Erosion (Robin Hood Gardens)

Acrylic on aluminium
Dimensions: 173 x 56 x 4 cm
Charlie Warde, 2017


“There are many different art traditions. For example: recasting the meaning in a found object or appropriated image by placing it in different context; minimalism’s concentration on materials and shape for their own qualities independent of representation; the hyper-realistic depiction of the world ‘as it is’; and art as political or social protest. Those probably sound like contradictory approaches, and, of course, they often are. Yet it is perfectly sensible to claim that Charlie Warde’s work in ‘Disappearing Landscape’ utilises all four.

Let’s take Erosion 1, 2 & 3. Arranged on each concrete-grey aluminium panel is a section of the distinctive vertical fins that line the building facade of Robin Hood Gardens, as designed by the Smithsons to break up the roar of passing traffic. The concrete is eroding and cracking to reveal the material’s aggregates. Presenting that in a gallery context might make us think about the end of such a building, the point at which it is broken down into its constituent elements and passes beyond use. The memento mori of a building. It also suggests that we should look at the fins as aesthetic objects in their own right, not simply as functional components of a much larger architectural whole. The aesthetic is closely allied to minimalism: Carl Andre’s way of pointing to the qualities of bricks, for example, and their possible arrangements in simple, grounded combinations. Likewise, Warde’s fragments float free of the utilitarian reasons for their production just as they celebrate its material presence, and propose that art and industry aren’t in the simple opposition one might assume.

Those first two traditions aren’t really present, however. They are ghosts, and play their role with ghoulish effectiveness – but actually, in the clarity of the morning light, a closer look reveals that these are paintings. Everything Warde makes, he, makes from paint – paint, indeed, which he makes himself. No stone, no sand, no concrete was harmed in the production of these facsimiles. So the hyper-realist tradition is fully present and correct. Warde wants to push painting as far as it will go: first he sets up the archetypal response to contemporary art – why, anyone could grab a chunk of wall! – only to pull away the rug of scorn – wow, the work in that, and the skill!

That counterpointing of the contemporary and the traditional is very much to the point of the fourth mode of art: housing is a political subject. Indeed, it has rarely been as political as it is in Britain now, where three factors are at the root of severe problems. First, there aren’t enough homes: successive governments have set targets to increase the rate of building, but have failed. Second, many homes are not up to standard, the poor having been corralled into under-maintained stock. It took the Grenfell Tragedy to bring that to attention. Third, what homes there are – especially in London – cannot be afforded by those who need them. That’s a function of short supply, the distorting effect of foreign capital flowing into the market, and the drying up of public investment in social housing – all given added bite by the disastrous changes being introduced to the welfare system through universal credit which, if it is rolled out fully, will trigger a spike in homelessness well beyond the doubling of the last few years.

Erosions 1, 2 & 3 speak to all of those issues. They act as memorials for high rises which – rather than being modernised and made safe – are demolished to make way for new developments which cannot be afforded by people like those who lived in the blocks. In Warde’s words: ‘Brutalism is part of the Zeitgeist again because it harks from a time when the state provided. It represents a muscular return to strong core values.’ The new, as in Warde’s layering of conceptual and realist approaches, may well need to incorporate former ways.”