Two Rooms presents the first in an annual series of painting exhibitions. The artists on display here use systems, rules, historical reference and a ritualistic engagement in the process of painting in order to emphasise its materiality. Surface is what matters.
The protagonists are three artists from the UK, Basil Beattie, Jane Harris and Alexis Harding; three artists from New Zealand, Bill Riley, Luise Fong and Murray Green joining Marcia Hafif, from New York. Marcia Hafif, whose work is pivotal to this exhibition, has for nearly forty years been concerned with the possibilities of monochrome painting. She has produced a meticulous inventory of types of paints and supports used throughout the history of painting and her pioneering work with colour and the use of hand ground pigments has set the standard for many painters.
It would seem the great challenge to painting in 2007 is its long tradition. What can we paint now? Two Rooms prefers not What but more How to paint, with these seven painters concerned purely with the material and physical nature of a painting. However this is not exactly back to the basics of application and materials. Paint is not the inert substance it appears to be and can take on a life of its own despite the use of preordained rules. There is a great deal of play and performance going on here. Spots, drips, pours, stripes, grids, patterns, leaks, skins, blobs, tangles, accidents, hand gestures, and brush marks are all the order of the day. And as for the materials there is aluminium, wood, canvas, resin, wax, paint, gesso, pigment, carborundum, perspex, acrylic, fabric and wallpaper. The inventory is forever expanding; stretchers are made from the traditional wood, aluminium, and even no stretcher at all. At times the paint seems barely attached to the support. However despite all best efforts to concentrate on painting as a material fact the resulting works demonstrate that paint can be humorous, emotional, intellectual and very alive.
Marcia Hafif: Marcia Hafif’s painting gets by with a minimum of effort. The paint is built up on the canvas brushstroke upon brushstroke, until the entire surface is covered. The high degree of uniformity demands a concentrated and continuous working method allowing no lengthy interruptions. The works require a certain, perhaps what could be called contemplative, state of mind. Painting here is understood as a ritual act in which the paint assumes form through personal gesture. SABINE MULLER Opening speech for the exhibition, Artothek, Koeln, 1995.
Alexis Harding: exploits the incompatibility between two different painting media to create dynamic and emotive compositions, which over time reach their own equilibrium as they slip down their support.
Jane Harris: work is developed through a lengthy and obsessive process of tightly concentric brush strokes applied in multiple layers and worked in wet oil paint. The process itself sets up a series of playful dichotomies and internal tensions. The paintings are both highly controlled and optically unstable.
Basil Beattie: Large inventive abstracts in oil and wax adopting a system of pictographic signs as a means to use gestural techniques in applying and removing rich layers of paint.
Luise Fong: applies restrained pours of gesso onto monochromes infused with carborundum. In Fong’s new works, by carefully drilling, eroding and abrading the surface she emphasises her control over these elegant paintings.
Murray Green: paintings are characterized by an inventive alchemy of paint and resin. The underlying painterly structure is randomly built up with dense layers and then left to naturally slip, ooze and fall from the support. To preserve and contain this action Green carefully pours resin over these sculptural candy-like drips permitting only some of the under painting to be visible. What happens at the surface is a beautiful yet strange tension between the uncontrollable and the controlled.
Bill Riley: works are painted with obsessive precision onto mirrored aluminium panels. Reflective surfaces supply the paintings with a hard-to-control inner light, playing optical tricks and bouncing the viewer’s gaze back with vibrant colour. The surface asserts itself unpredictably in response to changes in ambient light.