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Website: Chestnuts Design

Inside the Outside: saving up for the future

by Della Gooden, January 2020 for H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G_x2

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

When Michael Caine looked up, noticed the camera and walked towards it saying: “…Well, are you all settled in? Right, we can begin...” I remember thinking, “Hang on a minute, you’ve just had sex in that car. You aren’t supposed to know I’m here.”  The film that ‘gazed back’ was Alfie and its makers made me a silent witness to events that they knew I would not like. They anticipated a relationship with me, and yet Alfie was made before I was born…  

That same odd feeling that something is reaching out from an impossible place, is also had with Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ. This is a painting of Christ laid out after the crucifixion; the soles of his feet face the viewer and his body recedes away. Some say it disappoints because ‘technically’ the feet should be bigger and the head smaller, but whether an artist has, or hasn’t employed the mathematical rules of perspective doesn’t matter.

What does matter, is that when I viewed Lamentation of Christ it cared where I was, and it knew it was being regarded. The kneeling mourners depicted on the left, knew nothing. Busy with their grief, they will never know anything. Christ?... Well, in the frozen moment of the narrative, he is dead - so he didn’t know anything either. The painting on the other hand, was ‘working me’. In fact, it worked the room. Anyone there with me, on my side of the picture-plane, would have been susceptible to its efforts, could have become part of this mournful scene; would have felt hollowed out and hopeless. I am not saying the painting has consciousness, but that Lamentation of Christ contains latent energy, which is released when the viewer flicks the switch. This energy was installed circa 1480 when the painting was made, by the invention and labours of its maker, Mantegna.

There is a lot to enjoy about the blue, gloopy surface of Blue Pleat (below left) by Deb Covell. The paint, now dry, mimics its previously fluid state which is incongruous to its upright positioning on the wall… but there is something else; I think there is something encased within it, something literally inside. Probably, it is just an old, folded strip of canvas but like the quiet beating heart of a hibernating dormouse, I will never see it. The seeds of my curiosity were sown the day Blue Pleat was made, when Covell placed something inside her work that she knew no one would ever see.

Blue Pleat, Deb Covell (2018). Acrylic paint, 18 x 30 cm, photo courtesy Cal Carey

Slider 5, Philip Cole (2019). Coloured polyester resins on ply.

60 x 60 x 3.5cm. Photo courtesy Bernard G. Mills

With a surface so smooth, so fine and free of blemish, no more can be asked of Slider 5 (above right) by Philip Cole. It is becalmed perfection. On first looking, there is no trace of labour - it looks to have arrived effortlessly in the world, whole and perfectly formed. However, the disparity between the fine surface of the front, and the sides that have drips and spills down them, is climactic. The front of the painting is a flawless performance and the sides are like a backstage door to its inner workings. Are the drips the remnants of a process? Did something overflow? And like the word ‘Brighton’ in a stick of Brighton Rock, do the colours and shapes go all the way through, right to the back? The switch has been flicked. Cole charged up the painting with contradiction and that decision sparks intrigue in the viewer about ‘surface’ and studio processes.

Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ was purposed in its provocation of a sense of sadness and loss, but the sensations, thoughts and feelings that are triggered when we engage with a painting, the energy that is released, is sometimes to do with harmony, balance and well-being. John Carter‘s Chapiteau: Three Identical Shapes (below) and Katrina Blannin’s Sequence #2/4 (bottom image) both provoke gentle realisation, a slow dawning of thought – so slow that perhaps a concrete understanding can never be achieved, and a feeling that if it is, then there would be loss.

Chapiteau: three identical shapes by John Carter (2017). Acrylic on plywood, 51 x 40 x 4.5cm.

When Stig Evans and I saw Chapiteau in John Carter’s  studio, I could see that the three geometrical shapes of which it is formed have differences. They are each a different colour and a different size, but the power and the buzz of experiencing this work lay in what I couldn’t see, and probably wouldn’t have ever seen, if the artist hadn’t later revealed it; all three shapes are geometrically identical.

This was an invitation to flick a second switch. What was previously in operation below my consciousness, was now out in the open. I spent the rest of the time checking that the information I had been given was actually true!

Similarly, I would never have identified the circles in Katrina Blannin’s work as being the same size as beer mats, side plates, pizza bases and such like. I suspect she might argue that actually, it wouldn’t matter too much if no-one did. Nonetheless, in the background, somewhere, on some level, this fact is working me; sourced in the half-noticed incidentals of life; powered by a shared knowledge of the world we see every day.

This is an extract from the exhibition catalogue for  H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G_x2, curated by Ian Boutell, Philip Cole, Stig Evans, Della Gooden and Patrick O’Donnell at Phoenix Art Space, Brighton.

Participating artists:  Rana Begum, Richard Bell, Katrina Blannin, Ian Boutell, John Carter, Philip Cole, Biggs & Collings, Deb Covell, Stig Evans, Catherine Ferguson, Della Gooden, Richard Graville, Jane Harris, Morrissey & Hancock, Tess Jaray, Jo McGonigal, Mali Morris, Jost Munster, Patrick O’Donnell, Carol Robertson, Daniel Sturgis, Lars Wolter, Jessie Yates.

Catalogues (with four essays) are available from Phoenix Artspace, Brighton. © Della Gooden & Philip Cole.

Sequence #2/4 (four panels), by Katrina Blannin (2019). Acrylic on flax linen, 70 x 280 cm