‘Seeing what’s there’ – group exhibition – 13 Oct-6 Nov 2020
Seeing what’s there
the individuality of observation
Philippa Blair, Nigel Buxton and Katharina Jaeger
Maurice Lye, Richard McWhannell, Andrew Ross
I went to artschool in the early 1980s and drawing was central to our training. We drew from live models one full day a week. I learned that I must look, really look, look hard. And analyse, measure with my eyes. I must draw what I saw, not what I thought I saw. The eye and the hand became very close, responsive to each other. Ideas, I was told, sat as a layer upon this foundational skill. Even within the confines of that discipline every student’s drawings were different. We each look at the world through our own lens. As we look, we filter.
Artworks ‘after nature’ are a mix of what is seen through the eye, formed in the mind and made real through the hands. This exhibition comprises photographs, drawings and paintings by six artists. Some arrange their subject and set it in a context; some consciously record an existing particularity, external to themselves; some chance upon a moment and aim to capture it. All have worked from observation and responded.
(Marian Maguire – curator)
Maurice Lye appears to seek out human alteration to nature. The photographs are quirky. There is oddness to his combinations but everything fits just right, like a jigsaw puzzle with neatly intersecting parts. What I note is the flat light. He avoids the mystery and drama of shadow and brings everything to view. We see every leaf, every flake of paint. When he does use shadow it is for distinct compositional purpose. Maurice is spontaneous as a photographer. He carries a good camera with him when he is out and about, just in case something catches his eye. When he does decide to take a shot he uses his camera as a finely-tuned tool. These are digital photographs. He frequently takes many shots in one go and then selects from them, sifting for the feel he is after.
Nigel Buxton has consistently made interior still-lifes, drawn direct from set-ups in his studio. He often places vases on a draped table as the central focus but the shapes on the walls, ceiling and floor are all part of the staging. Through looking and drawing he describes the room he is in; draws the space around himself. These works are not made all in one go. He draws for a couple of hours a day when the light is right. They take a month or so to complete. He responds to the whole of what he sees each time he sits at the easel and his hand records that day’s viewing experience. The drawings vibrate with his repeated observation; with the time spent.
Philippa Blair draws from the visual world to stimulate her painting. She has always taken photographs and in recent years has posted shots on Instagram. They are taken on her Samsung phone. The images are fleeting and opportunistic yet she frames them with a practised eye. When she sees something visually interesting she records it. Colour, light, shadow, angles, rhythmic patterns – these things stimulate her retina, they grab her. Some locations she goes back to, knowing there is more to be had. It may be that the shadows run differently, the cyclists ride through at just the right moment or the colour of a parked car is perfectly juxtaposed against street paint. Philippa has named, dated and located these photographs as those diaristic details are important to her.
To see individual images, click here.
The two double portraits by Richard McWhannell were painted in 2007 and 2009. They were painted directly from life, not from preparatory drawings or photographs. The models sometimes sat together on the couch in his studio, other times only one would visit. Most painting sessions were about two hours long and occurred when the light was right. Richard would paint the details of the room on days the models weren’t there. Francis (the artist’s son) and Poi have been friends since birth. Poi and Mihi are sisters, friends of the family. He knows their faces well and has observed them animated as well as still. This is quite different from painting a portrait from a photograph. Each time Francis, Poi and Mihi sat for him he would view them fresh and take in the whole. The paintings were completed over a period of one or two months.
Katharina Jaeger has drawn tree prunings, a humble subject. A peach tree was pruned and the off-cuts chopped for disposal. What she noted was that they were all cut neatly to the same length. Memories of her father silently processing his emotions using secateurs came to mind. Katharina kept the prunings, thinking they may be useful for a sculptural installation and indeed she did use them in 2019, in her exhibition Billow at PG. She made the drawing as a means of getting to know her material, of contemplating it. The prunings are generally heaped and I asked Katharina if she picked twigs out at random or chose particular examples. She said she was attracted to the ones with junctions. Her drawings are of the same approximate scale as the twig she was looking at. Just as she could reach into the heap of twigs and pick one out, we could reach into the drawing, grasp the twig and know the feel and weight of it. I see observation and contemplation made physical through these drawing.
Andrew Ross contributes two groups of three photographs. One group is of his friend Nigel and his home, the other of his Aunt Hilary and hers. Both places are familiar to him and very different from each other. To me, each infer a range of sounds and smells. Andrew spent a couple of days in situ and took about nine photographs at each address. While he may have arrived with preconceptions he looked with fresh eyes once there. He uses large format cameras and when looking through the lens the image appears upside down, back to front and in colour. There is supreme consciousness in setting up and framing these shots. He sees tonalities of light and must wait for the light to be right before exposing the film, only presses his finger when he is sure. It is a characteristic of his work that the light is often extreme. Exposure may be as quick as half a second or as long as half an hour. He processes his own negatives and hand-prints the photographs. Though nostalgic in mood these images are the opposite of fleeting. They appear to document the slow passage of time.