Quite how the artist Enrico David has come to have his first exhibition in the Middle East is a touching tale, one of a student in awe of their teacher. Some 15 years ago, as a tutor at London’s Slade School of Fine Art, David taught a young Hoor Al-Qasimi, who needs little introduction today as director of the UAE’s Sharjah Art Foundation. Having admired his work since graduating from the Slade in 2002, now Sheikha Hoor gives him his first show in the region at Sharjah, at which she has a track record for sensitively introducing Western artists to the Gulf region.
Enrico David: Fault Work opens from October 1 to January 9. “Hoor fell in love with the way David worked and taught while she was his student,” says Kadee Robbins, director of Michael Werner’s London gallery. “She’s always interested in his exhibitions and when she visits us at fairs, she wants to talk about Enrico’s work.”
Born in Ancona in 1966, David left his native Italy to train at London’s Central St Martins School of Art and Design. Though he spent a stint in Berlin, he now lives and works in London. Disinterested in the fripperies of the art scene; he described it as “toxic” in an interview with The Independent newspaper last year. Instead he simply gets on with producing sculptures, paintings and tapestries, sometimes brought together in powerful but playful installations. David’s longstanding interest in 20th century British and European modern sculptors, such as Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti, has sharpened recently. Echoes of this influence show through in the sculptures, all produced between 2012 and 2015, in the Sharjah show. The exhibition of 20 works, held in SAF Art Spaces with its intimate courtyard, is more an introduction to a new audience than an attempt at a retrospective and concentrates on his tapestries and sculptures. It has been compiled from loans from private collections around the world, alongside pieces from the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection.
Anthropomorphic is one word that springs to mind in looking at David’s shapeshifting work, which explores the fault line between figuration and abstraction. He’s playfully unpredictable and ambiguous, but the figure is invariably central, with all its ungainly oddities. There’s also a mystical quality, a deep weirdness that provokes introspection. His warped bodily forms, sometimes seeming to howl, or stacked one upon another as in his sculpture The Assumption of Weee (2014), make one think “Some days, I feel like that.”
As for method, David is a polymath who revels in exploring materials. He is perhaps most widely known as a sculptor, swinging from fluid curves to the angular, and works in Jesmonite, graphite, copper, wax, bamboo, resin, bone, even Vaseline to name a few. An interest in craft techniques is particularly evident in his tapestries, worked in wool, cotton or cashmere, which are by turns geometric or full of organic forms. The starting point for all, however, is drawing.
Though this is David’s Middle Eastern debut, he’s a seasoned international exhibitor. He has had solo exhibitions at the Hepworth Wakefield (2015), UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2013) and at the New Museum, New York (2011). His paintings, tapestries and sculptures were also the subject of The Encyclopaedic Palace for the 55th Venice Biennale (2013), and he was shortlisted for Turner Prize in 2009.
Robbins thinks it will be “interesting to see the reaction to Enrico’s work among an audience largely unfamiliar with it.” Robbins has admired Sharjah’s work from afar. “Hoor has a genuine, long term commitment to contemporary art, it’s not about investment. There’s a grass roots feel to the work they do; they don’t just follow fashion.” David is not widely known in the UAE but Robbins hopes this new audience will be receptive, as she believes that the humour and pathos that runs through his work is not specific to a certain culture. “There’s a duality between the specificity of his feelings and emotions and his ability to translate them into a universal visual language that is readable for people everywhere” says Robbins, “It has a strangeness rendered very poetically.”
As such, there are many entrance points for the viewer, from an appreciation of its peculiar visual beauty to a deeper emotional reaction. It says something about the universality, perhaps versatility, of David’s work that, only a year ago, his art was also the subject of solo show in the Hepworth Wakefield in the eponymous town in the north of England. A more different place to Sharjah than Wakefield is hard to imagine but, perhaps in its myriad interpretations, these sculptures and tapestries will transcend such cultural divides.