Hugo Grenville’s Soul by Soul and Silently has been accepted for exhibition by the Société des Artistes Français at their annual Salon, the oldest and most prestigious exhibiting society in the world. Grenville’s six feet wide painting, inspired by the unfolding tragedies in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, will be on display at the Grand Palais in Paris, November 25-30, 2014.
The scene, which is entirely imagined, shows a displaced family gathered amongst the debris of smashed buildings: a young woman talks to a soldier, a mother holds her dead son across her lap, a girl raises her hands towards the soldier in a supplicatory gesture, and behind her an old man stares out bleakly at the viewer; in the foreground some young boys are huddled, one of them holding a baby wrapped in a blanket. In the distance the silhouettes of buildings destroyed by shellfire stand out against the sky. Whilst violence surges back and forth, the West, represented by the NATO soldier in the picture on the left, is powerless to help, impotent, terrified of the consequences.
This is the Middle East, the cradle of civilisation, and everyone is hurtling towards the Dark Age. Religious fundamentalism is ripping apart the status quo, and ordinary families everywhere are killed and displaced, left homeless, hungry and without hope. The mother holding her dead son is based on a C14th Pieta from Spain, carved in wood; the young girl in the yellow dress is a reinterpretation of a figure in C12th Syrian Orthodox fresco; the young boy with the head bandage is “borrowed” from a Gauguin painting, the pigeons in the foreground from a Giotto fresco at Assisi; other figures are reimagined from newspaper and TV images.
Though set in the Middle East, there is the suggestion in Soul by Soul and Silently that the instinctively human behaviour of the painting’s characters transcends its context. Grenville’s work is strikingly current, whilst evoking themes which resonate through time: loss, grief, power, suffering, anger and violence.
Hugo Grenville (b. 1958) suggests if there is hope, “... then it lies in the decoration of the painting, the colour harmonies, in the beauty of the undamaged tree and the dignity of the little girl who sits on the muddy grass at the bottom edge of the painting.”
Hugo Grenville’s Soul by Soul and Silently, at the Grand Palais, November 25-30, 2014, 3 Avenue du Général Eisenhower 75008 Paris France.
The Grenville School of Painting Merton Road
Bristol BS7 8TL www.hugogrenville.com