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Carol Robertson: Circular Stories

Flowers Kingsland Road, 28 November 2014 – 10 January 2015

A review by Charley Peters

It is Robertson’s exceptional handling of colour that is the most impressive element in this vigorous exhibition. Her circles are either divided bilaterally by a horizon line, or comprise small sections of alternating colour. Day Painting for R is a large canvas measuring 213.5 x 213.5cm. It represents well Robertson’s ability to create movement and presence through the application of colour. A soft gradient, from warm pink round the canvas edges, to cooler tones in the centre of the painting, supports a harmonious foreground mixture of brights and pastels. These are not literally optical works, but at times the painted geometric forms of confidently applied colour appear to be almost animated. Explorations of light are everywhere in Circular Stories; the paintings feel illuminated as though behind a back-lit computer screen, or appear to contain areas that pulsate like LEDs. However, despite such contemporary technical metaphors, the work remains largely fixed in the natural environment.

Light Catcher #2, 2014, Oil on Canvas, 92 x 107cm

Circular Stories at Flowers Kingsland Road presents a striking new series of paintings by Carol Robertson. Although resolutely positioned in the traditions of reductive, geometric abstraction, the works in Circular Stories also suggest a clear understanding of the natural world, and in particular, it seems, the movement of light over a landscape. Ten years before completing his 1831 monumental six-foot canvas Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, in which a rainbow dramatically arches across the composition connecting the earth to the heavens, John Constable proclaimed that “we see nothing till we truly understand it.”

Circular Stories illustrates the embodiment of Constable’s comparison of vision and comprehension through the precision and vibrancy of Robertson’s painting. Although non-representational in formal terms, the pieces were inspired by a series of residencies in France, working in a studio in Alayrac in the Gaillac region of the Midi Pyrenees. The circular motifs in her latest work are impeccably executed and atmospheric, contrasting the complete geometry of the circle with distinctive juxtapositions of colour.

The paintings suggest the transience of form and tone as days, months and seasons shift, while never straying from the development of the rigorous abstract language seen in Robertson’s previous work. Reminiscent of the powerful curve of Constable’s rainbow in Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, Robertson’s circular forms appear as a dialogue between the ephemeral essence of the natural world, the interruptive precision of geometry, and our visual perception as viewers.

Circular Stories - Alayrac Dawn, 2013, Oil on Canvas, 91.5 x 107 cm

Despite the meticulous nature of Robertson’s work it still remains decisively connected to the process of painting and its material properties. In works such as Light Catcher #2 and Light Catcher #4 the tooth of the canvas can be seen through several layers of liquified oil paint, while more diluted glazes wrap round the canvas edges, revealing feathery veins of darker colours. The fluid nature of the paintings’ backgrounds adds to the dynamic presentation of the main circular motifs, which appear almost to rotate around the canvas, detached from their more unstructured ground.

Circular Stories - Passing, 2013, Oil on Canvas, 213.5 x 213.5cm

Robertson has a clearly-defined and well established relationship with the outside world. In 2005, with writer Michèle Roberts, she published Dark City Light City, a book of photographs, watercolours and texts about walking through London. This year her work – including pieces directly related to Circular Stories - will appear in another book alongside the work of her husband Trevor Sutton, inspired by their time in residence together in Alayrac. Both the book, French Paintings, and the exhibition Circular Stories are evident of Robertson’s ongoing commitment to working with what she terms the ‘non-hierarchical and pragmatic language of geometric abstraction’. Through this language Carol Robertson has not only produced a new and sustained body of impressive abstract painting, but also a meditation on the ephemeral, sensory experiences of the real world.

Day Painting for R, 2014, Oil on Canvas, 213.5 x 213.5 cm

Robertson’s paintings are prepared with many layers of poured and stained grounds. This intuitive part of her working process involves developing colour relationships that can change many times during the generation of each painting, the resultant grounds revealing subtle fluctuations in tone and texture across the canvas. Alayrac Dawn is a fine example of this process, in which gentle, warm hues are revealed through a cool grey surface. Across the canvas are gentle horizontal bands of darker tones that suggest a more instinctive method of painting than the precise rendering of the circular forms in the foreground might suggest.

This review listed on Painters Table

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