‘In the present climate of all-knowing, self-conscious art, where just about everything is a critique of something or other, there is still the need, even an urgent need, for something as unadorned as (the) simple painting, for a statement which is not embarrassed to be, openly, what it is: a painting, no more, or no less’. Ian McKeever
The artists in this exhibition share a concern with materials and processes through which broader conceptual considerations emerge. They move between physical engagement and concept rather than from idea to illustrative object, as has been so fashionable in the post-Duchamp era. Each has devised or discovered a distinctive medium or process and followed its inner compulsion and logic of development, eschewing current artistic trends where they do not match their vision or suit their purpose.
British painter Ian McKeever’s translucent paintings emanate light of their own. Greys and whites and the emerging texture of the canvas draw us into their worlds, revealing a subtlety of marks, layers, and surfaces. Here is abstraction which, though knowing, seeks to be appreciated on its own terms, as what it is: the process and result of selecting and applying pigment to canvas.
The photographer Lisette Model once declared ‘there is nothing so mysterious as a fact clearly stated.’ In Richard Learoyd’s portraits made using a camera obscura - a walk-in device the size of a small room - expression, light and detail combine to present a haunting stillness and breath-taking beauty worthy of a Renaissance master. Every element of the sitter’s pose has been directed from within the camera and captured directly on positive photographic paper in the equivalent of a gigantic Polaroid. The models in these unique prints are present in a heightened realism; an existential and spiritual isolation that lingers in the memory.
For American artists Doug & Mike Starn, simple combinations of bamboo poles and climbers’ rope are the modular elements from which they compose complex matrices in monumental site-specific installations. They form a dynamic network that is both organic and man-made, fixed yet evolving. The work seen here was cut from the performative installation that spanned the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2010; subsequently it was grafted into the artists’ 20-metre tall installation in last year’s 54th Venice Biennale. The Starns state that this work is a ‘painting’ and holds the essence of Big Bambú in it. Bbú Juju Painting MV4 is simultaneously a relic and a work in its own right, retaining the latent possibility of future use. This unique piece marks the exhibition debut of this series in London.
Garry Fabian Miller’s camera-less abstractions, conjured from light passed through coloured oils or water on to Cibachrome paper, glow and resonate as if illuminated from within. They evoke moments of clarity, depth, and inner focus. Intimately tied to the artist’s experience of nature and sunlight, they have a timeless meditative quality that parallels the quiet labour of their creation.
For his Nature triptych, mounted in weathered wooden frames, French artist Pascal Kern grew a squash from seed, cast it in plaster, split the mould, then photographed evaporated and layered pigments within it. This elaborate process of organic and artistic creation is the pretext for a work that goes beyond overt metaphors for growth, transition and decay, inviting an appreciation of form, surface and value.
Alison Rossiter crafts her minimalist diptychs from an alchemy of vintage silver gelatin photographic paper decades past its expiry date and developer carefully pooled on its surface. Chance, history, and intervention define the images that result, the aging and weight of the paper, and the intense depth of layered tones producing sensuous effects unimaginable in any other medium.
Our first encounter with all but the most conceptual art is with a physical object. The matter - the materiality - is often as important as the ideas that animate it and set it within a broader context of meaning. The power and pleasure of the works gathered here lie in their presence; the depth and weight of thought, time and practice in their conception and creation made manifest in the objects before us.
Text by Kate Stevens and Nigel Warburton