Andrew Litten’s acid-toned, emotionally charged paintings were such a hit at JD Malat’s open call exhibition, Isolation Mastered, that the gallery in London’s Mayfair offered the self-taught artist a one-man show. Conceived as a response to the Covid-19 crisis, with the aim of providing support for emerging artists during the UK’s lockdown year, Isolation Mastered has achieved the ultimate goal of an open call and plucked an exceptionally talented artist from relative obscurity. One of 25 artists chosen by an eminent art world panel from more than 1,000 submissions, Litten was an early and unanimous favourite. While he has exhibited in Cornwall, where he lives and works, as well as internationally, this is his first solo show in London. It was worth the wait.
Fragile Together comprises large-scale paintings, sculpture and mixed-media works on paper, all of which exude a raw, painful, playful vulnerability, both physical and emotional. Given the year we have had, we can’t help but connect. The exhibition’s evocative title is about “creating community through empathy,” says Litten, “which is such a powerful idea.”
Clearly figurative, Litten’s works nevertheless challenge the visual conventions we live by; people and objects slip, slide and float, untethered, in dream-like compositions that make reality an interiorised place. “I just do what I need to do to make my subjects tangible,” says Litten. “The gift of being self-taught is that I’m not aware that I’m breaking rules and nor do I care.”
In “Ventriloquist” (2021), a pair of figures at a table mirror one another; are they two entities or one, faced with its own reflection or a doppelganger? Touching elbow to elbow, pandemic-style, their free hands join to complete a tentative circle of connection, but both bodies are sliced at the hip by the green tabletop, green-shirted torsos severed from fleshy legs. “I’m interested in the idea of co-existence haunted by the fear of severance,” says Litten. “My title [Fragile Together] is meant to be comforting and togetherness is such a calming thought, but the potential loss of that state is not comforting at all. While I’m painting one thing, I’m also thinking about its opposite.”
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