Material Tension

5 MAR – 17 JUN 2015

Viewing by appointment, Monday to Friday
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Curated by Day+Gluckman

Artists: Sasha Bowles, Rachel Busby, Nadine Feinson, Jane Hayes Greenwood, Susie Hamilton, Lee Maelzer, Rebecca Meanley, Sarah Pager, Mimei Thompson, Lexi Strauss, Isobel Wohl and Vicky Wright

Painting is unlike any other medium and perhaps one of the most challenging for the practitioner. One can circumnavigate a sculpture, gauge understanding and intent through the choice of material and relationship with its given space, whereas painting is a slippery being, demanding a different kind of attention from both artist and viewer. The articulation of paint to surface can manifest as a performative experience, but equally take the form of narrative references both to art historical appropriations, contemporary observations and personal histories. Painting comes with an inbuilt language of its own as well as a visual immediacy, and it is in this forensic dissection of the possibilities of painting that these 12 artists excel.

Gesture, mark and palette are articulated in different ways through the works of Nadine Feinson and Rebecca Meanley. Feinson’s mark making explores the language and potential of painting. In the Cosmotop series, each work depicts a singular gestural brush stroke, the result of many attempts, worked and reworked until the precise moment is captured. How Feinson identifies this moment is unknown, even to her, but melds action and composition in one instance and requires constant interrogation to achieve the desired result. Meanley similarly explores palette and mark but the works stem from observations in sketchbooks, reworked through larger drawings and finally consolidated as paintings. The paintings evolve through each event, edited through process and intent.

Paintings by Mimei Thompson and Sasha Bowles have close affiliations with the literary genre of magical realism. Thompson’s paintings inhabit a hinterland between the known and the fantastical, carved out through wiping and brushing the canvas, later adding in detail, always allowing for the element of chance to play its part. Bowles’ meanwhile folds and interweaves glimpses of seemingly familiar landscapes with darkly humorous interventions creating pathways to worlds of imagination and desire.

Drawings and sketches are often, but not always, a starting point in the production of a painting. Susie Hamilton is fascinated by human behaviour. Her discretely affectionate observations of shoppers in supermarkets or hen parties in Liverpool (a result of her trips to Liverpool during her inclusion in the John Moore’s Painting Prize, 2014) capture marooned, solitary moments in the midst of the intimacy of a group.

These rapid-fire line drawings become worked paintings, translating line to paint. The forensic nature of observation can also be seen in the works by Isobel Wohl whose paintings examine the ‘beauty of small things’. In this case the intimacy, the ‘slow gaze’, lies less with the shared moment between people but between artist and subject. Through works titled Arm, Thigh, Stump and Silverfish she considers the idea that every contact leaves a trace, betraying whoever leaves it. Lee Maelzer’s paintings in Material Tension are charged with this residual presence. Actual traces, dust and cigarette butts, are sometimes added to paint in the process of producing the works. No figures are present, but they seem to have inhabited, however briefly, these interiors.

The agency of the object (or place) is further investigated through the works of Sarah Pager and Jane Hayes Greenwood. Pager’s work on the platform alludes to the genre of still life with its complex systems of composition and symbolism. In this work she draws on the presence of the ‘fold’, to convey the different planes and vistas inherent in the installation. The work visually ‘unfolds’ as you walk past and around it, layered as it is with numerous associations (from the scientific and museological to shared and personal histories). Pager describes the ‘objects and stuff of the world which we have created’ as having ‘a material consciousness – they are the witnesses and channels of our actions’. Ancient objects or familiar twentieth century artworks are remodelled, painted and restaged by Hayes Greenwood before they are photographed and finally described in paint. Both artists’ processes interrogate our increasingly fetishized relationship with objects, translated once more through the connection between artist, artwork and viewer.

Storytelling and the narration of ideas is a familiar subject for painting. Lexi Strauss, Rachel Busby and Vicky Wright all work with these constructs, albeit in very diverse ways. Lexi Strauss provokes us to explore the polarization of empathy through her exquisitely rendered paintings while Busby draws on highly charged, personal narratives using a deliberately limited colour palette to reinforce the slippage between memory and presence. Drawing on her former experiences and skills as an actor along with her subsequent move to Worcestershire, in the development of her work, Strauss examines belief systems and the notion of the individual, loneliness and the acceptance of difference. The dynamics of power and subjugation that underpins Wright’s work is articulated through abstracted portraits and the physical reversal of canvas. Her colour palette references the historic weighty portraits of the ruling and mercantile classes and by default the impact that gender inequality has had on the creative female impulse.

All of Day+Gluckman’s exhibitions develop from studio visits and resulting dialogues. Recent discussions about the point or act of commitment by an artist in creating a painting have informed this exhibition. For some artists this develops through observational drawings, storytelling, film, photography or sculptural maquettes; others challenge the medium through endless reworking, or an intense physical, emotional, gestural moment. 

Isobel Wohl

Lee Maelzer

Rachel Busby

Mimei Thompson