Neil Shawcross

New Work

6 - 29 May 2010

Neil Shawcross, one of Northern Ireland’s most important artists celebrates his 70th birthday this year. Here at the Peppercanister Gallery, Neil exhibits his new paintings. The show contains nude figure studies and still lifes – both subjects that have long preoccupied the artist. For those acquainted with his previous work, his latest work has become wilder, looser, the paint laid down in a fluid, explosive manner. The element of chance creates a chaotic cosmos of paint. A balancing act between abandon and control.

Using a very simple but powerful palette of red and black, blocks of red form the background for the black linear figures to leap and dance across the space. Still lifes take on biomorphic shapes. The gestural splash evokes a spontaneity and musicality. Shawcross continues to explore the possibilities of his chosen medium.

Exhibition Essay

A musical term orchestration comes to mind with the works in this exhibition, particularly, the ‘frieze’ paintings which are scored and scrolled. Often colour is laid down as a base platform or bar while line underscores or phrases areas of colour into the suggestion of a form or maps out rolling rhythms and sustained or shifting syncopations.

Most of the works on show are nudes or still life paintings as well as monoprints. They range
The other recent development in Shawcross’ work has been the ‘gestural splash’, whether within
the picture plane or onto the picture frame. This tendency is related generally to the notion of release witnessed across his subject matter and cross fertilised between his experiments in portraiture, still lives and nude studies.

The result is an assured spontaneity and a rolling with the vargaries of chance. One of the reasons he likes working in monoprint is that there are opportunities for the deployment of chance. This may be seen in his ‘chair’ series, form the spindly wire-like chair with its swiped cast shadow to others were unstable chairs implode in a gestural shower.

In some paintings the frame carries splattered paint bringing this confining element into working action; the next logical step would be to spatter the wall surface immediately beyond the frame, extending the release and liberating the eye. Brian O’Doherty considers the frame as traditionally a containing border in emotional as well as physical terms, when he comments,
‘The frame of the easel picture is as much a psychological container for the artist as the room in which the viewer stands is for him or her.’

The use of the frame with Shawcross initially happened by chance in acquiring an already framed canvas from the late Cherith McKinstry to work on and while working the surface the frame became splattered. It also results from his experiments with working on the ground while hovering over paper rolls. Of course the work of Jackson Pollock comes to mind as an influence by way of his drip paintings.

With Shawcross, however, the visual referent is always there (a cup, a nude, a bottle) no matter how emancipated and abstracted from the original source.

Another source of influence or perhaps more accurately ‘awareness’ is the great self regarding
figures of Henry Moore. They are evident in a number of small nude studies which have, despite their scale, a sculptural weightiness to them and are as close to sculpture as the artist will get. But with Shawcross he has the power to simulate and make his own any sources of influence as hallmarks of an available modernism.

Liam Kelly