There’s a new kid in town on Levenshulme’s Stockport Road, and it’s all FRONT out back in Claire Dorsett’s new show at STOCK gallery. At the rear of the freshly opened The Talleyrand bar, the former sign-maker’s shop stockroom has metamorphosised into a showcase gallery space for emerging and emerged artistic talent. Manchester-based Dorsett presents three brand new works for STOCK’s inaugural exhibition.
Entering from the bar through arched saloon doors, the exhibition space, with its AstroTurf green painted floor, white breeze-block walls, sloped sheet metal roof and fluorescent strip-lighting is clear, cool, bright and uncluttered –surfaces left to speak for themselves. Music from the bar’s speakers and laid-back chatter from the tables spill into the gallery space, nibbling away at the customary preconceived boundary lines between social space and art gallery with punters with pints poking their heads in for a nosey, crossing the threshold and taking the step down into the space to weigh up what’s to be seen.
On the left-hand wall, three bold new works hang alongside one another, identical in size. The other walls are bare, the space waiting to be filled by first impressions, curious looks and stories yet to be made and exchanged. In ‘Cool Dude (Whatever)’ (2018), a bold red Tunnel of Love heart pops against a block, black background. One edge of the heart stretches open and a silhouette outline of a singer, all angular shoulders and faceless mystery, stands behind a microphone stand, illuminated in the same deep red. A contrasting fast blue background – a street scene or a stage backdrop – makes for a moody contrast. The figure is isolated, unknown.
The painting speaks of modern idols and feigned indifference; fantasies framed and filtered, coolly observed and strongly felt. A soundtrack to unsteady times, conflicting emotions and curated impressions. The ‘I was there, look’ of social media feeds butting up against the fashioned dreaminess of fandom. Putting on a show. Collectively encountered, singularly experienced, Dorsett gives voice to the personal and public, the shielded and the posed. A songwriter’s heartbreak album is another person’s Spotify playlist. One tortured lyric becomes a ’grammable leg tattoo. Front men and fictions and fantasy flattened out as one.
Next along, a bold, meaty heart sits on a creamy white background, surrounded by, but severed from, its main arteries. Stretching outwards like coral fronds or raised arms in a crowd, these connectors present a suggestion of the rest of the body whilst simultaneously calling out the body’s absence. Disembodied lifelines and a lonely heart, like its shadowy cool dude neighbour, ‘The Heart Is A Muscle’ (2018) is mighty, powerful, but isolated and singular. Drops of acrylic mark an absent presence; once felt, now unseen – the hand of the artist, or the splodge of the paintbrush, or the body that once held the heart. The canvas as dissection table, or a game of Operation to be put back together again to make a whole.
‘Ham-Fisted Heart On Sleeve’ (2018). A title comprising two idioms joined together echoes the artist’s exhibition statement: “I like messy, unfinished, clumsy things that embrace me in my awkwardness and stick out. I know this at my core, but sometimes I buy into the bullshit… Trundling down the street and how things jostle and clang and move about and what it might be like to try and make paintings or think about an installation of paintings this way, instead of highly edited, cool, calm collected (because who feels like that?).” There is an honesty, dry humour without snark; an awareness and a tenderness to Dorsett’s big, bold works – the more you stand and look or sit back out in the bar with a pint afterwards, the more you think. A dense black background contrasts against the mottled, mauve mass the colour of berry-soaked bread of a summer pudding, caught (or emerging from?) the bright white jagged shark’s mouth of the sleeve’s zipper teeth.
Dorsett’s big felt-pen-like outlines make paths for tracing fictions and narratives, creating a space for individual response. Back out in the bar, a portrait of its namesake – the eighteenth century French statesman and diplomat Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord – hangs on the wall. Living there in exile during the 1790s, East Levenshulme was once named Talley Rand in his honour. Layers of stories and associations, tales of community, belonging and individual status, all are wrapped up in Front – a fitting opening show for STOCK and a tonic for our times.
FRONT runs until 27 September 2018.
Image caption: L-R: Cool Dude (Whatever), The Heart Is A Muscle, Ham-Fisted Heart On Sleeve, each 190x160cm, acrylic on canvas, Claire Dorsett, 2018. Photo: Kieran Healy