Text by Alexandros Papadopoulos
Callum Innes and the Cinematic Metaphysics of Colour: A Phantasmatic Revolution in Disguise.
Innes is not just the name of an abstract painter. It is also the sound image of the Greek word “ ίνες” which means Fibers. This playful — almost Derridean — identification of an ‘’artist’’ (Innes) with ‘’material’’ (fibers) underscores the key achievements of Callum Innes’ current exhibition in Whitworth, namely: a) the celebratory radicalization of materiality in contemporary art b) the magic return of painting (some would say ‘’the return from the dead’’) and finally c) Whithwowth’s inventive and subtle approach to one of its traditional pre-occupations: the mutli-layered materiality of visual art.
Let’ s unpack all these statements by returning to the issue at hand – the paintings. The exhibition presents a series of monochromatic canvasses –a selection of older works mixed with a new series of water colours – all of which tend to masterfully dissolve and deconstruct colour; by exposing its material, visual and spatial components. The whole process of ‘un-painting’ is essentially based on the interaction between oil turpentine and painted surface. This act of erosion, manipulation, de-colouring seems to provoke a disruption in time – a movement backwards – a flashback that reflects on and unsettles the chronological structure, the rhythm of painting. Evoking an archaeology of colour, the artworks unearth hidden layers, deranged mixings and crooked roots of visuality. For the playful viewer –the one who keeps changing her/his positions – getting close and then away from the surface of the canvas – the paintings reveal interlacing micro-worlds: landscapes of fibers, skins of wood, blurred screens. Symmetrical geometric arrangement – blocks of colour in harmony – when seen under a closer inspection unfold microscopic landscapes of fluidity, blurriness and dizziness. Monochromatic surfaces – even colours as “foundational’’ as ‘white and black’ – deteriorate into battlefields of antithesis, chaos and instability. Fixity is undercut by micro-choreographies of impressions and counter-impressions. Beneath the “static’’ emerge maps of interfusions, ambiguities and enigmas.
In order to fully appreciate the symbolic power of this contrast at this particular historical moment, it is worth noting its cultural pedigrees within the wider visual culture of Britain – and by the term ‘visual’ we should not restrict ourselves to minimalist or abstract painting. Take for example British cinema and especially the films made during a previous version of “austerity period,” the late 1940s: their main visual power of films like It Always Rains on Sunday (Robert Hamer, 1947) or Waterloo Road (Sidney Gilliat, 1945) involved vivid contrasts between surface and interiority: the dispassionate, reserved or “dull’’ surface of English bodies and “manners’’ was counterposed with passionate, transgressive and daydreaming interiorities – which were embodied in gestural, visual, emotional details of anxiety and disorder.
Setting this figurative and cinematic tradition of counterpositions against these series of abstract paintings, we can now begin to understand how Innes’ works exemplifies not only the celebratory return of painting but also its self-transformation into a contemporary cultural code. By producing canvasses that look like tensed screens, Innes’ painting appears as the continuation of moving image through other means. Cinema dissolves into canvas and canvas become a meta-cinematic signature of emotional masquerade. Here comes a visual world that reaffirms and disrupts cultural stereotypes of British mentality under crisis – the visual harmony of surface is haunted by a tense yet visible interiority, detectable by the viewer who insists on changing her/his viewing position while paying attention to detail. Order and tranquillity smoothly sink with an impressionistic ordeal of transgression, disruption and fluidity – harmony is elegantly superimposed upon fear, insecurity and conflict. ” By being presented in Whitowrth Gallery an institution well known for its ability to mix the promotion of contemporary art with the symbolic capital of decoration- the exhibition rethinks and challenges traditional conceptions of ornamental art. The exhibition highlights the contemporary vigour of materiality. Materiality, surface and decoration are now seen to be ultra modern vocabularies of presentness, interiority and chaos.
Callum Innes is on display at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester until 16 June 2013
Dr. Alexandros Papadopoulos is a cultural theorist and performance artist based in Manchester.