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A Long Engagement: Contemporary Abstract Art at Backlit Gallery

4 November 19 words: Rich Hughes
photos: Rich Hughes

This new exhibition celebrates the work of seven artists, featuring a range of abstract art which varies freely in theme, tone and technique.  A playfully experimental vibe informs the work and is evidence of the artistic boundaries these individuals have challenged. Seven artists brought together with Backlit Director Mathew Chesney, in a democratic and collaborative collective.

Without funding, and utilising what Mathew describes as a “non-hierarchical response”, much enthusiasm and commitment has resulted in a vibrant contribution to Nottingham’s contemporary art scene.

From Rob Hart’s mysterious treaties on lost iconography in an ever-changing landscape, Carole Hawthorne’s essays on colour and invitation to examine layers and shape, to Shelia Ravnkilde’s manipulation of objects and capturing of movement within a space.

Louisa Chamber’s playful yet thoughtful questions on shape, architecture and colour, Ryan Heath’s urban examination and spatial trickery, Terry Shave’s vision of seeing through the veil into a dark sensuous world, to Lois Gardner Sabet’s soaring, musically influenced, textile-like work, there is much to wonder and consider.

The gallery space, wide and bright, is punctuated by the colour and form of the displayed and installed work.  The atmosphere evokes a reminder to be mindful. On entering, I’m faced with Sheila Ravnkilde’s work, a black column suspended from the ceiling.  I am immediately challenged to consider the space I’m standing in, and my relationship to it. 

The slender, textured dark monolith is imposing, dominant.  Moving into the area beyond, I am rewarded with more of Sheila’s art.  Coloured blocks occupy the floor; a riot of colour, in perhaps a deliberate juxtaposition to the monolith whilst retaining the same sense of occupation.  I walk through them, noticing the same patterns of movement and fluidity on their faces as on the monolith, shifting with the light.

As I continue to walk around, I see reminders of the Backlit buildings industrial past, and the passage of time adds a particular resonance to the gallery.  Lois Gardner Sabet’s work in particular is further enhanced by its position in this worn, industrial space; using the existing features to frame her art, the paint-frayed white walls in stark contrast to the elegant, sophisticated patterns and rich colours she employs.  The rhythm, balance and form Lois uses reveals her musical influences, a jazz tempo of pattern and colour.

By using the archways of the building, a suggestion of gazing through church windows is reinforced; an illusion of stained glass.  Lois’ work allowing us to see through the barriers of the decaying brickwork into a colourful, layered world beyond.

Terry Shave also offers a window into another world.  The photo-realistic elements he uses are wonderfully blended with more illusory images, proposing a hallucinogenic glimpse into a fantasy land; an overt suggestion of looking through parted curtains to what lies beyond.  This is a sensuous, dark place; and it is a fragile veil that separates us. The sheen adds to the glossy, seductive quality, perfectly complimenting the lush colours and dream-like imagery.

Rob Hart’s work offers a different examination of our relationship with our environment, with a desire to explore what he calls the “in-between places”.  The world on the edge of our urban environment, and the structures that occupy them. The shrouded shapes in Rob’s work have genuine presence and place in the landscape, becoming almost elemental.

There is undeniably a beautiful desolation on display here. The hinterlands Rob describes have that quality.  Perhaps our being, our consciousness, is represented by the buildings in Robs’ paintings. We too are vessels, drifting through the landscape, occupying the in-between spaces of each others minds.

Ryan Heaths’ artwork is a journey into urban modernity and he draws from the city environment that he travels through in a reflective manner.  It resonates with a strongly familiar industrial vocabulary whilst contradicting itself with strange, organic shapes. The materials, method and influence are connected in a linear way; observation, metal and digitisation clash to create a simple, but brilliant illusion.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but it’s not what you first think. Well it is. However, it is possible to see Carole Hawthorne’s evolving style in the work displayed here.  A change of palette, from subtle complexity to something stronger and bolder. Her brave, assured use of large blocks offer sublime transition to the detailed, multiple layering of texture, shape and changes of colour.  The work seems more instinctive, the uniformity suggesting balance, beauty and aesthetic value to the artist. 

Louisa Chambers’ work is also a demonstration of her changing and evolving vision; the lattice work she paints on the wall inspiring us to examine the relationship between figure and ground, whilst simultaneously framing and consolidating her ongoing work.  She invites us to move forward with her, as we move from more carefree, whimsically patterned elements evident in her work to more architectural and structured points of reference. The palette and decorative elements remain, suggesting the importance of retaining our sense of fun and joy as we move on.

The exhibition is an opportunity to join the artists in a conversation about form, colour, texture and space. The dynamic and triumphant work on show here both challenging and rewarding; certainly worthy of your engagement.

You can see 'A Long Engagement' until November 8th, 2019. 

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