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Website: Chestnuts Design

Mind’s Eye | Carol Robertson and Terry Frost

Flowers, Cork Street, London, 7 September to 9 October 2021

A review by Geoff Hands

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Carol Robertson, Listener, 2021, 107x107cm, oil on canvas (c) Carol Robertson, courtesy of Flowers Gallery

What a fascinating pairing. If you visit Mind’s Eye at Flowers in Cork Street I recommend that initially you stroll around the two floors in quiet contemplation. Don’t speak to your partner if you are not alone. Don’t stop either; keep up a slow but steady flow, but find your own pace. This approach will allow you to tune in and to accept what you see. It is also essential to disregard illustrative, ‘pictorial’ expectations of imagery, which of course is a pre-requisite of abstraction.

A cosmic vibe may well form as you take it all in, as Carol Robertson herself has explained: “We share a common interest in all things celestial, all things to do with the heavens: the sun the moon, the stars, the circadian rhythm.” But ideally don’t allow such associations to control a too imaginative response; otherwise you will leave the work. These paintings, initially at least, deserves a concrete ingestion where what you see is what you get. Then, after an initial foray, traverse back to the beginning on the ground floor. You might stop along the way and ponder on a work that has demanded your attention early on. The return trip will ideally create a sense of there being no beginning and no end to the display, as if to create a sense of a circular-type arrangement of paintings, which will be subjectively felt rather than factual.

You might then take another tour, perhaps becoming more aware of subtle pairings or intriguing juxtapositions. As usual, the Flowers curators have avoided the temptation to fill all possible wall space. There is neither too much nor too little to see in a presentational sense - though much to see in each painting. Although there will be inevitable connections between the works, particularly for the interest in circular forms and in exploring the excitement and subtleties of colour and shape relationships, nothing is forced to influence the viewer. Both painters had/have a tendency for reduction, though Frost’s works are typically looser, overtly hand-made, lyrical and visually rapturous; Robertson’s predominantly hard-edged paintings are, on first impression, emotionally measured, geometrical and static. There is certainly so much to contemplate.

Terry Frost, Innocent Blue, 2003, acrylic on canvas, 183x157.5cm (c) The estate of Terry Frost, courtesy of Flowers Gallery

But once the viewer becomes fully engaged in the works the discs, arcs, vertical, horizontal, stacked (or even triangular) arrangements and colour combinations open up a multitude of visceral and visual effects. Any one of the works could be shown alone.

Take, for example, Terry Frost’s Innocent Blue, an acrylic on canvas collage from 2003, the year he died. Because of Frost’s association with St. Ives it is impossible not to ‘see’ an illusion of boats, sea and blue skies - and maybe even sense the sound of the wind or the water splashing in the harbour. But this still, concrete imagery works visually on its own terms with four (or are there seven?) arcs poised and gently swaying within the surrounding static framework of blue vertical and horizontals. There is a similar experience to be enjoyed in Blue and Yellow Squeeze, also from his final year. The surprise here is that the central section of blue, yellow and black vertical stripes are applied to paper that has a shallow concertina form that is more evident from viewing at 45 degrees rather than face-on. Again, we see flattened coracle-like forms bobbing on the surface, which also adds a sense of the passage of time.

Terry Frost, Blue and Yellow Squeeze, 2003. 77.5x158.5x10cm, oil and collage on canvas. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery.

The sketchily applied stripes in Innocent Blue are one of the elements of production that, with other gestural applications of paint (see Banbury Joust, for some expressionistic handiwork), you will not find in Robertson’s oeuvre - though a carefully applied misty smudging will add a glowing edge to the discs in Ten Wishes, a vertical format composition of five pairs, or two rows of five or maybe just ten glowing discs offering combinations of choice or individual circular forms set in a singular rectangle. This suggestion of a possibly unstable or adjusted edge will be seen in Eclipse #7 and Listener, although the backgrounds are noticeably contrasting in that the former is a solid orange (but still revealing the canvas textured surface) and the latter has a more ethereal blue due to a thinner layer of paint that hints at subtle horizontal brushstrokes from application with a wide flat brush. This is truly is a colour field that, by design or accident, suggests the illusion of visual depth.

Terry Frost, Blue Moon, 1998, Acrylic and collage on canvas, 203x126cm (c) The Estate of Terry Frost, courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Frost’s Blue Moon of 1998 could be a prototype Robertson for its simple presentation of one disc placed in the top section of a rectangle. An ever-so-slightly paler yellow around the light blue disc enables the flat blue planet to slightly disengage from the surface. In a more playful manner (a trait that Frost would surely approve of) Robertson’s Half Circles #1 places five semi-circles along the bottom edge of another deep cobalt orange colourscape that has a humorous appeal, although I cannot explain why.

Carol Robertson, Magic Triangle, 2020-21, 168x168cm oil on canvas, (c) Carol Robertson, courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Alternatively, Magic Triangle, a recent work from Robertson’s studio, has a slightly ominous and forbidding mood to it. Of course this is my subjective response, particularly as Robertson has spoken of the three circles as “ultimately unified and powerful within the triangular formation. Strong and positive”, but the three small discs, placed to imply an equilateral triangle, seem estranged by their positioning around the central void, and subtlety challenged by the two empty corners at top left and right.

Carol Robertson, Half Circles #1, 2021, oil on canvas (c) Carol Robertson, courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Returning to a concern with edges has taken the form of a subdivision of the circumferences of the discs in Robertson’s paintings, especially before the Covid pandemic. From Star Time #4 (2015), to Mind’s Eye (2019), via Point Star - Rigel from 2017 these form immaculately applied, not too thick or too thin, curved bands of colour that work together whether they contrast in colour or tone, even when mixed blacks are involved. This quite overt subdivision of the outer edges mixes simplicity with complexity as a kind of visual contradiction, keeping the image alive with a life-force of sorts.

Carol Robertson, Star Time #4, 2015  45x45cm oil on canvas (c) Carol Robertson, courtesy of Flowers Gallery

A visitor’s final impression might be the spectacle of the entire exhibition, as the stroll around it adds up to an immersive experience. Or perhaps one or two individual works will remain in the mind’s eye. A wall or corner configuration, such as Frost’s Innocent Blue placed on an adjoining wall to Listener and Pointstar - Rigel, and offering a different visual experience, to oppose any monotony or repetition in the display, will make an impression. Just about every work in this show has that takeaway potential, provided not only by the impact of clear shapes and configurations of forms, but also, and most especially, by the impact of colour choices that distinctively personalise and mediate the geometry.

To give Robertson the last word:

"…My colour has more nuance, more tone and hue... His touch is expressive and physical. I work slowly, in a meditative and often meticulous manner: my geometry is hard edged and drawn with compass or ruler. His is often freehand… Like Terry I use colour subjectively and intuitively but I frequently modulate it, in order to get exactly the tone and feel I’m looking for. I’m looking for emotional visual impact, just like he is, but it’s achieved very differently."

Review of a previous Terry Frost show, by Geoff Hands on Abcrit: