Essays by James Hyman

Tony Bevan: Corridors of Flesh

Tony Bevan: Corridors of Flesh


Text by James Hyman
October 1996


Tony Bevan has always been interested in context: the figure's relationship to its surroundings, the paintings effect on the space it inhabits. Unlike some figurative artists who have an apparent disregard for their audience, Bevan is not only preoccupied with the rendering of the subject on canvas but also with the viewer's encounter with this image. Installation is crucial, scale vital and frequently there is a degree of confrontation.

At the centre of Bevan's show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1993 ranks of male figures challenged the visitor and presently at Matt's Gallery a single massive head, heavy as a boulder, expansive as a mountain, uynsettles the viewer.

We are similalrly engaged by a series of new paintings of corridors on show at Theo Waddington. We complete each picture by imaginatively inhabiting its space.

As we enter Corridor (1995) (108 x 92 inches) our viewpoint changes, the perspective shifts and the floor lurches towards us. The disorientation is similar to that achieved in German Expressioist cinema as in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari: the misalignment of walls, floor and ceiling is complemented by a disturbing use of light.

Such images may seem surprising, given Bevan's profile as a painter of the human form, but they are not a new departure for the artist. He began paintings figures devoid of the figure in the mid 1980s, but crucially the interiors are now institutional rather than domestic. Some suggest the generic corridors of hospitals and high-rise blocks, others the specific example of Van Gogh's asylum in Saint-Remy and Antonin Artaud's psychiatric hospitals at Ville-Evard and Rodez. At times they suggest psychological disturbance but they also possess an extraordianry corporeality: theses are corridors of flesh.

After the narrower focus of the Whitechapel exhibition, this is a welcome chance to appreciate the range of Bevan's concerns and a powerful reminder of the challenging presence of one of Britain's most uncompromising artists.

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