No matter how full you stuff your life with fabulous friends and glittering occasions, there are times when the grey creeps up on you. Those are the days when the glass is half empty, motivation is lacking and everything seems mundane and inexplicably sad. Maya Hewitt understands those grey moments in much the same way that Munch understood paranoia and Gauguin understood naked Tahitian ladies. Nocturne, her five piece exhibition at Bischoff Weiss, showcases these moments, from the coldness of the hospital waiting room to the emotional emptiness of an afternoon spent flicking listlessly through vinyl LPs in a deserted record shop because there is nothing else to stimulate the brain.
Despite its location off New Bond Street, Bischoff Weiss is in need of a bit of love, which makes it perfect for this exhibition and the sentiments expressed within it. Interestingly, rather than hanging all five pieces within the gallery space, one, The Animalist (2010), is just about visible through the window between gallery and back office. Although perhaps not the most obvious sales technique at a commercial exhibition, it does however provide a sense that the gallery managers love Hewitt’s work enough to include it in their private space, which can only be a good thing.
There is nothing shiny or perfected within Hewitt’s work, but there is a raw honesty which is all pervading. ICU (2010), for instance, shows a child at the bedside of a sick woman – presumably its mother – who has been reduced by illness to a pencil outline with minimal shading, her body melting into the bed and appearing much less solid than the duvet covering her. The room itself is grey and untidy, and radiates that feeling of sickness and pain that is all too familiar to those who have spent time on hospital wards. The use of varying human solidity to express the emotional state works well here, and has the same resonance with the viewer as the careful representations of medical facilities devoid of hope depicted in Muffled in grey and gold (2010), where four figures wait for attention in an agony of silence.
Hewitt’s are the kind of paintings that you can lose yourself in. Luckily, the minimalism of the show and small number of paintings on display encourage standing and staring. The painting that stood out the most for me was Heartbruises (2010), partly because it perfectly captures the dejection of a record shop no longer in its heyday and the lone customer searching through the racks for that one album to enliven the day. The word “heartbruises” could easily be the exhibition title, such is its relevance to the works on display. It seems to me that heartbruises are those grey days, that all consuming dullness when the spirit slumps and every moment of waiting for sickness to heal and hearts to mend.
Some of the very best art is cathartic in much the same way that identification with a fictional character can help lovers of literature. Maya Hewitt’s Nocturne brings you right back to your very worst moments, and – amazingly – simultaneously slings an arm around your shoulder and sends you on your way confident that someone else knows exactly how you’ve felt and understands.
-- Alex Field
All images courtesy Bischoff/ Weiss
Images: Maya Hewitt, ICU, 2010, Oil on board, 121 x 175 cm; Maya Hewitt, Heartbruises, 2010, Oil on board, 172 x 205 cm