Last week I visited The London Art Fair in Islington. This was the first time I had been but I definitely recommend it; I had a thoroughly enjoyable and insightful day. There was plenty to see and be inspired by and the whole thing was far more relaxed and less frantic than Frieze. To start with I came across these amazing paintings by Andrew Salgado:
There were three of his canvasses on display in the Beers Contemporary stand; needless to say, they were all sold. This large canvas above was just spectacular; it took my breath away. The composition, his phenomenal use of colour and texture was mesmerizing. There were areas that were quite abstract and I loved the visual device of the squares and the almost pixelated feel; it was very powerful work. Interestingly when I looked at re-title’s website of International Contemporary Art it described Salgado’s practice as “an evolving process that explores concepts of masculinity and identity through assertive, gestural figurative paintings. Influenced in part by a cathartic personal encounter with hate-crime, Salgado’s practice (re)considers the tangibility and impermanence of the body, but also inwardly comments upon the fragility of self.” I found that very enlightening and not at all surprising because there is a very strong emotional resonance to the work that implies an underlying depth of meaning and experience. It also explained why I found the work so resonant myself and it did make me contemplate, albeit at least briefly, whether to take up portraiture again because of the really fresh and appealing way Salgado tackles his subject matter. Re-title’s website (no date) further comments that Salgado, “in an effort to surpass a literal (re)presentation of his subject-matter, prioritizes a visceral, sensual, topographic painting surface, toward an evolving language of figuration and abstraction. The work asks for consideration of what is visible, what is tangible, and what is suggested: pulling the viewer from the sutures of representation, and drawing attention to the painterly versus the metaphorical.” That made so much sense because there was a really powerful interplay between figuration and abstraction in his work and again as that is something I have worked with myself it really appealed to me. It did really make me question my own practice and ask myself whether I should employ that juxtaposition within my own work as it was so effective and so compelling. Needless to say I would return to these amazing paintings again before I left.
The next artist’s work that caught my eye was this piece, High Country, by Bryan Wynter:
It was an amazing painting; the soft, understated muted tones were refreshing and I felt there was a definite lesson for me here and a reminder to work more monochrome as I have a tendency to sometimes throw too many colours, bright colours, at the canvas without enough control or forethought. As for Bryan Wynter I knew nothing about him or his work and so was delighted to find out that he was part of the St. Ives group, as I’m pretty sure my tutor has told me to research these artists in the past. It’s lovely to stumble upon an artist in this way and find a connection and an interest that can be built upon and hopefully influence my own work. In researching him I have found that he was influenced by Surrealism and employed automatist practices, something that the early Abstract Expressionists, who are particularly influential to my own practice, also employed. Wynter was also influenced by Peter Lanyon, another of my favourite artists, so there is a real connection and joining of the dots here, as the artists I am finding, liking and feel an affinity to are increasingly interconnected. That for me is affirmative of the fact that my work is on the right track and that without knowing it there is an emotional and indeed a historical connection of experience amongst my influences. At first I was a little confused because every resource described Wynter as a landscape painter and I didn’t make that connection but I have now found out that although he started out working figuratively, by 1956 he had evolved a dynamic and more abstract style and that he had a non-figurative system using a much larger format, which he retained and developed during the remainder of his career. (Wheatley, A. 2014) His style is very gestural and after looking at some of his works on the Tate website I can say that it is his work from the 1950s such as this piece, High Country above, Mars Ascends and Seedtime that are particularly resonant for me.
The next painting that grabbed my attention was Ache by Brendan Stuart Burns, below. It was a loft softer and had a more ethereal quality to it than the works I am usually drawn to but nevertheless it still had a quality that was attractive. Burns is a Welsh painter who studied at The Slade and has exhibited both nationally and internationally. He is evidently interested in light, space and surface texture. The painting on linen was applied in a heavy impasto style.
In Burns Artist statement he talks about how the fine line which separates figuration and abstraction underpins his work and, interestingly for me, how paint is a major concern in itself. That is something I increasingly relate to and have come to realise is fundamental to my own practice. Elkins, in his book What Painting Is really clarified that for me, as I could totally relate to his description of how addictive paint can be; how it can “occupy the mind profoundly, tethering moods to thoughts, tangling stray feelings with the movements of the body, engaging the full capacity of response… there is no meaning that cannot seem to flow from the paint itself.” (1999, p.192-3) Burns also touches on this concept by suggesting that “Painting is thinking; it is a presentation of what you do not know as well as what you do know. ‘Touch’ within these paintings is crucial.” He goes on to say that he believes very strongly that painting is the most primitive and central of responses he can make to the world around him. He says that “the ‘spiritual’ within what I do as a painter, is the common denominator within my creativity. It doesn’t matter, on reflection, whether the work is concerned with the urban; New York, or the rural; Pembrokeshire, these subject matters are just one of many reasons for making paintings. There has to be another response to these works other than a simple recognition of time and place. They have to be more primeval than that, they have to ‘touch’ you. I aspire to a painting which communicates to everyone, whether you know Pembrokeshire or not. It’s our genetic make-up, it’s being human, being alive to the world, that I wish to tap into. …they have to be sensed as well as experienced, they are physical paintings. The ‘spiritual’ response and purpose is central.’ (Burns, no date) This is a very interesting methodology and Burns expresses his desire to elicit an emotional or psychological response in the viewer. I like the description of moving beyond recognition of time and place towards something more primeval that really ‘touches’ the viewer. I think that is a powerful aim and one that I similarly aspire to in my own practice and again is probably why I felt a connection to Burns work which was quietly captivating. This piece below, also on display at the London Art Fair, is called Tingle, 2013, Oil and wax on linen:
There were two artists with architectural themes to their work that really appealed to me, although as you will see, their handling of the subject matter is very different. The first one is Pierre Bergian who created a series of small canvasses depicting room interiors:
It’s a little difficult to quantify why I liked these so much but there was a quiet serenity to these pieces. The use of colour was calm and contemplative. There was also a use of layering and depth that was interesting and created a definite atmosphere. I think the simplicity of the subject matter combined with the intelligent mark making made the work arresting. Here is a close up of one of Bergian’s pieces:
The Purdy Hicks Gallery website explains that Bergian’s paintings “explore space and structure and make use of the presence of architectural components. His work looks at rooms and spaces that are often almost empty bar a small selection of furnishings and objects. He is intrigued by the many old, abandoned houses he encountered as a child: these buildings were shrouded in an air of the mysterious. His interiors are often filled with pictures whether they be hung on the walls or piled against an easel on the floor, often being depicted as no more than a square shade of colour upon the wall, possessing little detail. By doing so Bergian insures our attention is focused on the composition and presence of his work rather than what is displayed within the scene.” (no date) I think Bergian’s has achieved this; there is a real presence to the work that is captivating.
John Monks handling of architectural spaces, also empty and abandoned, had a far different feel due to his use of texture and colour, such as in Ambience II, below:
The Londonist, in reviewing Monks solo exhibition last year, said that he creates beauty amidst dereliction: “Monks’s effusive style provides enough ambiguity in his work so that they can be interpreted as both intimidating and also aesthetically pleasing. His layers of paint add a depth to his paintings that sucks the viewer in and enables Monks to experiment with the interplay of light and shadow.” (Khan, 2013) These paintings are indeed intimidating; they feel colossal, such is their power, yet this one above only measures 61 x 76cm. The use of colour though is what grabs you as a viewer as you are taken excitedly around the composition. This contemporary use of oils, somewhat reminiscent of Salgado’s, really emphasised to me that I needed to move into using oil on canvas if I was to compete in any way with the energy exuding from works such as these. I had much to think about.
As exciting and inspirational as all these discoveries had been there was one artist’s work in particular that really took my breath away. Verona Sorenson is a Canadian artist and this piece below is called Pink, Punch, Love and the medium is oil, wax and sand on canvas.
I loved everything about this piece: the colour palette, the wonderful texture, the layering and the lettering! It really communicated with me such was its space, movement and depth. In subsequently reading Sorensen’s artist statement is was like reading my own, which was quite uncanny, but again gave me the reassurance that I was on the right track with my own work because of the resonance I had immediately felt. For example Sorensen, like me, talks about being inspired by material and surfaces such as weathered doors and walls that give testimony to the passing of time. She feels that imprinted by the beauty of experience these surfaces parallel the depth and layers of human existence. I work with a very similar underlying methodology and so again this highlighted to me very forcefully that I similarly need to consider expanding my practice to work with oils and wax; to create a richer depth and texture that could similarly convey vulnerability. It has also made me question whether my work at times is almost a little too literal in its interpretation; too obvious because of being overworked. Sorensen’s work was powerful yet understated and the issue of space was again at the forefront of my mind. I left the London Art Fair with much to contemplate, knowing that I had been nourished and enlightened; confident that my own work would undergo a dramatic shift…