Pure Evil Gallery
8 April – 2 May
all photos: nolionsinengland
Autumn last year, London’s walls (and a concertina door) turned into one of the largest scale bestiaries possible and those of us who had been watching the flickr photos of Belgan street art documenter Kreibel knew the moment eagerly awaited for over a year had come. Roa was in town.
Epic in scale and tackling manifestly damn difficult surfaces to paint, Roa has risen swiftly from painting in derelict building in Belgium to become highly prized in any decent street art collector’s portfolio.
His first London solo show has just landed at the Pure Evil gallery in London. The work consists of paintings made directly onto the gallery walls coupled with large pieces on scavenged metal.
In the gallery Roa remains true to his core themes out on the streets – black and white creatures done in either figurative or cross-section. Most of the metal works have had a previous life as a clothes locker door, such as you might find at work, at school or in the changing room. Being locker doors they come hinged ready open and close and been keen on a bit of the lenticular image which looks different depending upon the viewing angle (like those moving pictures on the front covers of books from your childhood), Roa sets up most of the art to be played with with different images being achieved by opening and closing the doors.
Most of the two-way pieces flip between surface fur and anatomical innards. You could have hours of fun selecting different combinations of opened and closed doors to skirt around the old image enuii.
Taken as a whole you might see the whole of nature’s life cycle present in the show, right from conception done as a Beatrix Potteresque piece of squirrel lovin’. Roa has allowed a little bit of ambiguity to soften the rodent porn, are we looking at the inner thigh of the rear squirrel’s right leg in which case oh how cute, two squirrels next to eachother, or is it the outer left thigh of some nubile young squirrel-ette in which case the grinning and gimlet eyed rear squirrel should be allowed to get on with his work un-disturbed.
Therein lies the puzzle with Roa’s work, we are inclined to read human emotions and predicaments into the faces and postures of the various animals. It is fairly ridiculous to imagine we can interpret the equivalent “turning Japanese” look of a squirrel on his money strokes, never mind expecting Roa to be painting from intimate knowledge. Yet that’s exactly what we can’t avoid doing. Every Roa piece is squinted at to determine the basics, alive or dead? Hungry and feral or fully fed and bloated? The two horses on the wall in the gallery basement could be piled up spoils of an equine hunt, or two lazy domesticated nags crashed out after a feed.
After the animal world’s equivalent of wining, dining, jiggy-jiggy and a cigarette, the next stage revealed on found metal assemblage is the embryo gestation.
Some of Roa’s best outdoor pieces have been executed in dank roofless warehouses and ancient brick monoliths, the forgotten spaces surrendered by man back to the elements. Distress and dilapidation is part of the furniture at Pure Evil gallery so the basement is the perfect location for Roa to replicate the sense of nature triumph in the return to decaying beauty.
Roa has turned the experience of entering Pure Evil’s cellar into a grim descent to a bizarre and unclean abattoir. Birds and rabbits hang from their legs possibly suggesting, at least in the case of the rabbit, the victim of a hunt being hung out to cure though the birds make you wonder if there is some ritualistic voodoo or occult significance.
Roa’s work might be described as representing the triumph of animals reclaiming the urban landscape though several of the pieces lead you to suspect some of the critters have come a cropper colliding with man the hunter. The basement installations look a bit like someone has gone a bit mad with the chloroform on Monochrome Farm.
Roa’s pallete is ideal for creating the sense of nature becoming grease-coated with the grime found in man’s no longer wanted former industrial era buildings. He teases our imagination with the alive/dead happy/sad un-resolved ambiguity and depends upon us to anthropomorphologize the creatures to give them their charm. Very little of the stuff displayed on metal is going to fit happily over the fireplace in the average home but curiously there are some conventional sized drawings displayed on the Pure Evil website.
Sadly, despite the beauty of the work and the un-paralleled marriage between derelict work and derelict location it has actually proved possible to make a fist of capturing the images, Graffoto commends you to Romanywg’s Roa photos which bring all his skills at photographing shit-holes into the gallery and Ian Wallkandy who just can’t take photos that don’t rock.
Just as Graffoto was about to hit the upload button, we came across a couple of fresh ROA outdoor rooftop pieces. The roof position looks great, the animals are superbly rendered, the location is iconic but in the case of the full bird the sense of marginalisation and squalor is defeated by the presence of a huge commercial banner making the location as spoilt and derelict as an Ikea showroom.
And the position of the fresh TEK 13 otp portrait which went up the same weekend as the ROA show opens conflicts horribly with the idea that ROA animals are reclaiming a man-free zone. Oh dear.