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Clare French and Karen Loader | Perfect Imperfect

Take Courage Gallery, Thursday 30th May – Saturday 1st June  2019

A review by Lizzy Kelsey

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Having seen Clare French and Karen Loader’s work individually in separate shows prior to Perfect Imperfect, I was particularly eager to gauge if and how their first collaboration would alter my perception of their paintings. In responding to the two artists’ paintings in relation to each other, I discovered a dialogue that emphasised the similarities between the works.

A sense of precarious balance, of unsettledness, and of two halves that are just out of line, are inherent to the work. They describe an internal tension and dynamism which is as a consequence of the inclusion of  light and shadow, stillness and movement, distance and proximity, internal and external space.  

Clare French, At First Sight series, 30 x 30 cm, 2019. Acrylic on tape on plywood © Clare French

While first encountering French’s paintings At First Sight at a distance, there is an uncertainty about the materials used to make them. They appear to resemble painted lines on canvas, porcelain, cast plaster, or even plastic.

Clare French, At First Sight (detail), 2019 © Clare French  

The materials’ ambiguity and the serenely-lit surfaces entice us closer, revealing painted, horizontally and vertically layered lines of tape on plywood squares that provoke careful and immersed consideration and an affective response. French uses the plywood grain as a ready-made texture, visible between the overlapping relief lines of tape, and accepts any chips and marks in the surface.

Inspired by Modernist painting practice, French’s At First Sight series appears sculptural and object-based; the artist uses traditional support materials to form the primary elements of the paintings. The works raise questions about Western traditions of painting, challenging our preconceptions about what painting is and what it means.

French uses language, the fundamental system of meaning, to form pattern, using the grid as a structural framework. This system-based approach to making, which involves repeating single actions, generates subtle differences and imperfections in the pattern of the paintings. The hand-made, repetitive nature of the works means that the outcome is always slightly uncertain, evident in the variation of distances in between each, occasionally askew, line of tape.  French’s paintings are the epitome of ‘perfectly imperfect’.

Karen Loader, Listen/Silent, 120 x 100 cm each, Listen/Silent (small), 30 x 25 cm each, 2019. Acrylic on plywood panel © Karen Loader

Similarly, Loader applies acrylic directly onto unprimed plywood, using it as a ready-made surface. In Listen/Silent the thin washes of orange, green and grey paint act as a stain, allowing the predetermined, soft, wavering lines of the plywood grain to be seen underneath. The material adopts a different guise; these marks are reminiscent of dyed silk and form a striking contrast to the process-derived geometric pattern.

Karen Loader, Listen/Silent (detail), 2019 © Karen Loader

Our physical position in relation to the painting changes our perception of it. When observed from a distance, the paint surface seems entirely flat. But when viewed closely, beautifully fine ridged lines of accumulated paint are revealed along the edges of the colours, presumably formed while using masking tape to create the pattern.

Initially, the most apparent element that links French’s and Loader’s paintings is the presence of the grid. Loader uses this as a starting point in her system of making, and due to her hand-made process and her system of repeating the pattern, slight imbalances occur, exhibited by the points in the pattern where the edges just don’t quite meet.

The larger, cool-toned paintings Listen/Silent give a sensation of unfamiliarity and of an exterior environment. They appear to convey a sense of place that is calm yet busy, still yet in motion.

Karen Loader, Gentle Murmur, 30 x 25 cm, Acrylic on plywood © Karen Loader

Karen Loader, Undertone, 30 x 25 cm, 2019. Acrylic on plywood © Karen Loader

Partially due to the intimacy of scale, the warmer tones and the yellow artificial light directed onto the smaller paintings, Gentle Murmur and Undertone conjure up textures and images of interior spaces. The inclusion of metallic paint and the richness of the deep red are evocative of gilding, glass, metallic wallpapers, velvet and traditional heavily-patterned interiors.

L to R: Clare French, At First Sight 15-24, 2019, Karen Loader, Backtrack, 2019 © Clare French

The subdued natural light in the gallery has undoubtedly influenced, perhaps decided, the placement of the works in Perfect Imperfect. A continuous shifting of perception, due to the paintings’ environment, is immediately apparent across the surfaces of French’s paintings, At First Sight 15-24. The subtleties of her reductive, monochrome works are revealed. Hung as a grid formation in three rows of three, they are arranged next to a large window. The shadows and highlights on the paintings’ surfaces are determined by the ever-changing natural light which passes across them throughout the day.

L to R: Karen Loader, Rewind, Gentle Murmur, Undertone, 2019, Clare French, At First Sight 25, 2019 © Clare

Similarly, an initial sense of stillness, caused by ambient natural light, transforms into a sense of movement as the curation leads us visually, physically and psychologically around the room. French and Loader’s paintings are hung at different heights in relation to one another, so that as the eye travels across the space the paintings undulate across the walls, constructing a perception of rhythm.

Karen Loader, Listen/Silent, 120 x 100 cm each, Listen/Silent (small), 30 x 25 cm each, 2019. Acrylic on plywood panel © Karen Loader

This rhythmic curation affects our reading of the works; Loader’s four paintings Listen/Silent and Listen/Silent (small) seem increasingly dynamic as they flow upwards to the right. The sense of rhythm and movement is instrumental to the work and is also generated though Loader’s use of repetition, varying scale of pattern and plywood panels, and manipulation of colours. The paintings pulse and vibrate as the colours and pattern compress and expand, pushing us backwards and then drawing us forwards.

When exhibited alongside French’s monochrome paintings, Listen/Silent appears exuberant. Simultaneously, our reading of French’s paintings is influenced by this collaboration and by the curation. They appear more dynamic, moving in new and unexpected ways.

Perfect Imperfect is a celebration of the repeat and its potential to generate imperfections and unpredictable outcomes. It is a celebration of non-objective painting and a demonstration of its ability to free up creative possibilities.