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"Danielle Fretwell’s exhibition is a fascinating exploration of unconventional still-life compositions and abstract canvases that focus on the theme of withholding information and creating visual hindrances." writes Avantika Pathania.


Installation view of Danielle Fretwell: Shallow Invitations, at Alice Amati, London, 2024. Courtesy of Alice Amati. Photography Tom Carter

While her work may remind viewers of Surrealist compositions, Danielle Fretwell does not take direct inspiration from the art movement. Instead, she is interested in exploring the impact of withholding information on her practice, and the viewer’s experience of the artwork. The works are thought-provoking and mysterious, with the viewer drawn into a world of hidden meanings and subtle hints. She adds a layer, like a straight curtain or veil on the still life which feels like a Rothko colour-field painting on top of her work. She paints the entire still-life first and then decides what is going to be hidden, and is still exploring what this does to the practice. 


The works are rich in detail and symbolism, offering a striking perspective on the theme of truth in painting. Fretwell’s realist still-life compositions are notable for their attention to detail and texture, making the visual elements tactile. In one of her paintings, the idea is that she is thinking about all the different ways she can withhold information. Lack of light causes the viewer to figure out what they are looking at. But, why does she want to withhold? The sense of withholding is based on her personal experience with truth and truth in painting. Fretwell comments, “…historically the purpose of oil painting- you are mixing these colours, depicting something onto a canvas. So, it is not true. My idea is, how can I get to the truest form in paint?” The exchange of what the viewer gets from the painting versus Fretwell’s actual intention results in an interplay of guesses, with the viewer engaging in a guessing game with the artist. It is not exhausting because ultimately, the viewer takes what they want to take in and leaves the rest. 

Before Bloom # 2, c. 2023. Oil on canvas.

Unravelling, c. 2023. Oil on canvas.

The texture-inspired works, which Fretwell calls abstract, might appear as folded and unfolded paper at first glance. Heavily influenced by textiles, these works represent fabric in a way- not necessarily in the form of a curtain or veil, but simply a fabric. For this, Fretwell’s process involves pressing a bedsheet to create the texture, which results in multiple layers, to ultimately make them into descriptive hyperrealistic paintings. The point is to force the viewer to engage with the artwork “physically” by drawing the viewer to look closely at what is happening. The result is a world of hidden meanings and subtle hints, offering a striking perspective on the theme of truth in painting.

In her realist still-life compositions, one can feel the velvety texture of the fabric, and the smooth surface of the glass, making the visual elements tactile, and very sensorial. Fretwell’s genius not only lies in her way of portraying elements and subjects in a way that the viewer would instantly know what they are ‘feeling’ (more than seeing) when they look at these works, even from a distance but also her subtle hints that make the viewer wonder: what is going on? The theme is exploring truth in painting. The idea of time and mortality is what Fretwell is interested in. She chooses to focus on perishable foods, and floral bouquets- “things that at some point will no longer look like that.” The idea is that these paintings exist “in the before,” anticipating that people might enter these spaces and maybe pick up and “crack the egg” (about Unravelling)- something that is yet to happen. Meanwhile, with abstract works, the idea of revealing the truth is more in the process rather than the result. 


Before Bloom # 1-3, 2023. Photography by Tom Carter.

The star of the exhibition is the Bloom series- a set of three paintings by Fretwell. Placed in the basement section of the gallery, the series showcases flowers, some bloomed, some yet to bloom, in a vase with a silky light-ferned green curtain as the backdrop. The key point of the series lies in the last painting (Before Bloom 3) which was initially created with the same consideration and detail as the first painting (Before Bloom 1). What resembles an etched artwork was initially the glossy replica of the first painting. It would be nearly impossible to guess it in one go that Bloom 3 also underwent the same arduous process. 


Alice Amati’s familiarity with Fretwell’s work resulted in an intuitive curatorila process, as they have been working together for a long time. They already knew which works were supposed to be placed with each other and they also kept in consideration the balance to be kept in the two spaces. A lot of it was a conceptual framework that links these works together. Amati says “Something is striking in each of the artworks.”  All artworks were made for the show, Fretwell began creating these works 7 months prior. On her first solo show, Fretwell says that she feels grateful, overwhelmed, and excited. “Is this all really happening?”


What differentiates abstract paintings from the still-life ones is the intention and the thought- is there anything underneath it? Well, is there anything? The viewer can only guess, as Fretwell answers, “Only I know that.”

Shallow Invitations will run from 01 March to 13 April 2024, at Alice Amati, 27 Warren Street, Wednesday to Friday, 11 am - 6 pm, and Saturday 12-5 pm. 


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