Photo: Copyright Simon Pantling
Maybe it’s something in the air, economic demands, or just a chin-rubbing reappraisal of historically bounded presumptions but Manchester / Salford (UK) is currently filling art type spaces with a long overdue reassessment of where painting has got to in the last twenty years.
On show in Salford is International 3 Gallery’s contribution in the form of Stuart Edmundson’s “...like dancing to dogs.”
The ellipse and lowercase italics of the title already points to the show’s willfully fragmentary construction - paintings, a digital projection, a large freestanding screen, sculptures pieced together from studio detritus and the wall-hugging length of a digital print repeating out-of-focus illuminated icons.
It’s an ‘installation’ which refuses to be a painting exhibition or a theatre-set but suggests both occupying the space at one and the same time.
The largest component is an eight feet tall, four panel birch wood screen. The surface is peppered with routed gaps to leave the whole thing looking like the wandering curls of a broad regular line framed in a rectangle. Both a functionally unsuccessful vanity screen and an unresolved drawing exercise, along with a two-part, floor seated digital projection, its linear movements are a nod towards the temporal dimension of a drawing and paintings production.
The portrait format halves of the digital projection touch on their vertical side. The left projection shows a static camera playback of a bay in Thailand covering the period of sunset. The horizon line is the point of contact between sky and sea. Little happens but the incremental shift in colours. The right hand panel is initially hard to interpret but formally similar. The top half is a grey blue awning, the bottom the infinite blue of an empty sky.
The bulk of the other component bits of the show are, for want of a better word, paintings which are abstract.
In the largest canvas, covering an area of the previously described digital print, a peculiar dominating shape looks like the slumped and overstuffed calcified innards of an old armchair or equally an anthropomorphic compact of object and human body. Furnishing, body, sculpture, the thing nearly pictured is, however, of no real consequence; the ability of paint to direct the viewers eye around the fictive space is.
The smaller paintings on display are equally unreadable spatial gameplays but blocky forms make the (non) pictures more architectural and solid.
Within the framing boundary of the paintings, Edmundson seems to want to leave the impression that, although in reality mixed, colours which retain the freshness of a primary have been forced into proximity. The synthetic brightness is quietly undercut by considered complementaries which balance the exercise. There may be a lack of modeling graduations but nuanced smears and shadowing hold the picture space together, no matter how intentionally ambiguous that space may be.
Paradoxically it’s the limited ambient colours which insinuate themselves into the air, the ones which punctuate the gallery even by their spatial absence, which are equally important.
It may be most useful to assume that alien washes of muted pinks and blues have invisibly invaded the space and occasionally reveal themselves: in the ambient buzz of a digital projectors images; in the staining of canvas rags crudely sewn together, and as a creeping tonality in almost all the paintings in the show.
It’s actually this limited palette of colour which acts as the real visual glue to the whole thing; grounds the physical spatial play of punctured screen, wire mesh construction material, the legs and rectangles of a table shaped plinth sketched in space.
This brings the mucking about with space back to the fore.
There’s a very limited range of terms habitually used to discuss ‘the visual‘ and therefore a very limited way of thinking about the experience of looking.
For Edmundson the problems of painting aren’t a problem at all just a fact. The fact is that painting is purely and simply coloured stuff in space. Everything else is an unnecessary and noisy embellishment.
The more thoroughly one considers this suggestion that the noise of discourse really is just noise, the more thoroughly destabilizing Edmundson’s perspective is and the more significant the deadpan humour which underpins the exhibition becomes.
Just because something’s colourful doesn’t mean it isn’t quite dark.