Stephen Appleby-Barr: New WorkLondon
Still-life with Poussin, 2020
Appleby-Barr has transformed a group of seemingly random objects into a majestic pyramidal composition, given dynamism by the rearing horse and the upward trajectory of forms.
Interrogating the concept of a still life, the painting features a statue and a stuffed bird, two very different forms of frozen living creatures. The titular poussin, purchased at Deyrolle in Paris, has been transformed into one of the artist’s eccentric and enigmatic characters, with an elaborate hat and a bell hanging round its neck, its face plunged into shadow.
The horse is a model of one of the famous pair of statues commissioned by Louis XV of France for the grounds of the Château de Marly, sculpted by Guillaume Coustou and now in the Louvre. Known as the Marly Horses, from their creation they have been considered masterpieces of French sculpture. Appleby-Barr was drawn to this particular work precisely because of the unusual absence of any mythological or allegorical reference. It is simply a depiction of life and energy, a struggle between man and nature. The dark glass of the bottle shows a distorted reflection of the horse and poussin, a show of virtuosity and a reference to the convex mirrors depicted in paintings by old masters such as van Eyck.
The painting is an appeal to the senses. As well as being a feast for the eyes, it features wonderfully tactile elements such as the fraying strands of wood. The roll of bread recalls taste, beautifully illuminated, with the light penetrating its porous texture. The bulbs of garlic are particularly sensory, indicating taste but also associated with their powerful smell. Even hearing is accounted for, in the bell nestling in the shell – still but immediately bringing sound to mind.
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