Since the beginning of this year, Luke Elwes has been working on a series of paintings based on the experience of travelling by boat along a stretch of the river Ganges. The Ganga paintings draw on the power of this sacred river flowing through the precarious lives of the people and cultures that have thrived throughout history on its banks. His method of working gives rise, he says, to a mood of reverie. Thinking about climate change, water shortages or floods, the power of the river to give and to take, he makes his gentle marks with rich colours and areas of emptiness. These he dissolves and floats, sometimes with river water or oil paint thinners which he allows to trickle or flow across his paper or canvas. The results seem to reflect light, inviting us to look into them quietly as if they were pools of water. There, nothing is permanent but everything is connected.
The new installation of 'Journey', a five meter long mural painted in 2001 for a private collection
'Pittori di Londra' brings together a select group of British painters past and present for a 10th anniversary exhibition curated by Lino Mannocci at Galleria Ceribelli, Bergamo Italy.
The catalogue includes an essay by Catherine Lampert and the exhibition runs until July 2017.
This image - suggesting both a springing forth and a seasonal shift - is derived from a large oak tree that sits by the water’s edge on the east coast: a totemic presence, at once resisting and shaped by the elemental force of tides and weather. What appears at ground level to be silhouetted branches rising up into a bright blue expanse of sky and water might also be viewed from above as an intricate web of lines recalling the branching tributaries of a river. It is a territory punctuated with yellow markings, scattered fragments of sunlight that also suggest an eruption of spring growth.
A web of black birch and silver on water, on pasture,
Netting the pillars of colour, lacing the pillars of light,
A reticulation of ambiguous space we gaze into, through,
Yet always end on the surface, where we start.
This is a time to take refuge in the connectedness of things and
Forsake the privileged instant for the gradual and continuous.
Our moments mate and spawn like the forfeit of
One decision towards a greater shared reality,
Improving truth with pattern,
The solid dissolving in a new winterlight,
A branching and echoing interruption of
Horizon or vanishing point.
In the business of looking, I collect, you surrender:
But the least push deserves an answering pull.
Christmas Poem 2015 by Andrew Lambirth
In his recent work Luke Elwes conjures up a particular space where land and water meet, where the shifting light radiates through a tree line or across coastal marshland and where the tides move back and forth through a delicate maze of creeks and channels. They reveal chance encounters with a myriad of visual stimuli: passing birds, rolling mist, scattered flora, wind blown leaves or drifting shapes, floating on, reflected in, the passing streams.
They are a fragile record of process and time, the uncertain result of a particular moment of elemental engagement, made without correction in one sitting. The location varies - sometimes close to home, sometimes in remote locations - and provides just a beginning, a way of collecting particles of colour and light, and a way of observing the play of prevailing conditions on a surface which, once it is scattered with incidental markings and stained with coloured pigment and organic matter, is then allowed to become saturated by the surrounding waters. And each time the resulting image belongs as much to the elements as to the artist who began it.
Final weeks painting in the resident artists's studio at the Albers foundation in Connecticut USA
Over the summer there is a rare chance to see the work of Bridget Riley and Piet Mondrian in two concentrated surveys that selectively explore their respective preoccupations with grids and stripes, as well as revealing the debt owed to one by the other. (Riley, it should be remembered, co-curated the Mondrian show at the Tate in 1996.)
Mondrian seemed (according to the curators' narrative at Turner Contemporary) to move away by stages from representing what he saw - a homeland of flat fields and sky, occasionally interrupted by vertical willow branches - towards a reductive language of line and colour built from the primary components (as he saw it) that constitute the visual field.
Riley meanwhile has steadily moved over the course of fifty years from purely optical surface arrangements in black and white back towards a more variegated and sensual engagement with the natural world of light and color. The hard white stripes of her work from the early 1960s steadily soften over time into panels of air and light, rhythmically punctuating the finely calibrated bands of colored pigment in ways that variously distil the sensation of bright heat or a cool morning (in Rise, Late Morning and Apres Midi for example).
The diagonal bands in her largest piece here, Prairie (above), read like an aerial view of an endless expanse of cultivated ground, echoing the moment when Mondrian finally freed himself from the horizon to move over the chequer board pattern of fields beneath and which would eventually allow his spare colour grids to float free of their representative beginnings. But what both painters share above all, beyond the formal rigor of their work, and despite the differing trajectory of their journeys over time, is a closeness to the experience of nature, what Riley describes as “the dynamism of visual forces - an event rather than an appearance”
Even if, by lifting two artists from different times and places out of their context, you run the risk of misrepresenting what they are about it can be interesting; you might visually connect the Romantic Sublime to modern abstraction by comparing Turner with Rothko for example - but in what sense might he be meaningfully compared to the Rothko’s younger American contemporary Helen Frankenthaler?
There is no real evidence that she looked at or was influenced by Turner’s work and by focusing selectively on work that displays a common liking for saturated colour and vaporous atmosphere the comparison runs the risk of showing up her aqueous colour fields as overblown and under resolved. There is also a danger of misreading them as landscapes. It’s difficult, when primed by Turner’s nearby seascapes, not to read ‘Overture’ 1992 (above) as a dark sea beneath a turbulent green sky; likewise ‘The Bay’ (1963) which is less obviously a coastal location as a reservoir of fathomless blue pigment contained in a canvas field. This is as unhelpful to her as to Turner, whose later work, from ‘The Evening Star’ (below) to his small ‘colour beginnings’ were never intended as abstractions, or prototypical colour field paintings, but as specific studies of light effects at a certain time of day in a particular place. Putting two artists together should allow you to return to each with fresh eyes, or at least with an altered perspective, but here the gulf remains too wide between the sharp tonality of one and the loose gestural staining of the other.
Frankenthaler’s work is about the surface itself, the way raw canvas receives poured paint and how it either runs and disperses over it or is absorbed into its fibres. Turner by contrast conjures up space, whether in the empty deep horizon of 'Evening Star' or the smokey wisps of cloud floating through a yellow tinted sky. The colour is equivalent to light rather than a thing in itself. They might both employ washing and staining but the intention differs – Frankenthaler chooses to let the action reveal the image where Turner seeks to represent the impact of observable phenomena: she remains wedded to Greenberg, he to nature. Frankenthaler was working at a particular moment in New York, proceeding from Pollock’s gestural movements to the project she shared with Morris Louis and others in dissolving the separation between canvas support and image. Her only backward glance is to Edward Manet, another master of surface effect; otherwise if the curator wanted a dialogue between her and a British painter (notwithstanding the name of the gallery) then Roger Hilton or Patrick Heron might have served him better.