Clem Crosby’s solo exhibition, ‘My, my shivers’, at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery presents a collection of small and medium scale abstract paintings. The works illustrate a refreshing return to the exploration of the processes and techniques involved in utilising paint as a material tool for creative communication. Visitors observe how Crosby’s practice as a painter has evolved, traversing modernist ideologies. Each piece is concerned with colour, line, mark and gesture, functioning as an experiment in paint, and a dialogue between artist and material.
The gallery is pristine. The white walls, permeating daylight, and near total silence create an atmosphere of stillness and intimacy, allocating the highest degree of attention to the paintings. As the title of the exhibition suggests, however, the paintings sit restlessly in this pure space; they vibrate and tremble against white walls and tranquility is subtly replaced with a sense of anxiety.
Crosby is a painter’s painter; his work provokes emotive response through gesture, mark and colour, rather than through illustration or didacticism. ‘My, my shivers’ creates vibrations in the space because the paintings are charged with physical energy and movement; dark, crude, crayon-like marks tangle and twist across the surface of each painting, mapping the artist’s gesture through waves of intensity into moments of tranquillity. ‘Motel,’ for instance, is a large-scale monochrome work that reverberates with motion flowing from clustered, concentrated black lines. The lines exist uncomfortably between drawing and painting. They collide and collect in sections of thick, chaotic cramped strokes – an intimate representation of the process of mark-making, informed by both movement and emotion. Crosby’s works are not figurative, yet paradoxically they relate so significantly to the body. ‘Motel’ is infused with physical and emotional energy, intensifying in areas and relaxing in others. In this work, a simple black line is a rhythmic gesture representing the intuitive unification of body and mind in the process of painting.
‘My, my, shivers’ reveals the artist’s interest in techniques of drawing and painting to move beyond the confines of the conventional image by negating the pictorial and embracing the communicative applications of the material. Crosby uses paint as a tool for discovery. The paint informs the paintings and marks seem intuitively derived from those made previously. Indeed, certain works in the show suggest explicitly the artist’s process of adding and subtracting, accumulating and reducing. Thick blue marks appearing as afterthoughts dominate the surface of ‘In triple speed,’ for instance. The marks flatten and abstract the painting further, sitting uncomfortably atop the obsessive black scribble. The visual juxtaposition created from the loose application of vibrant colour is quickly compromised, as the blue becomes pale, stale and muddied where its edges meet the tight, black, knotted mass. Again a certain vibration is produced, an unstable shiver between line and colour, foreground and background. Perhaps this blue afterthought is an attempt at resolution. Perhaps it is physical evidence of a conversation between painter and paint, whereby the material is listened to, not dominated. Whatever the case, the exhibition offers us countless curious painted moments. Combining the erratic and controlled, the ugly and the beautiful, Clem Crosby’s works in ‘My, my shivers’ highlight the clashing and joining forces behind the physical, mental and emotional process of painting. Even if we, the visitors, are unable to name them, we can feel them.