Exhibition photography by David Cass
Gayfield Creative, Edinburgh. A set of paintings that explore the concept of the surface. Created using non-traditional methods and painted on unconventional surfaces, these repetitive, layered artworks are unified by their exclusive depiction of water. From heavily layered oil paintings created outdoors over several years, to miniature gouache artworks painted on matchboxes or coffee grinder drawers.
The exhibition (and ongoing series) features images of water surveyed whilst travelling: the Atlantic from Cádiz, the Adriatic from Dalmatia, the Mediterranean from Liguria. Many too, are abstracted visions of the English Channel ('Mor breizh') - the strip of water I must cross to reach France, Belgium, Spain and Italy - where I source the materials and supports upon which I works. From Paris’ plethora of antique shops to Brussels’ frequent flea-markets, I source and gather every-day items (wooden, metal, and paper planes) suitable to be brought back to the studio and transformed into the foundation of each artwork.
These are artworks made from ordinary objects that speak of function and familiarity: tabletops, drawer bases, trunk lids, roadsigns, books & papers. Aged items and objects that describe a lifetime of use in their worn grains – a kind of repetition that is mirrored in the marks of each piece, the obsessive documentation of a singular subject.
The Scottish Gallery • Exhibition photography by Michael Wolchover • Read more about Years of Dust & Dry on the Selected Exhibitions page
Exhibition Notes, May 2013: Everything to do with this series is about process, order, function. The exhibition itself is ordered (numbered) so as to describe a kind of journey: essentially from nothing to something. From sparseness through to abundance, these artworks shift from being minimalist and monochromatic - with grain and tooth exposed - to being complete, fully covered and heavily layered paintings.
It’s probably best to start at the end, at least, the end of one life. Brussels, and the 'Jeu de Balle' flea market vendors are mostly those contacted to pick up the leftovers after a house clearance (so, the leftovers of leftovers). We - the diggers, the rummagers - are there to adopt these splinters of unknown homes and place them within the walls of new lives, new homes. Or in my case, to completely reroute these items, toward an entirely new purpose, yet they will remain indoors, enclosed (in a gallery, in a home). Brussels is where this all started, a city in a country well-known for it’s love of 'Les Puces'.
Since those first mornings spent in Brussels, at flea markets and in the city’s numerous antique and second hand shops (Petits Riens), I’ve aimed to push the inclusion of ‘found’ objects within my practice to the furthest extent possible. Throughout the creation of this exhibition, as well as returning to Brussels, I’ve visited dozens of antique quarters in cities and towns in France, Italy and closer to home. I’ve hunted down Brocantes and Vide Greniers (antique fairs and garage sales) all over France, and have returned to Paris’ plethora of vintage shops several times. I began this project painting upon simple planes: drawer bases, boards, table-tops. But I’ve gradually expanded the variety of items on which I paint, choosing increasingly more obscure items, and items of considerable age.
Each of the items on which I paint, has endured a life that speaks of function, of use, of wear. Take the pasted canvas scrolls that make The Pool and Exposed: these (now faded, discoloured and fragile) strips of hand stenciled destination signage - once prominent on a coach’s face - have revolved, rolled, and covered great distance, hour after hour, day after day for years, for decades. Take the coffee grinders that make Five Lands, Five Lakes: basic and yet integral parts of daily rituals, likewise the matchboxes, the compositor’s cases...
The opening Years of Dust & Dry artworks carry little, or even no paint at all. James Scott Elliot’s Slate exhibits only light repetitive scratching and dust. Its subject is imagined, more of a metaphor than a physical place. The final set in the show Four Seconds (Oil Oceans) and You are Time, Thick and Unwilling to Slow, is the opposite of James Scott Elliot’s Slate. These paintings are heavy, entirely covered in layered oil paint. Their physical, textured strokes are the direct opposite of light scratchings on slate. These are ‘complete’ paintings, in full colour. Created (and kept) outdoors, strapped down, these works comprise dozens of layers, applied over the course of two years.
And so loosely, between this emptiness, and this completeness, observe the gradual introduction of colour, starting with a dry-brushed layer of undiluted gouache. Observe the introduction of objects, of places, materials, weathers, weight, textures... Objects and imagery sourced during my travels, often simultaneously: I made four long expeditions over two years to source all of this. Old objects, ancient objects on which I’ve placed simplified and abstracted images often conceived in the self-same places the furniture and other items were purchased.
The overriding point of all this concerns time, memory. Small snippets, memories, fragments of ordinary life and passing (past) time. I intend for my artworks to read as small flickers upon beaten planes. Planes of unknown (but definite) age. Treated (fixed, repaired, sprayed) where necessary, because they can be. And so maybe a focus of this exhibition is erosion: both mental and physical. Cliff faces, coastal scenes: heavy, solid masses, that suffer frequent brutality, much more than the simple function of a door or table. Perhaps this exhibition isn’t an upward progression, concerning growth and construction, it’s more about stripping back. Deconstructing the notion of the painting to it’s rawest state, whilst also alluding to the subject of ageing, the passing of time.