Listed in alphabetical order
In the time since Tricia Gillman began painting, exhibiting, selling her large canvases, from the twentieth century to the twenty-first, painting has been variously ‘in’ and ‘out’, ‘over’ and ‘back’.
Gillman’s work has been described as Colourist, Expressionist, bold, vivid, Symbolist and yet she firmly defines her work within the language of Abstraction. She says ‘Abstraction for me provides a terrain where I can reference the multi-layered nature of experience.’
Or in Gerhard Richter’s description: ‘When we describe a process, or make out an invoice, or photograph a tree, we create models; without them we would know nothing of reality and would be animals. Abstract pictures are fictive models, because they make visible a reality that we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can postulate.’
The artist declines overt narrative, or story telling in her work, and yet in a retrospective there is a natural chronological structure, and Gillman does indeed see her whole body of work as a journey travelled. The earliest works here, ‘Como’, ‘Carambola’, ‘Red Boudoir’ and ‘Ugu’ were painted in the 1980s, when Gillman first moved to London after studying in Leeds and teaching in Newcastle for a period. She was living in Shadwell, and would walk every day to work in a studio inWapping. This was pre-regeneration, before yuppies began buying up warehouses – the cityscape was post-industrial and unloved.While you don’t see the greyness here, the circular movement and energy was inspired in part from the rubbish whirling through the windy urban wasteland. The colours are hot, both literally and metaphorically, magenta, red – Gillman looks on these works as a young woman’s paintings, ‘stirring the pot’, full of energy and sex.
The Matisse influence is clear in ‘Red Boudoir’, echoing the 1908 Red Room in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, with its deep and warm enfolding colour, the Japanese sense of flatness and deliberate playing with depth and planes leaving the eye to dart forwards and back, difficult to focus but deeply pleasurable, to allow the visual sensation to overwhelm you. Abstraction is moving in, but the bowl of oranges in the bottom of the canvas nod to the importance of still life for Gillman, not just as a technique but also in the sense of placing objects in a space. (The part of art class I always enjoyed best was arranging these wholly unlikely setups, feather next to overripe pomegranate,) and there is a sense that this is how Gillman paints, but the same discipline of choosing and placing, taking things out of the world and giving them a different life. She says: ‘The conventions of still life are never far away; with its crucial placing and relationships between things, on a table, imbued with a sense of the inherent metaphorical “stage” for life … I like the sense of laying out your cards … to try to persuade these disparate linguistic parts and passages to speak to each other, to cross territories of behaviour, and co-habit in a new place, where transference, physical sensation and feeling, take precedence over fixity of meaning or reference.’
In the early nineties, the flatness becomes a more distinct framing device, and part of the painting physically separates, although the two canvases are bolted together, recalling altarpiece structures. The main canvas was painted first. The appendage was always added as part of each painting’s development. She describes how the painting’s latent content required it, as opposed to a purely physical need for more space. The additional canvas adds another dimension, something structural or sculptural, giving the impression one could, despite its size, pack it up and take it away.
The colours change too, reds and magentas are replaced with a lilac that remains through the work right up to the present day, as in ‘Middle Ground’ along with luminous colours under black, in ‘Underworld’, ‘Swing Low’, ‘Blackboard’. She acknowledges a mother and child theme here, now that she has a baby in the house and is painting in her front bedroom. If it is a kind of wish, the painting produces another painting, the artist to beget herself, were one to make a psychoanalytic reading of these works, it is certainly relevant to note that Gillman’s son has just graduated from art school.
The continuing creative tension in the work of the 1980s and 1990s, between visual fact and the drive for abstraction or sensation, recalls de Kooning’s comment ‘content is a glimpse’. The phrase ‘visual fact’ is one Gillman uses herself, but not necessarily to mean a figuration or a recognisable object, but rather a more physical property, the blob of paint, the line, the colour. The large canvases here, ‘Middle Ground’, and ‘Underworld’, started with the artist painting the whole space one colour and then scraping, adding, etching. At this time Gillman was a senior lecturer in painting at Central St Martin’s, immersed in the theoretical and critical thinking around art practices, mark making, deconstruction, aesthetics and semiotics that continue to abound in art education but were not so much a part of Gillman’s time at Newcastle in the 1970s. She describes talking about the layering as an overt semiotic tactic questioning and testing visual objectivity for the first time, having been concerned with deconstruction and reassembly since beginning to practice.
In 2001, a series called ‘Bedrock’ emerges. These works are much lighter, without heavy thick brushstrokes, the framing devices dropping away. Gillman is clearing away, stripping things out. Before she starts work now she walks through the park, the graveyard. She also has a beautiful garden herself, and plant life becomes important now with leaves and roots and seedpods all coming through. She describes literally planting things on the canvas, going back to the ground, another kind of visual fact.
These works are fundamentally related to the concurrently painted ‘Dark Light’ canvases, which act as the inverse, starting with a black ground, and concerned with depth and space. Gillman says:
‘Starting with apparent opposites; surface as space, dark as light, the absolute of “darkness” reveals itself as relative. The autonomous elements, distinctly made, become mirroring polarities. So, in the “black paintings” and the “white paintings”, the format as container is filled and emptied, posing possibilities for space, light and embodiment, playing out a rhythm of cycles, balances, repetition, weight, fallow and fruit.’iv
These are followed by a series of smaller works, with light markings almost like those made by children’s crayons. Several are shown here including ‘Chinese Whispers’, ‘Chanson D’Hiver’. These form part of the clearing out process, but have their own energy, making traces and tracks over the emptiness, a continuing polarity between all the objects and colours. These works are as near as Gillman gets to Minimalism. She approaches, picks out the particular energy of reducing the pictorial to its necessary parts and in 2006 produces ‘LimeWalk’, a vibrant play of colour. The contrast brings to mind an exchange between Hans Hofmann and Jackson Pollock recorded by Lee Krasner:
‘When I brought Hofmann up to meet Pollock and see his work which was before we moved here, Hofmann’s reaction was — one of the questions he asked Jackson was, “Do you work from nature?” There were no still lifes around or models around and Jackson’s answer was, “I am nature.”And Hofmann’s reply was, “Ah, but if you work by heart, you will repeat yourself.” To which Jackson did not reply at all.’
‘LimeWalk’ is a zinging blast of a painting. Clear luminous green creates a surprisingly flat and yet light background which acts as base for expressionist play, dark splodges and splatters dance around the canvas, insects in a late spring or early summer garden, coming up upon clumps of violets, or a swarm of butterflies. Careful patterns return as slighter framing devices at the edges, like the peeling away of wallpapers, or a reminder maybe, that everything changes, nothing here is a permanent fixture. As a whole this is a forcefully structured and concerted exposition of nature and painting.
The play continues between figurative things: a Celtic roundel, Fra Angelico’s angels and Egyptian hieroglyphs as well as distinctive, or recognisable patterns, William Morris print – in ‘Roundelay’ (2009) and other works of this period. This mass of ‘things’ seems relentless, the increase of images surrounding us in the twenty-first century. Various studies quote the average person as seeing between 245 and 3,000 advertising images per day. During the average twenty-minute period in 2010, 2.14 million images were uploaded to Facebook. Gillman talks about ‘the collision of contemporary, scrambled semiotics with the lost possibility of authentic reference.’viWhat chance does abstraction have with this kind of onslaught?
These later works are in many ways most obviously post-modern in the sense Umberto Eco describes when discussing how to say I love you to someone who knows such clichés have been made redundant by trashy romantic culture:
‘Still there is a solution. He can say, “As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly.” At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly it is no longer possible to talk innocently, he will nevertheless say what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her in an age of lost innocence.’
In the most recent paintings Gillman returns to her own hybrid vocabulary rejecting the plethora of distinct and recognisable image references of the preceding series. The play with depth reappears with the shades of lilac, greens and blues and then the paler grounds with a more finespun line, plant life again. The detailed drawing contrasts with the seemingly accidental mark making, drips and splodges of paint, each questioning the other. Perhaps, as a counter to the earlier works of the 1980s, works like ‘Melisma’, ‘Sweet Mexican Dream’ and ‘Myriad’ are cooler, calmer, no less or more certain, but a different woman’s paintings with a different understanding in perception. The facts have not changed but how the artist deploys them has.
Gillman speaks often of Braque’s late studio paintings, the chance to throw everything up the air, all the motifs, techniques, ideas and colours, and see what comes back. These works are not innocent, they acknowledge their influences: Matisse’s colour and atmosphere, de Kooning’s slippery paint, Braque, Caulfield, Fra Angelico. But they are beacons, altarpieces for our age of lost visual innocence. Painting here is not ‘in’ or ‘out’, it just is.
‘Love and feeling. Portraits of nature & elegies, volcanoes, planets, cancers, rivers, veins, growth, growths, blood, eruptions, lava, sinew, skin, sunsets, cloud formations, movement, slow, fast, signs, hand-lines, hair, faces, scars, melting snow, rain, wind, erosion, decay, mould, insects, solar storms, sun, moon, animal life, x-rays, cuts, bruises, views from planes, wood, stone, (humans and nature contain the same organic forms) the same signs, birth, life, death, the cycles of nature. within this tumble and jumble there are many crossroads where poetry may be found.’
And correspondingly his titles: Indigo Moon, Memories of Rain, Circle Mountain, Life’s Pleasures, Feel the Stars, Zenist, AzureWinds,Winter Tiger, Love and Life, Moon’s Milk. Some painters try to deny the visual flux. Mondrian, famous pioneer of formal reduction, even avoided looking at trees for fear of disturbing his purity of vision, which had pared branched complication to the basics of line, rectangle and primary colour. Hoyland’s overtly emotional art has evolved in an opposite direction. It has expanded to embrace not just nature but the cosmos; reflecting the fact that he has witnessed the most mind-blowing half century of technological advance in history, from outer space to cyberspace. No painter has encompassed this complexity with more exuberance. The technical refinement and mastery which has enabled him to achieve this is every bit as hard earned as Mondrian’s.
What Hoyland does not mention in his list is art. A glance at the postcards and books (Gauguin, Hofmann, Matisse, Miro, Motherwell, Soutine) in his studio, at the African tribal art in his living room, the crimson leather upholstery of his Art Deco armchairs, supplies the answer. A modern English painter he has long admired is Matthew Smith (1879-–1959). So did Francis Bacon. In his introduction to Smith’s retrospective at the Tate in 1953 Bacon wrote:
‘He seems to me to be one of the very few English painters since Constable and Turner to be concerned with painting – that is, with attempting to make idea and technique inseparable. Painting in this sense tends towards a complete interlocking of image and paint, so that the image is the paint and vice versa ….That is why real painting is a mysterious and continuous struggle with chance.’
Hoyland has taken this inseparability of idea and technique, the ‘continuous struggle with chance’, to a new level. He has perfected a method of spreading, tipping, dripping, flinging and squirting paint that makes a virtue of accident by conjuring effects beyond the rigid control or artifice of the brushed mark. He makes images and colour combinations which have literally never appeared in art before, just as wildlife photographers and remote-control cameras have revealed creatures and details of the earth and planets previously inconceivable. To appreciate this, it is not enough to stand amazed at his cosmic starbursts and flares of iridescence; but to get close to the canvas and see the spiral of marbled colour round a thread of white barely visible without a magnifying glass.
Every February he and his wife Beverley stay at their apartment in her native Jamaica. ‘I really need it. I feel my use of colour fading in England as winter sets in’, he says. And he keeps a notebook and takes photographs. One recent thought about making pictures is: ‘You don’t paint them, you encourage them to happen.’ Talking to Hoyland you get an inkling of the knowledge required to bring this about. ‘A lot of people never looked at Utrillo, who never used a white but he used a lot of colours that look like white. It took me years to use white as a colour. Not to use it tonally. People usually use it tonally.’ The same applies to his maintenance of gravitational and tonal control, his suffusions, his playing colours against each other, so that a cadmium red which might seem crimson in one combination can look orange in another.
Everything is grist to his mill. Since his last exhibition at Lemon Street in May 2008 Hoyland has undergone major heart surgery and re-married. It is not coincidental that the scar on his chest and the lines on the palm of his wife’s hand have both found their way into his paintings; nor that there is sometimes a sense of division between sun and moon, day and night, life and death. One is left to marvel at his ability to create ‘small bombs’ of 24 x 24 inches as powerful in their way as five footers, so that it is hard to tell the different size in illustration; to rejoice in the mastery, concentration and sheer wonderment he displays in these paintings.
‘I was listening to Hockney on the television and he said: “I’ve always wanted to paint from the shoulder but you can’t, can you, in painting; you can only paint from the wrist.” And I thought: “Oh yeah!”’
Oh yeah indeed.
My work is inspired by my past, present. I love the purity of form but am also an addict of detail and fine line. I mainly separate these two aspects to keep the purity of both. Occasionally, and mainly on the larger pieces these two aspects are introduced to each other like the opponents in a battle. The interactions and clashes describe some very intriguing dynamics but positive resolutions are formed. Optimism reigns in my work.
The workshop environment is crucial to my sense of well-being and ability to perform. It is important to me that all who may work or visit feel comfortable there. My subject matter is broad. From nature, science, personal and social dynamics, and my past experience in architecture and life.
Amelia’s oil paintings strive to relay the atmosphere and emotion of the landscape through a personal and momentary experience. They contain the ideas of capturing those immediate feelings of drama in a continuously changing landscape.
Her interest in the landscape was stimulated by her childhood in the countryside of Sussex where adventures on the South Downs with its ever changing skies and their dramatic effects on the land beneath became her inspiration when she discovered her passion for painting. Choosing Falmouth College of Arts in Cornwall to pursue her degree allowed Amelia to surround herself with an endless supply of exciting subject matter. As a result Amelia had a sell-out graduation show from Falmouth in 2007. Since graduating she has exhibited across the UK including Cornwall, London, Surrey and Scotland, and continues to undertake commissions.
Amelia Humber returned to London in 2007 where she originally studied her foundation course at Wimbledon School of Art, choosing to move back to the hubbub of the capital to be among and involved in the diversity of creative talents. More recently her subject matter extended to the Highlands which she had been visiting annually.
She enjoys travelling to a diversity of landscapes, often painting on location and returning to her studio to finalise the work.
Daedelus in Stoke Newington by Mel Gooding
Ethics and aesthetics are one. (Wittgenstein)Trouver une langue. (Rimbaud)
Bryan Illsley is a master of the spontaneous, of the unprecedented, un-anticipated texture and mark, the thing that was never conceived or executed before this gesture of arm and wrist, and which can never be repeated, however many more similar marks will be made after, including those on the same surface, made a few inches away, moments later. Before, now, now, again, now, again, after; a rhythmic dynamic of time is inscribed in these strokes and markings: and an urgency of spirit, a sense of necessity, perhaps, something for the want of something else more complete, more determined; a desperation even, or a defiant exultation! Nothing is premeditated in this process of mark-making, in the brushed scribble and broken inconsistent plane of the paint; no aspect of the final image – an image that is the thing itself, conterminous with the support that carries it – is predetermined.
The perceptual impact of the image-object is immediate: every mark simultaneous in its dynamic presence, there is no point of rest, no beginning or end. You are disconcerted perhaps, but also enthralled, as if you had come across touches and traces sent from who knows who, who knows when, ‘speaking’ (in a manner of speaking) to us from an elsewhere unnameable in an untranslatable tongue. ‘As if’: because, of course, the manner of delivery, the determined dimensions of the canvas support, the title, the apparently arbitrary diversity of texture and scatter of line, colour-smudge and mark, the patches of black, white, colour, half-colour and off-tone are implacably objective aspects of a deeply considered art. Illsley – who is a consummately cunning and resourceful craftsman, a jeweller and a sculptor as well as painter – is nothing if not artful as he dodges familiar categories of genre and style. It constantly takes us by surprise that such an unprecedented thing should have arrived in front of our eyes.
His habitual emphasis on the automatic stroke and action, the spontaneous mark and gesture, might suggest, notwithstanding his creative deliberation and his aesthetic sophistication, something mediumistic about Illsley’s actions as a draughtsman and painter. Or it might bring to mind the aimless, improvised antisigns of certain graffiti, a scatter of scribbles simultaneously signifying something and nothing, presence and absence. Or it might suggest the poignancy of a desperately scribbled doodle, an incipient, unformed, illegible message to its own sender. In fact there may be elements of any or all of these things in an Illsley painting, but its uncanny vitality is the outcome of a canny willingness to admit whatever impulse is necessary to the making of the image, without the let or hindrance of compositional forethought or structural reconsideration.
The emphatic gaucheness of facture that characterises these paintings may remind us also of what William Scott (an artist much admired by Illsley) once called ‘the beauty of the thing badly done’.We have all encountered things like that, wryly cherishing them for their traces of an all-too-human ineptitude of improvisation: a roughly plastered wall, painted quickly with cheap emulsion or whitewash; a surface dabbed or daubed with an arbitrary brush-load to finish off a can of household paint; a broken pot awkwardly stuck back together; sgraffito scratches and scrawls inadequate to the urgency of their message; the odd impersonality and inscrutable purpose of a pencil-scrawled date. The ‘beauty’ of such things lies paradoxically in their artless poignancy, the sense we have of their having been necessary, demanding to be done, but imbued with the accidental grace of immediacy, an idiosyncratic individuality of gesture or expression. Bryan Illsley’s paintings have this strange and compelling beauty, as a matter of (artistic) course.
His paintings (and his drawings, sculptures and ceramics) are, of course, not ‘badly done’ at all; their improvisatory informality is rhetorical, a quality of affective persuasion; they intend to move us, and the manner of their making and its concomitant effects, are in fact consciously expressive simulations of naiveté. As Pausanius, the early Greek travel-writer, observed of the legendary Daedelus: ‘The works of this artist, though they may seem to lack refinement, nevertheless have something of divine inspiration in them.’ For Illsley is that rare artist, like William Blake, who knows precisely what he is up to, without allowing this knowledge to impede the imaginative imperative that demands creative action, whatever its origins in the alternation of uncertain joys and genuine despair, innocence and experience. These paintings present us with images that in their richness – of colour, mark and texture – are correlatives of states of feeling familiar to us; they are metaphors of a human condition, remarkable in the exactitudes of their different and imprecise moods.
Illsley possesses to an extreme degree the quality Keats defined as ‘negative capability’: ‘that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. His abnegation of will is wilful: he repeatedly and bravely courts failure, and sometimes, indeed, comes a cropper. No matter. Quite a few of his paintings owe something of their surface texture and tension to the failure of an earlier work on the reverse of the canvas; in such cases he will have heeded Beckett’s famous injunction: ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ There is a paradox at the heart of his project: his paintings must succeed by failing to do what other paintings succeed in doing and which thereby fail because they lack fidelity to a kind of uncertain integrity, and finish things off with a refined and unambiguous definition. Illsley understands the double sting of Dylan’s lines: he ‘knows there’s no success like failure/and that failure’s no success at all’
He is an artist who finds creative advantage in incertitude, mystery and doubt: he allows his chosen media – ‘poor’ materials such as the PVA solutions into which he mixes natural pigments and other ingredients, marble dust, grit, sand, china clay, coloured earths, whiting etc – ‘to find the painting’ (as he puts it). This discovery of the painting is made through the processes of its material preparation and the procedures of its making and marking (including the quick graphite scribbles he habitually adds to its surface). This aleatory approach towards the final image has an inner logic determined by expressive necessity. ’What gets done gets done,’ says Illsley, ‘so things do have a direction.’ It is by indirections that he finds direction out. It is in the rhythms of a perfect spontaneity that he finds it. Medium and technique are the means to unpredictable expressive ends.
Unique and unexpected as they are, these paintings also invite diverse art associations quite other than those with everyday things, banal objects and anonymous purposeless markings, associations which (quite properly) invite comparison with Arte povera. They evoke, for example, recollections of weathered and abraded fresco paintings, and of the subtly-bleached colourism of Piero della Francesca (as we see him today, after five centuries and numerous restorations). They might also recall Morandi’s painterly attention to the surfaces of simple things. And though they have nothing of Ben Nicholson’s cool exactitude and referential linear elegance, they share the sensibility that finds lyrical grace in a pencil line drawn across a variegated textured surface. The stark and poetic primitivism of Tápies also inescapably comes to mind. Illsley works with a knowing awareness of these historical and stylistic traces, these intimations and recognitions, and of how they might fruitfully affect perception of his work.
His own paintings are, of course, resolutely concrete and non-figurative. Such associations as we bring are entirely our own. His paintings make no recourse to subject matter, to existential expressionism, or to any kind of deliberate nature-derived poetic allusiveness: post war abstraction, in either its New York or St Ives manifestations, does not figure in his creative assimilations, in spite of his admiration for some American painters, and despite many years of living and working as an artist craftsman, potter, jeweller and sculptor in St Ives.
Instead, Illsley acknowledges that his project as a painter (it is subtly different with his drawings, sculpture and ceramics, which spring from other sources in his artistic imagination) has its deepest artistic connections to the poetic early modernism of what Camilla Gray described as the great Russian experiment in art. He invokes Malevich and Rodchenko, the former for the resolute spirituality that informs his revolutionary aesthetics and political idealism, the latter for his indefatigable dedication to the physical world and its objects, his visionary craftsmanship and his implacable insistence on the materiality of reality.
There is no contradiction here: rather, these two models represent the terms of an inescapable dialectic, in which truth is discovered in oppositions: not at a median point but as an unceasing dynamic between them. In Illsley’s work, however, it as if the redemptive orders of high modernism – with its spiritual metaphysics (Malevich, Kandinsky, Mondrian) on the one hand, and its materialist ethics (Rodchenko, van Doesberg, Moholy Nagy) on the other – have been recognised and assimilated, and remain instinct within the work, but only to have been abandoned or reduced to poignant traces or fragmented quotations. There is something heroic about this renunciation, this tragic-comic disavowal. But when a great order is abandoned, the truths found in its traces and fragments, however attenuated, may still illuminate the dark, and lift the heart. Like Wallace Stevens’s ‘Connoisseur of Chaos’ he knows
A. A violent order is disorder; and
B. A great disorder is an order.
These Two things are one.
Illsley works in identifiable phases, each having an internal consistency and each finding the manner and characteristics of texture, colour and motif that are proper to itself and its expressive purposes. As I have indicated, these series begin, and continue, without benefit of any schematic programme. The cohering concept (impulse might be the more exact term) that creates the unity of a series is discovered in the series or suite as a ‘work in progress’: in the recurrence of a particular manner, of a thickness or thinness of painterly application, say, or in a contrast between them; in the recurrence of a variation of particular kinds of marks; in a range of distinctive tonalities or colours. In short, each individual work takes its place in the search ‘to find a language’ right for the intuition that guides the project.
IIlsley’s first exhibition at Lemon Street Gallery comprises a remarkable suite of paintings made over a period of just over a year between 1993 and 1994. It is coherent in its mode of execution and its presentation of a series of contrasting moods.With ups and downs, swerves and reversals, it proceeds from images whose darkness may seem to intimate implications of an unbearable pain and darkness of spirit to those in which the expressive white light of a brighter air suggests a release into possibilities of a breathing delight. It is a kind of chronicle, not simply of feelings but of reflections on the inconsistencies and changes of feelings and on the variations of their intensity. As is usual with Illsley, the varying moods established in such a series are hinted at, or subjected to wryly ironic comment, in the subtly deadpan wordplay of the titles attached (after the fact) to the individual paintings.
The suite does not, however, offer a simple narrative of an emotional journey with an implied chronology: there are intimations of light in darkness, glimpses of clarity; in the midst of joys we may catch sight of an ineffable sadness. And always, the painting itself represents a kind of affirmation, an assertion of the possibilities of creativity. It is one of the greatest qualities of Illsley’s paintings that the experience they offer has the complexity of experience itself: this is what I meant when I wrote above of the paintings as ‘correlatives of states of feeling’. Life is not simple. Art needs must reflect its complexity and its contradictoriness; and it must be truthful in its acknowledgement of the ineluctable temporality of things. It must, in Patrick Kavanagh’s words, ‘Snatch out of time the passionate transitory.’
The presentation of time finds a changing expression in the paintings as the series develops, and it is possible to discern a subtle shift of mode between the earlier and the later works in this respect. In Quick Sand and Lashed Cream (both 1993), for examples, and in the unequivocally titled Yellow Fog, Aimless Blue (also 1993) there is a suggestion of depth achieved by the figure-ground proposal of space and the recessive layering of painterly features in each painting. Sometimes, as in Quick Sand, this is achieved by a kind of foreground screening, more often, by the presence of floating figures set in imaginable space, as in those already mentioned and also in Dashed White, White Liquid, and Whipped Grey. In the ethereal Left Blue, the eponymous column at left might indeed be a cipher for the sad figure suggested by the title.
In all these paintings, this deep atmospheric space is a metaphor, a painterly equivalent of the ‘dark backward and abysm of time’. In all of them the gaiety or vehemence of surface stroke and indented line speak of a kind of joyful defiance in the face of the existential void behind the variegated surfaces of the world and its objects. Illsley’s subject may be despair, but (as was said of Scott Fitzgerald) his style sings of hope. Sometimes, perhaps, the tune is comically desperate: the titles, the colours, the ludic virtuosity and variety of drawn marks of Laughing Red, Red Slapstick and Weeping Pink speak (or sing perhaps) for themselves.
In the paintings of 1994 the mood lightens, and the fraught depth of space-time gives way to the surface brightness of the here and now. Not that there are not intimations of mortality: the titles of Black Fog, Lacerated Grey and Over Dun preclude any simplistic progressive reading of the series. Nevertheless white, however marked, blotched and incised it may be, is a metaphor for light, and light is inescapably the sign for dawnings and beginnings, the announcement of morning and the hope it brings.
A succession of paintings characterised by greys and compromised whites – Ice Lines, Blue Comic, Crazed Grey, Lighter Grey, White Blotched and Blue, Broken White – gives way at last to Plain White, a pure plane of light, white on white: the ultimate escape from the trammels of experience and the limitations of expression. But for Illsley, the inevitable recollection of Malevich’s sublime paintings (White on White) of the ethereal dissolve of matter into light characteristically demanded the recall of its famous opposite, the black square which contains everything. Marked Black is the culmination of Illsley’s enthralling suite, in which the black is at once the ultimate sign for a light that cannot be painted (the black light of Matisse’s seminal Window at Coulioure), and the sign for new beginnings, in which a whole world of future paintings are prefigured in the insouciant mastery of the linear marks, the love of chance and the sheer nerve that are necessary components of his abundantly creative life.
Mel Gooding, June 2011
My paintings are sketches and ideas. I love the unfinished. A painting feels dead if I plan it too much and it is often the spontaneous pieces that have nothing to do with what I was trying to do that seem to be the most successful.
With this collection I had pretty much run out of paint and canvas. I never believe that life will allow me to continue to be an artist so I threw caution to the wind and enjoyed myself with what I had. The result are these paintings andI love them.
Amber Leaman 2016
A pristine, new white canvas hanging on the wall is inspiring. Its shape, size and emptiness offers so many possibilities. I play with cut out papers, sketch ideas on scraps of paper and finally attack it. However, the first steps are often painted out but the process has begun.
One gale filled day, I found all the plants in the garden bent double and the newly formed flowers either burnt or their petals sent flying. Entering the studio, I realised that the floor was strewn with a mass of brightly coloured tissue paper – torn shapes that I had experimented with, some of which were loosely stuck on a canvas and I realised that it looked similar to the devastation happening outside. A good start and a thread of an idea was formed.
Its often something glimpsed, remembered or doodled that sparks a beginning. I look for form, simple marks, repetitive rhythms, space and ultimately, balance and power. My palette can change drastically, from loud bold colour to more muted tones. This maybe the result of my mood, the mood of the season, but more often it is a desire for change and a need to shock of renewal.
When my work is stuck and not quite right, I have to wait to accept this and turn the painting to the wall. It is only much later, when I see the painting with new eyes, that I can take a brush and white wash a lot of work away, allowing me to be more spontaneous and keep the painting alive.
Amber is the queen of spontaneity. Each brush stroke is as fresh as the day it was painted, as if she has just put it there. Even as a child, she was my best critic. “You don’t need that mark” or “ You need a dark colour over there”. She was always right!
Bridget Leaman 2016
Hamish MacDonald was born in Glasgow in 1935. He studied at Glasgow School of Art between 1963 and 1967. From 1968 he successfully combined painting with teaching and also guest lectured throughout Scotland.
In 1991 he retired from his post as an Art Department Principal to concentrate fully on the development of his painting. His artistic influence is drawn from a diversity of sources including the Impressionists and the Scottish Colourists together with perhaps most noticeably the works of Gillies and Eardley.
His broad, fluid style and bold palette place him directly within the continuing lineage of the Scottish Colourist tradition whilst his ability to capture the atmosphere and vitality of his subject is enhanced by a confident and mature style. Hamish is now widely regarded as one of Scotland’s most successful contemporary artists.
Since 1963, Hamish has staged numerous solo exhibitions in Scotland and participated in group shows with prominent galleries in London and throughout the UK.
His works can be found in many major collections, including HRH The Duke of Edinburgh; Kelvingrove Art Gallery; Paisley Art Gallery; Burmah Oil Company and several UK Education Authorities and Regional Councils. His awards include: National Prizewinner Laing Competition (1989) and RGI Royal College of Physicians Award (1993). His work is also well represented as cards, and his limited edition prints are now enthusiastically collected.
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