Hannah Lees & Laurence Watchorn

24 June - 22 July 2023

Sim Smith is pleased to present an exciting two-person exhibition by British artists Hannah Lees and Laurence Watchorn. Working across painting and sculpture the artists reveal layers of unknowing and open-endedness, exploring our relationships to our environment, both past and present and removing context to allow more freedom for ideas and interpretation. Plaster tablets filled with remnants of sea glass and beach combings by Lees and large hanging canvas works by Watchorn are unequivocally made by action, where some matter is compelled into creation whilst others emerge spontaneously from intuition. Either way, the hand of the artist is omnipresent in the work, in a space that conjures its content from the world around us.


For this exhibition Lees has extended upon her cast-plaster series, Tablets (2011 - ongoing), soft-edged, alchemic works in plaster coloured by a rust converter that see the colours morph over time until they settle into their final state. The interiors of these works encapsulate sea glass and beachcombed findings from riverbanks and beaches; bones, pottery, glass, all come together to question ideas and beliefs surrounding lifecycles and new beginnings, the potential of objects and storytelling across times and cultures. 


On her fascination with glass, Lees explains her interest in traditional stained-glass windows in churches acting as a storytelling source for the masses. The quirks of modernist churches altered this convention, some with glass bricks alluding to stained glass but devoid of narrative or legend. She questions this idea of taking away context within her work, allowing for more breathing space to create new thoughts and ideas. 


Feeling as if they are dug out of the earth, the works seem to have undergone petrification, torching or burning in some cases. There are obvious links to elements of archaeology, history and belief systems but these works are lively, current and we are very aware of them being made by action, even a performance of sorts. They are physical to make, where matter is manually coerced into being. Objects sparkle and recede into their ground simultaneously, a point of magic where something beautiful overcomes inert, basic matter. 


Watchorn's canvases often hang on hooks like tapestries with curved corners referencing organic forms. Large works in oil, oil stick and charcoal seem to have been summoned from the earth and the skies, pigments and movements which embody metaphysical energies and frequencies. The work is made intuitively, on the floor often without a clear orientation for some time. Across the plains, bone like structures emerge alongside coded language scratched in charcoal and seemingly primal forms across spills of oil paint. These forms are not reiterations from art history or ancient cultures but instead are informed by elements of dance music, contemporary shamanism and alternative paths to healing.


Questioning themes around living and existence, Watchorn depicts his relationship to his environment but also examines the dynamic of being as a direct result of it. He references animistic philosophy in his work, seeing objects, places and creatures as possessing a distinct spiritual essence and believes that human handiwork is animated and alive. The paintings take on this philosophy, breaking free from conventional forms of presentation, the hanging paintings oscillate with the viewer which mirrors the way Watchorn oscillates with his environment.


"I'm interested in the allegory of a dead-end woodland stroll to discuss the act of picture-making. A reflexive, veering path leading into the unknown thick of things. Instead of an immediate confrontation with resolution, it's a path often turning back on itself which values the nature, rather than the meaning of things. The destination is thus subordinated to the present moment, with all its eventualities. An expression of humanities true place in nature - not controlling toward preconceived ends but instead allowing life, or the picture, to happen as an animistic and inconsequential element of nature's balance."


-        Watchorn, June 2023.


Watchorn speaks about listening to plants and music when making the work and deriving concepts from musical notation and frequencies. He details the Love Frequency - 432 Hz - a frequency used by Bob Marley, Prince and The Beatles across their music. It is said to heighten perception, increase mental clarity and imbue feelings of warmth, comfort and tenderness. Watchorn questions if paintings can operate in the same way, having a subliminal effect on the mind and body. 432 Hz has also been proven to be a healing frequency. For Watchorn, coming to the point of making is informed by an attempt to heal. 


Watchorn cites his interest in shamanism and the spirit of shamanism that is imbued within the work, each piece working like a mirror, reflecting on the world we live in. His process of making is an embodied one and the use of text in the work is another example of this. Coded and decoded texts appear back to front as if mirrored, allowing Watchorn to question at what point abstraction becomes text and vice-versa and ultimately asks how we are able to communicate beyond language. There is a heightened awareness of the body as well as the mind in the work, influenced and informed by music and sound, dance and rhythm. Watchorn's parents ran a dance school with his mother being a dancer and father a DJ. Underground dance music and its craft was his first love.


Across this exhibition, both artists act as mediums offering up mirrors that look both to the past and the present. Spanning lifecycles and new beginnings these artists question concepts behind deep rooted ideas and beliefs around living and existence. With the external works as their departure point, information flows through them, into the work for us to receive. They not only reflect upon our own experiences but give us freedom to explore amid the mysterious and magical worlds they create.