals abroad.

Sleep When Your Dead (sic)

Sweet Toof mythologizes his own myth with several pieces glamorising the street artists’ game, staying one step ahead of the law in work such as Laying Low; then glamorises the potential risk and consequences ranging from a chain gang to an elegant Fsstttt in the electric chair.

Laying Low

High Voltage

The gums and skulls which recur in the street work of the Burning Candy crew are given props in several paintings in the show. The heavy horn-rims of the glasses in Toof Pick may be an element of self-portraiture, the bowl of red liquid on the table may signify the conspirators giving blood for their cause but check the lush looping detail of the background. Gorgeous.

Toof Pick

A challenge in dealing with the two shows is the quantity of work, the similarities in style and even subject matter. Perhaps the application of the paint in Sweet Toof’s work in the skulls, the guns and some of the clothing is a bit flatter and more block-like than the MLB paintings, suggestive of a Manet figurative style. It is amusing to imagine this is a result of the skulls and gums being developed on the streets where speed is more precious than toning and interplays of light and shade

Sweet Toof

These two shows underline the energy, humour, colour and technique in MLB and Sweet Toof’s work , the work bursts away from the narrow definitions of the street art purists. The talent of both will most inevitably rise further, regardless even of the imminent bursting of the “urban art” bubble.

With between 55 and 60 pieces of work displayed over the two shows there is far more than can be showcased here, a visit to the photo collection for MLB and Sweet Toof is commended. Best of all, catch the shows when they re-open at the same location from 16 January to the 31st.

PS - just for fun, compare this study, shown at this Sweet Toof show, with the gorgeous canvas shown at the Burning Candy show earlier in 2008

Sweet Toof: Study For Rolling Candy

Sweet Toof: Rolling Candy

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