Scottish artist Henry Coombes (b.1977) has produced an apparently highly diverse oeuvre ranging from short (fiction and non-fiction) films to roughly modelled plaster sculptures and small, meticulously handled figurative paintings. Coombes is a member of the growing band of young artists who refuse to commit themselves to any single style or medium, preferring to select the means of expression most appropriate to each individual project. This one-man show at Kunsthal KAdE
will present Coombes latest film The Bedfords, together with his paintings and sculptures. The Bedfords is a fictional documentary: a subjective narrative loosely based on the life of Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873). Landseer was the prototype Victorian establishment artist. His portraits of game (the wild animals so enthusiastically massacred by the English aristocracy) brought him fame and fortune and his majestic painting of a powerfully built stag, Monarch of the Glen (1851), is a national icon. A portly, self-important man with bushy whiskers, his appearance was equally prototypical. However, despite his great success as a society portraitist, Landseer was also a depressive, a hypochondriac and a libertine who seduced a client and made her his mistress. He is therefore an ideal protagonist for a series of works which reflect ironically on the condition of the artist.
Henry Coombes paints with great precision but his pictures are not highly polished. He is a skilful sculptor but an aesthetic end-result is not his aim. He films with all the perfectionism of the average costume drama, but does not create bland Hollywood productions. In Coombes work, life is a painful business. His focus is on internal conflicts, the flaws in apparent perfection and the sharp edges of the sublime. Art is a struggle: Making becomes the stage for a one-man performance to an audience of one, where the act of making lets in the emotive forces that I must obey, or avoid like a coward and pay the price with a sick burp of mediocrity and a wretch of guilt onto my pale knees; every day I am in the studio covered by this bile.
Using the figure of Landseer as a metaphor, Coombes adopts an ironic stance. But his irony is born not of postmodern laissez-fairism, but rather of a distrust of aesthetics as the gratuitous slave of social hypocrisy - the kind of hypocrisy that Landseer was keen to uphold in the comfortable paintings he produced for the aristocratic elite of his day.