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The online editorial and curatorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Callum Innes


Frith Street Gallery, 17-18 Golden Square, London W1F 9JJ

13 March 2015 – 24 April 2015


A review by Charley Peters

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.


Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953), was an iconoclastic gesture that suggested how an artwork, previously considered to be finished, could be transformed into something new. Jasper Johns referred to the erased De Kooning as ‘additive subtraction’, encouraging the act of seeming destruction to be seen in terms of the positive, as well as the negative. Through his Exposed Paintings series Callum Innes has, over many years, developed Rauschenberg’s radical gesture of additive subtraction into a formula for creating large-scale paintings. The most recent of these works were on show at Frith Street Gallery in London in March-April 2015.

The Exposed Paintings are generated by building up layers of oil paint into a monochromatic black field. Innes then removes a section of these layers, using turpentine, to reveal the constituent colours beneath. The canvas remains stained with shadows of pigment that document his process of reduction. Whereas the initial evidence of heavy brush marks may be removed, the Exposed Paintings are characterised by the formal relationship between rigid blocks of colour interrupted by the delicate, fluid streams that record the removal of the paint from the canvas. The works in the recent Frith Street exhibition were composed of seven layers of paint, which, when dissolved, revealed areas of flickering underpainting through cloudy stained violet surfaces and against dark indigo edges. As Rauschenberg demonstrated, erasure is not easy. It took him two months to remove as much of the densely worked de Kooning drawing, in crayon, ink, pencil and charcoal, that was possible for him to eliminate. Innes’ Exposed Paintings reveal that no amount of turpentine can eradicate the intractable ghosts of pigment that remain when the initial monochromatic plane is gone.

In these works geometry, and in some ways painting itself, is a performance; a systematic process of structurally marking out pictorial space in which to frame areas of chaotic chemical intervention; each stain of pigment recording decisive moments when the surface of the canvas starts to liquefy and move. Innes has related the temporal nature of his paintings as having an affinity with photography, saying, "There is a moment in time and space when a painting stops in much the same way that a camera’s shutter closes on a moment in time, this is not a static thing." The recent Exposed Paintings at Frith Street Gallery certainly do appear as freeze-frames of work in constant progress. The paintings simultaneously document their own making and evidence what has once existed, similar to Barthes’ notion of the avoir-été- of the photographic image. Innes makes paintings that appear pictorially balanced and gracefully coloured, but at the same time materialise in a state of arrest, in which the process of their conception seems to have been temporarily suspended. Often described as ‘unpaintings’ due to their reductive properties, they are also equally both ‘paintings that were’ and ‘paintings to be’.


Charley Peters

May 2015