Other Places – Gallery at Arts at the Old Fire Station, Oxford, curated by High House. The exhibition runs until the 16th August
Gabriella Boyd – copyright of the artist. Provided courtesy of Arts at The Old Fire Station & High House
Other Places brings together the work of Gabriella Boyd, Tom Howse and Lindsey Bull and their respective investigations into states of mind. The exhibition seeks to transpose the viewer to different realms and contemplate consciousness, motives and mentalities. The Other Places are psychological rather than physical.
Lindsey Bull – image copyright of the artist. Provided courtesy of Arts and The Old Fire Station & High House
Bull is concerned with investigating a fractured reality, with her figures enveloped in ambiguous settings, which blur the boundary of the real and the unreal and the external and internal. She cites a number of influences including witchcraft, boxing magazines and silent films. The most obvious influence, perhaps unconscious as it is nowhere recognised by the artist, both stylistically and thematically, is the work of Edvard Munch; with figures loosing their contours to murky surroundings and non-naturalistic paint colours giving pasty sickly green-yellow complexions, all designed to communicate a state of mind. Like Munch, Bull is concerned with documenting an alientated state of perception, an idea Munch was concerned with in his quest to identify as the misunderstood bohemian artist.
Whilst the small scale suggests an intimate relationship, this is ultimately denied as most of the protagonists are facing away from the viewer – obscuring both their activity and access to their psychological state, akin to Munch’s contemporary Hammershoi. This is instead communicated in the paint palette and sparse compositions and the obscurity engages with Bull’s interests in rituals and perfomative behaviour after a residency in China and exposure to Buddhism and Taoism. The figures that do look out of the canvas do so unengaged, with sightlines drifting to one side to avoid confrontation with the viewer: Emerald, with heavylidded lolling eyes observes something the viewer is denied from viewing slightly right of the edge of the picture plane.
Lindsey Bull, image copyright of the artist. Image provided courtesy of Arts at the Old Fire Station & High House
The dialogue between the artist and her late nineteenth century counterpart comes to a head in Magic Sun the radiating circle beneath the crouched figure recalls one of Munch’s more optimistic works – The Sun (1909), and the row of trees in the background with a glimmer of moonlight breaking through is reminiscent of the shoreline of the Aasgaaardstrand shore which provided the backdrop to the Frieze of Life. The affinity perhaps ultimately demonstrates that we, now in the twenty-first century, are affected by the same fin-de-siecle ennui and anxieties, perhaps more so as increasing economic, social and medical problems create crisis and send society into mass hysteria.
Boyd’s work inhabits the boundary between the playful and the dark and complements the work of Bull as they employ similarly bright colours and mysterious atmosphere, and both leave the canvas exposed in several works. For Boyd, colour and patterning seemingly express a world of frivolity and jollity; yet, a melancholic mood pervades the works and they are bathed in a sense of ambiguity. It is often unclear what’s going on in the painting, whether due to a close crop - Ponytail is completely perplexing until you read the title – or uncertain placement of figures.
Gabriella Boyd, copyright of the artist. Provided courtesy of Arts at the Old Fire Station & High House
That Face is a diptych comprising of a girl with her back to the viewer, casting a glance furtively over her shoulder to acknowledge our presence. She stands on a pink patterned rug which unifies the two picture planes as it extends upwards, extending to the upper panel, ascending stairs to greet a rather sinister green figure on a bench, with an unnerving smile playing on his lips. Behind this, faint figures crossing paths merge into the background – where are they going? One man appears to be in stripy pyjamas. These characters in the upper register perhaps represent the thoughts, desires or anxieties of our principal female – their locale in a different pictorial plane, although one which is placed snugly up to lower canvas, places them in a different world of the imaginary or the unseen. There are no clues as to how the narrative will play out, and the viewer is implicated in the tension of the scene, creeping up behind the girl.
Unlike the other two whose characters are more often than not looking away from the viewer, the figures in Howse’s work are placed frontally, staring out rather gormlessly. It is hard to discern exactly the intellectualising behind the paint, which claims to be an investigation into sources of understanding. Like Boyd, his works are characterised by bright colour and patterning: Big Boys, with a harlequin diamond pattern extending over the suits of the figures merges them into a single entity looming threateningly over the viewer with their impassive stares, thick necks and black hats.
Tom Howse, image copyright of the artist and courtesy of The Old Fire Station and High House
Figures are often enlarged to fill the canvas – Black and Whiter confronts us with a curling self-satisfied smile and beady eyes. Only the scale gives the figure any significance, elevating it with a superficial power. Howse says the works act as a surrogate omnipotence and self-admonishing reconciliation for his personal inadequacies. He starts work without a clear aim and so they develop organically and mysteriously. Plum Head appears like a Peeping Tom through louver blinds. The narrowed yellow eyes, however, are placed frontally on a profile head, and at eyebrow level, perhaps they aren’t eyes at all.
Other Places invites the viewer into a dream-like fantasy world which is tinged with real anxieties and feelings which oscillate between the playful and disturbing, the covert and the overt. Many of the works are open to interpretation and give viewers the space to reflect on their own concerns and the unknown space of the innerself.
Victoria Poulton, O3 Gallery Intern