‘Library Looting’ by East London Painting Prize winner Willem Weismann works as an absurdist narrative that needs to be pieced together by the viewer.
The painting, on display at the Nunnery Gallery as part of the artist’s solo show Alphabet Soup, comments ironically on library closures by imagining a scenario where books are so precious that they become the subjects of a heist.
Books, in this invented cartoon world, function as a symbolic double for the work of painting. They offer intimate conversations and represent a romantic view of the world, one of the few endeavours left in which a single individual can effect change.
Worries of proportion and other obstacles are thrown aside to get straight to the fun of painting. The handling of the paint is satisfyingly impastoed, thick set like the relief of woodblock prints, or Van Gogh like. A plurality of strong bold colours is set against calm, less busy sections.
As you peer through the bookshelf you can pick out a body being dragged away, a foot can be seen on the left, next to the rock that presumably knocked them unconscious. The face is hidden (distracted by a book), to stop attention from being drawn away from the rest of the painting.
Highly finished details offer clues, such as the beer can bong, a crowbar, ski mask and take-away pizza which could suggest a young squatter hiding away or a librarian’s last stand.
Amid this, ‘Library Looting’ raises questions about the purpose and place of painting as an activity in the face of shifting technologies. ‘Obsolete’ objects such as old style cordless phones, CDs and Walkmans stand out. To what extent do these double for painting itself and reflect anxieties about its status within the arts?
Alphabet Soup is at Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, E3 2SJ until 20 December.