Shoreditch Modern had the privilege of hosting an enlightening Q&A session as part of the group exhibition, warmly still. The talk, led by curator Anais Masetti, featured two remarkable artists: Freddy Darke and Justin Cole. The evening’s discussion centred around the exhibition’s core themes—memory and presence in absence—and how these elements influence the artists’ process.

The Impact of Key Memories on Artistic Practice

Anais Masetti kicked off the discussion by delving into the concept of memory and its impact on art. “Is there a key memory that has influenced your artistic practice?” she asked.

Freddy Darke, reflecting on a childhood experience, shared a charming yet profound anecdote. “When I was little, I used to draw Superman. He has the yellow triangle on the chest with a red ‘S’ in it. I couldn’t see the ‘S’ and drew the yellow shapes as the foreground, working with negative space. My dad was very impressed because it came out looking like an ‘S’. One day, I saw it and thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m so silly.’ But I was also proud of this different way of looking at things. It’s relevant to the idea of presence in absence—drawing or painting around the edge of something, not necessarily the subject itself.”

This early memory ties into Darke’s artistic practice, where he often explores narratives by using negative space to represent a subject. His technique creates a unique interplay between presence and absence, a theme central to the exhibition.

The Transformative Power of Art

Justin Cole’s journey into the art world was markedly different. Growing up without access to formal art education, his first museum visit during his undergraduate years was transformative. “My first visit was so impactful. There’s an energy that these famous paintings have, and it’s something I’ve tried to recreate in others ever since. It changed my direction completely,” Cole shared. This profound experience has driven him to evoke similar feelings in his viewers, aiming to capture the power of what he felt during that initial encounter with great art.

portrait of artist Freddie Darke at Shoreditch Modern

Comfort and Tension in Artistic Expression

Masetti highlighted the sense of comfort and beauty in both artists’ works, alongside a palpable tension created by a sense of absence. Darke elaborated on this, referencing a quote by Edgar Degas: “A good painting has a little bit of poison in it.” He explained, “Even in the most bucolic paintings, there’s something that offsets it. For me, it’s about unpacking subconscious feelings and anxieties, disguising them in a gentle composition.”

Cole, on the other hand, approaches his work with a deliberate intention to leave out certain elements. “There’s a teacher who always forced me to explain why I included certain things. This led me to reduce my work to the core elements, ensuring I don’t lead the viewer one way or the other. I want to have a semblance of a narrative without making it too specific.”

person looking at Benny Watson's paintings at Shoreditch Modern
Sowing Season, a painting by Justin Cole exhibited by Shoreditch Modern

Levels of Consciousness in Art

The discussion then shifted to Cole’s exploration of different levels of consciousness in his work. “A few years ago, I based a series on a quote: ‘The more conscious we are, the more despair we feel.’ It was an illustration of headspace. Now, my work has evolved into world-building within a specific headspace,” Cole explained. This evolution reflects his ongoing exploration of consciousness and its impact on our perception of reality.

The Influence of Synaesthesia on Artistic Creation

Darke, who experiences synaesthesia, offered fascinating insights into how this condition influences his artworks. “I see certain things in colour—days of the week, letters of the alphabet. I realized later that music, too, provoked colour in my mind. The playlists I listened to when painting often act like a palette, setting the mood and influencing the colours on my canvas,” he shared.

The Role of Memory in Artistic Representation

The talk concluded with a thought-provoking discussion on how memory is depicted in art and whether it influences our own recollections. Darke noted, “There’s a tendency to associate memory with sepia colours or a washed-out palette, but sometimes memories are vivid and sharp. I don’t think it’s a hard rule.” Cole added, “In films, flashbacks were traditionally grayed out, but people realized that’s not the only way to show them. We tend to romanticize the past, which is why it often appears warm and hazy.”

Realism and Abstraction: Balancing Memory and Reality

Masetti’s final question addressed the integration of realism and abstraction in their works. Cole emphasised, “Memories are inherently distorted, so it makes sense to reflect that in art.” Darke agreed, appreciating the idea of memories being unreliable and changing over time, much like a colour in an aging painting.

warmly still invites viewers to reflect on their own memories and the interplay between presence and absence. Freddy Darke and Justin Cole’s works encapsulate this beautifully, offering a glimpse into the subconscious and the various ways we perceive and recall our experiences. Shoreditch Modern is proud to showcase their thought-provoking art, and we encourage everyone to visit and immerse themselves in this captivating exhibition, which runs until 14th June 2024.