49 (Ben Walker)

Info

About PM/AM

PM/AM is a London based contemporary art gallery, residency program, and incubator whose mission it is to reflect how we engage with art today. Dedicated to growing and nurturing emerging talent, as well as gaining exposure for artists without formal U.K. representation, the platform has organised exhibitions globally and events across its home city, using a flexible space model to accommodate the diversity and dynamism of the artists’ practices they showcase. It also has two permanent locations—one central, one west.

PM/AM has a reputation for discovering and helping to launch the careers of some of the most exciting contemporary artists of today. While its focus is on international talent, it also has a keen interest in UK based artists coming out of the country’s leading art schools. As well as maintaining a traditional exhibition programme, PM/AM is dedicated to finding new ways of working with the artistic community, expanding upon its shows with events, ongoing residency projects, and pilot schemes designed to connect collectors with the artists they love.

The London residency is of particular focus, further cementing the gallery’s commitment to growing and shaping artists’ careers by giving them a space to create and introducing them to the local artistic community. Rather than following the accepted representation model, PM/AM aims to facilitate ongoing support for the artists it works with through instinctive management beyond and outside of exhibition and residency collaborations. 

PM/AM has been featured extensively in the press, garnering coverage from leading publications including The Times, Art Forum, The New York Times, Independent Magazine, The Guardian, Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Face, Dazed, Hyperallergic, Elephant Magazine, The Financial Times, Juxtapoz and Purple Diary.

Exhibition Text

The capturing of a memory through photography aims to enshrine in frozen history two basic forms: the components of a situation experienced by the basic senses, and those detected and contextualised by the emotions.

A photo taken at your eighth birthday party evokes the sensation of heat coming from the candles on the cake just before you blew them out; the coarseness of the woollen jumper you were wearing and, for a moment, a vague sense of curiosity related to that jumper’s whereabouts now. It must still exist, but where? In what state? Full of holes, moth eaten, maybe turned into mittens? Emotions take hold. The weariness of our fraught relationship with time stirs and the more cheerful aspects of this recollection give way to an ennui laden musing on the passage of life. The voices of dead relatives in the back of the photo are less specifically theirs, and amidst the complexities of adulthood, of modern life, the feeling of grief for a time of excitement and simplicity –youth– comes around again.

The aesthetic of loss, of memory, is analysed in Mark Fisher’s cult publication Ghosts of My Life, framing it in the context of hauntology, an area of study expanded from Jack Derrida’s original neologic term. Rooted in the idea that Marxism ‘haunts’ Western society from ‘beyond the grave’, modern applications take hauntology deep into other creative and cultural areas. Citing primarily the music of Burial and Leyland Kirby, Fisher’s direction has a distinctly sonic angle. He identifies distant, lonely voices, vinyl crackles, warped 1930s ballroom songs and sonic degradation as hauntological imprints within their sounds, placing the music in a suspension between an uncertain future and a fading, traumatic past.

Exposing ourselves to such material takes us to a place of emotional conflux that, through the parallel sensorial routes travelled, structures hauntology as a distinctly synaesthetic experience. When we hear the sounds we feel the persistence of memory and the touch of ghosts.

Ben Walker’s paintings could be seen as visual hauntology, forgotten moments and fading memories, tense narrative signposts across a fragmented desert of partial recollection. Though they rarely give too much away –deep enough for impact; vague enough for accessibility– there’s a looming awareness that few, if any, of his works are designed to celebrate the past. In the viewpoint of a fictional mind the past is awkward, abstract and beguilingly strange. Gazing at these fragments feels like an attempt to recall a dream composed of familiar faces and personalities, but the locations are not only stripped of character, they have never existed.

This contrast of sorts is instilled into the canvas through a couple of primary technical and compositional processes. Oil paint is thinned down considerably to create woozy backgrounds, a sense of place often described through a few roughly marked tonal blocks; details are reserved mainly for figures, their forms and expressions hovering just out of the vapour, always at a threat from being engulfed. In a way this aspect of the work reminds us of our connective humanity, how the people we meet, their personalities and faces, sit large in our minds even when jostling for cerebral space with an endlessness of new and stored information.

Paintings that look like they could dissolve in front of your eyes suggest unstable methods of human recollection—cognitive degradation caused by old age or impact trauma. In slightly older works Ben’s colour palette suggests a certain painterly history, a subdued, drizzly realness shrouding his subjects, whilst in conflict they luxuriate in the exquisite elegance of their construction.

In more recent paintings the colour saturation is amplified to impossibility, doing away with the sleazy Ken Loach grit and bringing the paintings through a thick, acid washed haze. Coupled with the soft visual noise that permeates every part of Ben’s canvases, it feels like a slight representation of media technology is present here. Crucially, we are still a long way from the relative infinity of the digital, and its potential for endless, perfect recollection. Here the vividness of colour seems wrong, accidental, like the effects of a child’s ignorant and exploratory manipulation of the picture settings on an old television. Image instability feels like interference on transmissions received by a twisted aerial in a gathering storm. We are stuck deep within the analogue realm, itself a weakening entity from another decade, and its entropic propensity for distortion and destruction.

The most striking thing about this work is perhaps the honesty with which it is painted, and the sincerity it inspires at the core of our responses to it. It looks at the past not as a set of fixed scenarios that must be protected to form a supportive bedrock for the present, but as a fallible and fragile daydream. It is, furthermore, a daydream that is shared - there is a glaringly obvious anonymity to the lives we’re trying to relate to. They are not ours, neither are they connected to the artist. In that the memories we are attempting to preserve are universally experienced, the collective, greying memories of humankind.

Daniel Mackenzie
December, 2023



CV

Born: 1974, Cheshire, United Kingdom.
Lives and works in Kent.

Education

2019 - Turps Art School.
2001 - MA Fine Art, Wimbledon School of Art.
1997 - BA Fine Art, Sheffield Hallam University.

Solo Exhibitions

2023 - Life Without God. M+B Gallery, Los Angeles.
2022 - Lonely Kings. Sto Lat, New York.
2022 - Early Colours. One Wall Gallery, Eugene.
2018 - Solitudes and Seasons. Cimcot, London.
2015 - Picture Box. Jack House Gallery, Portsmouth.

Group Exhibitions

2022 - A Generous Space 2. Walsall Art Gallery, Walsall.
2021 - Push and the Land. Pineapple Black, Middlesborough.
2021 - A Space To Hold The Gaze. Liliya Gallery, London.
2021 - Studio Confetti. Terrace Gallery, London.
2021 - A Generous Space. Hastings Contemporary, Hastings.
2020 - Every Day. Terrace Gallery, London.
2019 - Library Music. Lewisham Arthouse, London.
2019 - Exceptional. Collyer Bristow, London.
2019 - Bloomberg New Contemporaries. Leeds Art Gallery, South London Gallery.
2019 - Solitudes and Seasons. The ARB, University of Cambridge.
2018 - English Dreamtime. Burley Fisher, London.
2016 - Artworks Open. Barbican Arts Trust, London.
2014 - East London Painting Prize. Sugarhouse Lane, London.
2014 - Hey Days. Bermondsey Project Space, London.
2012 - Needle’s Eye. Transition Gallery, London, Bay Art, Cardiff.
2010 - The Marmite Prize for Painting, Central Art Gallery, Tameside, Lanchester Gallery,
Coventry, The Nunnery, London.