Listed in alphabetical order
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.
Though diverse and varied in his artistic influences, David Martin’s signature style is striking in its originality, clarity and beauty, culminating in work that makes him one of the twentieth century’s most important Scottish painters. Born in 1922, Martin trained at the Glasgow School of Art, working with prominent artists such as Hugh Adam Crawford, Ian Fleming and David Donaldson, all of whom had a strong bearing on his development as a landscape and still life painter.
Originally interested in portraiture, Martin moved on to the sparsely populated Scottish landscapes and strong, pure still life that he is known for, via his interest in textile design taught by the Scottish designer Robert Stewart.Working with Stewart a few years after graduating from the Glasgow School of Art, Martin used his time with the designer to develop his technique as a painter, simplifying and emboldening his portrayal of objects and landscapes, yet maintaining the elegance and visual appeal that is so crucial to the aesthetic success of design work. Such was Martin’s active understanding of this technique, that a textile design of his was selected to be exhibited at the Design Centre, Glasgow by the city’s Arts Council in 1949.
Upon examination, the visual influence of textile design and material is indeed apparent in Martin’s work; the strength of line giving a fabric-like quality to the painting, as if the canvas is swathed in a thick, layered blanket of bright colours and bold patterning. Simultaneously, lighter and more delicate brushwork flickers across the surface of the canvas, adding depth and bridging the gap between abstraction and realism that is inherent to Martin’s aesthetic direction. ‘My work is ultimately based upon what I see, but I extract its abstract qualities and use them to my own ends,’ he says, citing the work of Henri Hayden and Graham Sutherland as important predecessors of this method. Actively drawing out abstraction from landscapes and still life adds a layer of poignant emotional connection to the subject, subtly removed as it is from the physical reality. This technique also echoes that of Cubism, an approach that Martin interweaves with his own perception to put his personal interpretation upon it.
Martin’s still life retains its Cubist feel in its flat, stark, simplification of forms; we are encouraged to notice not the objects themselves but their assembly into something beautiful and whole. Contrastingly, subject matter for such unpredictable landscapes as Scotland’s is sketched and photographed on location, and developed in the studio, allowing Martin to process and transform these everyday settings, though splendid in their own right, into stunning scenes that articulate his appreciation of them.
Rosie Willmot, Lemon Street Gallery 2011
Daphne McClure was born in Helston, Cornwall in 1931. She trained at Redruth Art School, Hornsey School of Art and The Central School of Art and Design in London. During her time in London she worked as a costume designer for the Royal Opera House for five years before retuning to Cornwall in 1976.
In 1976, along with her husband George and their two children Tom and Emma, McClure settled in Porthleven – a small picturesque village on Cornwall’s south coast, which, after taking an aerial view of the harbour, remained a constant source of inspiration for her for almost ten years.
In 1988 McClure moved to a small holding on Tregonning Hill, near Helston, where her new surroundings further influenced her colour palette: her use of sea blues, changing to the more muted tones of sienna, ochre and brown as she began to paint in series – Hayle Estuary, Godrevy Lighthouse, St.Ives and Levant Mine. The Levant Mine series was exhibited with Jonathan Clarke, London in 1994. In 1995 Tate St. Ives commissioned McClure to paint a work for its inaugural exhibition and in 2004 she was the invited Artist in Residence at the prestigious Josef Albers Foundation, Connecticut, USA.
McClure now lives and works in Penzance. She is widely known for her beautifully naïve depictions of life in Cornwall, drawing on its artistic heritage and its working fishing ports.
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