An onslaught of colour greets you as you walk into the gallery space, a battle between order and chaos taking over the walls. Patchwork canvases of colour blocks, neat and ordered – layered seemingly at random, yet with a careful, intuitive pattern – stand against explosions of messy lines and forms, graffiti-like scrawls of text and scribble vying for attention. In Verve (13th February – 21st March 2015), titular energy and enthusiasm spring forth from the paintings of Sebastian Helling and Richard Schur. While, on first appearance, their painting styles appear to be polar opposites, both share an interest in developing the expressive, emotional qualities of colour, creating a vibrant dialogue between mutually complementary opposites.
In the works of German artist Richard Schur, colour swatches at once obscure and reveal, layered atop one another in a deliberate, defined process. With their strong, Mondrian-like aesthetic (one of Schur’s earliest influences), carefully-chosen colour palettes reflect a gradual build up of tone and texture. Each patch of colour is carefully applied, only to then be either wholly or partially obscured by another; indeed, at times previous colours are visible only by evidence left by the raised ridges of smothered layers of paint. In order to achieve this effect, Schur works first with studies, allowing his motifs to evolve over an extended period of time, playing around with colour choices as part of an intuitive process. This is then transferred to a larger canvas, on which the artist uses the formal language of geometry to gain a sense of clarity in the interaction of colours. Drawing on those artists who have gone before him, painting for Schur “is about creating new songs, not new sounds.” It is also about bringing together the “light, spirit and atmosphere” of various locations around the world that have influenced him. Indeed, recent residencies in San Francisco, Paris and New York continue to feed into the verve that Schur seeks to create. Most of the works in this exhibition have been inspired by his residency in New York, drawing on the architecture of Manhattan, evening walks through Brooklyn, and night rides over the city’s bridges.
In the works of Oslo-based Sebastian Helling, on the other hand, layers of paint are used in a different context, a direct reflection of physical movement. “My paintings are neither abstract nor figurative, neither gestural nor compositional,” he explains. “Layers of artistic languages overlap and deny each other. In the same spirit, my wish for communication (or anti-communication) is trapped within the relevance of the artwork.” What we are presented with, then, are explosive canvases with splashes of paint and text, sometimes spray painted on, at other times applied with a brush and then stroked and smudged with fingers. While some appear mute – large canvases of beige with stark blurs of colour – others are intensely saturated, chromatic cornucopias or proliferations of painterly fireworks. Like Schur, he creates layer upon layer, simultaneously obscuring and tantalisingly revealing a recognisable motif just visible through elementary symbols and abstract language. He builds, reduces, and then improves, his artistic practice a process of refinement and kinetic energy, both destructive and productive. It is this tension between the positive and the negative that allows him to focus his work on the final outcome rather than a specific narrative or particular reference point – rather, they are embodiments of Helling’s constant tearing apart and building back together again, an endless cycle of nature.
Together, Schur and Helling create an intriguing look at the relationship between painter and colour, and of the processes involved in the layering and stripping away of narrative. For, they argue, it is only once this has been done that a new song can be sung. “For me, abstraction is a place of collective and personal memories, experiences and emotions,” concludes Schur. “Through a long, systematic and intuitive process, then, I aim to reflect the meaning of every brush stroke within the whole: anything can matter here.”