Sholto Blissett opens an exhibition at Alexander Berggruen

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Sholto Blissett opens an exhibition at Alexander Berggruen
Sholto Blissett, Rubicon V, 2022. Oil on canvas, 63 x 78 3/4 in. Copyright the artist. Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Berggruen, NY. Photo: Dario Lasagni.

by Kirsten Cave

NEW YORK, NY.- Alexander Berggruen is presenting Sholto Blissett: Rubicon. This exhibition opened Wednesday, January 25, 2023.

Sholto Blissett continues his interrogation of humankind's interactions with and influence on the natural world in his latest series Rubicon. The show’s title originates from Caesar’s crossing of the eponymous Rubicon river, which started Caesar's Civil War (49–45 BC). The idiom “to cross the Rubicon” thus means to commit an irrevocable act. With turbulent waters constantly in flux, Sholto Blissett: Rubicon explores the hydraulic process and its symbolism in relation to the sensitivity and interconnectedness of all systems where irreversible transformations are caused by both humans and nature.

Applying a light and precise hand, Blissett renders convincing painterly fluvial mountainscapes, composed of meticulous yet also Impressionistic short brushstrokes. Diverging from the placid waters in his Garden of Hubris series and the broad range of aquatic forces in his Ship of Fools series, the flow of water in his Rubicon series is consistently that of an upland river, rushing either towards or away from a viewer. The riverine realms he depicts express urgency, as the rivers rage onwards, impervious to the human interpretations attached to it. With regard to the river beds carved by the power of upland streams, Blissett stated: “The liquid paths created and followed by these rivers are not only visual reminders of the analogy of Caesar’s Rubicon, but they are themselves Rubiconic acts of irreversible and impressive feats.”

Bodies of water act as both borders and conjunctions, where societies are delineated and defined. Further contradictory meanings bubble through to the surface as Blissett’s imagined landscapes become psychological spaces for meditation where the river is an obstacle to be crossed and considered. The artist has referred to the qualities of moving waters as “contradictory: transparent and reflective, but dark; deep and immediate, yet surface level; full of motion and simultaneously motionlessness.” These fluid interpretations and impressions, in the artist’s words, “make the river ineffable, always out of sight. Staring into its depths which are obscured by the broken image of the surface world, to look at the river is to look ‘through a glass darkly’ (1 Corinthians 13:12)”.

In Rubicon, Blissett’s upland rivers are framed by bridges that run perpendicular to the body of water. The artist’s central placement of the bridges, Roman architectural embellishments in linear perspective, and urge to repetitively revisit similar yet increasingly foreboding environments reveals an attempt to organize or frame the scene. Yet, this organization is a fiction as from this positioning, the bridges cannot encompass the swell, the rugged topography, and the cloud-blemished skies. While bridges connect lands and cultures, from this frontal viewpoint, the ends of the arches depicted in Blissett’s paintings are rendered inaccessible. A viewer is a powerless voyeur of their own desires and limits, restricted from crossing. This cold outside perspective becomes a safe place to behold both options without necessarily contemplating the unknown that may await on the other side of the bridge, where to cross to the other side may become a euphemism for death, another sort of immutability. Embodying the powerless perspective from the outside looking in “through a glass darkly”, Blissett depicts how individuals must stand idly by and watch as society takes leaps into the unknown, crossing Rubicons in agriculture, industry, and technology at accelerating speeds that fundamentally change humankind’s relationship to the world and to each other.

This exhibition marks the gallery's first solo show with the artist, following his inclusion in the gallery’s group shows The Natural World: Part II (March 9-April 13, 2022) and Sholto Blissett, Emma Fineman, Madeline Peckenpaugh (December 10, 2021-January 22, 2022).

Sholto Blissett (b. 1996, Salisbury, UK) received an MA in painting from the Royal College of Art in London and a BA in Geography from Durham University in Durham, England. He is co-represented by Hannah Barry Gallery, London, UK. The artist’s work has been exhibited at Alexander Berggruen, New York, NY; Hannah Barry Gallery, London, UK; Colnaghi, London, UK; The Hole, New York, NY; The Artist Room, London, UK; Nicola Vassell, New York, NY; White Cube, London, UK; Saatchi Gallery, London, UK; L.U.P.O., Milan, IT; and Perez Projects, Berlin, GE, among others. Blissett lives and works in London, UK.

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