I visited first thing in the morning, before the opening. Cases of Red Stripe were stacked by the door and the unpolished concrete floor would probably get a sweep before the crowds arrived a few hours later. Maybe not. But the show was up, and had been photographed a couple of days before. “I like the idea that a work can make you dance or smile immediately before you yourself have even worked out if it interests you on more conscious levels.” That is certainly what happened to me as I walked from one picture to the next. They reveal themselves rather slowly – you need to move in quite close to figure out that these are not straightforward painted forms, but constructed from multiple, laser-cut panels, individually spray painted. It is a form of marquetry, and once you zero in on the way each element fits with the next, the precision is mind-bending and intensely pleasing.
Rhys Coren graduated from the RA Schools last year. While the works at Seventeen Gallery are referred to as paintings, I am assured that no paintbrushes are involved. The hand of the artist is suppressed through both of the mechanical techniques he uses: spray painting and laser cutting. While at the Royal Academy Coren became intensely interested in the work of Josef Albers, and this was perhaps an influence in turning him away from more obviously ‘painterly’ forms of self-expression and towards a different kind of exploration. Albers’ colour theory has also been an important influence on Coren’s palette. As you go in close to look at the works you realise that each panel, each colour, is in fact a composite: a ground overlaid with a veil of microscopic points of contrasting tone.
Another key reference in Coren’s work is Postmodernism and in particular the Memphis design group, whose irreverent spirit, candy colours and freewheeling geometric patterning typified the 1980s. By the time Coren was growing up, mainstream culture had assimilated the design values of Memphis’ founder, Ettore Sottsass: “even clothing worn by the presenters and characters in the TV I watched as a child looked like Memphis group stuff”, he has said. Coren credits these childhood experiences with giving him a lifelong fascination with pattern, combined with a love of the funk and soul music of the period that feeds into the abstract motifs he creates. There is rhythm here – because the forms are hand drawn before being laser cut from panel, one feels the speed of the hand across the plane, imagines the pressure on the page.
There are panels in the show shaped like cartoon clouds, starbursts and triangles. There are smaller scale, rectangular works that play out clever spatial games with their geometric forms, in a way that put me in mind of Tomma Abts – but in the knowledge that Coren is coming at this from an entirely different direction. His Instagram feed includes a stack of books, art monographs that include Matisse Cutouts, Hilma af Klint, Frank Stella and Mark Leckey. Those are some useful signposts to his psychogeography.
Rhys Coren has been getting noticed for a number of years: Paul Pieroni showed him at SPACE in 2013, in 2014 he had work at the Jerwood Space, and more recently Artsy has included him in their list of artists to watch in 2017. Seventeen Gallery will present a solo stand of his work at Frieze New York in May; the current show was pretty much sold out before it opened.
There is something going on here, people. Better take a look.
Seventeen Gallery, 270-276 Kingsland Road, London E8 4DG. Wednesday – Saturday, 11.00 – 18.00. Exhibition continues until Saturday 15 April 2017. www.seventeengallery.com