Unit London is thrilled to announce its first solo exhibition with the artist, Damian Elwes. Entitled Where Art Happened: From Klint to Party, the exhibition offers a striking continuation of Elwes’ examination of prominent artists and their creative spaces. Elwes began his artistic career as a graffiti artist in the 1980s, before being convinced to turn to painting by the renowned street and pop artist, Keith Haring. The artist’s first paintings were exhibited in 1984 and were hung alongside works by Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Elwes began experimenting with representations of artist’s studios when living in Paris between 1986 and 1987. Instead of studying fine art at an institution, he spent his time seeking out contemporary artists and asking if he could be privy to their creative spaces. This experience led Elwes to understand the figure of the artist through his or her belongings and the specific placement of these items. For Elwes, these spaces and their contents became reflections of the artist’s mental space. As such, the artist’s studio is emblematic of the essence of a creative personality, evolving into an intimate psychological portrait.
Damian Elwes in his studio, 2020
Following the advent of the internet and a relocation to Los Angeles, Elwes was able to gain access to online imagery of the studios of famed twentieth-century artists, such as Picasso and Matisse. He viewed these images as puzzle pieces and began to decipher them, uniting them to create complete representations. Elwes uses multiple research sources to produce these comprehensive depictions. By scouring the internet, written evidence and testimonies from people who experienced these spaces first hand, Elwes captures singular portraits of artists at particular moments in their lifetimes.
These paintings are often rendered through subtle stylistic nods to the aesthetic of the artist in question, imbuing the image of the studio with the energy of its absent inhabitant. The viewer therefore becomes part of a specific art historical moment, experiencing the stark minimalism of Georgia O’Keeffe’s uncluttered living room or feeling the sea breeze waft through the windows of Matisse’s Mediterranean coastal studio. Elwes punctuates his works with recreations of seminal artworks, lending his paintings a rich a densely layered presence. Paintings appear within his paintings to create an almost mise en abyme effect.
Elwes approaches his work with a certain intimacy. Throughout his artistic career he has come to know many of his subjects. His paintings are therefore embedded with a level of familiarity, taking on an anecdotal significance and becoming akin to memories being passed from friend to friend. The intimacy of Elwes’ paintings is further enhanced when we realise that many of the creative spaces he paints no longer exist today. They have either been destroyed or taken on by new owners. Elwes’ work in Where Art Happened: From Klint to Party therefore demonstrates an extraordinary effort to gather a wealth of lost information. These paintings are characterised by a commemorative dimension, becoming detailed and tangible records that transport viewers into the inner sanctum of the creative mind.