10 April - 24 May 2014
TJ Boulting is delighted to present a group show exploring the role of the unconscious and the psychological in the work of five contemporary painters. The artists move in varying degrees between abstraction and figuration, but all express their own contemporary concerns relative to painting and the world around them, and the role of the unconscious for both artist and viewer in an understanding of their work. Since the Abstract Expressionists, and in particular the work of Rothko and Pollock, painting was considered a medium through which to explore the inner workings of the artist’s mind formally through colour, line and shape, often using the influence of Surrealism in terms of dreams and the unconscious for subject matter. As Pollock stated in an interview shortly before his death in 1956: “I'm very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you're painting out of your unconscious figures are bound to emerge.”
The abstract vibrating colour fields of Boo Saville continue her recent use of colour to express viscerally, as Rothko also previously intended, a stomach-churning emotion for the viewer. In earlier work Saville sourced images from books and the internet to reproduce figurative copies of subjects relating to death and the human condition, yet in recent work has decided to abandon literal sources of subject matter in favour of working more intuitively. Layers and layers of thin oil glazes gradually build colour fields that represent for her a subject matter which touches on emotion, using only the unconscious associations of colour. Saville states: “By taking images out I want the viewer to use another part of their brain in order to read them. They challenge you to contemplate them rather than read them.”
Rachel Howard’s paintings are known for the way in which they also use form and colour, with hints of the figurative subject matter, to explore ideas of the human condition, and their manifestations in themes from religion to suicide. As critic Sue Hubbard noted in an essay on Howard’s work in 2007: “Abstract painting involves an awareness not only of the formal use of space but also of the capacity to use colour to suggest a psychological 'narrative', to conjure, as do musical notes within a melody, an emotional state.” In this new work Howard uses the actual physical object of lace as a stencil for the painting, then smears and distorts the regimented pattern into more abstract forms. The lace triggers memories with old wallpaper, the figurative pattern tracing an association with a past that feels familiar. For Howard: “The pattern conjures an interior with a history; an enclosed space that can talk and breathe; that has memories or secrets.”
George Ziffo’s painting rests for him, “between portraiture and abstraction.” The works here at first seem abstract but on closer analysis and with titles such as ‘Untitled (Face)’, the figurative form of a recognisable face emerges for the viewer. “The paintings share a set of simplified features such as eyelets and ovals that are formally interchangeable and mutate between rudimentary portraits but still teeter of the verge abstraction.” He brings in the influence of perceptual psychology, the way the pre-conscious helps the mind understand and make associations within everyday life. As Ziffo explains: “The paintings evoke an uneasy sense of physical presence, testing figure-ground relationships, alternating between portals to, and masks of fictional personalities.”
The figures in Gorka Mohamed’s paintings are devised from a clear architecture of shapes, forms and objects, fused by a Baroque surrealism. Whereas the Abstract Expressionists in the 1950’s were faced with the new found ability of the world to destroy itself through holocaust and nuclear war, it is a contemporary concern of Mohamed that the media’s inundation and saturation of images, load his cartoon characters with our own morbid fears, that the characters of our own benign fantasy have turned sinister. As he states: “Through this pictorial language there is the intention to reflect on the things that are affecting us psychologically in our socio-cultural reality, as if the fact of presenting the toxic found in humanity would work as the catalyst of its own remedy.”
There is a haunting visual presence in the bold and colourful brushstrokes of Kikko Giannuzzi, derived from his own personal triggers of memories and the past, and which show an impulsive bravery to express through form and colour what many might be afraid of confronting. Outside of conventional art systems, and stemming from the influence of Jean Dubuffet and Art Brut, there is an honesty about the work of Giannuzzi which is disarming. As he states: “I reproduce in a totally unconscious way what I see in the white canvas, the subjects choose me, often nightmares, and in my paintings I look for a safe place that I sometimes find. Home.” It is the stuff of dreams and nightmares, but through his instinctive exploration of colour and form we understand the very primal expression he looks for and finds in paint.