Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Review of Jonathan Gabb: SYSTEM at WW Gallery

Jonathan Gabb: SYSTEM
WW Gallery
9 January – 2 February 2013

Part of the prize for winning the WW SOLO Award 2012 was a three-month residency in the gallery’s studio, and Jonathan Gabb, selected from over 300 entries, made good use of this time to perfect his “SYSTEM”. Using a carefully balanced combination of PVA glue and acrylic paints – the precise measures of which only he knows – this sculptural painter creates vast sheets of pure colour in huge trays on the studio floor. Once dry, he cuts them into fringed strips, and hangs them from ceilings, skylights, and walls, like canopies and curtains, intertwining and tying individual strands to one another, and creating a panoply of colour. Tantalisingly begging to be touched and wandered amidst, these works need not only to be admired from all different viewpoints, but also just looked at head on and absorbed, as they absorb the viewer in return.

Standing beneath prime titanium 4, I feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland after she has drunk the potion which shrinks her. It is as if I have landed inside an enormous party popper, amongst the myriad multi-coloured streamers. Cascading from the skylight in the ceiling, there is a desire to climb upwards, ascending the refracted colours of the primary spectrum – red, blue and yellow – to the pure light which merges with the white strands above.

Across the room, on either side of the partition door, hang two curtains, one blue, one yellow, but both also with white at the top (parsing: prussian blue + white and parsing: cadmium yellow + white respectively). Here, rather than appearing as a light source, this upper section seems almost bleached of its colour, as if its very vitality had drained downwards to the dull grey ground, like electricity rushing to its earth.

Some strands are different colours on different sides too, and then there is also the interaction of natural light, flooding into the gallery, which makes everything appear different at different times of day. All of this was a new adventure for Gabb, whose New Cross studio has no windows at all.

The strands, which are thicker than one would expect, and surprisingly enduring, if still delicate, have a sense of presence, whilst remaining unimposing. They are “outlined” on the walls and floors by frames (the edge of the sheets of colour from which they were cut, but remain umbilically attached), demarcating their space, an imaginary support, their backbone, or their do-not-cross line.

Whether you experience these pieces as unwanted output from a shredder, crazy-coloured, man-sized tagliatelli, or the rotating sponges of a carwash, they certainly offer a full on perceptual assault. They call out to be danced amongst like streamers, and the overwhelming evocation is one of carnival and theatre, of celebration of some kind. And, indeed, that is exactly what they are: a celebration of paint and colour, pure and simple. 


Jonathan Gabb: SYSTEM at WW Gallery
Installation shots
Photos: Anna McNay
© the artist and WW Gallery

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Interview with Nick Hackworth, Curator of A Cyclical Poem Photo50, London Art Fair

Interview with Nick Hackworth, Curator of A Cyclical Poem
Photo50, London Art Fair
16 - 20 January 2013

This year’s London Art Fair, being hosted at the Business Design Centre, Islington, from 16 – 20 January 2013, sees the return of Photo50, the guest-curated annual showcase of contemporary photography. Anna McNay speaks to Nick Hackworth, this year’s curator, to find out more.

How did you come to be curating Photo50?
I believe Sue Steward, the photography critic for the Evening Standard who curated last year’s Photo 50, kindly recommended me.

And where does the title, A Cyclical Poem, come from?
‘History is a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man’ from A Defence of Poetry by Shelley. 

  • Image:

  • Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen
  • Girl on a 'Spacehopper'
  • 1971
  • from the series Byker

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Review of Maia Spall: Shifting Shapes and Xavier’s Spires Spectacle at Xavier White’s, Blackheath

Maia Spall: Shifting Shapes
Xavier’s Spires Spectacle
at Xavier White’s, Blackheath
8 December 2012 – 14 January 2013

Walking into Xavier White’s front room gallery space is like walking into a spiritually uplifting, meditative sanctuary. In front of the vast bay windows, looking out over the heath, is an undulating landscape, draped in white, and bedecked with some sixty odd glass spires, lit up from within against the dark night sky behind. The remaining three walls and staircase are hung with Maia Spall’s rich and swirling purple, blue and magenta canvases, evoking a sense of movement, both of the ocean and sky from which she draws much of her inspiration, as well as of the spirit and soul. There is an all-encompassing eurythmy to the works, which carries you away as much as does the soundtrack of Gregorio Allegri’s choral piece, Miserere, composed during the 1630s for use during the Holy Week matins services in the Sistine Chapel, playing on repeat.

Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) conceives of the entire universe as a series of folds, with the major fold being the point of contact between the lower level of matter and being, and the upper level of the soul, with the critical idea being that nothing is divided, but rather runs on as one unbroken continuum. Spall’s paintings capture this concept perfectly: their waves of colour bringing out the essence of life on both levels. Floating through Night, in particular, resplendent in its varying intensities of purple, yellow, and dark, dark blue, suggests a progression upwards from the scratched into and daubed over lower third, through a patchy middle, where one can catch glimpses of the prepared but unpainted white canvas gleaming through, to the darker, calmer upper band, where the struggles of life have been replaced by a sense of serenity. Interestingly, White claims to see John Everett Millais’ Ophelia (1851-2) in this work – either way, there is a peacefulness to it; an end to the stresses and woes of earthly existence.


The largest piece in the exhibition, Landscape, hangs opposite the windows, an immense altarpiece behind a draped shelf, again lit with White’s exquisite spires. It is flanked by smaller figure studies (enchanting, but not as fitting as the abstracted landscapes), seascapes and coastal studies (Spall moved from her native South East London to Whitstable ten years ago). Although the influence of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) is apparent in works such as Sea Light and Ships at Sea, the colour scheme remains very much Spall’s own.

Trained in art therapy, Spall explains that she works “intuitively, usually as an act of expressive improvisation, musically not unlike the exploration of a free-jazz piece, […] becom[ing] absorbed with the movements and rhythms of light, colour, and composition.” It is perhaps no surprise, then, that her work has such a strong sense of breaking free: capturing momentum, entropy, and the breathing of a wave as it ebbs and flows.


Installation shot
Xavier's Spire Spectacle
Xavier White's, Blackheath

Maia Spall
Floating through Night
Oil on canvas

Maia Spall
Whitstable Coast

Call Xavier on 07 88 99 72 374 to arrange a viewing

For more information on Maia Spall, see:

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Review of Richard Hamilton: The Late Works at the National Gallery

Richard Hamilton: The Late Works
Sunley Room, The National Gallery
10 October 2012 – 12 January 2013

Just what is it that makes Richard Hamilton’s works so different, so appealing? Sadly, the current exhibition of late works by Hamilton (1922-2011), at the National Gallery, doesn’t really do justice to his prolific and multifarious oeuvre, but, luckily, a major retrospective of his work is due to tour Europe and America from 2014. Nevertheless, it seems appropriate that the National Gallery should host this small-scale show, since it has long been a place of significance to the artist, who sadly died during the preparations for what might be seen now as a touching tribute.