Andrew Webb(° 1966), artist of our gallery since 2004, suddenly passed away in March 2019 at his residence in Sandwich (UK). Muhka (Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp) made a intimate exhibition last year (May – August 2021).
Webb was born in Warwickshire, England, and studied at the Goldsmith's College, University of London. After a short stay in Spain, he and his partner Jon Thompson moved to Belgium in the mid-1990s, where he lived first in Antwerp and then in Brussels until 2008. From 2008 he lived and worked in Sandwich (Kent, England).
Andrew Webb's oeuvre initially consists of conceptually based objects and collages. Although his oeuvre is influenced by Dadaism and Surrealism, it is definitely contemporary and makes frequent use of language with visual and phonetic puns and anagrams, humour and eroticism. Jean Fisher (1942 - 2016) wrote: "Webb works with the visual-verbal pun, the anagram and the portmanteau word that more often than not conceal a sexual meaning. They form the hinge what Duchamp called a 'corridor of humour' through which our expectations of language and meaning are disrupted and experience is opened up to the play of fantasy."
The A and the W, Webb's initials appear frequently in his oeuvre : the Alpha and the Omega form Webb's cosmic connection.
From 2011 Andrew Webb concentrated on painting with his own typical brushwork in oil on canvas. The last paintings found in Andrew Webb's studio refer to his important spatial works "The aristocratic Hairline Machine", "The Line of Saved", and the use of missals in his collages, paintings and sculptures.
The Annie Gentils gallery is organising a small retrospective exhibition including the most recent paintings as found at his studio in Sandwich where he conceived a new exhibition to be held in spring 2019. The exhibition "Heavenly Flowers" opens during Antwerp Art Weekend (26/05/22) and can be visited until mid-July 2021.
The title comes from a poem of Andrew Webb:
The title of the exhibition comes from a poemof Andrew Webb:
The Persistent fluttering
of The Butterfly
outside My Window,
Casts its Shadow,
Dancing on the Studio Floor.
He can see I am painting,
Andrew Webb, A.W., the Alpha and Omega of the missals with dozens of colourful ribbons, an anthology of colours like a rainbow flag, but with a more subtle range of colours, like Pontormo’s palette. These knotted ribbons constitute the installation The Line of Saved - 125059 mm (at present), a work Webb created in 2001. Edmond Jabès wrote: ‘Whatever you do, you invariably hope to save yourself. And it’s yourself you lose.’
Over a beer, Andrew and I discussed painting, with Andrew correcting my English. He taught me the term ‘wooddrift’: a piece of wood modelled by the sea. At the time, he lived in Brussels. We talked about Pontormo, Edmond Jabès,... He told me about the staging of the death of James Lee Byars in Egypt, and about the fight for his remains, which should have found their final resting place in Venice. Venice is also home to Andrea Mantegna’s The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian. In 2007, Webb created The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, Not; he paid homage to James Lee Byars with his work The Half Reach of J.L.B.
Webb loved gold: James Lee Byars’s gold, as well as the gold used as background during the Proto-Renaissance. The gold for the background for The Martyrdom of Saint Cosimas and Damian (2006). For this work, Webb used two missal cases he had flattened. ‘God is the absence of the book and the book is the slow decoding of his absence,’ Jabès wrote.
The artist very poetically emphasized the link between art and the sacred, and with Duchampian humour he enjoyed the deconstruction of the mechanisms of sanctification. He claimed he made paintings without brushes or tubes of paint. He introduced me to Marc Wallinger’s work, and thanks to him I actually met Wallinger. Martyrs are doubtlessly figures we should believe in, but in Weg ten hemel (Way to Heaven) he evoked the execution of Lady Jane Gray, involuntary martyr of history.
He talked about the freedom one could find by diligently working on oneself. Who became free, one even forgot the word freedom. ‘It’s not that people want to be free—people simply like to dream about freedom.’ (Edmond Jabès) Perhaps in Andrew’s work we should relate the figure of the martyr to the concept of freedom. In 2009, Danh Võ discovered a letter by the martyred Théophane Vénard, who was beheaded in Vietnam in 1861. Danh Võ’s father copied Vénard’s last letter by hand. It was Vénard’s last letter to his family before his martyrdom.
When I visited Andrew’s home after his death, I saw that he had been working on watercolours of ‘wooddrift’ (which were lying on his desk). ‘Each wave knows it’s the sea. What destroys it, doesn’t bother it, because it also recreates it.’ (Lao-Tze) Andrew used to wear Chinese jackets with ‘monkey’s fists’ for buttons. When he finally started to use brushes and tubes of paint, it was because of the colours that are always free and inalienable. His colours were extremely effective and breathtakingly intense.
Brussels, 21 May 2022