Plain Planes and Gallery Tombs — Polychrome by Nicolas Party


Into the treasury, into the tomb, inside of the waiting room – all excavators will be brought forward one at a time, single file please. There’s no real tannoy on the yellow painted walls of Nicolas Party’s new exhibition Polychrome at The Modern Institute, but it feels like there could be. Inside, three rooms are only accessible by slender archways of increasing height. In the first room there are three paintings and one sculpture, in the second there are two sculptures and in the third there are three sculptures and one painting. 1. 2. 3. The Modern Institute has a great big hand pinching at its second room, two wood carved and painted figurative sculptures caught between index and thumb and the rest – soft pastel portraits of green faced androgynous people on canvas and a towering plinth weighted with a gawping, red head and a severed, blue appendage – ooze out of either end. The first bulge of Polychrome, the first room, is reachable through an unusually shy archway, excavators may mind their heads when entering please. Subsequent archways can be seen, constructed inline with each other, through which the pinched room and the final bulge can be seen from the first. Excavators, do try not to run, please. Although it will be hard to resist, excavators, for Party’s Polychrome encourages darting and exploring, a whimsical discovery of new alien antiquity. 

Skipping ahead, as it feels it is encouraged, to the pinched room, a conversation is being held between two sculptures, between a yellow skinned, pink haired gisant called Body (2019) and a blue skinned, orange haired psychoanalyst called Bust (2019). Unfortunately, as it goes, these two sculptures cannot move – the psychoanalyst grows tired of the sickly gisant’s daily complaints, eyes strained and infected with the same yellow sickness. Both rest atop red plinths, the body and part-body are seamlessly crafted and mechanical. Their parents, Nicolas Party and a CNC Router machine, have manifested them both from a 3D render with partial tonal definition. Tone, is painted atop slight-defined wood, their hair rests on their heads like helmets, smooth and shiny. Collar bones are painted on sanded wood and shadows, beneath crossed hands, are not made from light. When all else has been spoken about, not resolved but acknowledged, Bust and Body must speak of their making. Questions arise; Body: You are so much bigger than myself? Bust: That is not a good question. Body: If I prised my arms from my hips and crotch would I rip myself from myself? Bust: That is a better question. Is the flatness of my eyes reason for their tiredness and incapacity to register you, Body, as a patient I could care for. Body: I am so small and insignificant. Bust: I wonder if I would have a better experience speaking with your corpse, stored in your plinth? Bust: Is the natural, the decaying, more worthwhile than our manufactured, mechanical makeup? Body: No, of course not. 

Party’s sculpture’s, his polychrome’s, painted tone plays the part of a kind of makeup. It’s hard to imagine them without their paint, without it there would be a complete loss of character. Flat eyes, a nose, a mouth, two flat ears and resounding, insidious, purity and perfection. The old masters are dead, the Temple of Aphaia washed out and a little mascara never hurt anyone. Our rose and white tinted view of antiquity proves it so. Excavators, do not share mascara wands, you may contract pink eye. Yellow eyes, five of them – back in the first room, the first of the bulges – on three paintings surrounded by green skin. Massaged on with coloured pastel on canvas, the likeness between the polychromes and the paintings feels familial – even in their disparate material. Heads sprout out from swathes of flat plain planes of what could be blouses, shirts or overcoats with no dimension, only shape. One that is pink, Salamander Portrait (2019), has salamanders on it. Yet the consideration of detail, of putting it there, not there, never there, and over there helps the excavator move faster. In Party’s Portrait with One Butterfly (2019) the excavator can see the figure’s face with exceptional clarity of mind; the shocked eyes, rounded eyebrows and timid smile; and in doing so can see the expression of a figure that one day hopes to widen their eyes just enough to encapsulate a butterfly inside of them and eat it.

Typically when someone brings up a polychrome they mean that of something old, something, sometimes, classical. Nicolas Party’s work isn’t something old, but is rather contemporary. The paint on the face of Bust (2019), the contoured blue face, encourages the excavator to consider the enforced marriage of antiquity and contemporary in the work. The Temple of Aphaia is in Attica, Greece and was founded in 500 BC to worship Aphaia, a Greek Goddess. Inside there were many marble sculptures of warriors. The sculptures were taken to Munich, Germany to be restored by a Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen (who has been dead for many years now), at The Glyptothek, a museum of Greek and Roman sculptures commissioned by the Bavarian King Ludwig I (who has been dead for many years now). Without doubt, the unknown sculptors of the marble warriors in The Temple of Aphaia and their conservator, Thorvaldsen, did not have access yet to a CNC Router, which is a machine that requires a digital computer to operate and that carves shapes from digital signals. Little is known as to wether either Thorvaldsen or the unknown original sculptors would have had a better time with a CNC Router. Party seems to be having a better time and in a generous nod to their historical exploits paints his sculptures in homage to times gone by.

Excavators, do acknowledge that the work in the tomb is growingly momentous. Past the pinched second room, in the third and final room, a trophy room, excavators would be hard-pressed not to notice the severed finger and foot – the latter measuring 2 feet, 1 inch and the former measuring 3 feet, 2 inches in height. The finger towers high, held completely erect – on a tall, skinny yellow plinth – severed from a giant overeager high schooler during a geography lesson. Excavators, in the inside of a cave, stalactites hang from the ceiling and stalagmites grow from the floor. Party’s Polychrome has the tenacity to trick the excavator into a feeling constriction, as in a cave overburdened with stalactites and stalagmites. The Modern Institute, in actuality, has a loftiness about it – high ceilings and natural light overhead. The works demand intimacy, closer inspection, awe, and the removal of dust and debris. It’s hard to see the forest when the trees are so commanding. A tribute to the temple and tomb, and a strategy in focusing attention, the painted planes – the bright, jarring exuberance on the walls and plinths – fall away. Once inside, excavators fail to see the planes in the pursuit of the material. Pink painted fingernails on a gisant, red skin that sweats like chopped onion and white hair in the shape of a cartoon egg white with no tone or line. Party plays with the details that the excavator has be afforded. Carefully considerate, keen not to overfeed, like Huel, the popular powdered meal replacement, the exhibition is technologically and technically ambitious and slyly odd.

Excavators, please stand back. With attention directed to the room, to its entirety, Party’s practice can be seen as a flirtation with art historical references. Conventions in portraiture, in the staging of an exhibition and in sculptural tradition leach from the objects encapsulated in the space. Though the exhibition concludes in the final room, the archways – all lined up like soldiers – give way for a suspicion of endlessness. Starting in the waiting room, waiting to be led through the therapists office and onwards to the trophy room, the energy of the space, ordered and unexpected, with objects hidden behind walls, the arches could continue ad infinitum. From behind the final sculpture, a red gawping bust on a purple plinth, easily seen through each archway and from every room, an excavator could expect to find a further archway. Again and again, past the boundaries of the gallery; through shopfronts, studios and roads, the careful curation of detail and material play would never end. Dear excavators, the tomb is now closing, please gather your treasures and exit through your nearest archway, then the other, then the other and through the last. Please mind your head once again, excavators. Take care to remember the colour, for in centuries time – when eroded – impressionable individuals may garner an unrealistic view of the contents of the tomb. Take care, also, to remember any personal belongings when leaving the tomb. Thank you.

Polychrome by Nicolas Party is open from 25 May to 24 August 2019. Open Monday through Friday, 10AM – 6PM and Saturday, 12 – 5PM.