Saturday 12 October 2019

Mandy Payne: Out of Time

Mandy Payne: Out of Time
Huddersfield Art Gallery
5 October 2019 - 4 January 2020

‘What began as a utopian project to design new schools, libraries, hospitals, housing estates, city halls, using the most cutting-edge building techniques, was deemed to have failed; resulting in ugly, inhuman buildings, unfit for purpose,’ says arts writer Liz Hoggard at the start of an article entitled ‘Why we must learn to love brutalist architecture’[1]. Artist Mandy Payne needs no convincing. She has long been inspired by the urban landscape – in particular Brutalist architectural structures, modernism, social housing, and notions of utopia and dystopia. She seeks, in her work, to capture not just often-iconic buildings and estates before they disappear to make way for luxury housing, but also the traces that people leave behind, and the memories that the buildings absorb. ‘The Lamp of Memory’ is indeed one of Victorian art critic John Ruskin’s chapters in his architectural treatise Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), and the idea that buildings are receptacles for what has passed through them is common in contemporary social sciences as well, where reference is frequently made to ‘collective’ or ‘cultural’ memory. Unlike objects, buildings remain rooted where they are, but can simultaneously change their type, thus becoming a fascinating and unique representation of time.
Payne, whose observational paintings are highly process driven, and full of different marks, textures and patinas, works with materials that have a physical connection to the sites themselves. She casts her own concrete (possibly a hangover from her previous career as a dentist, during which she would work with dental plaster and stone, wax and metals) into small canvases, which she works on directly, using micro masking tapes and spray paint (to reference graffiti) to build up zones of flat colour and then oil paint to add layers of finer detail. Until recently, her works were constrained by their medium, being no larger than 30cm square, but. for a while now, she has been exploring making larger works, using lighter, glass-fibre reinforced concrete panels. Another recent innovation is the use of marble as the substrate to highlight the perceived social inequalities of building materials. Funding from Arts Council England has enabled Payne to explore multiple locations in the lead up to this exhibition.

From 2015-17, Payne held a part-time fellowship in Stone Lithography at Leicester Print Workshop (with grants from Arts Council England and the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation). During this time she pushed her practice still further, and now, as can be seen in the gallery vitrines, often creates lithographs with the same narratives as her paintings, which she frequently prints on to Japanese paper and collages on to concrete. A process of rebuilding? Of retrieving and reconciling a memory? 

Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí spoke of people’s ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst’ for ‘concrete images’ and, although he wasn’t speaking in as literal terms as Payne’s practice, her works certainly meet that basic human need, providing documents of these dying concrete constructs, which modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe described as ‘by nature skeletal buildings […] buildings consisting of skin and bones’ – as important to us, then, in our collective memory, as our own ancestors. 

[1] Liz Hoggard, ‘Why we must learn to love brutalist architecture’, in The Telegraph, 28 January 2016 [, accessed 07/08/19]

Image: Mandy Payne, Out of Time, 2019 © the artist 

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