"From Cocoanut Grove to Soho Nights" by Ernesto Canovas and Gracjana Rejmer-Canovas

by Maria Rossi

photography Gabriella Codastefano

23 March 2015

The title of the exhibition “From Cocoanut Grove to Soho Nights” by Ernesto Canovas and Gracjana Rejmer-Canovas triggers images of glamorous late-night parties and California beaches from a bygone era.

Ernesto and Gracjana, artists and partners in life, looked for sources as varied as old magazine advertisements and family holiday photos found in vintage shops in downtown New York to precisely evoke the golden age of Americana. We had a chat with them about their collaboration with one another for this joint exhibition, and with fashion designer Paul Smith, who hosted the show in his London boutique in Albemarle Street.

The story leading to this exhibition, which took place in a venue that is outside the usual art circuit, began at the Slade School of Art in London during the artists’ final graduation show in 2011, when they caught the eye of fashion designer Paul Smith, a noted art collector. That encounter eventually developed into an offer for the artists to use the designer's boutique space for a solo show.

Ernesto and Gracjana had had the option of showing the paintings in a pristine white cube gallery but they chose instead to keep the original vintage furniture of the shop in place, since it contributed to the overall significance of their pieces.

The artworks conjured up images of old postcards, but Ernesto’s silhouettes in stark black brush strokes were unexpectedly overrun by Gracjana’s colorful interventions in cut and dyed foam. The effect was that of suddenly taking the viewer back to the present and re-establishing the distance with the painted subjects and their world. Indeed, the glamorous past represented by the Canovas was only outwardly simple and harmonious. If the idea of referencing the glamorous L.A.’s club Cocoanut Grove came from a fascination with its great historyfrom the celebration of the Oscars to the assassination of Robert Kennedy, in addition to being a hot spot for Hollywood celebrities for decadesthere was also, in the paintings, a sense of the present impossibility of these “events that thereby exist only through an invention of narrative."

On a final note, the artists told us that the occasion of working together brought out the complimentary qualities of their personalities which means we’ll be seeing more of the artists' collaborative efforts in the future, although they will also continue to focus on their individual work paths.

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Above: Guarding the entrance to the exhibition are two mid-century pieces from the Paul Smith interior design collection: a glazed earthenware dog and an Italian 1950s wingback armchair reupholstered in a combination of Exaggerated Plaiddesigned by Paul Smith for Maharamand Kvadrat wool felt.

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Above: Peeking from the staircase, a contemporary photograph by Maisie Broadhead after Vermeer's "A Young Woman Sitting at a Virginal"exclusive to Paul Smith’s collection. Below: An empty corner of the room is enlivened by the uncanny presence of the French “Genie” lamp from the sixties.

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Above: A woman sipping her drink glances over in “Beneath the Title”—the framed artwork by Ernesto and Gracjana hanging above a chest of drawers made from limed oak and finished in coral color lacquer and brass chinoiserie hardware. The balanced mix of styles is completed by the American folk sculpture of a warrior headcomposed from stone, metal and woodand an Italian fifties armchair, reupholstered in “Ivory & Ember” Point fabric from the Paul Smith for Maharam collection (on the right).

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Above: A detail of the painting “Beneath the Title.” Below: The piece “Facing Africa” includes a dark reference: the features of the man on the right are derived from a vintage photo of an officer involved in the colonization of Congo.

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Above: On the left, the cold tones of a 1960s bronze sculpture representing three seated figures are gently offset by the orange and pale blue insets in colored foam of the painting “Pretending Under the Sun” and the green ones in “Happy Greedy Grub” (on the right).

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Above: The car race of the painting “Where Is the 22?” on the left plays with the vintage suggestions conjured up by the sixties American rocking chair on the far right made from wooden “tiles” bound by rope.

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Above: The chair and table on the left belong to the sixties “Café scene” setsourced from France, while the folded chrome floor lamp on the rightshown below the painting “Well Defined Standards” by the Canovas is an Italian piece originally from the seventies.

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Above: The red touches of the painting “Current Events” echo the early 1950s Birmingham Small Arms motorcycle helmet’s tint (here below).

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Above: People caught in contemplation channel the sense of ease of warm California shores in the composition “Non-profit Observation."

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Above: The atmosphere of a private défilé is evoked in the black silhouette framed by carmine red foam in “Haute Couture Velvet Curtains."

"From Cocoanut Grove to Soho Nights" by Ernesto Canovas and Gracjana Rejmer-Canovas was hosted from November to December 2014 by Sir Paul Smith in his London boutique, located at 9, Albemarle Street, Mayfair-London.

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