Thursday 8 March 2012

Review of Needle’s Eye at Transition Gallery

Needle’s Eye
Transition Gallery
18 February – 11 March 2012

Surrealism, abstraction, curiosity, multiple meanings – all of these are features which abound in the works by the four artists – Kim Baker, Louisa Chambers, Lisa McKendrick and Ben Walker – whose paintings are included in the current exhibition, Needle’s Eye, curated by Ruth Solomons, at Transition Gallery. Explaining the title, Solomons says: “the eye of a needle represents an allegorical portal of impossibility through which the participating artists employ symbology, gesture, and playfulness to push their subject matter.” And, indeed, a sense of playfulness, albeit unsettling at times, is rife in the small and full gallery space by Regent’s Canal.

Both Chambers’ and McKendrick’s works transport the viewer into alternative universes, the former echoic of the surrealist landscapes of de Chirico, decorated with geometric structures, pyramids (Pink Pyramid, 2011; Beams, 2011), rays of light, and strange hybrid monsters composed of birds and robots (Transformation, 2011). McKendrick’s visions, whilst situated more in the real world, layer up elements acutely at odds with one another, such as chemistry lab paraphernalia surrounding a smoking figure, in the palimpsest which is Multiplicity (2011). Indeed, there are myriad possible stories which the viewer is left to imagine, but yet finds it almost impossible to decipher. In Shadowland (2011), for example, a wolf and bird each cast square block shadows, falling in opposing directions, and with no apparent light source in the heavy ochre sky, whilst in Urban Myth Part 2 (2006), we are confronted with a strange contraption, comprising arm, face, tubes, and wires – unsettling yet compelling in its intrigue.

Walker equally leaves the viewer to create his own narrative. Painting on linen, his sparsely detailed oils leave the texture to show through his sub fusc palette. Figures are seen bent over, at work, pensive, bringing with them a sense of turning back time to the early 20th century. The Perfume of Strangers (2011), in muted blues and greys, is subtly different, depicting a young girl viewed from behind, naked, vulnerable, with a strange totemic symbol ‘drawn’ in the top right hand corner of the canvas. What does it all mean? Some kind of ritual or sacrifice? The loss of innocence?

Baker’s bouquets of flowers also bring with them a sense of loss and mourning, explicitly implied by the titles of the two larger canvases, Memento Mori 6 and Memento Mori 13 (both 2011). More abstracted than her smaller works, the brush strokes here are purely gestural and fleeting, capturing a moment as if in great haste. Time is running out. In Memento Mori 6, there is the suggestion of falling leaves – the waning glory of a once beautiful bouquet? A wave of sad forlorn nostalgia, yet the colours of the petals – oranges, yellows, peaches, and maroons – remain bright, joyful, and full of life and promise…

And so it is that one leaves the show – confused, uncertain, neurons firing rapidly in an attempt to fit the imagery together and decode its meaning, wondering on which side of the portal one is now standing. Once your eyes have been opened to the possibilities beyond, can you ever fully return?


Louisa Chambers
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Lisa McKendrick
Oil and pastel on canvas

Ben Walker
Too Much of Heaven's Eyes
Oil on linen

Kim Baker
Memento Mori 6
Oil on canvas

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