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Saturation Point Sunday Salon 26 | Richard Graville | Less Wrong

Saturation Point, Deptford, London, 23rd April 2023

A review by Jeremy Morgan

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Hold, First Call, 2022 Flashe & acrylic on canvas, 160 x 200 cm, Copulatory Gift II, 2023 Flashe & enamel on linen, 30 x 24 cm, Here Today, 2023 Flashe & acrylic on linen, 30 x 24 cm

One gets an immediate and powerful visual hit from Richard Graville’s bold, crisply executed works. These are not shy or equivocal paintings – the beauty lies initially in the pared-back geometry of the macro structure (often comprised of two cleanly painted colours bereft of gesture and framed within black borders) followed, on closer viewing, by a wealth of smaller interventions and micro decisions around paint application, surface sheen and the painted edge.

Fulfilment, 2023 Flashe & acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160 cm

Stepping into the throng of the Saturation Point project space for ‘Less Wrong’ – a presentation of Graville’s recent work, I felt an immediate impression of something cinematic or theatrical. The larger works such as First Call in deep yellow and white, and Fulfilment, in a red which flirts with orange (the result of much refinement), exude a muscular, imposing presence – pulsing backdrops to the animated conversation of the assembled crowd. Definitely attention-grabbers in the best sense – these would feel comfortable as backdrops to an über-chic minimal techno club.

Note, 2023 Flashe & acrylic on canvas, 95 x 95 cm

Often, but not always, symmetrical, the compositions display an exquisite restraint, apparently contributing a further welcome development to Minimalism’s formal concerns, and seemingly inhabiting a space along the continuum from Modernism to the techno-culture of the if Mondrian’s New York-inspired grids had been enlarged on Google Maps to just two neighbourhood blocks. Or so one would think...

However during the eagerly anticipated talk between Graville and Philip Hawker (of Brighton gallery, No Hawkers) – a talk which saw this writer embarking on an early morning dash from Oxford to Deptford through the heaving south-east London streets on marathon day, determined not to be late – rather exhilaratingly, such assumptions were completely up-ended.

For, hiding in plain sight within the assured, stripped-back geometry of the works, are in fact the colours and evolutionary survival strategies of animals – a code of natural signals now all but lost to modern humans, which form Graville’s primary concerns in the making of his work – specifically the aposematic markings which warn potential enemies and predators that the animal is poisonous or dangerous and which therefore ensure the survival of the species.

Says Graville: “Although I mimic aspects of formalist painting, I don’t share the same concerns. My paintings are diagrammatic, not abstract”.

Richard Graville and Philip Hawker in discussion

Copulatory Gift II, 2023 Flashe & enamel on linen, 30 x 24 cm, and Here Today 2023 Flashe & acrylic on linen, 30 x 24 cm

The information is simplified through geometry, the extraneous detail discarded to arrive at an essential end-point from which nothing further can be omitted. And yet within this reductive approach, Graville does invest considerable thought into his handling of materials and the resulting effects on the painted surface. He describes this as “using cryptic strategies to make other aspects of the painting strange and less legible”.

Response Unit, 2023 Flashe & acrylic on canvas, 45 x 30 cm

Slowly taking in the works, all of which are well lit by the excellent natural light pouring into the Saturation Point project space, one begins to appreciate a more subtle series of interactions between forms on the picture surface. The paired-down compositions allow the viewer the space to register and consider these subtle details. For example, the black frames which demarcate colours are here painted in silky acrylics, there finished in ultra-flat vinyl Flashe paint, yet all rendered in an ultra-smooth and consistent finish. The sensitivity to material is also present in the unpainted edges of raw natural canvas which are retained and allowed to wrap up and onto the face of the paintings, framing works such as Copulatory Gift and Here Today, with evidence of the material of their manufacture and allowing the viewer to appreciate the object as a hand-made painting, however slick the finish.

The works also remind me of the human world of signs and signifiers – whether that be in the resemblance to bi-colour flags, or in the heraldry of escutcheons and shields – the accoutrements of defence and power developed once natural selection became outstripped by the rate of technological development among competing societies, and which, of course fulfil similar aposematic roles to, for example, a beetle’s brightly coloured body armour.

Leave, 2022 Flashe & acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60cm, 2022

Response Unit, 2023 Flashe & acrylic on canvas, 45 x 30 cm and Over Night, 2023, Flashe & acrylic on canvas 40 x 80cm

Humankind’s impoverished ability to read nature in the way our ancestors once did seems directly inverted relative to our technological advance – an advance in which (soon to be defunct) Smart Motorways and other road systems direct us from huge signs, both analogue, and increasingly, digital in format.

As Graville puts it: “Humans were once able to navigate and track subtle clues in nature. Now flat signs in primary colours tell us which way to go and what to do. I continue down that path to see where it leads”.

A solitary video installation, Tunnel (low pass), continues these investigations, in which 12 minutes of night traffic is rendered in negative, the bright lights now appearing as eerie luminescent spatters on a white background. A departure from the painted works shown elsewhere, this makes an interesting counterpoint with which to bring the (almost) real-world back into the project space.

Walking towards Canada Water tube station after Richard Graville’s excellent show I was met with an array of stewards directing pedestrians and traffic around various garishly signed diversions, post-marathon. Each steward was wearing a fluorescent hi-vis jacket for safety and recognition – all rather aposematic I thought...