15 September 2006

Susie Hamilton at Paul Stolper Gallery

One of my favourite artists, Susie Hamilton, is having a solo show at the Paul Stolper Gallery this month. It will be well worth seeing.

Here is what the gallery say


15th September-15th October 2006

Susie Hamilton paints the unstable, metamorphic figure adrift in a landscape of wilderness. Such wildernesses may be literal (arctic wastes, tropical forests, wild west) or metaphorical (casinos, luxury hotels, service stations), but both serve as an arena for her transformation of the figure to the point of dissolution. She paints figures with thin veils of acrylic which are allowed to burst their boundaries and destroy contours to suggest mutation and deliquescence. She has developed a language of poured, printed, layered and pitted marks through which to represent the figure as a fluctuating, vulnerable, mutilated and dishevelled creature.

These recent works of beaches and hotels obviously relate to her paintings of commercial wilderness. However they represent the deserts of public spaces with the vastness and threat associated with her paintings of the arctic ice or the tropical forest. The leisure areas of these paintings are sites of doom or convulsion, an impression achieved through the huge dark space overarching the diminutive diners or sunbathers, the countervailing force of light bursting upon these figures with an annihilating or transfiguring power, the hovering presence of magnified, virulent cells as if what is invisible and unforeseen is becoming a manifest menace.

One group of works continues her preoccupation with the single figure, trapped in glaring light between the dark expanse of the background and the enlarged shape of an unidentifiable object in the foreground. In the rest of the exhibition the figure is part of an unnumbered crowd by which it is swallowed up. While the solitary figure is misshapen in its isolation, these teeming creatures on beaches or at banquets are distorted through the presence of each other as if unwelcome ideas or emotions are seeping out beneath the social veneer. They are consequently represented as leaking, messy, grotesque. The spots and squiggles used in the background sea of figures are dragged to the foreground where they are enlarged to become part of a turbulent pattern of seething bodies, reduced at times to blots and puddles of paint.

The figures are also becoming abstract shapes. Apart from painting figures overwhelmed by aspects of existence, Hamilton is concerned with the idea of figurative elements in the painting challenged or overtaken by abstraction. Figures are painted in the process of becoming unnameable and mysterious phenomena. Her paintings are not therefore materialist critiques of materialistic pleasures, humans reduced to mere blots and puddles of matter. They engage with the idea of the sublime or what is beyond comprehension and what is limitless, immeasurable. Whether it is the unnameable object, the unbounded darkness of the sky, the innumerable figures or the peculiar shapes into which the human is transformed, these paintings are about a feeling of being overawed, overwhelmed. This occurs even in the heart of the cheap, commercial environment inhabited by these figures: the world of leisure.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated book, ‘Riddled with Light’, a comprehensive survey of Susie Hamilton’s works from 1996 – 2006, with essays by Richard Dyer and Charlotte Mullins.

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