Fox Jensen & Fox Jensen McCrory are pleased to present works by five celebrated artists, Mark Francis (UK), Shila Khatami (GER), Jan Albers (GER), Koen Delaere (NL) and Tomislav Nikolic (AUS) at the 2024 edition of Art Basel Hong Kong.

Mark Francis has long tested colour’s mutability by stressing the viscosity of oil paint through a variety of strategies. Francis’s newest paintings demonstrate this new, more open regime. The range of colours has expanded radically and the processes that previously coerced the paints behaviour in a more systemic manner have given way to greater risk and possibility. Still a student of science, these new paintings, in their dramatic weaving of substance and tone, feel even more felt, if that were even possible. Francis’s empiric testing and experience have given way to intuition and ‘sixth sense’ – and these paintings deliver a profoundly sensuous experience of colour.

There is much about the act and the fabric of painting that Jan Albers has set aside. The undergarments of the painting, the cedar stretcher and raw linen, with its neatly folded corners, offering a two-dimensional plane readied for depiction – all gone. For Jan this was never going to work. However, there is much about painting that remains. Most evidently the relationship of the object to the wall, the clear architecture of the rectilinear form – both portrait and landscape, but also the deftly modulated use of colourand its undoubted capacity to communicate.

The hyper-physicality of the relief sculptures he makes, alter the dynamics of the object and the space in which it sits. Faceted and creased with shadowy ravines and sharp edges, it can feel as if these objects were honed by a determined neo-cubist set on bringing the flattened angularity of synthetic cubism back to life. Having depressed the magical origami of both figure and form so that it could be rendered on a picture plane, Albers has set about unfolding the Cubist vista so as to reassert its animated, dimensional character.

Jan Albers sculpture are positively alive. Their extravagant colour and their jaunty construction make them feel garrulous, in the best sense. They barely draw breath as their colour and form fuse, luring you into speedy conversations that turns this way and that, and all the while responding to the shared space in which they so evidently exist. These are works that come out to greet you, entertain and seduce you with their spirited ways. 

These may even be contemporary examples of Harold Rosenberg’s “action paintings”. Certainly they are “not a picture but an event” and though they eschew the pictorial as Rosenberg would’ve wished, there is a revealed metaphorical quality in the fundamental dualism, something that is at the heart of their making and their manifestation and that imbues them with symbolic character. AJ

In the studio of Koen Delaere, you know that the absolute reverse ambition is in play for painting. In the Delaere laboratory there is a genuine anatomy class underway – the body is being undressed, dissected, pushed, and pulled and then reformed, all to a rollicking soundtrack from The Velvet Underground to The Cramps. On the flatlands of Tilburg there is much gothic drama afoot (think Mary Shelley) because Koen Delaere is making paintings that “want to live”. Painting can and ought to be transformative in the way that music can be, but only if it is analogue and unplugged – played live and loud. 

Working on the floor, Delaere bulldozes paint, binder, ink et al, mostly along a vertical axis that leaves outrageous accumulations of material moraine at the terminations of the movement and indeed along the central seam. In the wake of these axial movements are wondrous tracks and strata that reveal sweeps of colour and energy. The deeper geology of the paintings are exposed through repeated excavations and what is unearthed by this persistent quarrying are rich seams of colour and form, of new structure and dynamism. The writer Michael Ondaatje said that “as a writer, one is busy with archaeology”. This ought to be equally true for a painter and most certainly is for Delaere.

These are paintings that are fulsome and immoderate. At times they can seem borderline bombastic, but thank goodness, because each painting demonstrates Delaere’s preparedness to lose it all in pursuit of the form and wild chromatic adventure that these singular paintings can evoke. 

It is because of Delaere’s conviction to the activity of painting – both as a vital conceptual and aesthetic act, that he is able to restore our (occasionally) flagging faith in paintings’ ability to deliver an utterly embracing experience.

Shila Khatami paints with a gesture brimming with glorious contradictions. There should be nothing discrete about a mark that covers so much territory with such directional urgency – and yet these wide, dissipating strokes can at times be delicate, translucent – almost veil-like.

The gestures’ progress across expansive linen fields feels both determined yet open. The openness of the gesture, its freedom from graphic obligation allows it to remain untethered to description of anything, other than its own purposeful movement and character. But let’s be clear these are not fetishized gestures claiming divine inspiration – no “kabuki” theatre here. Nor do these performative strokes speak only to process. Such insularity ignores the context and the environment that Khatami paints in and this feels relevant.

Where other painters – one thinks of Soulage or Ufan for example, who willed their brushstrokes to denote gravity and authenticity, Khatami seems to want to liberate the brushstroke from showmanship and ultimately from the confinement and (mostly misplaced) reverence that such performance insinuates and demands.

Exempt from these “cultivated” aspirations, Khatami’s work on occasion abandons the support entirely, steps off the stretcher and into the void, colliding with the wall, the floor and putting us further inside its roving anatomy.

Unquestionably there is a gritty, ‘graf-like’ energy to some of Khatami’s works, happily infected by the backyard-aesthetics of her Berlin studio – but my sense is that as “urban” as these works might appear at first look, there is a subtler and more metaphysical dimension to her work – qualities that emerge through her regime of making and the judgement she possesses. These are paintings that weave personal intent with an open, osmotic embrace of environment. Their synthesis of the personal and the empirical feels considered – natural.

Tomislav Nikolic has long been a student of arcane colour theories, the more esoteric the better. For a painter so in the grip of colours ability to shape our psychology and emotional texture, one might think that theory would take a back seat to instinct.. and that’s true. Though armed with chromatic philosophy and codes, Nikolic finesses pigment so that the resulting body of colour emerges from the patient accumulation of material. Like Roeth, Nikolic is in pursuit of colour that isn’t chained to its support. The interior space of his paintings drift and merge before their progress is interrupted by the extravagance of Nikolic’s various framing devices. Nikolic’s frames range from simple architecture to baroque profligacy. Whatever he chooses the frame is critical to the composition, the temperament and the character of the paintings.