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Dominic Beattie | Cascade

JGM Gallery, 8 March – 14 April 2018

Review by Ralph Anderson

Untitled (pink teal), 2017, ink on plywood, 73 x 102cm

In Peter Halley’s 1985 essay On Line he states that “only colour is capable of coding the linear with meaning”. When colour is often thought of as frivolous or hedonistic, this ‘meaning’ can sometimes be hard to decipher. Colour’s decorative qualities, its defiance of language and its intrinsic abstraction can make the reading of an artwork much more open to interpretation, and at the mercy and subjectivity of the viewer. When an artist decides to turn up the colour rather than tone it down, a sophisticated and balanced execution is needed to guide the viewer through fields of visual stimulation.

The Wall, 2018, emulsion on interior wall, 630 x 295cm

Visiting Dominic Beattie’s exhibition ‘Cascade’ at JGM Gallery I am confronted by his vivid patterns as soon as I turn on to Howie Street and start approaching the gallery. Tangerine orange and dark blue collide and dance together in a zig-zagging mural that dominates the gallery’s exterior facing wall. Even though it is feeling particularly cold for a March afternoon I have to stop and take in this spectacular new work, already surprised by the new direction in Beattie’s oeuvre.

I see traces of what I expect in Beattie’s practice: the slightly retro-looking pattern and restricted palette, although this seems far more uniform than previous works, where devices fall apart or have been broken up and disjointedly put back together again, as if there is a glitch in the system. As I get closer and stand in front of the 6.5m wall, very slight fractures do start to appear in the geometric pattern as the handmade nature and stencilled technique is discreetly revealed, the work becoming reminiscent of block printing and textile design, and bringing a handcrafted materiality to the vast, flat surface.

Untitled (crimson/cyan),  2017, ink on plywood, 183 x 183 cm

Once inside I am surrounded by the vibrating, colourful patterns of the paintings. Complementing the paintings, and bringing colour into the space and onto the floor of the gallery, are pieces of modular furniture that Beattie makes with architect Lucia Buceta. The addition of furniture provides a further clue to Beattie’s interest in design and the hand-made. All the work is made to strict predetermined rules, intuition is left behind in the drawing and planning stages, and an alluring and meticulous finish allows the structural materials to softly seep through the colour.

Installation view of Cascade at JGM Gallery

On the back wall sits Untitled (blue/yellow). As with the large wall painting, and the rest of the works on show, a single repeating pattern covers the entire surface, and, like all the works in this exhibition it is made of multiple plywood panels, eight in total for this one. The panels re-introduce the idea of design; these paintings can be taken apart and put back together again, the slender cracks helping to navigate the spiky terrain. The pattern is evocative of the DIY aesthetics of post-punk/new wave graphics, the highly arresting visual impact like a flyer for a new band trying to grab potential punters’ attention. I feel as though I am bouncing between the work of Sophie Taeuber-Arp and the youth of ’80s Britain.

Untitled (blue/yellow), 2017, ink on plywood, 183 x 244 cm

On the adjoining wall hang the multiple panels that make Untitled (pink/green), whose pattern seems less provocative yet equally eye-catching, a gradual ascent from left to right, but like a game of snakes and ladders, the pattern starts pulling the viewer sideways and down, just as they are reaching the top. Beattie’s technique of applying acrylic ink to the surface allows the grain of the plywood to cascade through the hard-edge patterns, adding depth and richness to the already vibrant work.

Untitled (pink/green), 2017, ink on plywood, 244 x 183 cm

Yinka Shonibare wrote in his essay Colour: Imperialism, Race and Taste that he has “always been interested in colour as a vehicle for subversive exuberance that challenges race, class and taste as a radical political statement, a sort of colour insult to viewers with so-called ‘good taste’”. In a similar way, throughout this show, Beattie has taken on colour, turned it up to max, and thrown it back at the viewer. After the chromatic assault the works sit back casually and wait for the rest of us to catch on.