The Italian poet Dante wrote his Inferno some 900 years ago. In it he described his journey, along with fellow poet Virgil, through hell, which is represented as nine concentric circles. Following in Dante’s footsteps, but with a contemporary take on such a journey, Brixton artist Steve Wilde has represented hell as a multi storey car park – something perhaps many of us can relate to!
So the first reaction to Dante’s Car Park – Steve’s new exhibition in Brixton’s Tate Library – is one of humour. The idea of Dante accompanied by the Roman poet, Virgil, trying to negotiate one of the city’s concrete mazes in “a battered Fiat 500”, is a witty and amusing idea.
But there’s more to the work than humour. Indeed on reflection, they are quite sombre and disturbing pieces. The clue is in the titles.
Steve has long been fascinated by the distressed surface of walls. The combination of texture, colour, shape and history offers a multi-layered subject for his art which occupies a visual space between the abstract and the representational. Walls reveal the passage of time and human activity – physical wear and tear, signs of repair and restoration alongside graffiti, daubed political statements and declarations of love and hate.
The various pieces representing Dante’s circles – lust, gluttony, anger, treachery, fraud and so on – have a similar depth. Look under the surface and shapes and movement appear. Hard edges, harsh words and blocks of colour, contrast with pale, watery softness to create a visual tension and suggest an eventful history. Restful and disturbing at the same time, they invite the question “what happened here?”.
Accompanying the nine main works is a series of smaller paintings called “Ugly Beautiful”. Once again they reveal how the appearance of a wall speaks to its history.
In a light hearted touch, visitors to this interesting show will be given the chance – anonymously – to nominate people to be confined in the various circles of hell. I suspect there are lots of candidates!
Dante’s Car Park is a free exhibition which runs until 25 September in Brixton’s Tate Library, Windrush Square. The library is open every day. For further information call 020 7926 1058 or go to www.lambeth.gov.uk