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Review: ‘Face Value’ by Lot 5 Collective, Royal Opera Arcade

Lot 5 Collective uses contemporary portraiture and interactive art (i.e. 'defacing' a picture of Boris Johnson) to deliver incisive political commentary, writes Sue Livingstone

Lot 5 Collective – a group of contemporary representational painters – opened their fourth show in London last night at the Royal Opera Arcade, where visitors also had the chance to ‘deface’ a portrait of former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

The collective is made up of six artists: Lizet Dingemans, SJ Fuerst, Lucas Garcia, Luca Indraccolo, Helen Masacz and Harriet Spratt, and as a group they seek to “reconcile contradictions by applying traditional techniques to modern themes, combining classical beauty with contemporary culture, and uniting expression with representation” – using the old to create the new.

Entitled ‘Face Value’, the show focuses on contemporary portraiture, and also features a number of international guest artists who are not part of the collective. These include Felicia Forte, whose painting Time Traveler, (Matthew Napping) was awarded Second Prize at the 2018 BP Portrait Awards.

Another work that had previously been shown at the BP Portrait Awards is Helen Macasz’s portrait of Boris Johnson. The painting was originally shown at the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery in 2010, at the time that Johnson was the Mayor of London. When the portrait was returned to her, Masacz invited her students to ‘deface’ the painting, using oil paint applied with palette knives in expressive marks.

For Masacz, the painting (now called Boris Johnson – Cover Up) relates to the artist’s disillusionment with Johnson’s politics. She says, 'I painted the London Mayor in 2010 as part of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Johnson’s parachute didn’t quite open after his spectacular descent from the role of London Mayor.'

'With his funny flyaway hair and his puppy-like enthusiasm,' Masacz continues, 'he has veered off course and is putting his political ambitions before the interests of Britain, hence the painting "Cover Up".'

At the opening of the exhibition, members of the public were also invited to add to the Masacz’s painting in this way.

The works in ‘Face Value’ showcase a variety of styles and subject matter but are linked by the artists’ commitment to representational painting, portraiture and contemporary art’s capacity to articulate the complexities of the human condition.

Other paintings in the show include SJ Fuerst’s playful tableaus that reinterpret elements of contemporary culture in a mix of the styles of Pop art and traditional painting, each a slightly twisted version of the familiar. Fuerst was recently featured in QG’s list of the ’10 Best Artists Working Today,’ and is inspired by costume, toys, and fashion photography, and often incorporates the atmosphere and compositional strategies of the latter to invoke a sense of fantasy. Her hyper-real paintings fuse both classical and pop sensitivities creating a surreal world where the animals are inflatable and the figures feel so real you expect them to wink at you.

With his latest works, Italian artist Luca Indraccolo has taken inspiration from the fires that devastated the Vesuvius National Park, near Naples in Italy in the summer of 2017. This disaster is used as a starting point to make a comment on the global destruction of natural environment for the financial gain of a few unscrupulous people. The impressive columns of smoke that rose kilometers into the air are a strong visual device that links all the paintings in this series.

Further paintings in the exhibition were by Anastasia Pollard, Arvid Antonsen, Daniel Sequeira, Cornelia Hernes, Emanuela de Musis, Emma Hopkins, Hans van der Leeuw, Ione Hunter Gordon, Jamie Routley, Lewis Hazelwood-Horner, Milo Hartnoll, Nicolas Uribe, Phillip Harris, Simon Davis, Scott Eaton, Sainer Etam, Stella Ishack, Shana Levenson, Sharn Whitehead, Sofia Welch, Stephen Bauman and Travis Seymour.

As a whole, the works on view at ‘Face Value’ use representational painting to create incisive commentaries on contemporary culture.

‘Face Value’ is on view from 8 – 17 November 2018. For the duration of the exhibition, the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery will be open from 10.30am – 6pm, Monday to Saturday, and closing at 2pm on Saturday 17th November.

Sue Livingstone writes for Spear's