The reproductive power of today’s technology is so powerful that sometimes after viewing printed catalogues, or the seductive back-lit images on a computer, the originals may be less intense, and look quite dull. This exhibition of Edwina Leapman works from 2012 is the opposite. It is Leapman’s ninth exhibition with Annely Juda Fine Art since 1976, when the gallery was at Tottenham Mews. The current location’s uncluttered spaces and top overhead natural daylight are the perfect setting for these poetic works.
However much I am familiar with Leapman’s oeuvre, I am overwhelmed by the sombre stillness of their actual presence, floating serenely in this beautiful gallery. The paintings, built on rhythmic complexity and subtle tonal variety, with a relatively constant harmonic stasis of structure, are majestic. Floating rhythms, endless possibilities, a bit of fabric, some pigment, and the result is an entire world.
There is so little variance, and yet their emptiness, silence, stillness conveys a paradoxical plenitude. Less is more, as in Oriental, Zen mysticism, also in Process, Systems, Chance, and other methodological consistencies; all are at play here along with echoes of Bauhaus concepts. The pronounced Opticality of the works causes viewers’ minds to perceive vibrations, pulsing colours, and constant switching of foreground and background as one views from a distance or approaches closer. All this and the relinquishing of conscious control creates the works’ sublime simplicity. Once the methodology is in place the paint is allowed to speak for itself without contrivance.
The markings on the background could be symbols, writing, clouds, waves, or inscriptions; they could also be read as an electronic screen showing heart rhythms or conveying vastness as well as microscopic details; they could be but are not.
When I asked Leapman what the works were trying to portray she said that this was sensations and a search for the essence of the work, without particularizations. Her inspirations may be an idea she has read, a piece of music, wet pavements after rain, the movements of trees, a silence, the feeling of walking, or edges.
The perception is of perfection, yet small flaws, naturally occurring, are retained. She is not trying to be neat, rather to be open to whatever happens without imposing.
Leapman says the background colour is all important and takes a few weeks to get right. It must be done slowly and softly, Zen-like, not imposing but allowing the paint to speak. Very simply to slip into the colour naturally, she has to keep calm and focused. During this period, Leapman says deeply saturated colour encompasses her, and she is like a vessel that fills up. When she feels the colour behind her eyes, that is when the colour is fixed. She is ready to start the painting and go on to find the second colour.
Beginning from the top left, painting with an intuitive, instinctive inner rhythm across the canvas with a loaded brush, she works systematically across the row. The paint is allowed to speak for itself freely, however thick or faint the trace appears, and when it runs out, stopping there and moving on to the next parallel line below. This is the paint itself, left as is, whole, and not working to pattern.
The second colour is chosen for its’ tonality; searching for a close tonality that is elusive, there and not there, or just out of sight behind the viewer, being both light and dark as it were, ambiguous. This has a continuous effect as of a sound almost out of earshot, on the edge of perception, giving the sensation of a mist or a dance. Tonal relationship is what makes the painting live or die.
Two colours are like two chords and sometimes are even too many, she says.
There is so little variance, no deliberate ‘touch of the hand’, and yet how much prominence is imparted. These works simply are like eternal glimpses of tranquillity, both rigorous and calm.
Edwina Leapman: New Paintings is on at Annely Juda Fine Art, London until the 28th of March 2013
C. Morey de Morand
9 March 2013