The unusual industrial landscape of South Denes in Great Yarmouth has been the visual obsession of Katarzyna Coleman for the last fifteen years. Her studio, in an industrial building that she shares with fellow artist, John Kiki, lies just South of where the dwellings behind South Beach Parade dissolve into the strange and desolate peninsula that hangs between the Yare and the sea, docks still on its inner side and the new outer harbour, pretty inaccessible, on its outer side. This bleak landscape has gradually developed over time as the fortunes of Yarmouth have oscillated between stagnant downturns and the optimistic upturns of the fishing boom, followed by North Sea oil and, more lately, renewable energy infrastructure. The insistent, stark, totemic verticals of the power station near the tip of the peninsula, the Britannia Monument off Fenner Road, the derelict gasometer and the ubiquitous modern lamp-posts fracture the horizontal arrays of scattered, geometric sheds, to create that stark geometric tapestry that forms her subject matter.
Coleman’s response to this geometry is intense, meditative and compelling. She works on a large scale, and usually on more than one work at a time. Some of these recent works form natural series, held together by a common theme such as the prominent power station marking the end of Admiralty Road or the sets of barriers, fences, gates and railings that define seemingly random no-go areas within the landscape. Some of her most compelling recent works have become triptychs. These works are built up, over time, from her carefully calibrated sketches drawn on the spot, often just round the corner from her studio, but sometimes from high-up window, cadged from friendly souls in nearby industrial buildings. The overall impression may initially seem monochrome, and in the past this was more strictly true. But the recent work uses carefully adjusted mixtures of acrylics, just Prussian Blue, Burnt Umber, and Titanium or Zinc White, to create a warm set of ‘grey’ planes that are then transected by verticals of charcoal or graphite. The complex texture of her reworked paint and the confident quickness of her charcoal are arresting components of these larger works.
Coleman also works on a smaller scale, experimenting with etching, engraving and monoprint methods. None of these industrial landscapes, large or small, contains a single figure, car or boat. She is not unaware of their usual presence, but the formal geometries of the compositions seem to demand their absence. Her work, though, could never be described as merely abstract, a formal exercise in tone and pattern: far from it. These are hauntingly real places, with real names, meditations on a changing and unique cityscape, of workplace and dereliction, of enclosure and containment, of a complex and real three-dimensional landscape. These cocentrated and harshly-lit, neoclassical canvases and prints have a real and disturbing sense of place. Coleman cites artists like Käthe Kollwitz and the American Richard Diebenkorn as influences, but frankly she works her own very distinctive furrow. The strongest resonance for me is with Giorgio Morandi, who had his own familiars, his endless combinations of favourite pots and bottles that created the geometry he obsessively revisited in both paintings and prints. And I note a Morandi postcard on her wall. Formal composition for Coleman too is paramount, discovering just the right juxtapositions of shape, position and tone to complete the work. The sheds and chimneys, roads, streetlights and shadows of Coleman’s universe are equally totemic, and like Morandi’s bottles they somehow seem to lose their sense of scale, becoming at one moment vast and at another almost domestic.
Katarzyna Coleman did her degree at Hornsea and her MA at Manchester. She has had numerous solo and group exhibitions and was notably represented in Reality: Modern and Contemporary British Painting, a major exhibition shown at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in 2014 and at the Walker Gallery, Liverpool in 2015.
KEITH ROBERTS July 2015