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Fresh Paint

19th March to 24th March 2001
Arndean Gallery, 23 Cork Street, London W1
Monday-Friday 10am-6pm
Saturday 11am-4pm

Paint, oil or acrylic – vibrant or subdued, built up through accumulated transparent washes or smeared across the face of the canvas with a palette-knife, tightly controlled or exploding with cathartic power.

Paint is the language in which these nine artists, drawn together by MacLean Fine Art, respond to the light, colour, and movement of the world around them. While their responses are as individual as they are, there is a freshness in all this work – an avidness of visual exploration, a frank passion for their chosen medium – which sets them apart from many of their contemporaries.

For some painters, the challenge lies in interpreting the visible world in terms of simplified forms and distilled colour. Simon Laurie's personal iconography has evolved out of the landscapes and everyday objects of his native rural Scotland: lanes and footpaths, the peaked roofs of oast-houses, hay-ricks and agricultural implements. Blocked out in bright acrylics – the flatness of their shapes reminiscent of collage – these basic forms, apparently simple yet charged with meaning, achieve balance within rhythmic, deeply satisfying compositions. Pattern-making – a fundamental artistic impulse – transcends anecdote, ensuring that these works have a relevance much wider than the specific events that inspired them.

ANDREW SQUIRE, a Scottish artist, trained and still practices as an architect. As a painter, he remains deeply engaged with the treatment of space. His work is poised on the boundary between description and abstraction. Working in acrylic and gouache, he builds up fields of intense colour – pink, tangerine, indigo – which resonate against each other, striking up complex relationships of their own. Objects, reduced to their visual essence, flicker between the imagined pictorial space they inhabit and the two-dimensional surface of the panel; this tension is central to his compositions, endowing them with a distinctive energy. His most recent work is inspired by time spent on the coast of Newfoundland.

Others find inspiration in the human face and figure. JENNIFER ANDERSON, a Scottish painter, combines clear-eyed examination with formidable illusionistic skill, producing sensitive, haunting portraits. Within tightly-cropped compositions, illuminated by unsparing mid-winter light, she conveys the real, weighty physicality of her subjects – friends, lovers, strangers – while at the same time hinting at the inaccessibility of their inner lives. Her work explores with candour the complexity of visual experience, enumerating the tiny shifts in colour that we read as warm skin, lank hair, or pale fabric. The blue-green tonality lends these works a very distinctive coolness, which somehow suits their theme: the artist's intense observation poised against her subjects' reserve.

English artist NOEL BENSTED paints male and female nudes, viewed under strong lighting; these paintings are executed in an earthy, subdued palette. While his work is informed by close study of European traditions of figure-painting, it also depends on thorough, first-hand scrutiny of his subject; the result is less a 'classical nude' than a searching, convincing portrait. Painted from life – generally in only one or two sittings, making it possible for paint to capture the freshness of first impressions – these works benefit from a rigorous understanding of the human body, a sharp eye for tonal modulation, and stunningly confident brushwork. These paintings record individuality expressed through gesture, weight, visage, while at the same time seeming to revel in the inherent qualities of the paint itself.

Some artists are at their best when exploring the play of light on surface, and the way in which objects nest themselves in enveloping space. Scottish artist KIRSTY WITHER paints flowers, nudes, and landscapes in oils, working largely from memory. Vibrantly chromatic underpainting is gradually covered with layers of contrasting colour, which is then scraped back with a palette-knife or re-worked with a brush. The end result is allusive subject-matter depicted with jewel-like clarity, and executed with obvious delight in the sheer physicality of the paint. A recent move to the Sussex Downs has brought about a shift towards softer contours and slightly more subdued colour, particularly in the treatment of landscape.

PATRICE LOMBARDI, an American-born painter who works in Lucca, Italy, suffuses superficially simple compositions – two pears, blue carnations placed in a vase, a green bowl – with an aura of mystery. Painting in oils (sometimes on canvases of varying sizes, sometimes on tightly-grained old wooden panels, and always with masterfully controlled brushwork) she builds up subtle, shimmering fields of light and shadow, using as many as twenty or thirty layers of paint in order the achieve an overall richness of colour. Delicate tonal modulations are brilliantly observed, but not necessarily in a literal way. These paintings emerge as much from inner vision as from external observation, giving them an air of heightened reality.

And for some artists, paint takes on a life of its own, creating 'open' canvases which evoke meaning, rather than asserting it. LOUISE RITCHIE, a Scottish painter, transforms the motifs and sensory impressions recalled from her travels to distant places – Andalucia, Venice, Jerusalem – into points of embarkation for dramatic, almost theatrical oil and mixed-media works. Fragments of memory become caught up in the choreography of swirling, rhythmic compositions, expressed in richly luminous colour and loose, expressive brushwork. There is so much energy in these paintings that they almost seem to emit light, rather than reflecting it, bathing the room in the warmth of their own chromatic glow.

English artist LUCINDA WHARTON has developed a unique personal vocabulary of richly-impasted surfaces, warmly earthy colours given drama by deep shadow, or washed in the lustre of opalescent glazes. Her paintings are built up gradually, almost organically, layer after layer; by placing objects under the canvas she expands even further the range of surface texture available to her. Individual paintings develop under their own logic, each revelation opening the way for the next. The resulting works recalls fragmentary glimpses of the natural world, but always in a richly allusive way: shimmering and shifting, full of shade and ambiguity, always resisting simplistic identification.

Italian artist FABIO CURTO creates minimal, intensely contemplative works in oil on canvas. He builds up subtly-textured, darkly nuanced planes of colour, onto which he inscribes a series of silvery, ghostly vertical lines. The resulting paintings make direct allusions to the art-historical traditions which have inspired him – ranging from the Italian Renaissance to Australian aboriginal art and American colour-field abstraction – while at the same time functioning as front-line reports from his own explorations of visual experience. The scale of the paintings is carefully judged, in order to intensify their relationship with the viewer. These are haunting works, capable of exerting a powerful, almost hypnotic presence.

Paint is a medium as old as mankind. For thousands of years it has been central to human self-expression, human communication. Yet in the right hands – as these nine artists demonstrate – it is still more than capable of providing fresh insights, fresh surges of surprise and delight, fresh evidence of its unflagging vitality.