Martin Creed's Artist Rooms and Charline von Heyl's Now or Else at Tate Liverpool

By Ben Miller | 24 February 2012
A photo of a spikey c shape in orange and yellow with black tentacles coming out of it
Charline von Heyl, Now or Else (2009). Acrylic and oil on linen© Charline von Heyl
Exhibitions: Artist Rooms: Martin Creed; Charline von Heyl: now or Else, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, until May 27 2012

Entering Tate Liverpool’s ground floor to a chorus of stomach cramping, the diagonal black lines dominating the immediate wall seem harmless. You have to shuffle stage left, where four televisions are assembled in a block – their screens facing away from you – to understand the source of this frenzied wretching.

On the top left hand monitor, a young man in a bright yellow t-shirt briefly surveys the floor, then leans over and empties his guts before spitting a final offering over his shoulder.

He’s in good company. To his right, a woman is attempting to cover her mouth with her hand, a futile bid to keep her inners down which leaves her palm covered in a projectile shower. Below her, two fellow sufferers are in similar dire straits.

As anyone who has had the dubious pleasure of forcibly returning dinner from whence it came will testify, vomiting is no fun. But at least Martin Creed has given it some kind of order.

This Glaswegian magician, last seen recreating Roman marble throughfares across a flight of ancient stone steps in Edinburgh, is the latest contributor to the Artist Rooms series of touring exhibitions.

Among seven works here, he also misconstrues the words “Don’t Worry”, splitting them across the corner of the room so that they become foreboding single-word instructions.

The ploy is so simple you can’t help being reminded of the lights flicking on and off which gave him a somewhat controversial 2001 Turner Prize victory. Creed is always compelling – just make sure you aren’t feeling queasy when you visit this one.

Upstairs, the German-born, New York-based artist Charline von Heyl is doing wonderful things on a sprawl of huge canvasses. It seems improbable that this is her first major UK solo show, given how good she is at what she does.

An affable figure, von Heyl is far more intense in her studio, working in lengthy, calculated sessions of abstract spontaneity.

There is more to her partnership with Tate Liverpool than the ostensible meeting of great contemporary gallery and artist – light is a critical part of this show, and the way you’ll view the works will often depend on it. It beams in from enclaves you can sit in, built into the corners and midpoints of the upper rooms, and makes the dark oranges, marine greens and fuzzy charcoals of Voyage, for example, seem alive.

Sometimes her alien creations reach out at you, or go back and forth within and inside themselves, such as in Dialogue Solitaire, where angled barbs of neon green shoot and interconnect through black acrylic smudges.

Spikes, edges, lines and tentacles (in tune with the River Mersey, beyond the windows) are everywhere. Orpheus is a giant sea creature in mottled orange and blood red, with large, empty eyes detached from each other in front of lines of sickly yellow.

Lalo has the apocalyptic feel of Ralph Steadman at play, the brooding sea omnipresent in its slicks of oil and splurges of coral.

Horizon blues and naval greys abound. There are no brushstrokes here, just lines and grids and forms in the skeleton of the Flagbird and the thick, gloopy talons of the self-reaching Catch Mad Wreck.

Von Heyl has a separate studio dedicated to her works on paper, manifested here in Untitled, a set of 18 mixed media black and white pieces showcasing her skilful use of collage, drawing, printmaking and various other techniques. Her unsettling imagined worlds are absorbing, and quite unlike anything else you might see this year.

  • Open 10am-5pm. Admission free to Artist Rooms, £5.40-£8 to Now or Else. Book online.

More pictures:

An image of lines of yellow running through black oil blobs and charcoal smudges
Charline von Heyl, Dialogue Solitaire (2008). Acrylic on linen© Charline von Heyl, courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne & Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York
An image of an abstract painting of a white creature against a dark green background
Charline von Heyl, Voyage (2008). Acrylic and charcoal in linen© Charline von Heyl, courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne & Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York
An image of a painting of a black bird with white spots against a background of grey paint
Charline von Heyl, Flagbird (2011). Acrylic on linen© Charline von Heyl, courtesy Fredrich Petzel Gallery, New York. Photo: Larry Lamay
An image of an abstract painting in purple, brown, blue, yellow and orange
Charline von Heyl, Lalo (2008). Acrylic on linen© Charline von Heyl, courtesy Capitain Petzel, Berlin
An image of an abstract art work showing light brown shards of a creature against a yellow backdrop
Charline von Heyl, Orpheus (2008). Acrylic on linen© Charline von Heyl, courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne & Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York
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