OLD MIX - Recent Painting, Drawing & Sculpture


Allen & Overy, One Bishop’s Square, London E1 6AD

14t November - 16th December 2011

Allen & Overy are pleased to present Old Mix, an exhibition of recent paintings, drawings and sculptures by Sohrab (b 1978).
The present show focuses upon two central themes within the artist's work: the perception and expression of childhood through drawings made when Sohrab was himself a small child, and the complex allusions that can be read in relation to walking sticks, which the artist collects from charity shops, employing them as an important physical component and recurring motif within his work. These latter pieces are, like the paintings Sohrab bases upon his early drawings, often highly and laboriously worked, transforming the primary source material in attractive and intriguing ways, an experimental approach that involves the use of unusual elements such as
polished aluminium.
Drawings by young children have often been of great interest to artists and psychologists, presenting as they do an apparently untainted "take" on the child's world and that occupied by the adults around him. Unspoilt by the imposition of educational or cultural conventions, the drawings made by very young children represent a model of pure, uncomplicated perception, an implicitly untainted pictorial account of a kind so many artists have sought to emulate in their mature years. Sohrab's large-scale reworkings of his own early drawings replenishes and redefines the original material, resulting in brilliantly coloured compositions that are, at one and the same time, "primitive" and self-reflexive.
With the walking stick works the artist has turned his attention to the other edge of the chronological spectrum of human life. This time the source material refers not to his own early autobiographical developments but to those of others in their old age (though Sohrab's childhood fear of such "artificial bones" plays its part). The anonymity of these bluntly functional sticks point to the ups and downs of unknown lives, and, most directly, to difficulty and pain. These sticks maybe, in one sense, literally props, useful devices, a means to an end for the people to whom they once belonged. In Sohrab's work such sticks - or their broken and reconstituted fragments - suggest weakness and vulnerability, old age and infirmity rather than the vivacity and optimism of childhood. One may read them as memento mori, as the very opposite of the gratuitous, brash consumer items with which we are today so scurrilously surrounded. The works' libidinously kitsch colouration paradoxically heightens the walking stick’s melancholy disposition

A certain sharp but honourable humour stalks Old Mix, a sense of energy and entertainment that in no way detracts from the serious issues addressed in the work. Indeed, this comic aspect only serves to give Sohrab's wide-ranging practice an engaging yet appropriately melancholic edge.

© jens marott


Some of the most powerful, and memorable, examples of Sohrab’s art incorporate walking sticks. Significantly the sort of sticks he uses, and that he will paint, cut, sculpt etc., according to his needs, are of the most simple unassuming design, typically those often discarded items you might come across in a charity shop, left standing forlorn in a corner, their usefulness seemingly over with. But it is just such discarded items, with their wooden handles and shafts and worn rubber ferrules at the base that ‘Sohrab’, will often purchase. For Sohrab it is in their very simplicity and history of usage that the sticks’ story-telling message lies.

 One of his earliest memories, and an unsettling one, is of an elderly woman chasing him from a block of council flats, aged six, as she frantically waved a walking stick at him. This childhood experience left an indelible mark on his psyche, and the symbolic overtones he later associated with it have become one of the principal leitmotifs of his art.

‘The sticks I use are all second-hand,’ he tells me, ‘items I source from junk shops. I see them as unattractive, frightening even; and as brutal, symbolic objects left behind when the (now unknown) owners die.’ He has bestowed these stick artworks with many layers of meaning, and in this way their utility suggests a paradoxical plenitude. Like a wizard’s staff such sticks become wands of sorts, invested with an almost magical power and where an ordinary looking walking stick might undergo an all but alchemical transformation guided by the artist’s creative vision.

 One of my favourite pieces is in fact currently left unfinished and untitled in the artist’s studio, comprising a dozen or so walking sticks constructed into a free-standing frame, of about four feet in height. Even in its unfinished form this square structure has a totemic power that brings to mind the work of the German artist, Joseph Beuys, someone who has had a formative influence on Sohrab. Like much of Beuys’ work this piece is, it seems to me, ceremonial in nature. At the same time the very robustness of its construction runs counter to the physical frailties of the previous owners of these sticks, bearing witness to their journeys of suffering and everyday struggles. Clearly this is an artwork grounded in humanism and a social philosophy, providing a challenge to the easy slickness of modernity and a rampant consumerism. Importantly Sohrab also sees the sort of walking sticks he uses as the antithesis of current bling culture. Tatty, worn and unattractive, their rubber ‘soles’ are the opposite of ‘sexy, slick, shiny, glossy and desirable’. But once these objects are appropriated by the artist they shed their remedial function and are reconfigured into works of art, becoming powerful momento mori and reliquaries imbued with the souls of their previous users.

 There is also a lighter and less serious side to some of these stick artworks. Material Ghost, from 2011, for example, is made from a series of sticks that have been cut right down almost to stumps, then upended, ferrule topmost, and fixed onto an unevenly cut base which is itself encrusted and piled with a papier-mâché and gravel mixture, and painted in tutti-frutti colours. The organic painted shapes accreting about these ‘tree’ sticks look like brightly coloured foam. A central column of matter, growing above the elements that surround it, is topped with two circular ‘doughnut’ eyes made from broken ceramic teapots, which are in turn topped by an encrusted cowboy hat, painted in the same bright, layers of oil pigment. A comical and rather startling ‘face’ thus emerges, returning any onlooker’s overly serious ‘But is this art?’ gaze. The result is very witty, has great visual charm and formal assurance in terms of its design and construction. Its playful, surreal character also reminds us of the artist’s debt to the work of both Nikki de Saint Phalle and Yves Tinguely. In its use of found and reconstituted elements it reveals Sohrab to be an inventive bricoleur, as well as a gifted colourist.

Material Ghost, 2011,

81 X 64 X 46cm, Plywood, Styrofoam, papier-mâché, gravel, broken teapots, walking sticks, wire,

card, adhesive, oil paint

The stick symbolises journey making in my art,’ Sohrab informs me, ‘its rubber ferrules – a safety device – being something that wears down slowly after years of use.’ Walking sticks have a long history in art, and first appeared in Neolithic times, in cave paintings. They were probably first used as weapons and a recent piece, called Dance Upon Nothing, with its ferrule-ended studs protruding at 90 degrees to the picture plane and that resemble gun barrels, is in some ways an acknowledgement of this history. Later, sticks were used as symbols of power and strength, as a crosier by bishops, as oak staves by the Puritans in the seventeenth-century. Gold-headed examples were sported by dandies a hundred years ago. But only in the art of Sohrab Crews are the discarded walking sticks of the infirm, those ‘artificial bones’ into which he has breathed new life, given a unique visual presence and transcendent power.

Clive Joinson



Sohrab’s Extra Life brings together a selection of twenty-five drawings from a continuing series of works begun in 2001. Executed in ink on Fabriano paper mounted on board,with each piece measuring a uniform 40 cm square, the drawings operate both, as individual works in their own right and as part of a more expansive drawing project, whilst partly taking their cue from themes and motifs found in Sohrab’s parallel practices as a painter and sculptor.

Beginning from an intuitive, open-ended approach to the initially blank sheet, each drawing finds its idiosyncratic compositional resolve through the artist’s exploration of the collision or “interface” between mark and surface, between the fluidity of abstract line and its cogent restraint, and from the productive juxtaposition of pictorial representation and formal elaboration. Many of the drawings involve a substantial textual component, whose contribution to the piece resonates in both a linguistic and aesthetic fashion.

In commenting upon his own work Paul Klee famously referred to the idea of “taking a line for a walk”. In Sohrab’s case, both image and text stroll, march and meander towards, around and through each other’s territory in a powerful retinue of ludic encounters, collaborations and collisions. Indirectly referencing a number of Modern and Postmodern concerns and expressive styles, Sohrab has nonetheless developed a highly individual and richly engaging body of work.



One Bishops Square,


E1 6AD

(Next to Spitalfields Market)

6th October - 15th November 2014

The sculptural forms comprising Sohrab Crews’ Extinction Play take their point of departure from a series of improvisational drawings made by Crews during 2012-2014. Each of the individual pieces on show is a complete and coherent work in its own right, though in the present installation they form a vivid constellation of tense and febrile elements, a kind of forest or network of complex formal exchanges. Crews calls these works “beings”, a term suggesting living creatures, though exactly what kind of organisms these sculptures represent is difficult to discern. On the one hand, the viewer is reminded of humanoids, standing figures whose vacant, void but wittily implied eyes present us with the prospect that we are being scrutinised or staked out. The resonance is one of distorted familiarity, something we acknowledge despite it being at at least one remove from our established selves. On the other, these entities are perhaps nothing we have ever actually known, save in the half-nightmarish world of Surrealism or the vagaries of science fiction. They are either ourselves transformed or “unpacked”, or our truly unutterable “Other”, alien and unclassified, creatures located in a place beyond conventional human categories of sense and recognition.

What is thus disturbing about Crews’ sculptures is, at the same time, their attraction or point of fascination. The title of the exhibition reinforces this double interpretation of recognisable self and emphatic Other. Insofar as the two words forming the title may be linked to distinct philosophical or sociological projections – to total destruction, or to the leisure and ease of unworried play – this simultaneously positive and negative labeling is entirely apt. Formed of cheap and scrappy materials, made quickly and energetically in a spirit of ludic exploration, what these works touch on is something buried or held back. They are in fact a making visible of something that we, as “calm and collected” spectators may not find entirely easy to observe. Extinction Play as a nominal framing device also suggests the perhaps more palatable notion of a theatrical conceit, something staged, artificial and safely contained: a presentation of nonetheless powerful expressions and effects.

Sohrab Crewsindex.html



Westminster Reference Library

35, St Martin’s Street, London

7th - 24th October 2015

The Westminster Reference Library is pleased to present Paradise Jerk Centre, an exhibition of recent sculptures, drawings and sketchbooks by Sohrab Crews.

The sculptures, starkly iconographic constructions assembled from a wide range of contrasting materials unified through the figures’ cast-like metallic finish, draw upon the High Modernist aesthetics of Picasso, Miro, Ernst and others, realigning aspects of early Modernism with several present-day concerns. Not least amongst these is the artist’s critical recognition of the now ubiquitous language of advertising and management-speak, a powerfully influential force within our increasingly dehumanising, money-driven culture. Such language is rendered as an integral part of the sculptures’ material form. More generally, staged for this exhibition in a tribal cluster, these organic yet funereal “beings” operate both individually and as a coherent compositional group. As a recurrent formal device within these works, the framed voids or blank gaze of the creatures’ empty eye sockets partly allude to the peep holes found in the door of Marcel Duchamp’s Etant Donnés. These hypnogogic figures raise questions around representation, consciousness, “Otherness”, and even about the long-term survival of the human race.

The drawings seek an elusive balance between personal meaning and experimental play. Visual traces of imaginary characters emerge from the intricate linearity of these works, largely composed as they are of borrowed sound-bites and other linguistic detritus. Crews traps curious, sometimes idiotic utterances such as “bespoke panic button” and “the phony Persian”, weaving these absurdities into his drawings, which themselves feed in an important way into his sculptures.   

A selection of sketchbooks detailing the development and recording of the artist’s interests in painting, sculpture, and language can be seen in the display cabinet.

Extinction Play, 2014

32 X 37 X 16cm, Plywood, stone, beads, papier-mache, armature wire,

china, lead, Styrofoam, adhesive,, graphite, gravel and paint

The Line Between:
Drawings, Notebooks, Material Research

Curated by Peter Suchin


Chelsea College of Arts Library

16 John Islip Street,



29 November, 2016 - 6 January, 2017

This exhibition, spread throughout six display cases in Chelsea College of Arts Library, focuses upon recent drawings by Sohrab Crews. The eight drawings on show have been selected from a still-ongoing series of works begun in 2001 and which currently amount to around 170 pieces. They are presented here with examples of several types of preparatory and supporting materials.

Each work in the series measures 40 x 40cm and is in ink on paper. Partly planned in advance and partly improvised, most of these drawings include words which have been selectively sourced from  advertisements and other consumer literature. Crews has, to a considerable degree, employed as the drawings' content the mystificatory, absurd language of advertising. Within them the words simultaneously function both as legible lists of found expressions and as compositional or formal structures. The drawings thus act both as archival networks of contemporary linguistic 'idiocies' and highly structured visual compositions readable as drawings in the usual sense of that term. A playful, exploratory approach to the making of these works stands in marked contrast to the narrow-minded commercialism of many of the texts employed.

In order to produce these productively 'cryptic' pictures Crews has developed a rigorous working method involving the sourcing, sifting and ordering of the chosen phrases. On display alongside the drawings themselves are a number of Crews' sketchbooks, a list of 'Scrabble words', some four-letter word 'poems', charts of visual stylistic devices the artist has developed for later use, and examples of sequences of 'free-floating' terms utilised in composing the drawings.

The show also includes a small amount of material relating to the walking stick imagery Crews has used in his work for the last twelve years, as well as one example from his parallel practice as a sculptor. As with the drawings this figure, notwithstanding its deceptively polished surface, has been assembled from the absurdly excessive detritus consumer society indifferently produces, acquires and brazenly parades.

The exhibition is open to UAL staff and students, alumni and SCONUL members during library opening hours. External visitors by appointment only.
Please see Chelsea College website for opening hours: http://www.arts.ac.uk