Today I went to see the ABSTRACT Exhibition at the Woolff Gallery; an exhibition of 10 artists, all said to have been selected for the commitment to the exploration of their imagination. This was really important research for me because I had discovered Canadian artist, Verona Sorensen, at the London Art Fair, and this would be my opportunity to see some more of her inspirational work, as well as seeing the work of several other exciting contemporary abstract painters. I wasn’t disappointed.
Verona Sorensen – Having seen the painting Pink, Punch, Love below earlier in the year, I already knew that like me, Sorensen’s paintings were inspired by references to weathered doors and walls that epitomise experience, paralleling the depth and layers of human experience.
Having studied encaustic painting Sorensen’s canvasses are deep, heavily textured surfaces built up over months or even years using oil, wax and sand. Once these dynamic layers have been built up she then scratches away at the surface to give glimpses of the rich surfaces beneath. She says of her work “I want to reveal the beauty lingering below surfaces. My paintings communicate strength and vulnerability… analogies of the human condition; the hardships, the darkness and the luminosity.” (no date.) It’s therefore not difficult to see the striking similarities to my own practice, interests and concerns and why I find her work so powerful. There is no doubt that later in my practice when I have the luxury to build up canvasses over months/years that these are the type of sculptural works that I will make. Here are some further examples of Sorensen’s work from the exhibition:
Yellow Sari. Oil, wax & sand on canvas.
Alchemic Souvenir. Oil, wax & sand on canvas.
Lovelution. Oil, wax & sand on canvas.
It is difficult to capture the intensity of the surface materiality on camera but these works are all characterised by aggressive textures, scratched into to reveal shimmering colours beneath. The mark making is vigorous and intense. Visually resembling rusted, corroded metal or age-worn rock faces that bear a powerful testimony to the history and experience embedded in their rich surfaces.
The other artists at the Woolff gallery were all new to me. It was quite a mixed selection, Sorensen’s had the most work on display and was, as far as I am concerned, in a league of her own. However, these are some of my other highlights:
Carolyn Cole – These paintings were primarily about colour and shape as Cole explores her intuitive response to the material she employs. Cole uses recycled envelopes and then paints onto them using acrylic paint, pencil and even charcoal which she then scratches into with a palette knife, again to reveal the surfaces underneath. I have to admit the ‘revealing’ aspect of the work was not so clearly obvious to me but I did find the gently undulating surfaces intriguing, even if the compositions were a little formulaic.
This composition, Yellow/Cream CC111306, mixed media on canvas, below, was by far my favourite and I think that is because of the calm colours that were used by Cole which made this piece far more meditative than the others, seemingly inferring a landscape of tranquillity.
Maria Louisa Hernandez – Her work is unashamedly influenced by the landscape having grown up by the sea in her native Chile. Now living by the river Thames in London her work, Exodo below, seems to capture the movement and light of the natural world. Her work is expressive and she chooses to work with oil on linen. A really interesting surface the visual device employed here really pulling the eye into the deep, layered crevice in the centre of the composition:
Russell West – This is the final artist that I want to discuss from this particular exhibition. West’s work was both intriguing and relevant to me because he plays around with the concept of what painting is. Famously employing a dripping paint technique, the works on display were ‘contained’ in frames, unusual for West, that themselves were made from wood sourced from a former psychiatric hospital on the Isle of Wight. The series, entitled Abstract Escapism, used bright colours to infer the fantasies and dream-like escapism of the incarcerated patients enclosed by the dark foreboding frames that invoke the restrictions they had to endure. Aesthetically pleasing yet concept-laden these powerful little pieces reminded me of Shane Bradford’s work.
Looking back I was exceedingly happy to have attended this exhibition. I loved the intimacy with which you can enjoy the works at the smaller private galleries, away from the madding crowds. It’s such a personal experience and there is no rush and no distraction. In fact I had the entire exhibition to myself which gave me plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and appreciate the works in all their glory. How heartening to see such an exciting group of contemporary abstract painters working across a range of media; the artists that I mentioned here were my particular favourites because of their relevance to my own practice, but all were worthy of note. On reflection I am still incredibly happy to have discovered Sorensen’s work, so rich in meaning and inspiration for me personally. I really want to find a way to bring that element of age and history more forcefully into the materiality and surface of my paintings; to “communicate strength and vulnerability… analogies of the human condition; the hardships, the darkness and the luminosity.” That is what I aspire to as an artist, so that is what I shall explore next week; it’s what I need to do.