Published: 2 March 2020
Duck Soup please, garçon.
There was a moment a few weeks ago at our new pop-up gallery in Westbourne Grove when
a Spanish family came in and exclaimed "El Gordo y el Flaco". "Fat one and thin one!" they
added, proudly. Shrinking and trying not to feel offended I think my colleague and I looked
at each other proportionally, saying "...fat one and thin one?".
El Gordo y el Flaco as it turns out are the Spanish names for the classic Hollywood comedy
duo, Laurel & Hardy. Little and large, I suppose. The slapstick pair are one of several
paintings by the artist Paul Wright that we have hanging at our pop-up gallery. The stars of
black and white cinema painted appropriately in Paul's signature monochrome. It's a chance
to show these works to a new audience before we present Paul's latest solo exhibition at
Seymour Place next month.
I've subsequently had a few people remind me that El Gordo y el Flaco hang prominently
behind our heads at the entrance to Westbourne Grove. Perhaps most surprisingly was a
young boy whose father was showing him all the classic comedies. "The Marx brothers are
his new favourite" he said. There's something quite remarkable about the thought of a child
growing up nowadays engaging with the same comedy that split-sides generations before
them. Then again, I guess that's the timelessness of it, whether it's Stan Laurel scratching his
head, or Groucho Marx painting his moustache on, these things still tickle us.
It's relevant then that Paul has explored these themes in a series of new portraits of children
wearing props on their face—most noticeably in this case, Garçon, in which a kid has a
Groucho Marx-style moustache on his unamused face. The series of paintings highlight how
from an early age we learn to wear a mask, symbolic or otherwise, though often for reasons
that are far from naïve. Whether it's for amusement like Garçon or the oversized glasses of
his painting Pout or becoming an attention-grabbing character in the work Rocketman, these
images reflect our very adult relationships with the self. Indeed, Paul's work titled Curls sees
him paint an older girl in the fashion of an Instagram-friendly-pose, the perfect contrast to his
painting, Starlet, a young girl with a wig and exaggerated love-heart glasses.
Masks protect or project us in the outside world. We only have to think about more serious
examples of how face masks are widespread in the recent Coronavirus outbreak, or how the
clown-like appearance of Joaquin Phoenix's Joker conceals mental-health issues. However,
sometimes masks help convey how we feel, they help to communicate these harder-to-reach
expressions. The static masks of theatre rely on gestural body movement to convey emotion.
It's telling then, that Paul has decided to paint Garçon and others as static portraits, their
almost sombre expression in contrast to the visual props. Sometimes, like slapstick, tragedy
and comedy go hand-in-hand and the more in your face this series of Paul's paintings get, the
closer we get to understanding ourselves. Like Grouch Marx says in Duck Soup, "I got a
good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it".
Paul Wright's new solo exhibition 'With Tme' opens at Thompson's Gallery London on 19th March.
Explore the entire exhibition HERE or get in touch with our gallery team for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.