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Carol Robertson | Pointstar

Flowers Gallery,  Cork Street, London.  3 May – 3 June 2017

Review by Laurence Noga

Installation shot, Courtesy Flowers Gallery

The mesmeric radiance of Carol Robertson’s remarkable 2016 painting Light from Light transforms both the window of Flowers Gallery and the changing environment of its Cork Street location.

The composition of the work, with its underlying properties of conscious experience, immediately grips us in a macrocosmic gaze. We are faced with a question: do the painting’s signification and its refined parameters contain an underlying psychological construct, which might trigger a contradictory interpretation?  A perceptual reading of the work can evoke an external reality for the viewer. For me, this brings to mind the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of its first satellite (Sputnik 1). Measuring just 58 cm in diameter, the polished metal sphere had four external radio antennas to broadcast its radio pulses. Its launch accelerated the space race, and to some extent symbolised the technological and scientific innovations of that time.  

Robertson therefore leads us beyond the visible, not only through the realisation of the system, but through lived or formed attachments to particular memories.  The unifying notions of symmetry are key to the success of the painting. Its eighteen isosceles triangles in a flatly-laid cadmium orange each have another colour attached in a curve to the bottom end of the triangle. The eighteen-point internal star is created from this syntagmatic order. The locational relationships and placement of the orange segments react with the diffuse resonance of the outer pink void, allowing the white ground at the centre of the painting to pulsate, almost giving the impression that it’s going to change colour. The subtle, flatter, outer ring of refined related tonal relationships uses the same rigour as Robertson’s earlier circular compostions, with its sense of motion and of simultaneous contrast.

Light from Light (large), 2016, Oil on canvas (C) Carol Robertson Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

Carol Robertson, Star, 2016, Oil on canvas, (C) Carol Robertson, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

Once inside the gallery space, the acceleration and oscillation of the works become more apparent, as does the movement of their locational relationships, and we notice the number of star points - either nine or eighteen. The painting Star leaps to the eye first. Painted in 2016, the surface is lyrical, with its horizontal bands of violet and violet-blue. We imagine the process of the outer parts of the work to have some element of chance, whereas the centre of the work is the unchanging essence. The central black vortex here is very intense; squeezed into a tiny space, it optically vibrates and shifts as if it cannot let its electromagnetic radiation escape. This circularity and pull calls to mind the work of Peter Sedgely, in particular his screen print Blue and Violet Study (1965). Sedgley began to focus on painting in 1963, with works like Glide, whose impact derives from the atmosphere that is generated around it.  

Carol Robertson, Quadrille 2, 2016, Oil on board, (C) Carol Robertson, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

Carol Robertson, Quadrille 1, 2016, Oil on board, (C) Carol Robertson, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

There is a feeling of that glide across space in Robertson’s work Quadrille (2016. oil on board). The very pale sienna is applied in a thin transparent glaze, and the striated structure reminds me of the approach of Geoffrey Smedley (who was part of the Systems group in the constructivist tradition). Smedley talked about an equation between the systematic and the elusive. “Quite apart from any evidence of the systematic procedures, which determined the creation of the work we are bound to read the work as it stands: that is to say, we are confronted with instances of simple codes which by virtue of their intersection and redundance, resist the spectator’s attempt to disentangle them”.

The quadrille was a fashionable dance in Europe in the late 18th and 19th century, slow and stately, performed by four couples in a square formation. The painting has the same sense of expectation, as if we are about to observe a rationale that will dictate a sequence of events. The four envelope shapes point towards the empty space and the shifting connectivity between the individual elements: this is the imagined repetition of the dance.

Carol Robertson, Vega, 2017, Oil on canvas. (C) Carol Robertson, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

Vega is the fifth brightest star in the night sky. Similarly, the painting Vega and its Pointstar companions have a powerful sense of attraction. The nine-point composition seems to hold our concentration precisely, as these works flare into life. There is a natural equilibrium between them, and perhaps a momentary impression of extroversion and introversion. Vega’s central core radiates outwards, and the violet tone equates to a sensory experience, especially vivid as the whitish ground floods over the needle-sharp points that are left exposed. With Pointstar White (2016), it feels as though this is a mysterious older star whose foundations still survive. We follow the soft ground tonal tracks of the brushwork (bone black / Paynes grey) across the painting. The white core sparkles and hovers in a frontal position; the substance of the paint here is more declared.

Carol Robertson, Pointstar White, 2016, oil on canvas. (C) Carol Robertson, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

I like the scale and density of the smaller paintings (20 x 20 cm). In Point Star (small), the colour is more saturated and the push and pull calls to mind the work of Paul Klee’s Fire at Full Moon, painted in 1933. This row of works feels, at first glance, intrinsically linked together. But as we stay with them, they seem to operate in a mutually exclusive relationship. Robertson has subtly allowed the spectator to experience their individual moments and pitch, while enabling us to encounter their relationships as a single entity.  

‘Pointstar’ is an exhibition with a lasting intellectual cognition. The differentiation and complexity in each work draw us into the detail and the operational paradigms. But it’s the correlation between systematic persistence and the formative relationships perceived in nature that elicit the most memorable response.