A new group exhibition at the GRIMM Gallery shows how strong British painting is today. The title of the exhibition The kingfisher’s wingis taken Burnt NortonTS Eliot’s 1936 poem, which later became the first of a quartet, discussing man’s relationship to time, the divine and the universe. Burnt Norton emphasized the importance of living in the present, yet acknowledging traces of the past that linger in the present and circle endlessly into the future.
“…After the kingfisher’s wing
Has light answered light and is silent, the light is still
at the still point of the spinning world.”
Curator Tom Morton uses Eliot’s emphasis on stillness to frame the exhibition. The works on display position art, especially painting, as a kind of “still point” that reflects far more than just the present moment. Paintings inherently embody a craft moment. Time is literally frozen in the layers of paint used to build each surface. Morton presents a rich selection of paintings that exist in their own history with stylistic and allegorical meanings that can reflect actual past, present and an imaginary future.
The works in the exhibition have one parameter in common: they are paintings and were created by artists who have strong ties to Britain – all are British, although not all were born there. Aside from these features, the works on display span an arc between figuration and abstraction. Most are colorful, many are remarkably large. Artists range from established figures like William Monk and Mary Ramsden to up-and-coming names like Christian Quin Newell and Gabriella Boyd, the latter of which only joined GRIMM’s roster this spring.
Two outstanding pieces are monumental, abstract works by Tim Stoner. in the Outskirts (Santa Barbara), muted browns and pinks cover the surface of the linen canvas, blending and layering into a dense landscape of shapes that meet swathes of bright purple and blue along the top. Bold black lines outline geometric shapes and form an abstract landscape identified in the title as Santa Barbara. The work was immediately reminiscent of recent paintings by George Condo, particularly those from his November 2020 exhibition, internal turmoil, at Hauser & Wirth in Chelsea.
Similarly, Matthew Krishanu is reminiscent of other great artists Red roof and water (2022). Allusion to the abstract artist Richard Diebenkorn ocean park series, Krishanu’s work has a large square of blue acrylic paint at the bottom, topped with bands of washed gray blending into green. A bold red roof and a strip of bright yellow rectangles appear just below the top edge of the canvas. As if giving a representational form to Diebenkorn’s abstract buildings, Krishanu’s composition bears a strong resemblance to the coloring of Ocean Park #79 (1975). Religious symbols such as crosses and indications of chapels are also hidden in Krishanu’s canvases.
Krishanu’s work hangs in the back room of the gallery among two other works by the artist, as well as the aforementioned abstract paintings by Stoner and several other notable works by Francesca Mollett, Mary Ramsden and William Monk. It’s in this room that the show really shines. Mollett’s gestural abstract paintings complement Stoner’s beautifully. Both artists fill their canvases with swathes of relatively muted colors, sometimes almost washed out. Yet their works are remarkably different. Mollett’s layered surfaces make her paintings appear almost collage-like. Frenetic lines draw the eye in and invite the viewer to closely examine every little detail. These abstract, dense lines give way to patches of color as if a top layer had been peeled off. Mollett’s style is sometimes reminiscent of Cecily Brown, at others of Mark Bradford, and is inevitably uniquely her own.
Above all, Ramsden presents equally powerful works Everything else is hypothesis and dream. Initially appearing like an abstract triptych, the work unfolds on closer inspection into a dreamlike interior scene. Again we see allusions to art history and the long tradition of painting, especially in the domestic sphere. With a flatness similar to that of Matisse, Ramsden’s triptych has picture-book quality. Yes, at first glance you might even think of the classic children’s book good night moonwritten by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd.
The subtle references to other artists are like ghosts of past works crawling beneath the surface. This is not to say that they are derivative or made up, but rather evoke a feeling of déjà vu that makes the viewer pause for a moment. These references could easily be overlooked by a visitor unfamiliar with the history of painting, which is the precise beauty of art itself. Devoid of any historical context or knowledge, the works in the exhibition still evoke a sense of curiosity and excitement. That’s perhaps exactly the message Morton wants to convey—although paintings are literally still, unchanging visual representations of the present, they are layered with and within history and will inevitably evolve into the future.
The kingfisher’s wing offers a master class in curation. While the lens suggested with Eliot’s poem may seem elusive, the effect and nature Morton seeks to emphasize is achieved whether the viewer is aware of it or not. The works do not have to be “read” with the aim of connecting them to the time or legacy of painting. They are vessels for the past, present and future by their very existence. With or without the nuances added by Eliot’s poem, the viewer ultimately finds himself in the presence of a visually stunning display of unforgettable paintings.
The kingfisher’s wing can be seen at GRIMM, 54 White Street, New York, NY 10013 through August 19.
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