• Natasha Hall

Autorretrato: Hugh Mendes

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

Hugh Mendes | Obituary: Pablo Picasso | 2018 | Oil on linen | 40x30cm

Hugh Mendes’ third solo exhibition with the CHARLIE SMITH LONDON opens this week, and the artist describes his obituary works as ‘celebrations, as well as memorials. One day in the newspaper is not enough. They are still lives, vanitas, memento mori’. Looking through an imaginary mirror to capture the piercing stare of an historic artist transferred from digitally printed source material to canvas, Autorretrato is Spanish for a self-portrait and Hugh Mendes chose it as the title of the show as the majority of the artists included in the show are Spanish.

Zavier Ellis, the director of CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, described how ‘in its totality Mendes’ oeuvre reminds us of our macabre preponderance for death, terror and the state of mankind by relentlessly presenting us with modern day ‘momento mori’. The transience of ubiquitous headlines and the magnitude of historical events that generate them combine with an uncanny personal history laden with experiences that feed back into the work where war and loss are never far away, thus creating permanence from the ephemeral and personal from the universal’ (1).

‘From the horror of a 92 year old Picasso staring death in the face, to a young rather petulant looking Egon Schiele, to an old somewhat resigned but achingly profound Rembrandt that I have been visiting at Kenwood House for the last 30 years or so…I hope these paintings seen together will act as a memorial and somewhat devotional musing on what can be seen as my own personal lineage in the history of painting… perhaps a magnum opus.’

The work included in Autorretrato embraces the era of fake news by consisting of completely invented obituaries, whilst delving into the past to inform the depth of understanding of each artist represented to re-explore the traditional notion of the self-portrait.

Hugh Mendes | Obituary: Francisco de Goya | 2018 | Oil on linen | 35x25cm

In interview with IRK Magazine, Hugh Mendes reveals unique insights into his creative process, the role of homage and the importance of individual works in the show:

IRK: Having seen your earlier, more political work, especially the MA show on September 11th 2001…

HM: You remember that ?

IRK: Yes, I attended the PV and you were exhibiting a work of Bin Laden.

HM: It was a picture of Bin Laden pointing a gun at George Bush’s head, to do with the false election result, when he got into power and the headline said that Al Gore really did win Florida, when they finally recounted it, but by then they had already made Bush president. I thought that what he had won really was an Arab pointing a gun at his head. It was a symbolic gesture. On 9/11 I was at home as the tutors were marking the show, and I turned on the tele, and I immediately videotaped it. I had been recording The Simpsons the night before.

IRK: Such a contrast !

HM: So I have got a VHS tape somewhere, that goes Simpsons, Simpsons, Simpsons, 9/11. Just like that in sequence.

Hugh Mendes | Obituary: Henri Matisse | 2018 | Oil on linen | 35x25cm

HM: I did a 10th anniversary show 9/10/11 with Kenny Schachter, a New York Gallerist who was there at the time. For the 10th anniversary of Bin Laden, they did actually assassinate him, so I painted his obituary for that show. In The Times obituary of Bin Laden, there was a four page obituary, and they listed all of the people that had died on 9/11. So I thought, I would write out all the names in pencil. I worked out that if I wrote out 75 names per day, every day for six weeks, then that would equal 3000 names. So I sat there, for six weeks, writing them all out, on three sheets of A3 paper. Kind of in the same format as it was in The Times. It is in the Nobel collection in Zurich, a collection based on newspapers in art, and it was a real labour of love.

‘The basic idea of the the piece was to pay homage. That it would be an appropriate memorial piece. As I write out each name I think that’s another person, who died that day, so unexpectedly, so shockingly. They had a family; a mother, father, wife, husband, children, etc. I also think about what actually happened to them? Which ones were the jumpers? Apparently about 200 people jumped from the towers. Which ones were blown to pieces immediately on impact? They are all listed alphabetically. I also think quite a lot had unusual names… That’s another random person. I look out for names that are familiar, similar to people I know. It’s a meditative piece. It is an extended meditation on those people.’ (2)

IRK: There is a real duality between the 9/11 and the obituary work.

HM: Kind of, they have got this mortal theme in common, Nature Morte, they are all still life, they are all newspaper clippings which are flat, two dimensional still life essentially.

Hugh Mendes | Obituary: Diego Velázquez | 2018 | Oil on linen | 35x25cm

HM: Its been really nice that I can sit and be with them, because it is very personal. Velázquez there, he is staring at me! You will notice that they are all looking at you full on.

IRK: What I love about the paintings is that they really jump off the wall and out of the work, and you seemed to have responded to the paintings themselves.

HM: It is so different to working from a photograph. Goya there, for example, I had so much trouble with him. He was really, really hard, because he was such a delicate, subtle painter. By comparison, Velázquez came out really easy, because he is almost graphic by comparison. A lot of black. Picasso is ter