The Hepworth Wakefield, Gallery Walk, Wakefield, WF1 5AW

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Haroon Mirza / William Scott
The Hepworth Wakefield
25 May - 29 September 2013
Review by Andrew Herbert

Those who know the work of Haroon Mirza might expect it to be visually seductive. Strong forms, rich colours all soaked in a pulsating rhythm that - be it in sound or light - draws you in, occupying your mind unashamedly and seeking every last scrap of your attention.

Following his success at the Venice Biennale, Mirza’s work is all over, and can be found currently in the Lisson Gallery, Tate Modern and Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. It is at The Hepworth Wakefield, however, where perhaps the most comprehensive show of his work can be found outside of London; here it sits composed alongside the work of William Scott. Mirza’s usually full immersive environments feel somewhat pared back, their less spectacular finish offering an opportunity to work harder to enjoy the work; and in doing so to look for underlying references and ask the question, why’

It is important to question: gone is the metered pulsation of light and in its place, brash taxi kiosk -style LED strips strobe in sequence, drawing our attention to one of The Hepworth Wakefield’s prize pieces, Philip Reinagle’s ‘Wakefield Bridge and Chantry Chapel’ (1793). In the centre of the room a collection of objects selected from the Hepworth archive stare endlessly into a mirrored surface, again within a halo of faux neon.

In the second gallery space is a reprise of the sound insulating foam shards that Mirza appears to like so much. They form a composition of sight and sound, noise within the silence of the architect David Chipperfield’s minimalist gallery creation. It is pertinent that the term noise is referred to here as a form of energy, for that is where an understanding of his work lies. As weeds are to the plant world, so noise acts when its form of energy is unwanted in a particular context. The hum of an electric substation is noise but the same hum of electricity, manipulated, ordered, measured, becomes the basis for electronic music. As Mirza explained himself, ‘electronic music is the sound of electricity’. He presents a body of work that is to be experienced by sense and yet created through meticulous thought.

The nature of Mirza’s work in many ways could not be more different to that of William Scott, his gallery neighbour and the other artist exhibited as part of the gallery’s summer programme. Scott’s exhibition marks the centenary of his birth. While a celebrated artist in his own right, who contributed a great deal to British abstraction over the last century, he could be considered something of a casualty as the public’s gaze was caught by the Pop Artists: as a result, his own presence became significantly less prominent. This show offers an opportunity to readdress his work with the clarity of hindsight and a clear mind. There is a strong visual currency to his work, and it is hugely impressive to recognise the forward thinking of an artist who, born in the late 1800s, grew up in a small fishing village and was enrolled in the Second World War.

It is perhaps this that informs his work. His life was one of rich contrast in terms of place, relationships and social strata, and one can very easily begin to identify something of this in his work. Canvasses are presented that Scott manipulated to show not only a concluding image but the rigorous process undergone to achieve it; this struggle to reach an intended outcome seems more important than the image itself.

The means of exploring his life, work and reasoning are out on display, which is one of the great strengths of the exhibition. Among the generous number of artworks on show sit two vitrines, within which lie sketches, concept paintings, letters and photographs, all beautifully displayed. They offer insights into everything behind the façade that is his work and in considering them the viewer can enjoy that façade with greater understanding.

Both artists employ similar approaches that manifest themselves in hugely different ways. Scott’s vocabulary of domestic objects is possibly a reference to a past that he could identify with more easily than the life he found himself in, enjoying the nostalgia evoked through interacting with objects that were important to his early family life. Mirza’s compositions are similarly understood as an outcome derived from a process of exploration, albeit removed from the domestic references so important to Scott.

Scott claimed ‘I cannot be called non-figurative while I am still interested in the modern magic of space, primitive sex forms ... disconcerting contours, the things of life.’ This concise rationale evidences thinking that could equally be applied to Mirza and his use of composition and rhythm, whether in visible or audible form.

As such we are left with the balanced outcome of a curatorial process observing the similarities of agenda that unite the work of two very different artists, and we explore the contrasts that are born of their differing forms of expression and periods of art practice. The Hepworth’s programme continues to offer unusual conversations perhaps empowered by the autonomy that may or may not come from conducting itself outside of London. Whilst poles apart aesthetically, presented together two artists find surprising similarities. Both explore abstract form; one painted, another as three dimensional sculptural presence.

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