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Humphrey Ocean Has No Idea, Either

The British painter delves deep into printmaking and sculpture for his solo exhibition at the Sims Reed Gallery in London

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Text by Rab Messina

One of the editions of Paul McCartney’s 2007 Memory Almost Full has a fold on the top right corner of the CD cover. An intentional mistake, if you will, that judiciously erases a part of the dark presence of an armchair. Another edition lets the buyer do away with the chair altogether and use its silhouette as a stencil, to mindlessly scribble inside its contour.

That McCartney chose Humphrey Ocean’s Black Love Chair for an album that spoke of the mysteries of contemporary life says, well… a lot. Sometimes you just want to do away with it all. But other times, as the former Beatle himself explained, you really want to turn an ordinary object —a CD cover, in this case— into something desirable.

That perhaps explains a title of Ocean’s own, the one of his current solo exhibition at Sims Reed Gallery in London. Labeled I’ve No Idea Either, the show presents a series of prints featuring everyday objects that command the viewer’s attention… and then ask him on her why on Earth they’d pause to stare at them in the first place. Tongue, meet cheek.

There’s a sad cassette tape. A porcelain dog. A drifting boat. And there’s that black chair, part of the Chair Series —the celebrated Love, Black Love and Stripey Love aquatints are joined by two new additions, the Evergreen and Purple chairs.

Complementing the prints — a medium that is “the least easy, most labour intensive way to produce something indelible,” according to the artist— is a series of sculptures. Thinking three-dimensionally is a new thing for him. Judging by his career path, Ocean was supposed to stick solely to painting, but an encounter with master printer Maurice Payne in 2004 led him to etching and aquatint. And recently, a chance encounter with a boat-shaped votive in Corsica led him from canvas to wood. “Being in a studio is a bit like being at sea,” Ocean explained of his new process. “Then I saw a piece of wood like a piece of rough sea on the floor of my studio and made a balsawood boat to sit on it. And so it goes on.”

We’ve no idea, either. But we do like where it’s going.

The exhibition is on display at the Sims Reed Gallery until March 16

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Cassette (2004)
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Fat Check Chair (2006)
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Love Chair (2006)
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Road Sign (2015)
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