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Expanded Impermanence   |  Amelia Bowles and Nadia Guerroui


Sunday Salon 18, Saturation Point, 17 - 22 May 2022

A review by Laurence Noga

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

In this Saturation Point exhibition, featuring Amelia Bowles and Nadia Guerroui, everything has a phenomenological tension. The physics of the earth’s atmosphere – the way it moves, vibrates, and consumes energy – are combined with a more systematic presence. At first glance the works offer a somewhat artificial glare but, like a mirage, the rays of light allow the layers to fuse and mix, causing visual turbulence within the space.

We are aware of the distinctive symmetry and spacing between the works. The two artists clearly have closely aligned areas of interest. The function of colour, for example, is surprising and optically complex. The decisions taken often feel mathematical, but also move towards a natural science orientation, shifting between sharply defined shadow and solarisation.

Amelia Bowles’ ordered constructions contain a Brussels sense of dappled light. My focus is drawn immediately in between each of the panels, creating a complex optical illusion. Structures of shadows in differing forms (according to the time of day) exist transitorially. The format and the quality of colour call to mind the fragility, and the vertical and horizontal balance, of Agnes Martin’s non-insistent yet assertive grids. Translucently pale, the stretched thin cotton feels upholstered. The cotton is stained with two closely toned colours, like the colour of fabric plasters. Domestic connotations are vividly interplayed with a ‘sleight of hand’, as Bowles observes. Her manual dexterity in the construction of each panel and her use of colour feels drawn from her family relationships and the tensions of everyday life. Each of the elegant structures has an inverted join at the front, developing further structural shadow-play. The Daughters of the Evening, made in 2021, is a sophisticated work which absorbs the light and atmosphere around it, but also perhaps assimilates snatches of conversation, shared activities, and her family’s history of making.

Amelia Bowles, Daughters of the Evening, 2021, acrylic on cotton panel, 140 x 205 x 11 cm.  Image credit: Benjamin Jones.

Decisions about colour and transparency are critical to this exhibition. This feels palpable in Nadia Guerroui’s densely gessoed luminescent wood panels; the approach suggests elemental forces at work: superimposed colours and the weightlessness of the colour field. Trustful Hands, made in 2022, creates a misty, ambient quality throughout the space, reminiscent of the Canadian artist Dorothea Rockburne’s oil on paper installations such as The Domain of the Variable (1971-72). Rockburne’s use of transparency, and her contained use of light, are often intertwined with chance processing, and this feeling for the intuitive chimes particularly well with Guerroui’s iridescent sense of place and distortion. I like the way a sense of infinite possibilities are echoed throughout her approach. In this work the restricted palette and the narrow spectrum of high-key intense hues works brilliantly to fill the space with inflected colour. There is a strong connection to earlier works such as Card draw on wood (2019) which operates through a lyrical sequence full of chromatic nuances and vibrating colour shifts within the vaporous frontal composition.

Nadia Guerroui, Trustful Hands, 2022. Variable dimensions, ambient white light, wood (2 panels of 62 x 120 x 1,8 cm each), gesso, fluorescent pigment and interferent acrylic paint. Image credit Nadia Guerroui.

I noticed a further sense of patina in Bowles’ Untitled 2022 work. Placed calmly on the floor, it brings to mind Barbara Hepworth’s Sea Form sculptures from the late 1950s. The fossilised surface, like an urchin species glued to the seabed, evokes a structuralist understanding of nature. The angle and slightly casual placing of the work suggests that it might be part of the space already. And its small size and scale, combined with an almost mathematical symmetry, gives the work a certain mobility. Hepworth’s enduring commitment to carving wood and stone is questioned here in the lightness of this construction, but there is also a suggested tension between figure and abstraction: this work confronts the viewer with a degree of near-primitive intensity.

Amelia Bowles, Untitled (2022). Acrylic on cotton panels, 68 x 37.5 cm. Image credit: Benjamin Jones.

Catching my peripheral vision, the iridescent quality of Friction in Plain Sight (2022) (London Skyline) keeps me hooked in, both close up and at a distance. It expresses a dominant notion of time within a frame, and the double-tone polyester activates an ever-changing perception. Its immateriality infiltrates the architecture of both the outside and inside space. Everything momentarily appears colourless – the distortion of time has cinematic implications in both visual and formal terms, deepening our experience and getting a new impression every time we look.

Nadia Guerroui, Friction in plain sight (London Skyline), 2022. Variable dimensions, Ambient white light, double tone polyester and magnets. Image credit Nadia Guerroui.

Bowles’ single panel work Mirage (2022) acts as a natural counterpoint in the whole show. It draws our attention to the presence (or absence) of natural light, or slippages of light, something which interests both the artists. But critically, there is an element of paradox between the exhibition’s orderly interior structure and the powerful sense of presence and corporeality. In the end it is the experiencing of it, through our human perception, that lights up our interpretation of this world.

Amelia Bowles, Mirage (2022). Acrylic on cotton panels, 120 x 20 cm. Image credit: Benjamin Jones.

L:Nadia Guerroui Trustful Hands, 2022. Variable dimensions, ambient white light, wood (2 panels of 62 x120 x 1,8 cm each), gesso, fluorescent pigment and interferent acrylic paint. R: Amelia Bowles, Daughters of the evening, 2021, acrylic on cotton panel, 140 x 205 x 11 cm. Image credit: Benjamin Jones.

Amelia Bowles, Mirage (2022)(detail). Acrylic on cotton panels, 120 x 20 cm, Image credit: Benjamin Jones.