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Tuesday 7 December 2010

Review: Fade Away at Transition Gallery, London

Review by Charles Danby

Following hot on the heels of Transition’s inaugural ART BLITZ auction, a call to arms against impending arts cuts in the UK, the exhibition Fade Away retains a maxim of mass action and presentation, with the large group exhibition this time directed towards the hinterland between painted representation and painterly abstraction.

Presenting a single work by each of the 39 participating artists, Fade Away resulted in an even and dense distribution of paintings across and around the multiple wall surfaces of Transition. With works staggered just above and below a natural eye level, it drew gaze along an implied horizon that proposed a sequential (relational) viewing from one work to the next. This implicit orthodoxy did not however unfold a contingent narrative or progression of stylistic form, but rather a loose series of tendencies, components and directions within current British painting.

Catching immediate attention was a small section of wall directly facing the entrance on which four paintings hung. The largest, located slightly to the left of the midpoint, was the work Für Waldmüller (2010) by Eleanor Moreton. The title suggested a connection to the 19th century Austrian painter, Georg Waldmüller (1793-1865), and in line with this Moreton’s painting seemed to depict a still life assemblage of vases and flowers. The ambiguous surface markings of paint appeared in places to conjure partial disclosures of figures or perhaps fragments of skulls. Moreton’s dark, oblique and tonally flat palette, sympathetic and recursive to Northern European 16th and 17th Vanitas painting, was occasionally pierced by sharp hues of blue and red.

The work immediately to the right, small and alluring in its strangeness, was a red monochrome painting. This work by Clare Undy, Trouble (2010), was marked across its surface by a single twisted and curved line that appeared as a false or illusory rip or tear. This red on red mark was itself doubled by the inflection of its own shadow, which in marking the representational surface of the painting’s ground remained unrelentingly ambiguous, neither imbedded nor fully removed from it. Above and to the right was a similarly sized painting by Nathan Barlex titled Diluvial Geology (2010), which read loosely and through quick glance as another flower painting of sorts. This assumptive inference of subject may simply have been forged through its proximity to Eleanor Moreton’s painting.

Here the contextual allure of perceptual as well as technical, representational and stylistic form was exposed, underpinning within the exhibition a consensus that highlighted its tendency to supplant pictorial representation by exposing and indulging the sensory and material properties of paint. Fade Away in this sense moved towards an unconditional opening-up of a wide peripheral vision within the framework of painted representation and painterly abstraction.

Completing this four-piece arrangement was the small and disarmingly seductive painting Burn (2010) by Jo Wilmot. An almost square (20 x 25cm) white on white canvas aside for the off central depiction, between foreground and background, of a rolled mass, lump, or bundled figure. Across the painting brush marks lay testament to the presence of paint, its flow and malleability. While this privileging of mark was countered by the pictorial representation of a not quite discernable or knowable object, the terms of this union remained beautifully poised on an edge of instability. Added to which the pictorial scale of the central form seemed to change significantly when viewed from either a close or afar. The concise and not quite graspable articulation of this work was matched by a handful of others, most notably the gloriously contained glutinous pink-orange painting of Clem Crosby’s Picabia (2010), and the affecting nakedness of Alice Browne’s Watch Me (2010).

Elsewhere a recurring sense of geometric representation pervaded the works of Philip Allen, Mali Morris and Alex Gene Morrison, while a strand of figuration that at points turned more directly to portraiture, was evidenced in works by Lindsey Bull, Tim Bailey, Zack Thorne, Paul Housley, Sarah Lederman and Kaye Donachie. Here there was a sense that the number of works in Fade Away started to undermine the underlying concerns of the exhibition, extending its parameters too widely, and resulting in a splintered core that became increasingly hard to gauge. In extracting directives of figurative representation the inclusion of works by Bull, Housley and Donachie interestingly and astutely extended this rhetoric, while other works remained tied to concerns that offered far less or even misfired.

Kaye Donachie’s Under my hand the moonlight lay! (2010) showed the tilted head of a woman within a forest landscape. The faded blue-grey / green-grey palette exposed occasional flickers of pale orange that amongst the muted anaemic tones of the painting glowed as fiercely as the sun burning through a heavy mist. Here Kaye’s work pointed to a further tension in Fade Away, one that suggested the prevalence and connectedness of European tendencies of painting, particularly Belgium and Nordic, within a current catchment of painting from the UK.

Added to this, the small scale of the works shown, the largest being around 70 x 60cm, further permeated (even if falsely) a sentiment of quieter austerity or more reserved tendency within the works. A restraint, intent and discretion that again appeared significant and timely in its European rather than American affiliation. It was perhaps also a tendency that was given further substance by the close unity of generation (of the last 40 years of so) and geography between the artists, added to which was the actual slightness of the time that divided the works, with all of them painted within the last four years, and all but one within the last two years.

In slicing time so acutely Fade Away ensures that such questions of tendency can be asked, and while not all works fire so directly, it reminds us that if approached intelligently exposing tendency is rewarding and significant.

The show continues until 24 December 2010. www.transitiongallery.co.uk

Image: (c)Tim Bailey, The Debutante, 2008, oil on canvas, 40.5 x 30.5cm

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