David Ryan

 

 

 

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Clem Crosby chooses very specific grounds, consisting generally of a laminated surface, which is mechanically smooth. This provides the foil to his broad sensuous approach to gesture. By throwing the deliberately hand-made into the mix, Crosby re-asserts the difficulties of contemplating that most simplest of means: the brush stroke. Within modernism a tension between the mechanised and the hand-made had been in place at least since the appearance of the first neo-impressionist painters, and Crosby’s relation of mark to ground amplifies this dialogue. The Next 10 Minutes (2001) presents a series of almost over-sized, robust gestures hovering, almost slippery, upon the two laminated surfaces butted up against each other. Crosby allows the gesture to permeate what could also be seen as a more objective procedure in the freely brushed monochrome, A Room (2001). This earlier concern with the hermetic nature of the monochrome and its various traditions has opened out to a direct analysis of expansive gestures in conjunction with the space of the support, and their interaction and yet ultimate separation. This emphasised facture refuses the adoption of the ‘plastic inevitable’- a term Jonathan Lasker used recently in discussing the post-Warholian emphasis on artificiality and mechanical process. While Lasker seems to suggest this as a dead end, it is an outlook that has certainly underpinned the resurgent emphasis on the ‘how’ of painting in recent years; whereby we have often been presented with mechanical and artificial means of developing forms, marks and surfaces. Michael Stubbs’ elegant and beautifully made paintings using tinted varnish, egg-shell paint and other materials, certainly address this issue. There is, because of the meticulousness of the design, a perverse re-staging of a notion of craft. Technical resources in these paintings are at the service of a razor sharp clarity and – paradoxically - a viscous liquidity, both held together in a precarious balancing act. Stubbs plays with scale producing sign-like graphic motifs which act as masked interruptions in the flow of poured spills of paint. What comes to light are strange echoes and connections between these layers. Certainly, this dialectic between the ‘quasi-technologised’ and the hand crafted permeates the show in a subtle, almost unconscious way. Jonathan Feldschuh’s paintings explore encased gestures and trails of paint creating a surface that distances the original mark-making from the viewer. His trails and pours – unlike Stubbs – are allowed to become rich, almost baroque over-elaborations. There is also a clear pictorial dimension, with overtones of organic growth and base materials involved in random formation. Feldschuh’s background is in science, and it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to read these paintings as a chemical or biological flux. Dennis Hollingsworth allows himself a direct luscious play with oil paint – unusual for his generation in America – and what follows is an almost slapstick sense of developing a ‘stop-go’ vocabulary from residual smears, strokes, and squeezed paint trails. Rather like the left-overs of painterly activity, these marks are built up into intense zones of activity which draw the viewer into their microscopic world. This gives them a strange sense of cartography, of different ‘places’ brought together on the canvas, rather than simply an abstract expressionist approach to image making. Another anomaly in this context is the brilliant, but as ever understated, Tom Nozkowski. Despite the self-imposed constraints in terms of format – most images are on 16 x 20 canvas boards – there is constant invention. Forms interlock, wreathe around each other, and become rather like pictorial depictions of absurd formalist sculptures in landscapes. Nozkowski does not flinch from revealing a process of layering which records the arrival of these quirky forms in an intensely plastic way – full of pentimenti and abrupt changes of mind. On one level it might be tempting to see Nozkowski as a kind of storyteller, although never providing any supporting verbal or literary narrative in itself. He has firm belief in the power of moments of personal importance, fascination, and observation, to be translated into pictorial entities. They become visual loose ends of ‘epiphanic’ moments, no longer ‘readable’ in a conventional sense, but rather affecting, shaping and influencing the final form of the picture.
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