CONCRETE reviews Bankley Gallery’s ‘Half Awake’ and finds the devil is in the detail.

Up a side street in Levenshulme is Bankley Gallery. Last night it opened its latest show, Half Awake, guest curated by Matt Retallick. The show consists of works by Joe O’Rourke, the Manchester-based artist compelled by the ‘emotional responsiveness’ of the act of painting, and also by Parham Ghalamdar, Manchester’s Iranian prodigy and hard grafter who (I suspect) is due a big break pretty soon.

After paying a quid for an iced Stella Artois, I was ready to see some decent art. Opening night was busy. Both O’Rourke and Ghalamdar were present and more than happy to chat, about the work or otherwise. Bankley has seemed to master the opening night in a way that rival galleries around Manchester don’t always manage to; there wasn’t any of the traditional pinky out champagne clinking and understating nodding at work. There are also no drivel plaques accompanying the art. Plus, the bulk of the people present were familiar faces from the Manchester art circuit. Moreover, unlike the reception other similar openings have received by this same crowd, the response in the smoking area was one of kudos and enjoyment.

What’s Really Going On?, Joe O’Rourke, 2020.

The show begins with O’Rourke’s What’s Really Going On? (2020). It’s a large work adorned with wonky tumbling dice and its title emblazoned across the top of the work. O’Rourke often returns to his dice motif as a reference to the conflict between choice of the individual and the influence of the ‘higher powers’ of modern life – the economic, the political, the cultural and the natural. Despite being darker in colour scheme than much of the work offered up by Half Awake it is a fitting opening to the show. The question, when read in a tone of existential bafflement, seems to pervade much of Ghalamdar and O’Rourke’s work.

However, and as Retallick noted, the visual features of the artists’ work differ from each other. Ghalamdar’s work has a flatness, and O’Rourke’s worlds are more recognisable than Ghalamdar’s. Retallick suggests that the parallels lie within the pair’s use of mismatched imagery, absurdity, and query of life’s complexity. Both harness painting as a societal critique. For this reason, a show together makes sense – especially as they are each other’s contemporaries.

Existentialism is the life blood which runs through the works shown in Half Awake. Both artists are seeking to make sense of a confusing world. What makes the work so clever – and easy to come back to, especially in Ghalamdar’s case – is the modelling of real sensations and situations within these artificial worlds.

The Rest of the Day, Joe O’Rourke.

A work I kept returning to was The Rest of the Day by O’Rourke. His use of different textures – either with the application of the paint, or through his use of found objects – represents one of the high points of Half Awake. The composition includes found materials, such as post-it notes of to-do lists and a sharp wire. A person strides across the work, emerging from a dark and rainy city into a golden-hour sunset. Dice seem to beam from the sky. Wonky ladders barricade portions of the work from each other. The effect is a feeling of Lowry-esque British busyness; the protagonist on his way to buy eggs is all of us, contending with the hectic, the gloomy, and the mundane, all at once.

A particularly strong moment in the show is the wall of A4 works by both artists. These works are brisker, sillier, snapshots unlike the larger, more consciously crafted, artworks which form the rest of the exhibition. The playfulness of the exhibition as a whole is brought to a head here. A grey face with a large ear and a searching tongue spits blue ejaculate from a baby pink penis body. A slow and cumbersome slug slides across what looks like a sketchbook page with ‘FILTH’ written above it. The wall is busy and the individual works invite conversation and comparison.

Untitled works by Ghalamdar and O’Rourke.

The devil is in the detail at Half Awake. Even if the colour palette doesn’t grab you (it did me), do look closer, because you don’t know what you’ll find. Plus, the exhibition is free, and – given Ghalamdar and O’Rourke’s impressive CVs – I don’t think their shows will remain that way for much longer.

The first image is property of the artist. Half Awake runs every Saturday and Sunday until 1st May.