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Friday, 25 February 2011

Paul Emsley's beautifully observed works will be on show at The Redfern Gallery until 21 April 2011. The exhibition is a brilliant display of how the traditional medium of drawing remains prevalent in a period where modern media such as film and installation have become increasingly instrumental in contemporary art.

Emsley restricts his drawing to black and white, focusing on different densities of surface in the subjects that interest him. The half-light in which he draws his subjects (ranging from people to animals to flowers) creates a sense of possibility and of foreboding. Looking at a piece such as Nelson Mandela (2010) there is something to be said about what is visible, but also the invisible. For Andrew Lambirth this reminds him of Odilon Redon's phrase: "the logic of the visible in the service of the invisible".

Emsley was based in South Africa before moving to England in 1996. Career highlights include winning the 2007 BP Portrait Award and a commission of V.S. Naipaul for the National Portrait Gallery. Emsley’s most famous sitter to date has been Nelson Mandela; it is an authentic and dignified portrayal, a memorable and deeply moving image. Emsley used to draw from life- but now makes good use of photography. Significantly, the source photographs are taken in colour even though the drawings are made in black and white. This is to provide extra distance between the source and the art work, allowing more space for interpretation rather than transcription. Emsley’s aim is to escape from an academic approach: intending to make his images both simpler and more abstract. The predilection for working in black and white also allows the audience to contribute, giving freer rein to the viewer’s own imagination.

Speaking about his work, Emsley has commented that: “In my drawings I try to emphasise the singularity and silence of the form. By a careful balancing of tones I emphasise the way in which light and shade fall across the subject. By creating a settled half-light I try to transform the existence of the object from the ordinary to something more profound.”

In this present age, when obscurity is too often mistaken for profundity, Paul Emsley’s clarity and certainty of purpose offer a refreshing alternative approach to the eternal verities.

The Light of Meaning opens 1 March and continues until 21 April 2011. For more information please visit www.redfern-gallery.com

Indian Rhinoceros 2011
Black chalk and pencil drawing
111 x 191.8 cm
Paul Emsley and The Redfern Gallery, London
With thanks to Andrew Lambirth for catalogue text.

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