Naomi Frears: Men Falling

Mary Youlden
Authored by Mary Youlden
Posted: Monday, August 30, 2021 - 5:29pm

Exeter Phoenix is pleased to present Men Falling a solo exhibition by UK-based artist Naomi Frears, which includes newly commissioned and other recent works spanning film, painting and print.

Working across these disciplines, Frears’ practice explores forms of everyday choreography, incorporating androgynous figures, ambiguous gestures, fictitious landscapes and disembodied dialogues. Her works juxtapose personal encounters and observations with visual material drawn from cinema, fashion, imagined gardens, and interiors.

The exhibition takes its title from her newly commissioned film, Men Falling, which will be shown for the first time here. Shot from Frears’ studio window overlooking Porthmeor beach in St Ives, Cornwall, the first part captures surfers as they come to the end of their ride on a wave. In these final moments, rather than be engulfed or thrown down, they seem to give themselves to the sea, each bringing their own unique style to their dismount, from the purposeful dive to a gentle collapse into the foam. These images are counterpointed with a separate film that recounts Frears’ memories of the final days leading up to the death of her

Men Falling, 2021(still)

father. As with much of her work, it manages to pair a seemingly passive, detached and aestheticised gaze with an intimacy and yearning that is undercut with gentle, dry humour.

The playful pairing of text and image is a motif that runs through further video works, such as her 2018 two channel video, Doom, Theft and Other Stories (Eight very short films) and in works on paper, where small vignettes or fragments of narrative are presented in play with evocative imagery or else floating, isolated in space - “Please Don’t Do That”, “Shut up, Shut up, Shut up”, “Couldn't possibly”.

In contrast to these works Frears’ paintings, with no text to offer up narrative clues that may elucidate their content, display their own quiet authority. Forms stand alone or in a fragmented mise-en-scène, often dissolving into an abstracted ground. Their imagery hovers just out of reach, reminiscent of some half-remembered movie scene or capturing a fleeting moment or gesture that is dislocated from any specific time or place.

Throughout, Frears pushes and pulls at you, suggesting and then withdrawing from an intimacy that, at times, verges on the confessional and at others meets you with a stylish, even frosty, indifference.

Coinciding with the exhibition, a further new work, In Other Words, commissioned by the neighbouring RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum) is on display as an intervention to their two storey Courtyard Case. The artist’s daughter and celebrated poet Ella Frears has been co-commissioned by RAMM and Exeter Phoenix to write two new works that appear in and make connections between the artworks featured in both venues.

Ella will give a reading of her work at the preview event at Exeter Phoenix on 18 September.

The film Men Falling has been created with the support of the Exeter Phoenix Artists Moving Image Commission.

The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication and a small set of limited edition risograph prints, which will be available in the gallery and online.

In Conversation Event, Wed 06 Oct, 6.30pm, free.

Join us for a live zoom conversation between Naomi Frears and curator Ceri Hand. Sign up via 

Preview: Saturday 18 Sept, 3 – 5pm, with poetry reading from Ella Frears at 4pm and further work on view at RAMM museum.

For more information visit

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Exeter Phoenix Gallery

Event Date

Saturday, September 18, 2021 - 3:00pm to Friday, November 5, 2021 - 5:30pm