The pebbles on Helen Macalister’s beach are like words - each has its own weight and particularity and each is worn down and turned over by the rising and falling tide of language. The picture is delicately wrought, the whole image emerging at a distance from the rhythmic pattern of dark markings that disturb the pale bleached ground. The calligraphy is intentionally precise, mirroring her fascination with the shape, sound and feel of words, as well as their haunting strangeness when isolated from the whole; only a nugatory suggestion of context remains, sometimes in the form of concealed letters and phrases, and sometimes in the fragments which she draws, prints and weaves into the picture’s fabric.
There is a spare poetry in her new work, the rubbed down hardness and salty gleam of its forms alluding to an older history, and in particular to the Gaelic tongue in which she continues to immerse herself. They are mysterious and painstaking, an act of distilled contemplation on a distant northern shore that has been continually reshaped through time and memory. They leave behind the mark of her elegant scrutiny, in a way that is reminiscent of Vija Celmins, who once said, ‘I try to leave the evidence of both thinking and making… like a fingerprint of all I know’.
Helen MacAlister, New Paintings & Drawings, Art First Projects, London, to 19 march 2009