'Jeans dispatch'Enej Gala and Wolfson College with permission for Varsity

The first thing I want to do when looking at Enej Gala’s paintings is touch them. His work is a jumble of cartoonish figures, quivering with energy and predominantly blue. Stare at the little glossy creatures that dominate the canvas for too long, and you will have to fight the urge to reach out and prod their fleshy sides.

The tactile quality of Gala’s art is apt for an artist who is also a sculptor. He spent his childhood in Slovenia, going on to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, and recently graduating from the Royal Academy Schools postgraduate programme in London in 2023. Gala has been labelled a “rising artist”, the latest accolade of which being the Wolfson Arts Royal Academy School Graduate Prize, a product of an ongoing collaboration between Wolfson College and the Royal Academy. Off the back of the award, he has opened a solo exhibition at Wolfson, where his latest collection is being displayed alongside a series of his sculptures.

“The serious devolves into the absurd in what Gala describes as the ‘sweet treat at the end of a bad meal’”

The exhibition, ‘After News Before Bed’, is inspired by a time slot after the evening news which, in certain countries, was designated for children’s cartoons. A curious intersection emerges, where the serious devolves into the absurd in what Gala describes as the “sweet treat at the end of a bad meal”. His art is interested in what happens at this meeting point between reality and the imaginary, and how those two extremes can be explored through the image.

'Barbarians under the rug'Enej Gala and Wolfson College with permission for Varsity

He has created a series of paintings that are situated in a kind of dreamscape; silhouettes are toyed with until they distend into the surreal. Each work, Gala explains, “is a story for itself, a still of an invented cartoon inspired by real news to form a sci-fi scenario”. Eleven television channels feature in the room, and a shift in imagery is a tell-tale sign that Gala has changed the channel.

“The exhibition is small but mighty, and Gala’s work incites unease as the spectator steps into a disorientating dreamscape”

In ‘Barbarians under the rug’, knobbly knees poke out from under levitating mountain peaks. As rock softens into rounded limbs, our attention is drawn down to sets of clown-like shoes that are poised jauntily in motion. There is an endearing optimism to their bouncy gait, and I find myself wanting to follow them off-frame, out into the snowy unknown. Gala plays with movement successfully in this exhibition, his bumbling cartoon creatures bringing animation to life in unexpected ways. Though there are no explicit references to current affairs in these paintings, there is an undeniably ominous quality to the scenes depicted, which often harbour tentacled silhouettes and disquieting shapes. They stalk menacingly onto the canvas, and the viewer is instilled with the same sense of dread brought on by the horrors of the evening news.

'Repaired Objects'Enej Gala and Wolfson College with permission for Varsity

The paintings are exhibited opposite a smaller collection of sculptures called ‘Repaired Objects’. The name is to be taken literally, as the sculptures are a series of broken objects that Gala has started to fix and in the process of doing so, “forgotten what they are supposed to be”. This looks a lot like a shattered teacup, now sprouting three protracted legs, or a pair of glasses with a single frame that has become bulbous and striped. Gala is interested in “objects on the brink of collapse”, and here it seems that they have been propped up by alien appendages, morphing into a pack of Frankenstein-esque newborns. Facing the paintings across the room, a dialogue takes place: hints of monstrous cartoons are reflected in the red skeletal body of a broom, and once-were objects come to life under the watch of the animated figures.


Mountain View

‘On the Chopping Block’

The exhibition is small but mighty, and Gala’s work incites unease as the spectator steps into a disorientating dreamscape. Suggestive parallels emerge between the soft and hard, the real and surreal, that leave you dizzy and blinking. Gala declares that this collection will be ongoing “until he gets bored”, and the prospect of continuity radiates through his work. The longer you look at this exhibition, the more you notice, as new shapes are birthed, cartoon creatures bounce on and off frame, or an object surreptitiously grows another limb. His creations have a life of their own, and cavorting around their hazy blue backdrops, they never seem to tire of it.

‘After News Before Bed’ will be on display at Wolfson College every weekend until Sunday 21st April.