Friday, 24 October 2014



RYLE AND LONG, 4 John Islip St

Nick Archer, SAFE, 2014, oil on canvas, 152 x 152 cm

I only had about four "art" lessons at school but I remember the rubric well. First you paint something or someone on your paper and then you chose a background colour which "goes with" or matches what's already there. You then fill in the gaps. 

Nick Archer certainly did not go to the same school...His painterly process is to pour vivid combinations of colour onto canvasses on the floor of his studio. The colours bleed and merge into each other changing shape as if the paintings almost paint themselves. When nearly dry he fixes the canvases to the wall. He then "weaves his chosen image into the rich texture of the oily ground, making sense of the random floods of colour, balancing the complex accidental surfaces and the marks of the artist".

Safe is a large painting which draws you inexorably into the wood. The candy colours signal that this is no ordinary forest. The trees are so tall they seem to penetrate the sky. Does the caravan suggest solitude or abandonment? There is an eerie but attractive ordinariness about the scene. "Archer ...creates...a resonant atmospheric experience for the viewer to contemplate as they are cast adrift in his paradise". I'm reminded of the  magical realism which streams through Peter Doig’s work.

Nick Archer, MORT.2014.oil on copper'45 x 35 cm
This tree looks dead, it is the colour of death, and the title tells us we are right. But look again. What a travesty to talk of death in front of this sprightly creature, with its delicate limbs, its muscular upward thrust and its sinuous defiance against the background of a wind-driven sky?

 Ultimately Archer brings an open-mindedness to his artistry, so that - unlike what happens when facing a history painting - the viewer has to provide the story.



 Ensemble diptych (part 1), pencil on paper. Courtesy Jerwood Drawing Prize and the artist. Photography Benjamin Cosmo Westoby
Pencil on paper, 22 x 27.5cm

What is it with group photographs? Why do we choose them? I have an image of my mother standing with doleful eyes among a row of pupils at a village school in Bedfordshire. It's the only picture I have of her as a child. Twenty years ago, when trippers landed at the Greek island of Symi, they were happily coralled into groups by the local photographer. The prints were hung on a line to dry, ready to buy before the return  journey.

The dellightful  and intriguing image above is Part One of a diptych of group formations of costumed figures assembled and ordered by the conventions of the school portrait. It’s familiar – yet refreshingly new. Susannah Douglas works mainly with drawing and site- specific collage. And she is doing so at a time when the utilitarian, mechanised and throwaway nature of photocopies contrasts with the legacy of the portrait and portraiture. Historically the latter have stood for wealth, durability and the unique. But what happens to consistency in a culture of easy reproduction when to cut, paste and copy is only two clicks away?

The artist has written eloquently about her working methods in the Jerwood Drawing Prize catalogue referenced below

60 Minutes' Silence by Gillian Wearing

I’m reminded that nearly 20 years ago another artist took a fresh look at group photographs. Gillian Wearing won the Turner Prize in 1997 with 60 minutes' silence, which looks like a photograph but is in fact a video of 26 police officers who agreed to stand absolutely still for an hour The Daily Telegraph's art critic Richard Dorment described ' how one officer succeeded in remaining near-motionless the whole time until told that time was up. He then "lets out a yelp of relief that you can hear all over the gallery. The moment is like a dam bursting. His final, cathartic, joyful cry is one of the great moments in the history of recent British art’. 

 You can download the catalogue here:

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


JERWOOD SPACE and other venues
Freya Gabie, Study of caravan wallpaper, ink on paper, 77x57cms . Photography Benjamin Cosmo Westoby.

 This work is one of 51 short listed drawings selected from 3,243 entries to this year's prestigious Jerwood Drawing Prize competition. The entries include works using charcoal, watercolour, graphite, gouache, oil, mixed media, coloured pencil, crayon and thread; also paper cut, photo-documentation, plaster, pigment and video work (filmed drawing). The winner was Alison Carlier whose entry was, amazingly, a soundpiece lasting 1 minute 15 seconds entitled Adjectives, Lines and Marks, "an open-ended audio drawing" that offers "a spoken description of an unknown object".

So why choose this particular work? It demonstrates the subtlety and directness of drawing. And the subject matter touches on an English legacy of love for caravans which stretches back to Elizabeth van Arnim's  The Caravaners and Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, published within a year of each other at the beginning of the 20th century.

The artist found the wallpaper pasted in an old caravan she lived in for a while. She says "I had wanted to track the symmetrical, repetitive arrangement of the pattern, yet knowing the error of my eye and the inadequacy of my hand would lead the flowers to deviate from their regimented alignment to cause fluctuation, animation and disorder: an approximation of life". So her beautiful drawing is not of flowers which have been pressed into service as wallpaper, but of a subject matter which shimmers with a contained, pastoral world of romance and travel and discovery.

It is not just the extraordinary detail which makes each flower head look freshly minted, nor the pattern of blooms which flow so beautifully and organically, bursting in from the left. Look too at the space, the white emptiness, the peace.

(Drawing) is often an art of absence, a whisper as opposed to a declaration; a suggestion rather than a certitude’.
Dr Janet McKenzie, one of the three judges.

 The fully illustrated catalogue is here: 

Prizewinners and shortlisted entries will be on show at 
Cheltenham       until Jan 4  
Leeds                Jan 16 - 1 March

Bournemouth     13 march - 23 April