Helen Blake, David Crone, Tony Hill: Works on paper, Fenderesky Gallery I, Belfast, Sept 7 – Oct 7, 2017

Works on paper – what does it mean to you? It is a specific art speak  born out of undisciplined open ended dionysian intoxication with multitude of materials an artist can use to make visual art on the ubiquitous paper. Paper thus anchors a class of objects that may look like painting, a low relief, collage or print, or a greeting card.

Paper is the net into which all the ephemeral instincts, thoughts, feelings, broken promises, stubbornly chiseled decisions  fall like into a voluntary prison.

Jamshid Mirfenderesky displayed them on the glorious airiness of the white wall – evoking visual aesthetics of harmony amongst the strangers.  It worked like a composition as big as this  groundfloor gallery.

He situated a group of small painting by Helen Blake  as a grid conversing with the daylight coming through the glass wall from outside. Hence the intimacy of each image was heightened. They did not agitate for attention, confident that your eye will eventually look at each of them – akin flowers in the meadow, they were not competing amongst themselves.  Reminiscent of abstract mosaics in Italian churches, Blake’s paintings mastered the muteness, silence as visual power.

Choir 2017, 25 watercolour paintings on Langton paper, 15 x 10.5cm see http://www.helengblake.com

Each is strongly individual refusing similarities even of nuanced tone, every red out of seven present is different, for instance.  The greys – to my surprise, hold to one tone, possibly because the white  patterns breaking them  cannot be modulated enough? It is watercolour – after all.  Another quality wrestles for attention –  the hard edge in watercolour  is particularly demanding an intention.  Blake has written that she paints freehand – slowly moving the brush to obtain accuracy of the edge with  few trespasses.  If you try it you will appreciate her effort and success. The  different saturations and tonality tell the story how the drawn image was given its painterly character.   The geometry is like a shelter where one flow meets another, in a kind of animation that reveals different characters: strong, weak, gentle, forceful etc. Some quietly immobile, others chatty and  on the move.

I strongly suspect that this “installation” is a collaboration of both Blake and MirFenderesky. It is beautiful as a whole as well as in parts.

 

David Crone  offers a surprise: words – Snow after Louis MacNeice – a poet. Made once  for an exhibition on the theme of poetry this is a rare departure from his style of painting.

However, its power, gentle yet insisting, does not come across in the small scale, like it is here.  The whole has an aura of a birth of a day – of morning light promising to stay.  The words are the curtain being drawn  the let the light in.  Choice of light rococo sensuality  of a high key is accompanied in that effort by abandonment to variety of marks  holding them all in that warm gray frame. Note – that it is unfinished, open, where you may, as if, walk into it. All the noisy calligraphy does not win your attention without your curiosity to read the words, written so densely as to frustrate your effort. As a reward, the colour the words are written in allows the background hues to talk as well.

Two other drawings  satisfy the expectation of quality, but do not offer the excitement  of mute poetry.

Ballymacarn

Reminiscent of ancient mesopotamian tablets  the “black broken marks” link Ballymarcan with the Snow…  The black neurotic wiggles speak of damage of growth, loss of life, a sort of closed history, like any dry twig you may find on the floor of the forest, while the renewal happens next to it.

 

Tony Hill  displayed his drawings over the far corner of the gallery.

Each images focuses attention by different means: vibrant contrasting hues unsettle the distances from observing eye   in one, and next to it the differently coloured dots obediently stay calm  in a given  depth ( or absence of depth). Activating different visual centres  taps into  the way we allocate meaning by linking unrelated elements. In turn it taps into survival responses, not excluding  aesthetics.

Unexpected visceral force of the hues and “scribbles”  is not an easy “sibling” to Hill’s measured minimalism.  Yet, in this case,  it has  relaxed into  studied carelessness – albeit too dionysian to fit the tradition of  sprezzatura.

 

As a whole this exhibition issued a sincere promise to Italo Calvino’s hope that 21st C will not kill off silent poetry of visual thought.

 

Images courtesy of the artists.

 

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