Ian Whittlesea - Art Monthly, April 1996
Cairn Gallery, Nailsworth, March 9 to 30
There are four paintings in this exhibition but this is not an exhibition of four paintings; exhibited are four rooms in each of which a painting hangs.
The paintings are collectively titled 'Studio Paintings' and each of them bears a different address, painted white over a dark ground, in a plain, typographic style. These addresses are of the studios in which William Blake, Marcel Duchamp, Gordon Matta-Clark and Mark Rothko worked at some stage in their lives. The addresses are noted in a localised manner, that is to say that they mention, in one line, a number, a street or block and a city or borough. The width of the paintings, whose height remains constant, is determined by the length of the address. These are paintings of places therefore, which allude to their subject by depicting the name of the site of a location. Physically, the paintings seem impermeable, as if the paint had sealed as well as coloured the canvas. This gives the paintings a certain rotundity, a highly factual presence which defines them very much as objects, labelling each space rather than providing a window onto another reality.
The fact that the four artists whose studio addresses are depicted are all dead gives the paintings the sense of being memorials. What these artists are remembered by is the space in which they materialised their practice. Art was made in these spaces and it is art which is invoked in the Cairn Gallery's spaces where the 'Studio Paintings' hang. The invocation implies a kind of yearning; the desire for transcendence is declared and an attempt is made to satisfy it by planting within a space a reference to a location where it might at some stage have happened.
There is in these paintings the admission of a kind of reverence, not for particular works or even for the people who made them, but for the possibility which particular endeavours might have entertained. The situations which Whittlesea sets up in the four spaces are an attempt to access those particular endeavours. Each space houses a certain trigger, in the form of a painting, which sets a kind of reverie in motion. The reverie is not however one which merely brings a particular figure to mind but one which occasions a reflective comparison with the situation in which one finds oneself, that of being in a space which is not transformed but whose very potential as a site for transformation is made clearly apparent.
Each of the spaces has quite a different feel. This is partly to do with the kinds of associations to which the memory of each of the artists who are evoked give rise. The actual places which the addresses mention also colour the spaces: Lambeth, which is where Blake's studio was located, is not at all like Paris which is where Duchamp is temporarily situated. Even the names of the streets have their own particular timbre, so that although Matta-Clark and Rothko are both situated in New York, their more immediate locations, 131 Chrystie Street and 222 Bowery, each have quite a specific lyrical resonance. The differences also have a lot to do with the intrinsic qualities of each of the particular spaces. One of the paintings is in a room which is also the gallery office and so it shares the space with other furnishings. This suggests that any one of these paintings could hang in any space, that any room could contain its potential. The particularities of the experience of each of these spaces is therefore, whilst definitive of a particular mood, also quite arbitrary. These paintings do not attempt to tune the rooms in which they hang to the pitch of the place whose address they depict, instead, they simply use their presence to coerce from the experience of the space a subtle shift, so that that experience might transcend its own location.
Whittlesea's paintings do not demand contemplation. At a certain stage they even become quite irrelevant as, having noted their intent, one ruminates on the spaces, charged with a magical possibility.