Penarth Pier Pavilion, The Esplanade, Penarth CF64 3AU

Liz West: Solstice Ritual

Penarth Pier Pavilion

17 June - 10 July 2016

Review by Sam Perry

The beach town in bad weather is cast in grey light. Stood on its pier the visitor looks over to England. Between the visitor and England is an achromatic scape of fog and calm sea, an opaque abstraction of the clear and vivid view the visitor had last time.

The visitor, who suffers from seasonal affective disorder, is astute to the cyclical nature of things, most of all the weather and, being a regular visitor to the beach town, the tide. The visitor notices structures in the beach town that seem to defy the cyclical ebb and flow of the world; the neo-Gothic church on the hill, its stained glass rose window and the thick concrete pillars that prop up and give foundations to the art deco pavilion on the pier, waves crashing against them ceaselessly.

Inside the pavilion light pierces the panes of its windows with the phosphorescence of the rose window of the church. Yellow from the right, pink from the left, a green mixture on the ceiling and parquet floor. This intervention continues the artist’s ongoing alchemic manipulation of our sensory mechanism with artificial and - in this instant - natural light. Painting the white surfaces of the gallery with a synthesis of yellow and pink light, Liz West’s mediation in the pavilion is a simple layering of coloured optical film onto each and every pane of window, allowing the breadth of the gallery, the sunrise, sunset and the mutable nature of our retinas to do the rest.

The colour theorist, artist and poet Josef Albers demonstrated our complicated and unconscious relationship with colour and light. His pedagogical vocation was to penetrate the very meaning of art and life based on colour, its ability to playfully toy with our emotions, our senses and predispositions. West puts the guidelines of Albers’ ‘Interaction of Color’ into practice in a way that is shaped precisely by the setting of Penarth, its 1930s pavilion and the solstice.

“Every perception of colour is an illusion.. ..we do not see colours as they really are. In our perception they alter one another…” - Josef Albers

With this in mind we see the exhibition afresh each view. When we experience yellow, particularly an amplified kind of yellow cast in the pavilion, it is not the same yellow as we experience having bathed in the magenta from the opposing side of the room. Thus a continual dialogue between the colours, a mutually-agreed deceit to our senses, gives multiple possibilities. The gallery’s interior - the floor, the walls - is not vacuous, this is not a show about minimalism. However subtle the physical intervention, it is a resourceful exhibition of material summoned by the window panes, the sky and the materiality of the pavilion’s surfaces.

We’re most vulnerable to colour’s playfulness and deception in certain situations and contexts. West’s response to the pavilion, the damp beach town, its art deco architecture and the solstice is judicious, astute and delicately balanced; a synthesis of light-therapy and colour psychology in emotive and pertinent surroundings.

The visitor comes to the beach town to meditate on existential thoughts on the pier. To the sound of seagulls it’s a medication for the visitor’s over-active senses. As visitors we come to the coasts to experience the expanse of the world, its colour, to broader horizons in the distance. A keen reader of Albers’ poetry, the visitor remembers a stanza;

Calm down

What happens

Happens mostly

Without you

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