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The first thing you see when you walk into the space at The Wapping Project Bankside gallery is Natalia Vodianova’s soul.

To receive something of such immense worth – so immediately and so gratuitously – upon first entering a room could cause one to dismiss the value, or possibility, of such a notion. With a Paolo Roversi picture, such things are possible – and priceless.

Natalia’s eyes deflect from the silver gelatin print with such luminous velocity, that in the cathedral chill of this low-lit gallery – on the coldest of January evenings – she seemed to pierce the spiritual glass ceiling, to achieve a status of near religious icon.

However, Vodianova (Natalia from the back, 2003) is just the gatekeeper to the collection. It is Paolo Roversi’s all consuming creative love affair with Guinevere Van Seenus that is the altarpiece (pictured).

A large component of the exhibition is taken from Roversi’s Nudity and Studio series. Sensuality, romance, and the dichotomies of self-absorbed intimacy, as well as gothic innocence – the DNA strands of Roversi’s work – are all finitely condensed into this strict curatorial edit.

On the opening evening of the exhibition, his very first in the UK, it wasn’t just Paolo Roversi or his muse Guinevere that were physically present – but the artistic ghosts of Irving Penn, Egon Schiele, Edward Steichen, and the Pre Raphaelite photographs of Jane Morris.

The exhibition’s central theme of nudity emphasizes Roversi’s admiration of the paintings of Egon Schiele. Just as Schiele’s work is noted for its intensity, Roversi’s expressionist compositions and lines are also fluent in the visual narrative of the intimate: an Egon Schiele style self-portrait of a male nude faces Natalia from the back, as her twisted torso echoes another classic Schiele stance. Even the exhibition poster girl, Guinevere, is artistically disheveled in Egon Schiele style stockings – whilst the more up front crouching shots of Guinevere over table were a missing component of the vigil here tonight.

Roversi isn’t just a dreamer; he is a pragmatist and a minimalist. His Studio photographs of beloved canvas blanket, spotlights and cable leads, draw a parallel with Irving Penn’s purist love for an empty corner, a self-made carpet mound and some daylight, cast from a nearby window. The time that Roversi spent as an assistant to Laurence Sackman is also respected within these particular photographs, as the craft of a photographer – and his tools – is paid ultimate tribute.

Alas, Paolo Roversi’s photographs are made up of two vital components: his studio and his muse, Guinevere. This exhibition is dedicated to both.

Whether it be the minimalism of Penn, or a Rei Kawakubo deconstruction of a formula, his share of mind with such essentialists enables him to also embrace a kind of transcendent otherworldliness, enveloping the viewer – and his sitters – with a melancholic romance, positively Pre-Raphaelite in its beauty. There are two types of love in the world; one being complex and the other straightforward – Paolo Roversi’s work transcends the spectrum.

Paolo Roversi at The Wapping Project – Bankside runs from 3rd February until 31st March 2012.

www.thewappingprojectbankside.com