29 March - 12 May 2001
A new kind of figurative painting is on its way from London and New York. At its heart are painted images derived from reality without, however, being realistic. Reality appears subtly altered, almost psychedelic, and betrays a newly rediscovered love of colour, often intense and shimmering, aswell as a passion for experimenting with various painterly techniques and new ways of representation. The inspiration comes from cinema, television, from digital techniques, photography, and art history.These sources are employed and transformed to create new and personal images, ones that speak of the individual and collective imagery of our times.
The images are basically linked to painting even if they are not always actually painted. In certain cases they are arrived at through techniques the artist has invented on the spur of the moment: in the case of David Thorpe tiny pieces of glued-on coloured paper, Michael Raedecker sews threads of wool onto the canvas, and Gillian Carnegie creates bas-reliefswith thick layers of colour. In other cases the artist uses photography, yet composes the images as though they were paintings, leaving nothing to chance and obtaining painterly effects with an underlying psychological tension, as in the case of Hannah Starkey. In order to create new images each artist makes use of a personal strategy.
The trailblazer for this kind of art was Peter Doig who was already painting fifteen years ago. In a situation dominated by installations and photography he remained an outsider for some time, appreciated by just a few aficionados. He was born in Edinburgh in 1959, but grew up in Canada and then moved to London in 1980. He has taught at the Royal College of Art since 1994. Doig's starting point is to be found in various sources: his memories of Canada, personal photographs, images taken from cinema, television, and newspapers. From these he creates landscapes on the cusp of memory and imagination. Among his snowy mountains, his lakes and tarns, his woods, we can make out figures that seem to be taking part in some mysterious story. It is as though the images were in a state of suspense, waiting for something to happen. And due to this the spectator, as Doig himself has said, "becomes the director of his own film". His colours are refined and iridescent, artificial and psychedelic, applied with a variety of techniques . The effects range from the hallucinatory to the feverish and precious tones of symbolist painting. Painting is the real protagonist of these images: it is used to explore the physical and psychological qualities of colour, the way in which it can convey personal associations, and the possibility of creating an involving atmosphere. Doig describes painting as "working your way across a surface, getting lost in it".
Gillian Carnegie was born in London in 1971. She paints exquisite landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. She experiments with the way colour is laid on the canvas, with its thickness, and the way it reflects light. By her choice of viewpoint and the particular time of day, she invents effects of alienation. At first glance a picture of hers might appear abstract, but then it reveals itself to be a lake reflecting a landscape. Or it might seem realistic, only to show in time a highly abstract and artificial use of colour.
The very painterly images of David Thorpe, born in London in 1972, are in fact made up of an infinity of coloured cut-up pieces of paper. With this extravagant technique and its consequent vast amount of work ("A labour of love"), Thorpe creates his imaginary landscapes characterised by boundless, heroic scenery, scattered over with modernist buildings and tiny people.
Glenn Sorensen, born in Sydney in 1968 but now living in Malmö, has a more intimate and laid-back relationship to painting. His tonal palette, like the subjects of his work, is light and fluctuating yet, at the same time, as familiar as domestic interiors. Often his works show delicately toned flowers distributed over the surface in regular rhythms, deriving from wall- paper or floral tablecloths. A glass ashtray, just about identifiable by the strange presence of a cigarette end, and placed in the middle of a flowered tablecloth seen from above, becomes the focus point of our attention. His canvases are usually small and square, and are lightly covered by paint which enlarges their confines and influences the surrounding space.
Recent "technical" advances in the creation of images are part of the strategy employed by Blake Rayne (born in Delaware in 1969 and now living in New York). In his paintings he creates a subtle balance between figuration and abstraction, highlighted by the presence of marks of colour which also maintain a balance between effects of light and pure colour. His latest paintings portray winter branches bathed in a clear sharp light against a background of snowy fields and blue skies. The image is shown to us as an object that can be manipulated, just as we might see it when using Photoshop on our computer. The branches, snow-covered fields and sky are recombined in an ever changing way, wavering between perfect clarity and a slight lack of focus. The choice of viewpoint is cinematographic and suggests movement and evanescence.
Verne Dawson was born in Alabama in 1961 and now lives in New York. He creates imaginary landscapes referring to the prehistory of humanity and to the utopian desire of harmony with nature. He shows us Manhattan as an idyllic island, scattered over with tiny cabins and occasional bonfires, in which men and women walk naked in the soft light of sunset; or else he depicts the Po Valley covered with groves, the sky full of birds, or the piles along the banks of the river Po.
The works of Hannah Starkey, born in Belfast in 1971 and now living in London, are photographs, but they are constructed and composed as if they were paintings, with a great feeling for colour and the painterly image. They show scenes from the life of women in the city, represented by professional actresses. These are apparently banal moments, brief instants of sadness and suspense, allegories of contemporary life. Through gestures and pose, as well as light and colour, they tell of silent relationships and tensions.