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Published  13/02/2022
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Allison Katz: Artery

Allison Katz: Artery

In her first institutional solo show in London, Katz creates a fascinating world of surrealism and interconnectivity, probing at the symbols and sensations that connect us all

Allison Katz: Artery, Installation view, Camden Art Centre, 2022. Photo: Rob Harris.

Camden Art Centre, London
14 January – 13 March 2022

by CHRISTIANA SPENS

Following her inclusion in the excellent survey show Mixing It Up: Painting Today at the Hayward Gallery, Allison Katz now has her first institutional solo exhibition in London. With the show named after the bodily “artery” (also a play on “art”), each painting is part of a wider system in which symbols and messages rely on, and flow into, one another in order to make a cohesive sense. That said, each painting is stunning on its own: from the first, hyper-realistic life-size painting of a steel elevator to still lives of cabbages (next to a shadow of her husband’s profile), to views of the open mouths of a crowd of people, each new vision is exciting and surprising. I am reminded of the cult 1960s film Valley of the Dolls,with its palette of crimsons and canary yellows, or the music of the Velvet Underground; the textures in these works, whether metal, the soft skin of someone’s lips, or the leather of boots, are all inviting and, in their own ways, offer a sense of escapism in a similar vein.



Allison Katz: Artery, Installation view, Camden Art Centre, 2022. Photo: Rob Harris.

The Montreal-born, London-based artist creates a fascinating world of surrealism and interconnectivity, probing at the symbols and sensations that connect us all, and the vision she creates feels irresistibly real, despite its consistent oddness. As I walk around the show, I have the sense that each painting lights up and pulses, one by one, in this system, this “artery” – or, rather, this interconnected, live map of them.



Allison Katz: Artery, Installation view, Camden Art Centre, 2022. Photo: Rob Harris.

Part of this feeling of liveliness is thanks to the humour of the exhibition. I can’t work out why it is funny, but my is mood elevated just by walking around, by viewing these little paintings of cabbages and women, cockerels and velvet interiors. “I want to emphasise the non-order of things, from inside to out,” as Katz has said, and yet she does so by creating some sort of a system. It certainly seems to hang together – and yet is there no core sense or meaning, after all? Is that why there is a sense of delight, this ambiguous humour?

Integrating the specificities of the gallery itself (having travelled from Nottingham Contemporary, where Artery was first shown last year), the exhibition plays with the ideas of systems and interconnectivity, networks and channels, the connections and spaces between experience and representation, and the parallel, separated worlds of images and life itself.



Allison Katz: Artery, Installation view, Camden Art Centre, 2022. Photo: Rob Harris.

Yet to wander around this exhibition is to feel “inside” it, to feel part of a cohesive structure, even if whatever logic determines its system is unclear. It is a hall of mirrors, a little static circus, with its own language of recurring animals, symbols and patterns, which is at once familiar (we have our own connotations of what they might refer to or imply, for instance) and unclear, as if it is a secret language that we are trying to understand with only a couple of words translatable or audible. Where this effect might be jarring in another setting or in the hands of another artist, here the quiet chaos and confusion is inviting rather than malignant. There is an intimacy and softness that balances out any sense of uncanniness or unease.



Allison Katz: Artery, Installation view, Camden Art Centre, 2022. Photo: Rob Harris.

Partly, this intimacy comes from a private language woven into the more alienating or surreal strands of symbolism. Drawing on autobiographical and familial anecdotes and instances of synchronicity in her life – such as the fact that her childhood home in Quebec was on Finchley Road, Hampstead, while the Camden Art Centre is located on Finchley Road, Hampstead, London – Katz creates a piecemeal auto-fictional world of signs and symbols that give a sense of personal attachment and enquiry, even though such an exploration remains, beyond these details, vague and secretive. Dream-like, these signposts, together with stirring images of mouths and limbs, animals and mesmerising patterns, pull us into a deep sense of familiarity and sensuality, therefore, even as it is strange and unreal.



Allison Katz: Artery, Installation view, Camden Art Centre, 2022. Photo: Rob Harris.

Arteries convey blood to all parts of the body, carrying oxygen and nutrients; it is also a word used to describe “an important route in a system of roads, rivers, or railway lines” (Oxford Dictionary), and a means of connection in this sense, too. In this exhibition, with its assemblage of interconnected paintings, with their mirroring, echoing symbols and colours and jokes, Katz reveals the ways in which art, and especially image-based painting, provides a strange system of meaning and subconscious processing that enables us to communicate with one another and the shared world around us in an ever-shifting, and ever-strange way. She reveals how we find contentment and closeness in the most sensual, dreamlike mirage of intervisuality, grasping at symbols and textures to find one another and ourselves, and to keep living in a system we don’t quite understand.

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