By Kat Hayes
Ben Nathan: Structure
June 14 – July 13
43 Inverness Street
43 Inverness Street is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type of gallery. Set within a beautiful town house off the carnage of Camden’s main thoroughfare, the only indicator to what lies inside is a humble postcard tied to the railings outside. What lurks within this discreet space is urban vernacular artist Ben Nathan’s latest collection.
Once inside, what I expected to see was a collection of neatly ordered, immaculately framed small-scale images. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because of the proliferation of architectural-style prints that have been popping up in crafty style markets across the capital — small-scale, polished and bold-coloured minutes of famous landmarks or much-maligned modernist outposts.
Or maybe it’s because Nathan’s work does lend itself well to the digital side of things, with bold bright colours and the borders of each clearly marked out as if it had been spewed out of a printer — endlessly reproducible. But, in the flesh, Nathan’s pieces are quite different.
Standing up close and personal to the large-scale canvas of Seascape, it appears almost sculptural. Where you’d expect to see flat printed colour, I found I could look deep into the turbulent churning of the sea, an effect created by layers of glossy unmodulated paint.
In contrast, the man-made elements of the piece are represented by rectilinear forms of bold red, black and white, which jar against the organic swirl of the sea. The stark stripes that suggest the wall (even though the wall itself is not present) plunge down to the bottom of the canvas, giving the impression that the whole piece is being dragged down to the floor.
These elements neatly suggest the upheaval and transitory nature of the sea and the gravitational pull of the tides — and perhaps a note of the futile nature of man’s interference with such forces.
Where Nathan does employ a flat finish, it is to distort, flatten and twist familiar shapes and alters one’s perception of space. This is used to great effect in Gateway, which appears on a gristly, gnarled industrial form almost grafted onto the canvas — both familiar and unsettling at the same time.
What appears as giant-scaled barbed wire/part science-fiction relic is in fact just part of a bridge in New York City. Divorced from its original context and skewed by perspective, this humble mode of transport becomes an imposing hulk of twisted metal, both menacing and familiar at the same time.
Château d’Eau, is interesting piece, set on the second floor of the gallery. It was a highlight for me not only because of the subject matter- a lonely water tower nestled in a rocky French landscape — I’m a fan of these odd monolytic structures which crop up like concrete toadstools on the landscape, the Church Langley one always brightens up any trip up the M11 (it turns out that I’m not alone).
But also, unusually, the canvas is of a bespoke construction and is structurally integral to the piece. Rather than just the backdrop, the canvas supports the tower — turning it into a simple architectural construction.
Nathan’s sketchbooks, which lurk on the basement level of the gallery, are a treasure trove of architectural imagery and well worth perusing.
It is an intimate show in an intimate setting but definitely worth making the trip — if you can find the gallery that is.
About the artist
Ben Nathan is a graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art, Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design, Jerusalem and the Prince’s Drawing School. He lives and works in London. In 2012, he was awarded the International Jewish Artist of the Year award by the Ben Uri Gallery.