Despite working primarily across painting, Mcgurn and Musgrave’s practices are congruous not through their shared medium, but through a commonality in processing subject, and the translation of narratives to the viewer. Through exploiting painting’s specificities, Mcgurn and Musgrave’s work through aspects of abstraction in distinct and parallel paths, developing highly subjective practices from shared cultures and experiences. Glyphs, handled in gestural cursive, occur in both McGurn and Musgrave’s works. Recognisable as symbols, symbols that must have an inherent meaning, though postpone interpretation – potentially offering access to a narrative of subjects if you can ascertain the key.
Encountering an undecipherable script is disorientating, knowing these mute symbols have information to share, but just not with you. The elusive definitions, just out of reach, feel akin to attempts in constructing new language. An attempt that seems appropriate in its comparison is the Shavian Alphabet, George Bernard Shaw’s eponymous construct designed by Kingsley Read. The title of the exhibition, Only with a light touch will you write well, freely and fast coming from Read’s Suggestions for writing appendix to the Shavian Alphabet edition of Androcles and The Lion. There’s a naïve optimism in trying to supplant the Latin alphabet for a range of new marks, whether practical as shorthand or more ideological such as the Shavian alphabet – the intention is almost utopian. It is this desire for brevity, economy and potency in conveying information that is reflected within the practices of McGurn and Musgrave. The distillation of subject and experiences to a series of signifiers, which end up muddying rather than clarify interpretation – though it is the journey towards this interpretation rather than arrival which is more enjoyable.
These attempts, of invented alphabets such as Shavian, towards brevity and universality are markedly more successful in ideograms – however, are ultimately the product of the culture it is employed to express, like all language. McGurn’s use of references is characterized by this success, imagery so loaded yet economical in means that it takes on the role of an ideogram. The dissonance of interpretations within these culturally loaded images however, is subject at play in McGurn’s practice – drawn from a bank of source material collected from public information adverts, pulp fiction, school textbooks among varying other sources, the characters used in the service of selling shampoo or warning of the dangers of sexual promiscuity are tropes, intended to convey a message in the most economical means. But there is a dis-harmony between readings. The ambiguity of the characters removed from their context, and changing cultural standards now offer new interpretations to these pictographs. As McGurn collates cultural tropes from media, Musgrave constructs an archive of experiences and accidental constructs from which to develop. These could be considered indexed as opposed to McGurn’s uncharacterized assimilation, Musgrave creates typographies of contexts – only occasionally made explicit through titling. Despite the gulf in approach and subject between the two artists’ work the glyphs or scripts visible in part remain throughout, reminiscent of shorthand or similar, yet suggestive rather than prescriptive. Not necessarily taking similar or repeated forms, yet recognizable as entrance to further engagement. What emerges is a calligraphy of gesture, in which, as with sinographic scripts, the spaces are as important as the symbols – it is a performative reduction at play within these symbols employed to signify further symbols – subject and means of delivery converging briefly before separating once more.
France-Lise McGurn (b.1983 Glasgow, UK) Lives and works in Glasgow, UK. Selected exhibitions include: 3am, Collective Gallery, Edinburgh (Solo, 2015); Nos Algae’s- Cara Tolmie, France-Lise McGurn and Kimberley O’Neill, Tramway, Glasgow (2014); The White Hotel, Gimpel Fils, London (2014); Home Theatre, Baró Gallery, Sao Paulo (2013/2014); Endogenous II, Maria Stenfors, London (2013); A Continuous Project Altered in A Day, Cor Fu, London (2013); The Long Game, The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow (2012); and K.F.S, Caroline Wiseman Modern & Contemporary, Suffolk (2012).
Matthew Musgrave (b. 1985 Torquay, UK) Lives and work in London, UK. Selected exhibitions include: Around, Supplement, London (Solo, 2014); Painted Horizon, Maggs Bros London (2014);Head to Head, Standpoint, London (2014); Summer Salon Show, Lion and Lamb, London (2014);Painting show and performance, Winter projects, London (2013); Head to Head, Rogue Project Space, Manchester (2013); Paintings, Supplement, London, (solo, 2012); The Library of Babel, Zabludowicz Collection, London (2010); Gifted, Josh Liley Gallery, London (2010); Jerwood Contemporary Painters, Jerwood Space, London (2009); and New Sensations, Truman Brewery, London (2008).