Abstract Critical

Painting: Pulled, Stretched, Revealed

Turner, 2011, Alexis Harding, oil and gloss paint on panel, 122cm diameter

The following is from the press release for the exhibition Pulled, Stretched, Revealed which is on at the Sumarria Lunn gallery until 23 November 2012. The gallery website is here.

Flat-out pointless black perspective, 2011, Jan Maarten Voskuil, acrylic on linen,150 x 90 x 22cm

Painting: Pulled, Stretched, Revealed brings together three artists whose works are intended to be actively explored. In painting the focus tends to be on a single pictorial surface, whether representational or totally abstract. However, in the work of Simon Callery and Jan Maarten Voskuil the interior, structure and reverse of the canvas are as important as the picture plane, and the composition invites active engagement by the viewer. In Alexis Harding’s work paint crumples and hangs from panels or slides to the floor corrupting any notion of a conventional picture plane. All three artists see themselves as painters, rooted in and building on this history, yet as painting becomes more physical it can be understood in sculptural terms. The viewer is compelled to move around work, to kneel and peer inside it, or bend and examine its path towards the floor. Subverting conventional modes of display the exhibiting artists abandon the traditional eye level to engage with the gallery space from floor to ceiling.

Simon Callery,Test Pit Painting, 2009, canvas, wood, oil, distemper, 182 x 82 x 40cm

Informed by contact with archaeological excavation sites, Simon Callery’s canvases are cut open to reveal the interior body of the work, or hang at disjointed angles, exposing their internal supporting structures. These are not literal mappings of trenches, pits or gullies, but works which parallel the process of exploration undertaken on site. Frustrating any idea of a single viewpoint or split-second visual encounter, Callery’s paintings encourage the viewer to examine the inner working of his paintings, to take time to look inside and behind them. “I felt that contemporary painting was broadly functioning in the same way as all the mass media images that surround us in everyday life. What I am trying to do is create an experience of looking at painting that more actively engages the senses. Funnily enough, the clues that really highlighted this imbalance in painting grew out of an awareness of how we respond to landscape.”

Pointless cornered perspective orange, 2012, Jan Maarten Voskuil, acrylic on linen, 100 x 40 x 20cm

Where Simon Callery’s irregular frameworks support canvases painted in absorbent muted hues, the work of Jan Maarten Voskuil is characterised by smooth curves and bright, monochromatic colours held taught by precisely engineered structures. Both artists have expanded the notion of thecanvas stretcher to thrust the picture plane out into the viewer’s space, yet Voskuil’s work often responds to architecture, curving around corners and between walls. By engaging with the space, and introducing a sculptural structure he undermines the importance of colourful geometric abstractions on the picture plane. Indeed the part hidden structures are often more complex than the presented surface itself. Voskuil’s constructions are accompanied by humorous titles with double meanings; ‘There is no point in Orange’ for example suggests the lack of corners in the depicted orange circle while referring simultaneously to frustrations with the language of geometric abstract painting.

Broken Line (Snapped Noose), 2010,Alexis Harding, oil and gloss paint on panel, 244 x 122cm

Alexis Harding similarly roots his work in the language of abstract painting but aims to fundamentally change it; to harness and stretch it to its limits. Where Voskuil enhances the structure that supports the painting, Harding focuses on the paint itself. By mixing oils and household paints he causes paint to dry far more slowly, leaving a hardened layer on the surface which moves over a still viscous layer below. For Harding, painting is a process, a skin, a physically tangible substance manipulated by the will of gravity or grabbed and pulled by the artist’s own hand. Each painting begins flat and is then manipulated by tilting or massaging and squeezing its surface. Due to the instability of the medium, he ultimately submits each work to chance; time and movement become as important as abstraction. The ordered lines and grids of modernism break down and descend into the chaos of reality.