Engaging in a dialogue of painterly curiosity, Drawn reflects an understanding of painting originating from post-minimalism. Lydia Gifford’s first major solo exhibition presents a series of new works produced for the ground floor exhibition space at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.
An accumulation of freestanding painterly objects and wall-based works, Gifford’s aesthetic is of chalky whites and greys, pale, uneven surfaces and broken frames. In ‘Outer 2’ (2014), off-white, oil soaked cotton is pulled and pinned in place to an imperfect frame that reveals itself to be stuffed, bulging in areas against the pressure of the cloth. Hung upon perfectly crisp white walls, the off-white-on-white effect intensifies small details such as folds, creases and imperfect edges.
Breaking the tradition of the modernist frame, Gifford’s paintings reshape the conventional picture-plane. ‘Ward’ (2014), a bold, freestanding monolith-like structure, has a tall rectangular plane. Painted wet with fabric dye and oil, this at first delicate and wispy object, from the rear, is a negative space in which hardened clay dries uneven.
Gifford continually challenges her objects, forcing them to battle with themselves to be a surface for painting. Her hand reveals an understanding of painting history, as her treatment of the frame and largely monochrome palette act as a deliberate play on modernist convention.
The works are tactile, a physicality that is the by-product of the performativity inherent in the studio practice of which they were born. In ‘Dial’ (2014), the textile has been stretched so taught and fiercely nailed in place that the labour intensity of the production is made visible. This obscure pole-like structure has anthropomorphic qualities, bulges and edges that are akin to elbow and knee joints, and fine creases in material that evoke folds of skin. The scale of the work, being that of human height, enhances this bodily encounter further.
In another work, a frame has been distorted before the stretching of the canvas. This pallid, yellow ochre painting is reminiscent of Eva Hesse’s treatment of the frame in her iconic ‘Hang up’ (1966), in its gesture of nonconformity. The frame has been cut and shifted up, evoking a movement, a change from one state to another, or as Gifford titled the work, a ‘Warming’ (2014).
‘Drawn’ appears as a proposition. Navigating the space, objects align and separate, creating a changing sphere of painting compositions. The order in which the viewer encounters the objects creates a rhythm, as the works on display have different kinds of presence. Some are more bold, such as ‘Pinch’ (2014), which uncharacteristically has an intense colour, a fleshy thick, peach oil paint that clings to a small, stuffed and distorted canvas. Others, like ‘Porous’ (2014), are more casual; the interior of the object is revealed as dyed white cotton partially wrapped around a wooden structure. There are transitions, shifts and stops, as these suspended objects transform under the public gaze.
Offering another perspective in the contemporary language of paint, Gifford’s paintings have interiors and footprints; they have several planes and broken frames. She acts as the mediator in the creative process, refusing to ‘know’ the works well; she responds intuitively to emerging forms and continually challenges them to be a surface for painting. ‘Drawn’, as an exhibition title, may seem odd given that there are no drawings (in a conventional sense) on display, but perhaps drawn not only refers to a drawing practice but to a drawing together, a bringing forth, an opening or closing. Gifford allows us to encounter her work in a way that is wholly temporal, unique to this exhibition.