Both a prolific and experimental artist, Malcolm Le Grice has amassed an innovative body of work throughout his career. Now considered a pioneer of British Expanded Cinema, the Plymouth-born artist has explored diverse territory over the years, the results of which have been brought together in a new exhibition. ‘Present Moments and Passing Time’ spans decades, containing a volume of work shown at both Plymouth Arts Centre and Peninsular Arts. Like Le Grice’s work itself, the exhibition resists a linear narrative across the two venues. It appears instead as a celebration of diverse work, which makes itself seen, heard, and even felt by the viewer.
Peninsular Arts accommodates the larger-scale pieces, which allows for each to assume an immersive quality. Upon entering, however, the exhibition is heard before being seen; a cacophony of sounds float across the space, from the soft crackle of an aluminium sheet blowing across one painting to the audio accompaniments of the film work. Lightbulbs flash, white noise hums, and digital work dances across the walls. The work has an immediate energy, one that excites and intrigues.
Unsurprisingly, the film work is part of the most engaging section. There are particular moments when footage carries an air of unease; Finiti (2011) overlaps sequences in which images move erratically, pivot, and swiftly reappear elsewhere. Close-up textures and scenes of war rapidly flash - a chaotic collage which succeeds in simultaneously jarring and entrancing the observer. Movement, so central in Le Grice’s work, becomes a more hypnotic device in Even the Cyclops Pays the Ferryman (1998). Textured images, layered upon one another, pulsate and reemerge in a considered rhythm. The movement beats like a visual score of music, drawing the eye ever-further in. A requiem following the death of the artist’s father, the footage shifts into more discernible forms. Branches overlap with an aged face, the textures of bark and skin recede into each other. Not communicating morbidity, the film reflects on the passing of time, ageing, and the cyclical process of life and death. This is where Le Grice’s work asserts itself most powerfully; the viewer is not dictated a procession of imagery. We are offered a medley of immersive forms that interact and ask to be experienced rather than overthought.
The smaller space of Plymouth Arts Centre allows for a more personal, albeit less immersive, experience for the viewer. Though weighed heavier with two-dimensional work, the setting is utilised expertly to still offer a diverse range, including projections, digital work and short films. Here artistic references become overt and abundant. In After Leonardo (1972), the infamous image of Mona Lisa is reconstructed through both collage and projection. In the former, copies of the portrait are layered and folded across one another. It makes for an interesting contrast to the treatment of the same portrait when projected - though still a replicate, the image is suspended reverentially, hanging silently within a glass box. The projection is spliced with Freudian text within a spectrum of colours. Though motionless, it still contains an energy seen across Le Grice’s entire body of work. Take his series of charcoal drawings, for instance. The strokes possess urgency and boldness, which breathe dynamic life into immovable forms.
Such energy complements the city in which the work is exhibited. Le Grice left the city in his youth as a ‘culture-free zone’. Now, however, it provides an exciting platform for such exhibitions to take place. Not only is ‘Present Moments and Passing Time’ a sentimental return for the artist, but also signals a city continuing to flourish creatively.