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Mary Maclean: Assembly   



Mark Williams: Chair     




John Paul Evans: Incubus



 Andrew Eden: Tree with Barrier        



Dilys Bidewell: Hercules Drunk 




Fawzi Karim: Arab



For the first group shows at The Room I have arbitrarily divided the artists who have exhibited here, or who will exhibit in the future, into two ironically obvious categories – the first show is called Figuration, and the second, starting in July 2011, will be called Abstraction. Ironic, because many of the values of these two qualities are inverted by today’s artists, just as they have always been.  Figuration has never hesitated to borrow from abstraction, and vice versa.  Saenredam’s church interiors can be read almost as if they were Mondrians – and the little figures that often humanise them and turn them into “scenes” were added later, by another artist, possibly as a commercial inducement.  Equally, Mondrian’s Boogie-Woogie can be read as a view vertically down on a bustling New York, or perhaps as some crazy musical score.  Mary Maclean refers to the formal qualities underpinning the old masters quite deliberately in Assembly which resembles some masterpiece of trompe l’oeil by an artist such as Gijsbrechts – who could paint a stunning rendition of the back of a canvas.  The sleight of the eye here, though, is that this work is not an immaculate oil by an old master but a contemporary photograph.

Compounding the irony, there is a strong conceptual impetus to much of the work on display in the current exhibition.  Dilys Bidewell’s Hercules Drunk seems to disappear into the distance.  Scratched in chalk onto an acrylic ground reminiscent of some igneous rock formed in the sort of eruption that engulfed Pompeii, the lines that delineate this pissing giant can only be read as one draws nearer to the surface of the work, and then they read as the lines linking galaxies in a hypothetical star-sign.  There is no head, and yet we imagine heads by linking the blurs and flashes of this cosmic background, thus projecting our own expression onto the figure. 

Conversely, Andrew Eden’s mixed media sketches from his London Suburb Series 1993-4 only come together as distinct images at a distance.  Close up, they disintegrate into a visual cacophony of the materials out of which they are made, a cacophony that nevertheless speaks of the stop/go, left/right, here/there avoidances and accelerations of traffic.  Gertrude Stein was once in the middle of a group of students all talking at once and eager to understand her work, and she said, “Yes, but how do we express this?”  Andrew Eden addresses the same issue of how modern life demands that we rapidly adjust from this view to that – look right, left and right again.  And so we accustom ourselves to negotiating the chaos of normality.  At the same time, the works play with the notion of conveying space and distance through mass, and so one of these built out constructions may invite us to scoop out the burgeoning blossom of a cherry tree, reminding us that we look into its spherical composition, while elsewhere a side-street bulges at us in order to accommodate its perspective, but also to remind us to watch out for drivers entering this dual carriageway which is not a motorway from our left as we approach. The significance here, for me, is that no one else seems to be addressing this material, this subject matter.  It is perception at its most original.

The techniques these artists employ are always inextricably connected with their subject.  John Paul Evans employs a pinhole camera, and, as he says in his statement, ‘The long exposures required to make the pinhole image involve the sitter remaining still for prolonged periods.’   The image enacts the length that the pose has been held.  Each work is a small time-based performance.  In two of the works exhibited, one detects that there is a younger man and an older man.  In Anticipation of Loss, the younger man lies inert and naked on the floor.  There are lilies.  There is a sense of death, as the pose reminds us of Mantegna’s dead Christ, and yet, the older man is practically translucent. The window shines through him.  The older man is less there, and he has been less there, while in the companion piece, Table 1, it is the younger man who is there less.  These pieces speak of mortality.  Incubus is a double exposure taken with a primitive plastic camera.   As with Mary Maclean’s Assembly, it is art that refers to art in a deep way.  In this case the reference is to Fuseli.

Fawzi Karim is one of Iraq’s most distinguished poets.  His paintings are intense moments of seeing.  They form themselves into natural harmonic rhythms, and his Arab has a chequer-board quality, or maybe it is backgammon.  There is a damp mist, a piercing eye.  The subject is assessing the viewer.  To my mind, Karim is an innocent painter, unafraid of influences.  Sometimes there is a quality of matière to the skin of the painting that may remind one of Morandi, sometimes the colour will be allowed to become violent and a more expressionist spirit will inform the work.  Karim is Iraq’s Lowry.  His work sustains itself by “flying crooked” as does Robert Graves’s butterfly:

The butterfly, the cabbage white,
(His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight,
Yet has — who knows so well as I? —
A just sense of how not to fly:
He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness.
Even the aerobatic swift
Has not his flying-crooked gift.


I have invited Mark Williams to re-exhibit one of his earlier extraordinary chair paintings, and some related prints.  Here, the “boogie-woogie” game is precisely reversed as the figurative rendition of a chair-back becomes a systemic abstract grid.  There is something quite uncompromising about the scrupulous rendition of the image of this object.  On one level, all imaginative choice has been squeezed out, but on another level, this releases a sinuous delight in how it is one might imagine painting a silvery tubular-steel surface.  One is reminded of David Hockney’s decision as to how to paint the surface of the water in a swimming pool.  Meanwhile, the studies play small ironic games of suggestion, or maybe they don’t.  Should one read a certain anthropomorphism into them – or is that as sacrilegious as reading figuration into Jackson Pollock’s most extreme works?  We are tempted however, and the works invite us to be so.

At this point, you may wish for a breather, and go for a recline on the chaise-longue by the window, which is of course an expanded portrait of Room 2 by Mary Maclean.  As with some of the large pine forest images of Wolfgang Tillmans (when not placed behind glass), Room 2 interacts with the aluminium upon which it is developed to create a tactile value, you feel the “thereness” of my chaise-longue, and it is almost more there, in its meticulous detail, and its blemishes, than the item of furniture itself.  At the same time there is a texture to the surface that lends an authentically painterly “skin” to the photograph – again we are considering matière, which is, as Anni Albers puts it in On Weaving, the surface quality of the material.   We are also invited to examine quality of surface in Dilys Bidewell’s Pig Man where the seemingly etched chalk mark allows the viewer to pursue as much as to peruse every line – enhanced as each is by the absolute blackness of the background.


Mary Maclean: Room 2



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