Colour in art can be powerful by being subdued. Muted colour is often what you're seeing in work by artists known as colourists. Many people's idea of colour in art is something bright, like children's toys or Pop Art, and it’s not particularly part of what's celebrated in contemporary art. It’s unusual today to come across anything like the sophisticated colour arrangements of historic art, which must now include Modernism. There are new technologies and the new sensibilities they produce, but these developments mean that some old sensibilities may be lost. There's no material need to find colour now. It's found for you in the popular medium you're using -- your camera, for example, with its colourising menu. If it's rare for artists now to come up with the kinds of colour subtleties in painting that existed in the past it's at least partly because the ingredients are no longer there in the social imagination.
We've brought together these works as an indicator -- to our mind, at any rate -- of the present's difference to the past, even the recent past. But also -- because we feel they have a rare intensity -- as an example of how the lost is never really lost. We think there are possibilities for surprise. A law or rule that's gradually set in can be joyously broken. Abstraction or figuration is a red herring, the world is the issue, and art turned towards it and interested in interpreting it can easily be abstract in form.
How do the works in this show express the world around us? Chantal Joffe strips away at figuration -- people she knows; her family -- until she arrives at a rich faux-simplicity with powerful abstract values. In Mali Morris's painting scrawled maroon surrounds a thick, palpable yellow. These contrasting presences and the painterly drama of accident and control suggest reality apprehended through light. Tess Jaray's distilled geometric work with its play of edges and planes, and its subtle surfaces where many layers of oil are freely brushed onto wood, is one of a recent series. Recurrent shapes and colours echo the polychrome patterned entrance to a mosque she saw in Aleppo, the city whose destruction we've all witnessed on the news. Because of the way he's captured available natural light: low, dim, Goyaesque, Justin Partyka's photo of a scene on a Norfolk farm is epic and tragic. Fiona Rae summons up the look of early abstract painting a century ago with its characteristic voids and floating objects, and air of the inner world, the unseen. In her painting she refracts all that through the kind of forms anyone might generate today on a screen: a balance of transcendence with the close at hand. Marcus Harvey shows a seascape with an imposed presence that suggests natural patterns, an earthy ceramic object that confounds the photographic context spatially and at the same time eerily connects to it. Dan Perfect paints what seems to be a 1950s lyrical abstraction suggesting river, rocks and wind. This painting on paper is a study, a halfway stage before he processes that pure lyricism into something more multi-dimensional. With our works, we try to achieve a quality of shimmer and vibration like the multiplying patterns that exist in the surviving religious art of late antiquity, but which also suggests its illogical ravages of time and repair. Frank Bowling is the only artist in the show that makes colour synonymous with materiality, the stuff of the world, as if there's colour substance somehow on the tips of his fingers that he's agitating and manipulating. He makes a living surface with it, which is also a picture.
Biggs & Collings 2016