Sadie Coles, London

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd makes me feel happy. I discovered her performance pieces, watched video version and documentaries online and fell in love with her way of working. The bright colours, simplicity, joy and involvement spoke to me and seem like an antidote to the sometimes ridged appearance of the fine art world. The aesthetic appearance of her artwork is heavily influenced by the giant props and costumes that she makes for the performances and videos. These props are made with a decidedly DIY appearance. They are unrefined, cobbled together, and reminiscent of the type of things made in school. This exhibition combines the props used for her performances in the static and contained medium of painting. I want to discover the deeper meanings behind her work as below the bright and colourful surface they represent the “ritual origins of art” (Jasper, 2017, p.263).

The gallery at Sadie Coles is a vast, open room with pillars supporting the roof. In this exhibition Chetwynd has installed 14 large paintings (the information sheet states 10, but the list of paintings shows 14), as well as a sculpture and a wall covered in a huge photocopy. 12 of the 14 paintings are hung on the wall. They are huge in size and comprised of a background of flat digital compositions, overlaid with the 3D sculptural props which she makes for her performance pieces. The information sheet available at the exhibition explains that Chetwynd’s has used this gallery opportunity to transform the “temporal sequences [of her performance pieces] into giant relief compositions.” (Sadie Coles, 2018) The objects contained within the paintings are able to be removed and used in future performances, as some have been used in previous ones, making the paintings living entities that have a transformative rather than static life.

The background photocopies offer a smooth surface for the objects to be placed on. This gives emphasis to the sculptural quality of the mannequins. Their form is not diminished by a highly textural, painted background. Viewers are able to get very close to the paintings and examine the sculptures in detail, allowing one to see the way that they have been made. Simple materials, paint, fabric, latex, make up the forms. The paint has been applied in a hasty manner, borders and boundaries overstepped by the paint. Chetwynd explains this DIY aesthetic, saying:

“People say that I’m intentionally bad, as if I was intentionally amateurish with my aesthetic, when, actually, if you were to watch me, I’m just excited and impatient to make things. And I’m making them myself, that’s why they look bad. It’s me making them. It’s not because I’m employing a professional or that I’ve spent five years learning how to use the material, it’s because I’m trying to botch it together quickly to tell a story. I want to make it really expressive and dirty, and sort of crazy, and I don’t have any other people other than myself, so I might have to just go crazy on my own.” (Chetwynd, 2014)

Many of the creatures share the same eyes. Made of plastic spheres they look out at the audience, unseeing. They are slightly unsettling, vacant. The unseeing eye of the creatures hint at a deeper seeing, a trance-like state of knowledge. They are my favourite.

Two of the paintings in the main room, Samurai Bat, 2018 and The King Must Die, 2018 differ from the others in that they do not contain any sculptural props. Instead they share the same digital format as the other paintings, surrounded by huge DIY golden frames (Dutch metal and not expensive gold leaf). These paintings are placed on the floor and not hung on the wall. Her disregard for the traditional hanging of momentous, golden framed paintings highlights that “the spectacle—of history, of art, of art history—is an illusion” (Epps, 2018)

I see the digital background and understand from the press release that they represent historical and mythical elements and relate back to previous performances by Chetwynd. Looking at them I cannot work out their meaning and history. I am guided by the titles and a vague familiarity and recognition of props from previous performances.

This installation of paintings still carries with it elements of Chetwynd’s performance and video work. They are poised and ready for action, waiting to elaborate on the storytelling aspects of her work. They retain a potential vitality which is held in suspended animation. Chetwynd’s has an interest in children’s toys (Epps, 2018), as seen in Medusa, 2016, (from the performance (Camshafts in the Rain, 2016) is a monstrous female model of the mythical creature, who sits atop a jack in the box structure with a handle that can be tuned to make her pop up. Her sculptural paintings have a potential to be seen a grotesque and huge toys, awaiting the artists attention and play.

Chetwynd’s performance, film and these more static works, illicit feelings of excess, revelry, ancient storytelling, and the monstrous. They sit on the cusp of the uncomfortable and the obscene. The simple creation of the sculptures are underpinned by Chetwynd’s deep understanding of anthropology, carnival, politics and morality. Ze & Per give the viewer chance to breathe and sit with Chetwynd’s creations in suspended animation, away from the frenzy and trance of her active performances.




Epps, P. (2018). Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s “Ze & Per” | Art Agenda. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Apr. 2018].

JASPER, A., 2017. Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. Artforum International, 56(2), pp. 263

Sadie Coles (2018). Marvin Gaye Chetwynd Ze & per. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Apr. 2018].

What Do Artists Do All Day?, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, 22:30 13/03/2014, BBC4, 30 mins. 10 Apr 2018)