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Opera North - The Little Greats

Figuring Light

15 December 08 words: Laura Gavin
Colour is a physical experience, a phenomenon that pulses through the atmosphere and vibrates through our very being

Jane Bustin, Violet and the War II,
oil and Hessian on wood
A lecture about colour. By the sounds of it, something which doesn’t immediately get my pulse racing. But the subject is being spoken about with such unashamed fervour by Trent University fellow Dr Richard Davey (appropriate, it is too easy to say, for someone who also serves as an Anglican minister in his daily life), that I am drawn in. Colour is a “physical experience”, he says, a phenomenon that pulses through the atmosphere and vibrates through our very being. Each colour has its own rhythm, it’s own wavelength and by glancing at objects around us, at any one time we are hit by wave after wave, sending signals to our brain, feeding our visual imagination.

His enthusiasm is affecting, and as the private view for Figuring Light at Lakeside Arts Theatre opens following the curator’s introduction, the exhibition seems infused with anticipation from all who attend. As the wine starts to flow, I examine a show in which the four featured artists scrutinise the way we see, feel and even shape colour as individuals.

Artist Wassily Kandinsky believed that primary colours could be represented and even defined by simple shapes, and, in our own time, sculptor Anish Kapoor has worked extensively with the shape-colour affinity. This tradition is continued by Richard Kenton-Webb, in his efforts to depict colour in its essential form. A series of giant canvases, swimming with tones of red, stretch across the main gallery wall. Though all paintings are entitled by this one colour - “The Movement of Red: Dark Redness (4 earth, external dark red sounds)” -greens, browns and greys also find their way through. What most people would think of as one entity; the colour of a pillar-box perhaps or a toy tractor, is celebrated in all its many facets. I feel guilty, almost, when I recognise familiar shapes in the jumble of line and form; a saxophone here, a door handle there. Because these images aren’t supposed to reveal hidden truths or anthropomorphic shapes but simply strive to be illustrations of how red looks and is.

Rebecca Partridge, The Dreaming, 2008

Rebecca Partridge, on the other hand, presents a kaleidoscopic disco with her work; rods of colour shoot out at all angles from various focal points like firework explosions. Pieces like “Double Dervish” depict quite effectively how the eye works in receiving the different wavelengths and “rhythms” of colour. Within her spaces, where the rays cross, new colours are created, just as we can imagine occurs when our brain makes sense of an object’s appearance.

As I travel through to the adjacent room, I find myself surprised by artist Jane Bustin, having been instinctively rather dismissive of the one image of hers I had seen prior to the exhibition. But “Ossulton Way” in the ‘flesh’ is much more rewarding than any reproduction could give it credit – a narrative walkway of colour and texture which traverses the gallery wall. And, confronted by “Violet and the Wall”, I view it rather greedily for several moments; the rough texture of the stained sacking material next to the smooth liquid blue of the paint presents a contrast which is visually very satisfying.

Facing opposite, Duncan Bullin’s collection ripples and merges; a series of canvases speckled with points which undulate before the eyes. The precision of their execution is reminiscent of Georges Seurat and the early-Impressionistic optical experiments in painting with contrasting and similar elements. Indeed, though their impact is far from overwhelming, you could easily imagine whiling away hours moving towards and away from the pieces and studying their effects in different lighting.

The connotations of colour, rather than its optical properties, is explored in another local exhibition; Red by Anthony Jadunath at New Art Exchange, Hyson Green. The tangle of racial, social and psychological issues is palpable upon experiencing the exhibition, especially when coupled as it is with Nigerian artist Sokari Douglas Camp’s retrospective in the main gallery. Read a review of Red here.

Colour, so often overlooked as a medium or a means to an end in art, finally takes centre stage in these two shows, though the way the subject is approached in each differs greatly; the one theoretical, the other emotional. The power of expression colour can wield is shown by Anthony Jadunath, and, in Figuring Light the elusive nature of it is joyously indulged, from the impossible nature of Kenton-Webb’s task, to the infinite images which reside in just one of Bullin’s dizzying pieces.

Figuring Light: Colour and the Intangible' is on at the Lakeside Arts Centre and until 18 January 2009.

Lakeside Arts Centre

 

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