Time was when being picked up by Charles Saatchi was all a young artist needed to launch them commercially, but our world is a more complex place now, and so four years after he was included in Newspeak:British Art Now at Saatchi’s Chelsea Gallery, Ryan Mosley is still far less well known than he ought to be. As of today you have the opportunity to see a substantial group of Mosley’s paintings in this third show at Alison Jacques Gallery, and I urge you to do so as very few institutions have caught on yet to this serious and intriguing Sheffield-based artist.
What is going on in these sumptuous but enigmatic canvases? If you are familiar with older work then the dramatis personae of muscular bearded men and afro-headed, gender-ambiguous figures is still here amid odd, cactus-like growths. New to the mysterious dramas played out from work to work are strange hump-backed birds with elegantly drooping heads hanging on their swelling breasts. Repeated motifs push the compositions towards abstraction, but always there is a sense of performance or narrative as the engine of the work. One’s imagination runs away with notions of bizarre rituals enacted in fictional lands where mythical creatures dot the landscape and a fantastically-garbed man may take a walk with a head on a stick.
Source material for each work is entirely obscure, but Mosley is an exceptional painter whose line and use of colour indicate a thorough saturation in art history. One small portrait head has three pair of eyes and set me thinking of Francis Picabia, for example. The oversize feet of the figure in Smoking Pilgrimage, 2014, recalls Van Gogh’s paintings of peasants from the late 1800s. But I’m almost certain these references are irrelevant. Look closely into some of the recent work and you may see glimpses of the most precise and crisp under drawing that seems of a different character to the way Mosley handles paint itself. There is a lot going on here, and this is an artist who is still in his early 30s.
Ryan Mosley, Alison Jacques Gallery, 16-18 Berners Street, London W1T 3LN. Open Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 – 18.00, until 15 March. www.alisonjacquesgallery.com