Dan Coombs reviews two London painting exhibitions: Merlin James at Parasol Unit (through August 10) and Per Kirkeby at Michael Werner (through July 27).
Coombs writes: "In a world of spectacular logic there’s something refreshing about a painter who refuses to pin down his subjects. Letting the motifs of his work emerge, as if by magic, from the formal matrix of his paintings, Merlin James risks whimsicality but instead finds something new in the easily forgotten. Like a burnished coin found in the crevice of a pocket James’s paintings have an almost uncanny familiarity, as though we are rediscovering something previously kept hidden. His boats, his trees, his chugging trains and lolling bridges are fleetingly familiar, like memories, landmarks on a journey through an intricate mental landscape... Kirkeby’s subject is the raw presence of nature, and presence is his forte; presence, fullness and fecundity are everywhere. The paintings have a presentness that is almost Byzantine in its mosaic of gestures, and it is therefore somewhat predictable in the massive Untitled (2013) , the largest painting in the show, to see a snake slithering along the floor, and then to notice emerging heads, perhaps of Adam and Eve and to the left perhaps the profile of God. It’s not that the work is not impressive. Like an opera, it tries to blow you away with its heightened gestures. Yet it feels strangely theatrical despite the obvious striving for authenticity."
In the film, Kirkeby discusses the experience of seeing his entire body of work represented in a single exhibition. He notes remarks that "it doesn't care too much if it's from the 60's or from last year - it's kind of the same thing... apparently there are certain structures, certain ways of organizing a painting that's there, that I'm born with as a painter."
Photo blog of images from an exhibition of paintings by Merlin James at Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, on view through November 24, 2012.
The gallery notes that James "continues to paint on canvas, frequently using hair, sawdust and other unconventional substances as well as paint. Works may be apparently abstract, or may feature diverse ‘subjects’ – heads, animals, emblematic figures, canals, bridges, skies. Small vernacular buildings of uncertain vintage – mills, homesteads, old factories, tower-blocks – are often scattered through James’ pictures, either as representations in paint or as miniature ‘model’ buildings made from wood off-cuts and fragments and physically incorporated into the work. Expansive spaces are evoked, and the vistas can suggest dream- or memoryscapes, or landscapes seen in passing."
Nicolai Hartvig interviews painter Per Kirkeby about his work and career.
Kirkeby comments: " In the 1980s, when I decided to begin to paint in oil on canvas in the great European tradition — a decisive turning point for me — there was an openness and an incertitude to the work. Each painting was different, and that is what I wanted. But through the 1990s I developed signatures, somewhat radical and unmistakably mine. Francis Picabia remains my hero. The more you dive into his work, the wilder it becomes. He painted the skewed Cubist paintings that we all know. Then came the kitsch works. And he ended up doing these strange, abstract works that are impossible to grasp. Whenever you think you’ve got him, he’s always moved along. That’s what I aspire to do."
Sharon Butler blogs about the exhibition Merlin James on view at Sikkema Jenkins through August 12, 2011. Butler writes that James' new works are "handcrafted relief-like objects that look like the backs of framed canvases..." She adds that they are "[quirky, smart and complex], conjuring, in their apparent reverse perspective, a secret world behind the canvas, and, more broadly, the civilization embedded in geography."
"Like Willem de Kooning, Kirkeby is a virtuoso at creating unity from... visual chaos... We Americans tend to think that Abstract Expressionism is a style of the past, dependent upon a worldview that no longer commands assent. And we have become suspicious of painterly virtuosity. This exhibition shows that we are wrong - Kirkeby’s splendid paintings demonstrate that Abstract Expressionism is a living tradition."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.