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Acoustic Colour   |   Carol Robertson and Trevor Sutton

ARTSHED, Glaisdale, North Yorkshire, 14 May to 18 June 2022

A review by Annie O’Donnell

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

It can be difficult to talk of Glaisdale without sounding like a tourist brochure for the North York Moors National Park. It has, after all, a bucolic landscape ringed by stunning circular walks and crossed by longer hiking trails such as England’s ‘Coast to Coast’. A place of working farms and of historical industrial activity, the hamlet is linked to Whitby and the north-east coast by the picturesque Esk Valley Railway. It has certainly not been known as the site of an experimental art space – until now. ARTSHED GLAISDALE, initiated by artist Francesca Simon, aims to be both an exhibition space grounded in this rural landscape and a wider space to build critical dialogues around the processes of contemporary art practice. [1]

Housed in a former farm cart shed, ARTSHED itself is at the end of a longer stone-built building. A traditional external staircase that once led to a loft runs up its far wall. This upper floor has been removed and the gallery is now double height, with apexes and beams revealed. The large doors that allowed access for farm vehicles now form windows onto a garden with a small beck, and the entrance door to the gallery space.

The inaugural public-facing event in any project is crucial to building its identity and reputation and Francesca Simon has chosen to launch ARTSHED with Acoustic Colour, an exhibition by London-based abstract artists Carol Robertson and Trevor Sutton. It highlights abstraction’s ability to span local and global geographical boundaries, with both artists paying tribute to the benefits of working periods in international rural settings, far removed from their urban studios. Step changes in scale or media are also evident here, displaying the documented effects of lockdown felt by many artists. This focus on making and experiencing art in new environments, and with sensitivity to wider events, are part of the core objectives of ARTSHED.

View from ARTSHED’s garden in Glaisdale

Installation shot 1 of Acoustic Colour © the artists

Acoustic Colour explores the close relationship between the rhythms of visual art and music, particularly music’s influence on research through making within the art studio. In the West, this relationship has been explored since the ancient Greece of the fourth century BC, when ideas of tone and harmony were adopted as part of the critical vocabulary of both fields. Within this first ARTSHED project, Robertson and Sutton’s shared experiences of place have constructed differing yet connected responses to the colour, light, sound, architecture, and landscape found there. The artists’ shared playlist, available when viewing the exhibition, encourages the visitor to linger in the space, weaving colour and sound together to question intention and interpretation.

Entering the gallery space for the first time, I am greeted by two works on the facing wall, as if highly individual yet linked characters are inhabiting the space. Orkney Painting 1 (2019) by Trevor Sutton and Phases #4 (2021) by Carol Robertson are both responses to time spent in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The artists’ experiences and memories are filtered through their own approaches to geometry and its ability to simplify the chaos of stimuli facing the artist. Here, the works seem to gaze out to the garden through the diptychs of the doors and windows behind me. I look briefly back to where the land rises to the tree line and I become aware of Malian music filling the space. The morning light is low and cool today and the pale walls are where white, grey, and putty meet; on another day they might appear vaguely green. I think of lime-washed walls holding memories of people moving carts and wagons in the space, and time and space stretch. Turning full circle, I absorb the figured stone and wooden doors of one apex wall, and the high, deep windows which pierce the building, giving glimpses of sky and still more layers of Yorkshire fields and trees.

Trevor Sutton, Orkney Painting 1 (2019), 63.5 x 127 cms, diptych, oil on board © Trevor Sutton

I approach the first work, Sutton’s Orkney Painting 1 (2019), a diptych of vertical and horizontal rectangles, some solid seeming, some clouded, all triggered by the landscape, stone structures, and light peculiar to the islands. Here in North Yorkshire, the work takes on parallels with discrete aspects of buildings and trees in the dale and indeed with the standing stones placed by Neolithic and Bronze Age people on the surrounding moors. Mirroring the artist’s response to the weathered shutters and doors of France’s Alayrac region during repeated residencies there, here in Glaisdale the rectangles multiply in the tongue and groove of the gallery’s wooden doors and ceiling. Likewise, the worked stone of an internal wall meshes with the subtle treatment of paint layers in Sutton’s geometry. The short blue, grey, yellow, and buff horizontals resemble a key to colours on a map or along an edge of faded linen-union fabric. The long dark horizontal that reaches across both diptych panels can be found in the metal strap hinges of the gallery doors: I picture the work’s panels hinging outwards. Sutton describes his process as ‘construction’ and has stated the elements of his panel works can be hung exchanging places. I take time to imagine how emphasis would shift if this were the case here. The light changes, and shadows form on the wall at the edges of the work. I look hard at the shadow point where the panels join, thinking of breathing points in poetry and song. [2] The panels are equal and in conversation.

The second painting, Phases #4 (2020) by Carol Robertson, hums optically nearby, forming a series of hypnotising concentric rings on a square ground. The shimmering ground itself is made in a long process of chance and choice, pouring thinned oil paint to build an ‘environmental space’ for the geometric shapes through a “discreet physicality in the history of the surface”. While Robertson focuses on the reductive and geometric, this highlights her ongoing expression of an atmospheric sense of space and place. Phases 4’s title conjures thoughts of change, time, and process or perhaps of aspects of the moon and its light. Robertson’s use of the circle in her practice is long-term and was enriched by the architecture that surrounded her during time at The British School in Rome. It has developed into a consideration of the circle’s “cosmic relationship with the earth, the heavens, the sun, the moon and the circadian rhythm”.

Carol Robertson, Phases #4 (2020), 94 x 94 cms, oil on canvas © Carol Robertson

This use of geometry distils the complexities and memories of the real world into an abstracted form that is far from nostalgic. The drawing and over-painting on the ground creates immaculate unbroken circles of colour that seem to move around like the wheels of the carts that were once stored in this place and to simultaneously pulse towards and away from me. My attempt at counting the rings fails, as darkness banded by paleness, or a colour disrupted by another’s brightness, cause me to repeatedly begin again. Tilting my head, an optical after-image spreads itself onto the fluctuating central space. The painting works rhythmically, like a long-forgotten system of notation for music in the round. I move backwards to experience Phases #4 and Orkney Painting 1 side by side and consider how the artists have individually expressed their collective experiences and wonder about presence and absence. I become aware that the gallery soundtrack is now electronic.  

Turning, I take in the small works hung in a single line across on the adjoining apex wall. They are spaced to show familial resemblances - rectangles, trapezoids and triangles - and the colours of their orbs and stripes sing against the gallery wall. High above them a single window frames a portrait of the nearby hillside.

Installation shot 2 of Acoustic Colour © the artists

Reading the wall from left to right, Robertson’s new paintings, Canto #3 and Canto #1, connect visually with the nearby Phases #4 through their use of repeated circle motifs. Their small size belies their power to carry the multi-layered influences within Robertson’s work. Each work has five circles across the bottom, on grounds of faded mauve-grey or muted peach: perhaps they sank to the base of the work or are about to float upwards into the empty space above to form musical notes on an invisible stave.

Carol Robertson, Canto #1 (2022), 25.5 x 30.5 cms, oil on canvas © Carol Robertson

The circles are linked and the intersections between them form lens shapes in unexpected colours that could suggest the commonalities and differences of data expressed in Venn diagrams. How are we similar or different? The intersections could equally be read as phases of planetary eclipses, or as symbols from historical art canons and organisations, representing ‘divine glory’ or the feminine/fertility.

Trevor Sutton L-R The Coach House 5, The Coach House 2 and The Coach House 3, each 10 x 15 cms, oil on paper on Corian © Trevor Sutton

The next three works are from Sutton’s Coach House series, made during his isolation with Robertson in rural Norfolk at the height of the pandemic. Each work is a collage of strips of oil-painted paper. The vertical seams between the components make them almost, but never completely, conjoined: the result is hybridisation through proximity.

Trevor Sutton The Coach House 2 (2020) 10 x 15 cms, oil on paper on Corian © Trevor Sutton

The collaged colour of each work might invite considerations of sky, earth, wood, stone or roof tiles. The works’ trapezoidal shapes certainly seem to allude to the vernacular architecture of both the coach house of the title and to ARTSHED.  Their scale and medium hint at artwork made in or influenced by domestic spaces (both internal and external) and in the rhythms found there when the work of art and life meet; something increasingly familiar to artists in recent days. I imagine their making must have been multi-rhythmed, beginning with the free laying down of individual colours, on through a repeated do-si-do with painted elements to build the collaged relationships, and finally, the precision needed to fix the paper to a trapezoidal Corian mount a one-chance opportunity.

Trevor Sutton Night Triangle 3 (2020) 17 x 13 cms, watercolour on paper on Corian © Trevor Sutton

Closest to the large windows, Sutton’s Night Triangle collages are watercolour on paper on Corian. Studio working at night is more often found in Robertson’s practice, and she describes the results as tapping into a different aspect of her personality. It seems to have produced the same effect for Sutton’s experiments, made at night by artificial light. His stacks of horizontal strips of paper resemble recollections of sunsets across the land, or old renditions of geological strata. The collages are sharp isosceles triangles, as if points from Johannes Itten’s 1921 Colour Star had broken off, mutated and found their way to Glaisdale from Weimar’s Bauhaus.

The ARTSHED project offers a rare opportunity to see art in an intimate rural setting and at a slow pace. In this first exhibition of what promises to be a stunning summer programme, Robertson and Sutton’s beautifully considered meditations on place, vision and sound are a poetic diary of the artists’ distinctive practices, built within their long partnership. Acoustic Colour can indeed be seen as a constellation of works, geographies and times that currently hover in Glaisdale, vibrating to the sounds that surrounded their making.

Trevor Sutton Night Triangle 1 (2020) 17 x 13 cms, watercolour on paper on Corian © Trevor Sutton

Installation shot 3 of Acoustic Colour © the artists


To view work by appointment:

Annie O’Donnell


(1) ARTSHED’s programme, running in three exhibition cycles between May and October, will be accessible via invitation to special events and by appointment.

(2) Enjambment: where lines run together without pause, and caesura: where a breath is taken in the middle of a line.