Pasqua’s visceral images scream for your attention – some of them deserve it

Opera Gallery, 134 New Bond Street
by Steve Dinneen

The first image you are faced with at the new Philippe Pasqua exhibition is a female nude. The wheelchair-bound figure’s arms are twisted back in a way that reminded me of Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks. It is a violent, striking painting, splattered with varnish and gloss paint. Look closely and you can make out tire tracks, presumably where a wheelchair has rolled over the canvas. The woman’s face, though, is emotionless, almost serene. It’s a visceral, introduction to the gallery.

Pasqua – who has been likened to Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon – is best known for his subversive, violent portraits. His latest fetish is for disembodied heads that look like they have been used as makeshift footballs. A vast purple female face has its eyes swollen shut, paint allowed to bleed on the canvas forming grotesque bruises. Most of the portraits on show here, though, are at the milder end of Pasqua’s spectrum and lack some of the immediate impact. The best on display are the smaller, more intimate – often pornographic – studies that capture a weary sense of resignation and hopelessness.

The exhibition also features its fair share of Pasqua’s other obsession: skulls. A silver painted (genuine) human skull lies covered with translucent butterflies; obvious messages about the fragility of life spring to mind. Others work less well: a selection of marble skulls emerging from giant ashtrays, decorated with brightly-coloured biker-style tattoos, wouldn’t look out of place in a “head shop”, flanked by bongs and cigarette papers. The problem with Pasqua’s skulls is the nagging feeling you have seen it all before. Damien Hirst was by no means the first artist to use them but he became so ubiquitous it’s hard not to see For the Love of God when you look at some of Pasqua’s work.

This exhibition screams for your attention and, for the most part, it deserves it.
Opera Gallery, 134 New Bond Street, until 15 February.