Emotive Brutes exhibition at Trate Studios

A new artist’s studio and gallery has just opened in London’s East End. Trate, Canadian figurative painter has recently decided to present his work to the public for the first time.

I went to the exhibition preview at the Trate Studios to see the art and meet the artist. Using an alias, which is a play on the word ‘trait’, the artist emphasises his interest in distinct facial features and universal human traits. In person he is quite approachable and keen to talk about his art. His first exhibition Emotive Brutes is a display of the most recent paintings (made between 2017 and 2018), although the self-taught artist has been creating artworks for almost twenty years.

It might come as bit of a surprise that the artist showing his work in public for the first time chose this area of East London as the location for his gallery. A decade ago this neighbourhood was teeming with art galleries, which have since moved elsewhere, although there are still a few well-established art galleries and several creative businesses in the area.

The gallery is quite unusual too. It is located in a former warehouse built in 1920s which overlooks the Regent’s Canal. [1] The interior is very raw and industrial in appearance. White walls and bare concrete floor offer a neutral background allowing each canvas to really jump out at you. Tucked away in a corner are several pieces of wooden furniture that have belonged to artist’s family for generations, adding a bit of character to the place.

The painter is quite enigmatic and so is his art. Instead of signing his work by hand, Trate gives his finished paintings a stamp of approval. Both metaphorically and literally. If he is not content with a piece he reworks it or even destroys it. His signature mark is derived from a coin of Antoninus Pius, who was the adopted father of Marcus Aurelius.[2] With the latter Trate shares an interest in philosophy and human nature, so it’s all connected. Trate’s coin is faceless in a reference to the artist’s desire to preserve a certain element of anonymity.

Emotive Brutes are not portraits. Although the works adhere to a head and shoulders portrait format, Trate’s solitary androgynous figures with elongated features are pure constructs of imagination. Starting each painting the artist does not anticipate the end results as those are often dictated by the mood he is in. There is an element of afterthought when it comes to titles, the artist usually comes up with a title after the painting is complete. It has to feel right.

Thick black cloisonné-like contours make a frequent appearance in his works and he often juxtaposes contrasting fields of colour. Imprecise outlines might give an impression of paper cut-outs or collage. Trate’s style combines various influences, being a self-taught artist he does not follow a particular school of painting. He also draws inspiration from his travels, having lived in various places across the globe. In his work he continues to explore the complex world of human traits and different emotions. The facial features of his imaginary characters are exaggerated and asymmetrical, which is what makes them so interesting to look at. Their eyes painted brilliant red, purple or emerald-green, frozen in piercing stares, capture the attention too.

There are a couple of works in the exhibition painted in a different manner. Blending colours with fluid brushstrokes creates an illusion of movement. One such painting is the Metamorphose (2018), in which we see the blurry figure as if we looked at it through water surface. This is an evocative piece and like all Trate’s ‘brutes’ it brilliantly encapsulates a mixture of human emotions.

You can see Emotive Brutes at Trate Studios, 45 Vyner Street, E2 9DQ, London. The exhibition is open from 7 February till 2 March 2019.☯