HELEN G BLAKE at Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast, 16 April – 16 May 2015

At the time of writing, this exhibition  of fourteen small paintings has not  been  documented on her website (www.helengblake.com). Their sizes around  A 4 or a one fifth bigger forge a call for privacy, not unlike  covers  or title pages of closed books or files.  The visual hypnotically attracts silence and contemplative attitude  – not an overt discussion or  a sharp analytic critique.

The mesmerizing illusion of  rectangles descending into a depth oscillates  with flat marks  that refuse to be either planar or linear, behind the concentric blue  frames, descending to the centre.  Behind them, the fragments of the green, pale blue and black   almost succeed to insist on being a continuous plane, especially the green hue labours along that wish.  Yet, just few of the light blue uncertain shapes positioned in haphazard repetition have punctured holes in any pretense of flat ground.   The black grid adopts two positions – as a ground and as a stitch over a green ground. What could have been an indeterminate juxtaposition becomes a prisoner behind an alley of bars.

Filling the Impluvium, 2014, oil on linen, 32cm x 26cm.

Filling the Impluvium, 2014, oil on linen, 32cm x 26cm.


Impluvium  was a right angled   indentation  to collect rain water   inside  a  Roman atrium house with an opening  in the  middle – no roof.   The Latin   verb impluere translates as  rain into.  The painting ignores the possible representation of an atrium slowly collecting raindrops  – filling the whole with busy grids of green, black, pale blue and blue grey. The rapid march of rectangles towards the calmer centre  calls  on symmetry  to dominate the  fragmented areas, similar to how a chromatic chord can steady a shrill of a melody ( the pale blue over the black) . This painting knows about op-art. Differs by emphasis on hand made uneven marks  and  distances.  It achieves an illusion of depth  by leaving the green rectangles in the middle in stasis  that contrasts the rapid march  from edges to the centre.  Helen Blake thinks of ” colours in conversation” – and makes it visible to me.

Their conversation is not entirely harmonious. Some are louder and overwhelming others. Yet the splinters of pale blue do get “heard”. They pierce the hegemony of others.  It is not just the hue and tone, it is also the pathway the painter selects for each that strongly contribute to the illusion of sound, and feed the association with architecture…


Sweets for Hetty and Ted, 2014, oil on linen, 26cm x 32cm.

Sweets for Hetty and Ted, 2014, oil on linen, 26cm x 32cm.


The illusion of volume rising up from right to left  anchored in a mid-point – evokes synesthesia as well as an association with architecture. Where  the Filling the Impluvium image is grounded in a function, here  the image  is dependent on  appearance, on similarity to seats in an amphitheatre  or to a modernist roof construction. Even when no association is welcome, the differences in high key of the ground plane and near monochrom of the related curves  invite a dialogue.

A Fair Field, 2013, oil on linen, 20.5cm x 25.5cm.

A Fair Field, 2013, oil on linen, 20.5cm x 25.5cm.

It’s title refers to a place, a field, the image does not correspond to a particular, familiar or not,  natural surface. Its world is thus  elsewhere.  The pale hues cover those underneath in a somnolent shade of grey pushed to life by the energy of the singularity of pink – and its art deco figuration in two colours. It is also a reminder of classical Greek architecture, the Doric order’s triglyphs.

Doric style

This petite colour field is also a kind of visual dialogue between the geometric confident figure and somnabulous fogg over the grey part.  The Doric order is masculine and rational. The grey  abstract  is mysterious and withdrawing. The olive green on the left  sonorously  reminds of missing colours patiently waiting outside the frame.  This, most “silent” of exhibits stubbornly insists on values of contemplation. It is more of a memory than of a salute, reminiscent of old tradition of other world – as nourished by multitude of painting on a theme of Sacra Conversatione/Santa Conversazione.  The vertical pattern looks at the grey horizontals  conjuring  a symbolic world. In parallel and perhaps memory of   “disinterested” saints  surrounding a Madonna and her vision of the other world.


Domenico Ghirlandaio


Even repeated abstraction hides anthropomorphic forms in free association … and when the visual looks so fiercely  at a viewer.

Pool of Rhythms, 2011,oil on linen, 25.5 x 20.5cm


Not just hue and tone also texture  seem to be deflecting the tradition of Apelles and Zeuxis  in favour of importance of “thinking in images”. The repetitiveness of thought is diminished by the appearance of low relief of paint in blobs.  It reminds both of string theory and fuzzy logic as two patterns of cognition. The irreverence to the austerity of the uniform figures is embodied in  the intoxicating movements of the brushtrokes, even if with some tiny mannierisms.

Mayfly Screen  is most complex among  the painting exhibited together.

Mayfly Screen, 2015, oil on linen, 26cm x 32cm.

Mayfly Screen, 2015, oil on linen, 26cm x 32cm.


Multitude of converging contributions do not repel attention to the the whole,  an ever so disciplined central composition. The blue  holds itself out of true horizontal as if in a effort to connect, behind the screen with the two orange/red fragments. It introduces element of play, irreverent disobedience of the rule of symmetry.

A more passionate conversation of colours than the previous  ones and less loud than the Filling the Impluvium.  Blake’s  abstraction achieves the same convincing presence as Altfest’s painting of known reality.

Ellen Altfest The hand (detail) 2011, oil on canvas curtesy MKG

Ellen Altfest The hand (detail) 2011, oil on canvas curtesy MKG

Both images appeal to our  contemplative faculty – such a welcome intrusion into ordinary world,  our ugly, noisy and violent  world,  deliberately accentuated  by the curator of  this year Venice Biennial.

Blake’s paintings speak of a different future.


About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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