Finish Fetish: Residence Gallery

This review of the Residence Gallery’s exhibition, Finish Fetish, was originally written for the March edition of the Hackney Citizen.

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During the 1960s and 70s, the Minimalist movement saw a group of Californian artists begin working with synthetic and machine-made materials such as plastic, glass, light and resin to create high-sheen artworks associated with the phrase, ‘Finish Fetish’. From Larry Bell, to John McCracken: the Finish Fetish was something of a love affair with the perfect polish of new surfaces.

Now that 3D Printers are just the latest technological development in our economy of constantly evolving synthetic substitutes, that fascination with new materials is perhaps even more relevant some 50 years on. It isn’t surprising then, amidst accelerating innovations in manufacture and sustainable material, that the Finish Fetish lives: moving from the States to East London, Ben Gooding, Clive Hanz Hancock and Patrick Morrissey are all part of the Residence Gallery’s new exhibition.

But these contemporary finish fetishists aren’t so much concerned with the perfect plastic luxury which these machines can produce, but with what, with an obsessive perseverance, the human hand can reproduce. In an inverted emulation of that industrial and automated process, surfaces are painstakingly hand-crafted to mimic the work of machines.

Gooding etches the undulating flow of his surfaces with individual rhythms of line. He does this by hand and over long periods of time. Yet they look as though they have been brushed by the controlled arm of a machine with one single sweep: this specious casualness is truly seductive. Meanwhile Morrissey’s complex numerical systems, his sequential developments and interest in geometry, also give his aluminium prints the appearance of machinated, programmed patterns: but they follow his own logic.

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Finish Fetish’s attention to superficial detail is immediately evident in the fetishistic alliteration of the title, and even the Gallery’s Director, Ingrid Z, has been finish-fetishized: when I go to visit, her woollen hat is decorated with metal studs which catch the spotlights, and her leggings are a monochromatic zig-zag print, an echo of Patrick Morrissey’s aluminium works.

The Residence is a compact gallery, so it is a virtue that most of the works are individually compelling: in a small exhibition a single work has the power to keep you. In Gooding’s lacquer on perspex it is my own silhouette which captures me in its shifting, meticulous pattern. In the copper, it is a burnished parallel flash of light which moves me. Whether you are a curious toddler or a sophisticated surface-connoisseur, it is one of those simple effects of light and shadow which makes you softly want to coo.

The triumph of the exhibition is in the intimation of a personal fetish, and its successful communication as a shared passion between artist and viewer. The works are not the curiosities of niche fanaticists, offered to the viewer to gawp at without comprehension; it is easy to feel the lure of these materials.

This is where Clive Hanz Hancock’s works failed for me: there was nothing sexy about his geometric abstractions. The bright colours deviated too far from the monochromes and other deep metal shades, and looked instead like the fat tips of crayolas displayed in little cylindrical windows. Perhaps I am letting my own minimalist, black & white fetish, get the better of me here.

The good news is that the exhibition will be replenished with other temptations for March’s First Thursday and the second half of the show. This also means that if you want to buy a work the Residence will happily pluck it from the wall there and then and let you walk away with it: you need not be separated from the new object of your desire.

Finish Fetish will be on at the Residence Gallery until 24 March. For more information: www.residence-gallery.com

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