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Exhibition Review: Catching Matter at Beam Gallery

4 July 22 words: George Dunbar

A series of lime plaster boards with interwoven patterns and inky shapes have the appearance of stone tablets with galaxies and constellations on them. They are the product of experiments from the past several years with traditional craft techniques and natural materials in a meditation on the meaning of material and form. This is artist Geoff Diego Litherland’s latest series of work Catching Matter, which is now presented at Beam Gallery

For many of us, the past few years have been an introspective, contemplative period with a lot of time spent in the home. During these lockdown periods, artist Geoff Diego Litherland spent time refurbishing his home. As part of various house renovation projects, he worked with construction materials and learned the crafts involved with using them. This began a period of experimentation with materials as a part of his art practice. Litherland's work has often typically consisted of representational paintings, but craft has always been a strong aspect to his work. This series is a very interesting use of materials in a mysterious, layered approach that makes the viewer think about the meaning of materials in art.

I have a personal connection to the work because Geoff Litherland was a tutor of mine on a Fine Art course I attended at Nottingham Trent University. He helped me develop my art and we have both been inspired by each other's work. This is especially true of this series of work, because I had experimented using plaster while at University and he has since told me that my work from then was in part an inspiration for this series of work. This series consists of large panels in wooden frames that have layers of pigment imbedded in the plaster. They are the product of an experimental process that Litherland invented to create this work.

There is a video that plays during the exhibition that can also be seen on the website, which shows Litherland talking about this process and footage of him carrying it out. This really brings to life the process involved in the creation of these works and adds a whole new dynamic layer to it. After seeing the video, the work almost seems like something that has come out of an oven, after a long process of baking. In it he speaks of a tactility and necessary slowness to the processes of using these traditional materials which seem to give the craft a meditative feel. He also explains that the work contains natural materials that are all from the area of his house. This way, the materials speak of authenticity of where they come from and truth to the artist. The work explores different materials – pigments, sand and lime – and their historical relationship to his locality of the Derbyshire Dales, where these materials have been extracted from the landscape for centuries.

The strength of the work is the dialogue between the materials, with heavy rock like slabs of lime plaster juxtaposed with the light patterns on their surface

During this exploration of material and processes, he realised that he was beginning to use a similar technique to that of buon fresco, or ‘true fresh’, which is a traditional renaissance era technique. The technique was typically used to create fresco artworks which involved a quick process of powdered pigment being added to wet plaster, which would then impregnate itself into the surface of the drying plaster. Another important part of the experimental-traditional craft style he developed, was use of materials he had grown himself. In the last five years he has grown flax, which is a flowering plant that is often used to cultivated textiles like linen or bedsheets. He collaborated with his partner and weaver Angharad McLaren, to weave the flax into canvases with highly complex woven patterns to form part of the structure of the lime plaster artworks. He also created hemp nets and placed them onto the wet plaster and then allowed pigments to fall through which as a result created a negative image of the form of the net. This created amazing patterns that are visible in the art. It both appears to be an old fashioned way of doing things and also a very relevant modern approach that speaks of questions about how we should live as environmentally friendly people on this planet.

The strength of the work is the dialogue between the materials, with heavy rock like slabs of lime plaster juxtaposed with the light patterns on their surface. It makes us think about materials and allow the materials to present their own expression. Litherland’s work puts an emphasis on craft, and asks us to question with a critical eye what it means to apply a human touch to things and what justifies our choice of materials and the ways we use them. That way the energy and magic of the experimentation is visible on the surface of the work. Like the process of restoring a house, there is a process of the old being reborn by the new and the idea of tradition being revived and reinterpreted.

Geoff Diego Litherland: Catching Matter is on view at Beam Gallery until Saturday 16 July

More information on the exhibition and the techniques the artist used can be found on the Beam Editions website

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