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Saturation Point Sunday Salon 28 | Karen Loader | this, that & the other

Saturation Point, Deptford, London, 15 - 21 October 2023

A review by Laurence Noga

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

A semi-generative approach seems to exist in the highly seductive and rhythmic paintings of Karen Loader. On the one hand, there is a system orchestrating the paintings’ composition, but at the same time, a synaesthetic faculty enables the viewer to convert the colour into something reminiscent of sound in the paintings’ orchestration. Loader choreographs our focus on the impact that the colour brings, but also builds a measured feeling for the works’ in-between elements, through the irregular magnification and spacing of the elongated ovoid shapes, allowing a relationship between something gently hollowed-out and the solidity of space.

The curatorial decisions strike us immediately, drawing our attention to the seamless nature and construction of the cradled plywood panels. The sensitive placement of Interloper (2023) and Melancholy Morning (2023) allows colour to pulsate quietly from one painting into the other. The sense of coherence in these works brings an intriguing illusion of depth, as the stained colour pulls us very slowly into the built-up warm and cool colour relationships. Then the eye struggles with the splitting and reversal of the shapes. The atmosphere, and the turquoise and pale green structure, in Melancholy Morning calls to mind Matisse’s 1912 Moroccan series, such as Le Marabout and Entrance to the Kasbah; there is a feeling of refracted light, suggesting a molecular structure. I found myself locked into the arched spaces at the top and bottom of each work, struggling to assimilate the feeling of imbalance that the paintings activated in my perception. A feeling of liquidity permeates the surface facture as the viewer finds themself drifting in and out of the works’ harmonic nature, caught in the paintings’ wish to conceal. Interloper feels more frontal, activating a more phosphorescent quality; all at once it feels sharper, at first more framed, then more relaxed, like closed or open shutters.

Multiple and reciprocal spaces open and close like an organic natural system in Little Fictions (2023). This semi-transparent 21-panelled installation, cleverly hung towards the end of one wall, has an unravelled, nocturnal feel. The dark grounds allow the iridescent colour choices to illuminate the restrained network of curves, which lock, or pull inward, shifting our interpretation to and fro, like the reflections in a glass office block. They call to mind Robert Irwin’s installations such as South South West (2014-2015), where Irwin uses layered combinations of colour, texture and psychological experience. The stacking of the works, and the changes in the position of the forms, move our eyes around the grid, contemplating the differences and the co-participation of nature and geometry.

Play it again (2023) establishes a more measured dialogue. The ground colour operates magnificently to promote the dazzling aura of the internal shapes, highlighting both their profile and direction. The optical orientation, and the close proximity of the tonal choices, brings to mind Joseph Albers’ Homage to the Square:  R-NWIV (1966), with its hovering delineation of form. The modification of the composition builds a compressed quality in this work, with its perfectly divided proportions. It’s as if one painting is trying to get inside the other, helping us explore the tension between an interior and an exterior interpretation.

Warm Embrace has a distilled quality. The application of the paint feels a little more poured (yet still controlled) letting the contrast it uses pick up on the natural light. The work’s physicality points us towards more of a human interaction. The intimate shapes lean towards us, building a kind of rational harmony. I like the way that, just as we are getting comfortable in reading the composition, (the way the shapes are echoed) we notice the change of width in one of the pink structures. There is a kind of poise in the way the work is arranged that forces us to question the painting’s dimensions and multiple readings, like a sequence of events.

The hypnotic pairings of Matrix 1&2 and Matrix 3&4 hold our spatial gaze. At first they seem to operate at a much faster pace than their counterparts. The negative spaces and the brilliant colour choices allow the ground colour to be read vertically. But as we start to recognise the scale and placement of the triangles, a softer, more hidden organic shape emerges, which stays deeply embedded in our thoughts as we contemplate these paintings’ illusory and compositional strategies.

In Arc1&2 the complementary colour choices and compositional devices make us feel a little more uneasy. The throw-away nature of the support, and the reflective (maybe varnished) surface focuses our thoughts on the power of the blue violet structure. There is a deeper sense of the unknown here, creating a viewing experience that feels disconcerting. The compelling arrangement of the second panel (with its curved thinner grey/yellow verticals) adds to the eeriness of the composition, sliding us into an unknown place.

When I met Loader recently at her exhibition, she mentioned her random meanderings around the city, and the impact of those journeys. Her natural understanding of phenomenological concerns is deeply rooted in her approach. We sense echoes of found spaces, light fittings, doorways, and the use of ephemeral materials that underpin the paintings’ context. But it is the underlying strength of the work (like an intervention) which illuminates those overlaps – fusing together or shifting apart, and creating an innovative and highly sensory experience.