Focal Point Gallery present ‘On Peacock Island’, the first major solo exhibition of the German artist Volker Eichelmann. The exhibition features a series of new work by the artist, incorporating an arrangement of drawings by Stephen Tennant (1906-1987), one of the most prominent of the ‘Bright Young Things’ – an influential young and flamboyant group of the 1920s upper class society.
Making connections with the Victorian gardens on Southend’s seafront cliffs ‘On Peacock Island’ presents work reflecting the artist’s pre-occupation with art and design practices rooted in the 18th century, which are exemplified in folly architecture – an ornamental building with little or no practical purpose, often built to resemble a Gothic or Classical ruin. After their heyday in the 18th century follies became increasingly the preserve of amateurs realising their own idiosyncratic architectural fantasies at the expense of disproportionate amounts of time and money.
For the exhibition ‘On Peacock Island’ Eichelmann has produced works that draw on his particular fascination with the role water features have played in the conception of these structures. The main gallery’s walls are covered by prints showing details of a stone relief of running water which was designed by André Le Nôtre for the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. Following the idea of the folly, as the embodiment of the exuberant and ultimately foolish undertaking, Eichelmann has installed a working cascade in the gallery’s foyer cabinets and a truncated column pasted with prints depicting details from architectural features found in the City of London. Further representations of water and its reflective qualities feature prominently on the large silver panels in the main gallery, as cut-up snippets in the collage displayed throughout the exhibition and in the photo-collage work in the window gallery.
Stephen Tennant’s artistic output shares certain affinities with the idea of the folly. After his early years as one of the most intriguing characters of the 1920s,Tennant led a long and sequestered life in his Wiltshire manor house where he would produce endless drawings and cover designs for books that were always just about to be written but which ultimately failed to materialise. Eichelmann’s selection of drawings by Tennant celebrates this neglected oeuvre and the fragile beauty of that which can only be imagined.
The exhibition’s name makes reference to the ‘Pfaueninsel’, an abandoned island with a number of folly structures and facades in Berlin-Wannsee, populated by free roaming peacocks. The island was Frederick William II’s private retreat in the 18th century; here he created a menagerie of exotic animals, which were mostly relocated to Berlin Zoo in the 1940s, with the exception of the peacocks who were left behind.