Arts Contributor Lizzie Kaye discovers a dark and intricate underworld on Brixton Road.
Block 336, the subterranean gallery on Brixton Road, has been transformed. The expansive basement of the 1960’s building is currently playing host to The Deepest Darkness, the first major solo show of Robin Mason in over a decade.
The Deepest Darkness is a collection of paintings, etchings, prints and installations concerned with the returning tropes of landscape and journeys. On first entering the exhibition, you are thrust into the largest of the works, Wall Drawings. This took three days for Robin to install, with minimal sketching beforehand. The graphic black lines on the stark white walls envelop you, yet give a sense of space and infinity, a theme that will recur throughout the exhibition. Where the white walls meet the concrete ceiling, starry night skies peek out.
The walls were constructed and painted specifically for this exhibition. Alex Gough, resident artist of Block 336 tells me, “Robin’s work is about a journey, so the creation of the exhibition started at the building stage.” Spaces have been created within the gallery to provide different experiences for the visitor. One such ‘room’ is filled with two series, the etchings and the engravings, with the engravings suffixed by arrows, pointing you deeper into the world that Robin has created.
The main space is a playground of art, and where the concept of darkness is fully realised. “We built walls specifically to create darkness,” notes Alex, “Robin especially wanted that for the museum pieces.” These are freestanding sheds, shrouded in shadows, housing miniature museums, a collaboration between Robin and jewellery designer Debra Allman. Looking through the windows reveals a new perspective on the other larger works, with the tiny forest landscapes mimicking the drawings in the entrance hall and the larger installation, In the Shadows.
The exhibition’s large-scale paintings reveal the enormous influence of Matthias Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece on Robin’s work. Their structure directly references that used by Grunewald and they are colourful, playful, and surreal. My particular favourite was The Funfair and the Altarpiece, with a tiny note to the viewer in it that sent shivers down my spine as I read it.
Block 336’s space lends itself well to supporting Robin’s vision for this exhibition. “He was very interested in the pipework,” Alex says, “so brought the trees in to enhance it.” This installation adds to the all-encompassing experience of the eponymous piece of the exhibition, The Deepest Darkness, a moving image installation projected behind the existing pipework in a dark corner of the gallery space. Watching it feels like a completely different experience of Robin’s work, allowing you to feel a sense of space and solitude, realising that what you are watching is only possible because of darkness.
The preview night was buzzing, with plenty of people taking the chance to play with the vintage pinball machines, another collaboration, this time between Robin and Pinball Geoff, collector of antique arcade machines. “Weirdly, Robin and Geoff realised they’d first met at a house party 30 years ago,” Alex tells me, and the inclusion of such whimsical objects neatly underlines the slightly nostalgic tone of such a personal, intriguing and immersive exhibition.
The Deepest Darkness is on at Block 336 until the 24th of May. The exhibition is commemorated in a beautiful book, The Deepest Darkness, by Robin Mason, published by Block 336. The gallery can be found at 336 Brixton Road, and is open Thurs-Sat, 12-6 pm (or by appointment). Head to the website for more information.