Real Painting consists of ten artists who work both nationally and internationally and is curated by two of the contributing artists Jo McGonigal and Deb Covell. The exhibition takes the idea of minimalism a step further, exploring the grammar of painting by paring it down to what painting does rather than exploring a meaning or subject. The pieces in the exhibition sit between painting and sculpture, expanding beyond the convention of the flat canvas construction to explore the practice of painting in both its materiality and process.
Angela de la Cruz’ “Compressed 1(white)” 2010 is a buckled white aluminium form which sits between a sculpture and a painting. It makes the viewer question their pre-assumptions of what constitutes a painting as its physical presences acts rather like a sculpture. On closer inspection the process of painting is revealed in the brush strokes de la Cruz uses, and by utilizing this form she transcends the canvas’ flat surface unleashing paint into a three dimensional space to be viewed from multiple angles. Her work mimics human states of mind or emotion and the human size aspect heightens this with “Compressed 1” hung at average head height to emphasis this. The piece therefore can be anthropomorphized, projecting human pain or distortion which contrasts with the serenity of the painted white surface and soothing flow of brush strokes. This seems to signal the cathartic process of creating a painting in the slow repetitive build up of layers, returning to the exhibition’s focus on the process of painting and materiality. Another piece that emphasises the materiality of paint is Alexis Harding’s “Hood” 2012 in which the light pink paint seems to ooze down the canvas embodying the experience of paint’s fluid quality. By letting it wrinkle, congeal and drip the piece allows the paint a physical existence and highlights the different material qualities of paint. In using varying textures and translucent areas of paint, “Hood” perfectly captures the essence of Real Painting in its expression of paint’s capability.
Whilst Real Painting delivers a critical and highly intellectually engaging exhibition, there is a danger of maybe isolating the ‘less art minded visitor’ due to the curator’s assumption of them having an art theoretical background, and thus a read of the accompanying commissioned essay “Painting qua Painting (as noun and verb)” by Craig Staff is an essential to further explain the concept and ideas behind the exhibition.
Each artists’ investigation into the ‘expressive capacity of the materials and processes specific to painting’ furthers painting development in the contemporary art world looking inward to the grammar of the pictorial, be it surface like Harding’s “Hood” or form and colour like de la Cruz’s “Compressed 1”. By internalising the concept of what painting ‘does’ and by focusing on the language of the medium of paint, rather than the subject, Real Painting returns the viewers focus to the fundamentals of painting, making the exhibition both bold and engaging.
Claire Walker is a writer based in Wigan.
Image courtesy of Castlefield Gallery.
Real Painting, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester.
12 June – 2 August 2015