Edited text from Absence and Presence, Geoff Routh’s second exhibition at Long & Ryle, 2009:
Since the 1970s, London artists have colonised abandoned warehouses, factories and other spaces, turning them into creative communes and squats, and energised areas which had previously fallen into disarray. Where artists have gone, property developers and gentrification have surely followed.
Geoff Routh’s paintings are inspired by one of the last remaining such spaces. Stockwell Studios, just off Clapham Road in Stockwell was originally called the Annie McCall Hospital. It was built in 1915 as one of the first specialised maternity hospitals in Europe. Its use as a hospital came to an end in the 1970s. In 1987 the disused building, with its imposing red brick Edwardian facade, was occupied by artists and musicians. Routh, an original founder, remained until its closure in 2013.
Over 25 years he obsessively – almost forensically – scrutinised the building and environs. The paintings that resulted amount to a biography of the building, and the drawn-out assault of it by the buddleia, ivy and other staples of untended gardens in London. The paintings in this exhibition depict an elemental London cityscape: the damp, stained London bricks, rotting sash windows and piles of building materials never used. The unkempt building can be seen encroaching and receding with the seasons. The distinctively haphazard guttering, downpipes and lean-tos that characterize the backs of London streets are painted with an undistracted beauty. Through the grimy windows, between the makeshift curtains you can only make out dusty ornaments.
In one painting entitled The Backs, a pile of wood dominates the foreground in a way that is reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice; an appropriate metaphor perhaps for the frailty of the ‘man made’ in the face of a collision with extreme nature.
A more recent series of paintings is of blocks of new-build flats as seen from his old studio window on the 4th floor of a building in Bermondsey. Often made at night, the formal compositions are off-set by a flux of movement, of reflections in windows and across surfaces, of clouds and lights and squalls of rain off the river; changes which are in turn reflected in the revisions and hesitations of marks across the surface of each work.
Geoff Routh (b. 1944) is represented by Long + Ryle. He studied at Birmingham College of Art and the Royal College of Art, and moved to Thames-Side Studios in 2014.
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