Thursday, 21 July 2011


mixed media on canvas 160 x 140cm
Sarah Myerscough Gallery
Your Skin is Like Vinyl
Andy Stewart’s paintings are among the most beautiful I’ve seen since I started my blog.

But you really have to be there to appreciate its physical presence. An image cannot do it justice. The central panel is a luminous swathe of gold, lavender and coral unfurling like tulle or lace. There is a tiny playful splatter of crimson, orange , white and yellow. Above is a long black oval. It looks as if the paint it still wet, gleaming like a mirror. It’s cradled and contained by a thin but deep green line running along the base which has been squeezed straight out of the tube. Some of the paint is so thick and sculptural, you want to touch it.  The shapes are complicated and simple, open and closed, flowing, cloudy, smudged and sharp. If you take a small section from any part of this painting, you find something beautiful.

Stewart includes gloss paint, glitter and diamond dust among his materials. Sometimes he applies paint directly from the tube, sometimes it’s poured, or pulled across the surface with a trowel. It’s said that Stewart uses canvas as an 'artist’s playground...where chance and controlled gesture are reconciled by compositional structure’. ‘Chance’ in this context must be mixed with experience and knowledge. I cannot imagine what courage it takes to apply layer upon layer on something already superb, knowing there is no delete button. 

Stewart gives his paintings titles of real things, such as The Advocate, London’s Burning, My Father is from Scotland, The Lost Chord. It's tempting to do a bit of 'cloud-spotting' for meaningful shapes but we’re not looking at pictures of things. The American abstract painter  Helen Frankenthaler, who is said to be one of Stewart’s influences,  speaks of  ‘interior landscapes’ - worlds which express feelings and images from below our consciousness. Our consciousness or the artist's? And why is it so tempting to get in there somehow to see what is going on?

 Matthew Collings wrote of Frankelthaler's 'strange and imaginative vagueness (which) can seem like a glass of cold water in a desert. You didn’t know until you drank it that you’d been dying of thirst’. He could have been talking about Andy Stewart.

Taste and see at the Sarah Myerscough Gallery - the show is extended until August 27

Helen Frankenthaler: Delicacy and Assault: paintings 1959 – 2002 by Matthew Collings

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