Reviews and articles by Luke Elwes
Anthony D’Offay Gallery Galleries Magazine Jan 1988
Waddington Galleries Galleries Magazine June 1988
The Art of Papunya Tula
Rebecca Hossack Gallery Galleries Magazine June1989
Albemarle Gallery Galleries Magazine Oct 1989
Turner: Painting & Poetry
Tate Gallery Galleries Magazine May 1990
Marlborough Fine Art Galleries Magazine Sept 1990
Carlos Forns Bada
Raab Gallery Galleries Magazine Dec 1990
Manchester & Norwich Museums Royal Academy Magazine May 1991
Tate Gallery Galleries Magazine July 1991
Purdy Hicks Gallery Galleries Magazine Sept 1991
The Japan Festival
Victoria & Albert Museum Royal Academy Magazine Oct 1991
Gimpel Fils Gallery Royal Academy Magazine Jan 1992
Woodlands Art Gallery Galleries Magazine Nov 1992
to Natalie Wheen's essay Modern Painters Dec 1992
Georgia O’ Keeffe
Hayward Gallery Royal Academy Magazine Apr 1993
Images of Christ
St. Paul’s Cathedral Royal Academy Magazine July 1993
V& A Museum Royal Academy Magazine Oct 1993
Passport To Paint
Luke Elwes Traveller Magazine Oct 1993
Spanish Still Life
National Gallery Royal Academy Magazine Mar 1995
Marlborough Fine Art Galleries Magazine Nov 1995
A Christmas Story
by Luke Elwes Harpers & Queen Dec 1995
Modern Painters June1996
Mysteries of Ancient China
British Museum Royal Academy Magazine Oct 1996
by Luke Elwes Readers Digest Dec 1996
Letter from Himalayas
by Luke Elwes Harpers & Queen Mar 1997
Looking not Thinking
by Luke Elwes Modern Painters Oct 1997
Tate Retrospective Royal Academy Magazine May 1998
London Gallery Survey Galleries Magazine July 1998
Rebecca Hossack Gallery Galleries Magazine Oct 1998
Browse and Darby Gallery Galleries Magazine Dec 1998
British Museum Royal Academy Magazine May 2000
Blue Gallery Galleries Magazine Oct 2000
Elgin Gallery Galleries Magazine Feb 2001
Broadbent Gallery A Floating World, catalogue essay June 2001
Lamont Gallery Galleries Magazine Sept 2001
The Blind man & the Elephant
by Luke Elwes Modern Painters (unpublished) Mar 2001
Rites of Passage
Survey of recent Art Graduates Royal Academy Magazine Oct 2001
Browse and Darby Galleries Magazine Oct 2002
New York Letter
by Luke Elwes Modern Painters Jan 2003
Eagle Gallery/Emma Hill Galleries Magazine Mar 2003
Archeus Fine Art Galleries Magazine Mar 2004
Gagosian Gallery Birkbeck,Lodon University, June 2004
by Luke Elwes Exhibition Catalogue Mar 2006
Said Gallery, Oxford Galleries Magazine July 2006
India & Contemporary Art in the West
by Luke Elwes Masters Dissertation, London University 2007
3 Recent texts
Twombly and Gagosian (Galleries Magazine, June 2004)
Behind a cool smoked glass screen down an anonymous side street in Kings Cross lies one of the newest and largest galleries in London. Although its setting may resemble W24th street in Manhattan, in truth there is something about the awesome scale and uniformed security which is a million miles away from the chaos of building work and traffic noise that surrounds it. Here taste and money bear down on you, demanding a willing compliance with it’s big gun status.
On four giant walls hang ten large paintings by the oracular master Cy twombly, each encased in a wooden frame washed in gun metal grey that seems only to reinforce the creeping sense of unease at daring to disturb the sepulchral stillness of this giant mausoleum. It makes a stark contrast to the airy classicism and generous green vistas of the Serpentine gallery, where a survey of the last half century of Twombly’s work recently ended. The ludic quality of his work on paper is quite absent in these new paintings, all completed this year, all the same size and all resolutely untitled. The variety and speed of his mark making has here been reduced to a more singular and stately pace. The colours too are spare and uniform, a combination of dark sepia, duck egg blue and flat white. The vibrant tints of his most recent works on paper are absent, the feint traces of rose and lemon in one of the new paintings all but obliterated. There are a few Twombly signature marks - the hand smears impressed on knots of paint,the apparently careless dribbles left to run their course - but not many. The range is decidedly narrow. Almost entirely gone is the scriptural dimension, the sharply incised letters and teasing incantations. The large brown marks hang mutely in space, as though from the hand of a giant calligrapher, but without the suggestive power of this erstwhile cryptographer. You don’t search as you once might have for occluded meaning, the urge to decipher diminished by the physical unravelling of the code as the paint work slumps and dissolves. He’s like a Zen master who in the pursuit of nothing chooses to write in the pouring rain. And the vertical drips slow these pictures down where once a diagonal thrust could energise the clusters of pigment in their peculiar groupings on empty grounds. Now everything floats evenly in aqueous space, with unfolding shapes that suggest root- like tendrils or seaweed, or even mud bloated worms in tidal shallows. The underbelly of Monet’s waterlilies, whose scale and serenity they possibly seek to echo. And there are other echoes too. The flat house paint and grand gestural structures of Franz Kline are somewhere in here, a reminder of Twombly’s famous lineage, while something in the sober tones and attenuated forms returns the onlooker to the simple rough hewn totems of his north African drawings of fifty years ago. Occasionally you sense an affinity with the loose meanderings of de Kooning’s last paintings. However there is something wise in these late works, a kind of mystical emptiness that eschews the sublime. We are still rooted in phenomenal matter.
But if they remain essentially true to his child like impulses, they are nevertheless at odds with their value as icons, and it is this other level of meaning which predominates. While the eye registers filaments of house paint on hardboard the head knows that it is a desirable objects for the few that they are here paraded. While Cy Twombly’s own inimitable signature is pencilled high up on one of his panels, Larry Gagosian’s large name hovers with predatory elegance on the face of the building and the market place.
Luke Elwes 2004
(catalogue text, published as A Floating World, Broadbent Gallery London 2001)
In his studio,as in his life, ‘everything floats’. Sam Francis’ world seemed to be always on the move. Barely had he set up home, studio, family, in one country than he was off again, setting a new course - for California, France, Switzerland or Japan. A restless energy that was of the air rather than the earth. Likewise in his mind, which ranged freely and widely, floating over the ordered terrain of European abstraction, the vibrant expanse and saturated light of the American West, and the empty space of Zen Buddhism, without ever seeming to come to ground anywhere for long enough to be trapped by deeper, and so inevitably slower (and perhaps darker) exploration.
This was the pilot grounded in a wartime crash who, while lying on his back for over a year staring skywards, determined to reach altitude once more in his imagination. For a time his luminous colours, especially his blues, would hover on the point of dissolution in white space. For some observers this lightness of touch was suspect. David Sylvester for example, commenting on his first show in London at Gimpel Fils in 1957 (from which one of the watercolours in this show comes), likened the evanescent nature of his surfaces to Rothko but without the content, ambiguous but substantive, of the latter’s work: ‘Sam Francis gets Rothko’s subtle paleness but not his concreteness, and this may explain why he is so much more highly esteemed in England than in America’.
Yet it wasn’t always an easy ride. At moments in his life, if not literally, he would crash again. Brought down by debilitating illness in Tokyo in 1961, he would nevertheless use his physical immobility to launch his thinking on a new trajectory, reworking his ethereal blues into biomorphic symbols; blue balls that began as a way of identifying physical pain but which soon floated free of their origins, released into a space that seems to be both stellar and microscopic. It happened again during his final illness in the 1990s when, frustrated by the inability to use his right arm, he rose up in one final burst of manic energy to produce 152 small paintings with his left arm. While these last may lack the clarity of his earlier work, they nevertheless reinforce an aspect of what continues to make him important: as an example to artists no longer working in the optimistic sunlight of the 1960s, but in the shadows of a more conceptual and ironic climate, of an indomitable spirit. His unrestrained joy in the act of painting and mark making is a necessary reminder of the need, and of a painter’s corresponding capacity, to celebrate life.
Even as he came increasingly to command and communicate empty space - pushing his paint right to the edge, as he did in the late 60s (and of which there is a good example here, a gouache from circa 1966) - he never lost hold of that sense of excitement and possibility. This was not space as nothing, the ‘emptying out’ that it became for Newman and Rothko. For at any moment its white expanse might be traversed, leaving a chromatic jetstream in its wake, or else gently punctuated with the lightest dot or squiggle, as when motes in the eye dance across a clear sky.
It was a quality which many artists, starting in this country with Patrick Heron who, like David Sylvester, saw and wrote about his work for the first time in 1957, came to recognize and appreciate. Another contemporary champion was fellow Californian painter Richard Diebenkorn, with whom Francis briefly shared a studio, and who like him continues to be less known in this country than he should be. Which makes it all the more timely that this survey, the first in London since his death in 1994, should introduce a range of work from periods in his life which are likely to surprise a new and younger audience.
If, as some writers have suggested, the paintings lack gravitas, it is in one sense at least because they defy gravity; devoid of existential angst, they float free, present in the moment and as fragile as a daydream. To see him in one of the photographs of the studio, surrounded by his exuberant outpourings, is to be reminded of Walt Disney’s Fantasia, in which the Sorcerer’s Apprentice mischievously animates the space around him with a riot of flicked and splashed colour before order and sense once more return. An artist who so palpably enjoyed himself can only make you smile.
Luke Elwes June 2001
In the studio
(text of a talk given at Art First Contemporary, London, September 2004)
Imagine that, instead of looking at a painting you are a painter.
Morning light fills the studio, a space of paint covered floorboards measuring six by six metres,
a silent container of possibilities.
Some days there is nothing there, because nothing is seen. Postcards,drawings, maps, and books lie all around in dormant heaps. A few are bleached, torn, paint spattered, suggestive still of momentary meaning. They are the scattered references of a strange and familiar journey.
You stand in this space, looking and waiting. Not for something new, but rather for what is newly seen. Somewhere in that drift of paper, with its fragments of thought and grains of suggestion, is the starting point for a painting. The thing seen out of the corner of the eye that may be briefly held and made known.
What absorbs you entirely is the curious process by which the visible first becomes visible, before the thing seen has been given a name. It’s a silent game, this waiting for the moment when a painting comes to a painter. Tom Stoppard articulates this feeling in a passage from “The Coast of Utopia” : A poem can’t be written by an act of will. When the rest of us are trying our hardest to be present a real poet goes absent. Every work of art is the breath of a single idea breathed by God into the inner life of the artist.
What is this space,the studio, but the mind at work? A place in which to search but not escape, a purgatory at worst, a threshold at best. Maybe today it will be possible to look up and out through its walls, make of the space a vehicle for navigating the stars. Or maybe not, as in the long work of dreamless sleep. Either way, the painting will be have to be worked, sometimes rapidly, at other times with great patience, but usually to the point of exhaustion. In its unresolved condition it will have to be left to rest, to return to darkness.
In a new light and on another day you will return, and hope to be taken by surprise, like a witness to authorless action. Gradually the studio secretes those simple means for transformation, whereby a painting may start to breath on its own.
You look quickly, without judgment, sensing the uncertainty that begins to stain your way of looking and which will then impel you to act once more. And in acting, the odds begin to shorten, the surface loosing its vitality as it is stripped back and remade, the paint travelling down deeper and narrower passages, closing down possibilities as it goes.
You may be lost once more, searching in a dark wood for the path you once knew. This has to be accepted because the studio is also, in Anish kapoor’s phrase, ‘a laboratory of failure’. The tools allow for experiment but not for its undoing. However intractable and unyielding the material may seem, the chance always remains of finding a way through. To get lost in a painting and never know for sure what it is about is how William de Kooning described it.
If we keep looking at paintings, it is not least because the handling of paint itself is always unique - it is after all done by hand. Painters continue to show us how we don’t look, or at least not enough. When they are good, they reveal the very thing we have forgotten to see. About the Spanish painter Miguel Barcelo, John Berger was moved to write that the process of painting is highly tactile. Yet what he is hoping to touch is not normally tangible. This is the only real mystery. And later on, about not looking he says, what any true painting touches is an absence - an absence of which, without the painting, we might be unaware. Curious indeed, but an essential part of what makes being a painter worthwhile.
Luke Elwes 2004