“The last time I used my imagination was at this school”.
I found out a few things about Colin as we both stared into the dense yellowed lacquer of ‘Untitled’ by Samuel Jeffery.
Jeffery’s solo show at TG is housed within artist studio complex Primary, a building that, as its name suggests, functioned as a school until 2008. Colin attended the school 35 years ago and his appearance at the private view marked the first time he had been back since. The last artwork Colin had made was a painting of a yellow owl. As we stood there, Colin told me he was picturing the owl in 6 different positions - one for each of the empty compartments of Jeffery’s tableau. He went on to explain how he used to play chess in the kitchen next door to the gallery - perhaps triggered by the grid pattern of the same work.
I, on the other hand, got lost thinking about domestic features such as interior paneling and how the lacquer surface was reminiscent of the gloss paint that differentiates skirting boards from walls.
My attention then shifted to the one sash window the work appeared to echo on the adjacent wall. Standing up against the glass panes looking down onto the residential street, I noticed a laptop and phone repair shop. I clocked the lampposts, drainpipes and washing lines; that the house opposite had double glazing, unlike the gallery. Humble observations that seemed to demand equal consideration.
The view referred me back to one of three white monochromes. ‘Untitled (Stripe composition)’, comprising of wood, emulsion, paper and a sim card, appeared to be grounded in this geographical location; pointing towards the activity in the local business opposite whilst appearing as a mini blueprint for the gallery floor plan, which in itself is sim card shaped.
Two further monochromes in the same series punctuated the rest of the walls at intervals. All three works continued a conversation begun by Ben Nicholson in the making of ‘1935 (white relief)’ and ‘January 1962 (white relief - Paros)’. Where Nicholson created ‘collage’ by layering forms reminiscent of Art Deco architectures that cast shadows to bring out depth, Jeffery covers each panel, frame, and a selection of objects, in layers of emulsion so they become one surface. The edges are somewhat softer and an alternative sense of depth is achieved in the act of painting and re-painting; scratching and sanding back.
Jeffery’s white monochromes are suggestive of distant landscapes. Their compositions have an ‘accuracy’, differentiating them from any form of natural terrain but rather a man-made one; dotted with pylons, towers and chimneys. Cylindrical components appear in the last third of each panel, subtly conforming to photography’s ‘rule of thirds’ which advises against central compositions.
Jeffery provides us with ‘views’ that are infinite (if your imagination allows), or frustratingly shallow. They act as the unidentifiable ‘habitats’ of Joseph Cornell. They follow in the footsteps of the artists and architects of the Dutch De Stijl movement, who aimed to redesign the world in a simpler, reductive way using straight lines and squares responding to the aftermath of the First World War.
The only wall-based work on display that encompasses ‘real’ physical space was made in 2014. ‘Blob Discovery’ alludes to a life-size section of rail track (with a screw missing) or more absurdly, to a bird-box, providing what could be imagined as a moment’s solitary isolation in what seems like an exhibition of boundless expanse.
Physical space is further pursued in the 95 minute audio ‘Train to Berlin’ located in the back room of the gallery. The work feels heavily supported by the wall-based pieces, so that when stood underneath the tannoy speaker (appropriately reminiscent of a railway station), we are finally acclimatised to ‘picturing’ what is absent. And yet, when faced with the claustrophobic soundscape of a carriage full of crisp packets, newspapers and fidgeting bodies, we realise that our ‘view’ compared to the passenger’s, is very different.
This overall sense of resistance in Jeffery’s work appeared to be effective in the case of both myself and Colin. When encouraged to stare at things long enough, artworks that at first appeared remote, began to enter into our own landscapes.