Gallagher & Turner is a snug, hidden gem of a gallery, nestled in a red-brick terrace near Newcastle University, which also houses a successful picture-framing business. Formations is an ambitious trans-historical exhibition that explores how we see the modern world through painting and printmaking. Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) and Albert Irvin (1922-2015), prominent 20th Century abstract artists, sit alongside Oliver Doe and Josh Raz, two young Newcastle-based painters. This is a carefully curated collection of art, full of vibrant colours and dynamic forms.
Kelly’s bold lithographs take the breath away with their perfect clarity. His work during the Second World War with other artists and designers, in a deception unit known as The Ghost Army, and his exposure to military camouflage, became part of his basic art training. Irvin’s exuberant work is also said to be heavily influenced by his time serving during the war, as an RAF navigator, with great flashes of colour criss-crossing the canvas, emulating the aerial landscapes he would view from the planes. It contrasts vividly with the work of Oliver Doe, who deploys minimalism and reduction of the bodily form to explore, amongst other themes, the changing boundaries of queer bodies.
Doe’s What Part of My Tongue Have I Not Given? (2019), whose work is greatly influenced by the hard-edge painting technique employed by Kelly, demonstrates a simplicity that is effective in forcing audiences to fill in the gaps. It is both provocative and contemplative. As an artist, Doe is prolific and diverse; his transmedia practice operates between minimalist painting, sculpture, the altered object, performance and the written word to examine queer visibility, represent a trace of the body and generate a sense of absence. A collection of his recent poetry and texts, Trace Your Fingers Over The Edge Of Me (2016-2018), is intimate, written with an honesty and yearning sensuality that allows the reader a glimpse into a very personal space.
Raz’s Folie a deux (2019) is a mesmerising oil painting: intricate geometric shapes form a background to towering trees, leaves like tears falling to the ground, where flames seem to lick at the feet of a couple, and a dog stalks the corner of the canvas. His work is reminiscent of the majestic abstract landscapes of Peter Doig. This is an artist who usually works on a large scale, and working on smaller canvases has presented him different challenges. Certainly, his wistful, psychedelic style lends itself to grandeur, so immersive are the scenes he creates. Elsewhere, Convection (2019), is so beautifully textured as to appear like a tapestry. Here, Raz’s work reminds one of Jenny Saville’s technique with the palette knife, as he creates rich golden lines through the canvas.
It is exciting to have the opportunity to explore the work of local creatives at the beginning of their careers, and an inspired choice by the gallery to display their work alongside such revered artists. This is a tiny gallery with big ambitions.
Formations, Gallagher & Tuner, Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 March – 27 April 2019.
Caro Fentiman is a writer and musician living in Northumberland.