In gratitude for all the times we start over
19th November 2022 – 8th January 2023
Flatland Projects, Unit 7, Beeching Road Studios, Beeching Road, Bexhill on Sea,TN39 3LJ
Jeb Haward, Oscar Yasamee, Babalola Yusuf, David Auborn, Alessandro Raho, Alice Walter, Jennifer Caroline Cambell, Jo Addison, Lily Alice Baker, Alice Mansfield
In Gratitude for All the Times We Start Over and Begin Again
This show was borne from gratitude. Thankfulness for the connections made between the participating artists, for the porous artist ecology of East Sussex and an overarching indebtedness to the principles of paint. Collectively these works serve as an ode to generosity— championing the overlaps and ripples that emerge amongst these practices.
In Teaching to Transgress, Bell Hooks laments the inaptitude of the ‘banking system of education’, where students passively retain information delivered by teachers, store it, and regurgitate it at a later date. Aiming to rid learning environments of authoritative, hierarchical dynamics, Hooks calls for greater reciprocity within classrooms— seeking to abandon dogma, encourage critical thinking and lean into collective discovery. Within this frame of thinking, the teacher has as much to learn from their students, as the students have to learn from them.
Within In Gratitude, this ethos of experimentation and celebrating ‘untraditional’ guides runs throughout the show. There are teachers in the mix of artists who have undoubtedly had an imprint on their students and vice versa. Yet networks developed in the region, aesthetic influences shared, intergenerational relationships fostered, and the forgiveness and pliability of paint itself also serve as vital pools of knowledge and fertile ground to harvest.
In their disparate ways, each of these artists push and pull the malleability of paint, stretching its capabilities in line with different critical tones and processes. An interest with reproducing and dissecting the character of everyday objects and experiences feeds the works presented by Alessandro Raho, Oscar Yasamee and Jeb Haward. Items such as art books, feathers and dried flowers undergo their inspection, with their respective resonant qualities coming to light.
The white backdrops of Raho’s paintings gift the depicted materials with a particular residue of care, distilling the sentimental qualities of inanimate commodities. Their artifice at odds with the lifelike minutia of scale, textural depth and light, a bewildering sense of intimacy surfaces in the compositions. Within Yamasee’s practice, a more critical tone materialises. The modular works within the extended series A Dream of Disorder use either personal photography, historic events or images found in the public domain as their starting point. This blending of the personal with the public speaks to the series’ excavation of the pervasive structures of late capitalism and the misplacement of truth in image-making. The delicate delivery of these tableaux further heightens their dystopic quality.
Everyday pictorial elements similarly form the sediment of Jeb Haward’s large-scale canvases. In an all-encompassing process, muddy, earthy tones meet swathes of pastels. Linework layers over washes of paint as the canvas comes into being. The act of image making charges chance encounters with habitual scenes, carving out space for the unexpected. In a similar vein to Haward’s methodology, the works from Alice Mansfield, Babalola Yusuf and Lily Alice Baker are all incredibly visceral. Intuition guides their practices, as they instinctively mark the canvas with bodily inscriptions.
Drawing on her background in dance, Baker’s pieces operate within the language of choreography. Fluidly tinkering within and without of the bounds of figuration, moments of pause, weightiness and release populate her works. Personal memories are laced with this immediate physicality, with cloudiness and clarity interlocking in the yarns of the canvas. Mansfield’s paintings also sit within the interim between the abstract and the figurative, as fields in which to strip away, re-work and ‘begin again’ as Hooks would put it. Anchored in an attempt to think less and feel more, saturated drips, angular marks, and textured clumps of paint form knots within bodies of colour.
The works presented by Yusuf were created in specific clusters of time. The painting on canvas for example was readily produced during slices of free time as a teaching assistant, speedily working with oils during breaks, lunch times and after school periods. Bearing witness to these energetic hives of activity, the painting becomes a capsule of this intensity, with a cacophony of colours and gestural marks adding voltage to the canvas.
The work of David Auborn and Alice Walter alternatively develops on a more gradual, organic plane. Both tap into an otherworldly tone, with narrative strands ebbing and flowing in their smaller pieces. Within Auborn’s episodic paintings facets of folklore, botany, and biology cohabitate, surfacing in oddly familiar forms. Developing slowly over extended periods of time, the materials co-author these durational pieces, with periods of reflection and response ricocheting between artist and paint.
Surveying Walter’s works, the eye is hesitant to land at a particular point in the composition. Lilly pads, eyes, tails, and geometric shapes beckon one’s attention, with motifs and textures re-occurring and shifting from piece to piece. Like chapters of a book being overlapped and re-arranged, stories feel present, but shuffled. Discarded materials such as offcuts of wood or thread are taken into the fold, giving texture to these ever-evolving tableaux.
Jennifer Campbell and Jo Addison pull paint off of the canvas and into the sculptural realm. In explorative registers each of these artists wield materials such as polystyrene, cardboard, neoprene, wood and jesmonite, melding these sculptural components with paint. With Campbell, there’s a sense of reckless abandonment in her methodology, as she magnifies the elasticity of her chosen materials. Nurturing non-formulaic strategies, her practice mirrors and refracts the shapeshifting, ever-evolving tropes and traps of gender. What was once feminine gospel after all, is now dated— archaic in the lens of contemporary constructs. Campbell’s playful use of materials leaves these flippancies of gender startlingly bare, dismantling temples of supposed femininity.
Similarly to Raho, Yasamee and Haward, habitual objects act as nodes within Addison’s practice. What differs however, is a specific focus on the relationship between things, on unearthing hidden kinships between items, their owners, and wider cultural tides. The majority of the works within the series Light Things Only have been made by repurposing polystyrene and other packing materials from delivered goods. This act of re-producing from ‘disposable’ substances informs the logic of the process. Whilst being sculpted, the behaviour of the original ingredients meets the features of the newly formed object. Characteristics of both the old and the new surface, unlocking novel associations. Presented here on shelves, further traces of home, the studio and the gallery intermingle, widening the intersections gathered between these sculptures.
In a similar strain of thinking to Hooks, Ursula K Le Guin’s ‘Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’ argues that collecting, containing, and gathering are all essential components to generous and sustainable processes of creation. Whether that process involves writing, teaching, or painting, providing a space for assemblage and congregation is vital for both Le Guin and Hooks. Imagination strikes at the core of their thinking, to reconsider pedestalled narratives and reinstate value in collective methodologies. Whether they’re herding personal experiences, points of connection or artistic processes, the works presented within In Gratitude all benefit from these communal entanglements. Flatland was developed as a space to foster such outgoing gestures, to be a meeting point or ‘container’ for creatives in East Sussex. We’re so grateful for all the times we can start over and begin again.
text by Fran Painter-Fleming