Contemporary painting is so often talked about as a form of dance. It is ‘gestural’. The painter is a ‘choreographer’ who masterfully directs splatters of paint. There is rhythm and cadence and movement.
All of that, of course, is poetic exaggeration – something writers and art historians (myself included) like to say when they are getting a bit grandiose. For all our high flung ideas, a painting is not an action. It can only ever be a record. It is only ever the ghost of movement.
All that said, Florence Peake’s show at Bosse & Baum, ‘WE perform I am in love with my body,’ comes as close to dance – as close to performance – as you can get. The pieces are so connected with the body, physicality and movement that you just can’t get away from it.
The physicality of it all starts before you even enter the space. Tucked away into Peckham’s Bussey Building, Bosse & Baum is surrounded by makers. This isn’t Mayfair. On my way to the gallery, I passed a pottery studio and a fabrication workshop. As I stood outside their open doors, I could see things coming together before my eyes.
Within Bosse & Baum’s small, light space this atmosphere of undetermined creation continues. Eight bright, pastel paintings fill the room, ranging from light blues to pale corals to deep pinks. While these planes of colour are printed on to the paper support, they feel textural and deep. It is sensorial – they pull you in.
Peake’s painting sits on top of this lush foundation. Outlines of bodies seem suspended in movement. They spring into the air, fall into colour, come into being. Peake created these silhouettes of herself in her studio as she moved and that unrehearsed action is clear in their forms; while they are recognisable as human figures, they don’t come together in any logical way. Instead of an object, here the body is a territory more than anything else. It is a site of pleasure and sensation. It is a place for exploration.
Peake’s practice often returns to this sense of exploration. She has a strong background in dance and much of her work has modern dance’s sense of spontaneity and space. As with all work so connected to performance, there’s always the danger that without Peake to animate them, they would fall flat. It isn’t enough to picture her creating these pieces on the floor of her studio, surrounded by paints.
‘WE Perform I am in love with my body’, however, is really an invitation for us all to perform. The colour is there for us all to fall into. The foundation is there for all of us to contemplate our own bodies as complete territories, to allow us all space to find joy in our own skin.
As Peake reminds us, while paintings might not be gestures, they can be platforms, inspiring action and feeling and meditation.