Tucked a few meters away from Regent Street’s busy pavement, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery has set aside a little alcove of tranquility for the urban stroller in presenting a selection of recent drawings by British artist Tania Kovats. In the continuity of ‘Oceans’, her recent solo show at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, Kovats explores in ‘Watermark’ the liquid element in its multitude of textures, impressions and geological implications.
Entering the gallery it is the large-scale ‘Sea Mark’ that first catches the eye, carving up a window towards the horizon into the room’s back wall. Reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s ‘Pier and Ocean’ (1917) series, the blue brush marks decreasing in a grid of ceramic tiles instantly draw the viewer into the meditative contemplation of a tame ocean. With very simple means yet immediate effect, the work’s seemingly abstract composition succeeds in recalling a vivid naturalistic image. One cannot help but see – or rather feel – the slow yet constant motion of the waves, while the glazed ceramic support of the piece enhances the sensation of flickering reflection of light on water. The smaller-scale sister-work on paper nearby, ‘Sea Mark (Blue)’, prolongs the sensation with slightly less vigour but not without poetry. The colour of the light has shifted it seems, but again we are transported to the shore of an infinite ocean slowly lapsing towards an unknown horizon. With her seascapes, Kovats successfully manages to provoke impressions, a mental image of the ocean as gestalt.
Alongside the infinity of the ocean we are invited to consider water on a more invisible scale. In her ‘Evaporations’, Kovats mixes inks, salts and water on paper. This reaction allows the water to be the main player and to leave its own imprint on the support through evaporation. Despite the relative predictability of the final result, the element of chance seems here paramount. We find in the ‘Evaporations’ something redolent of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Unhappy Readymade’ (1919) – a textbook left outdoors to be exposed to the elements. Each incorporates a natural process, one which shapes landscapes, and determines the appearance of the completed artworks. The results are not only visually appealing, with their multifaceted mineral qualities or their evocation of a fluctuating tide, but also emanate a strong contemplative essence. Looking at the ‘Evaporations’, as well as ‘Sea Marks’, one cannot help but be reminded of the serenity and spirituality of oriental landscapes and find in Kovats the qualities of a Lee Ufan. Indeed, in both series, the artist effectively prompts the eye to linger and the mind to wander.
In this regard, other works on show – ‘Only Blue (British Isles)’ and ‘Arctic Circle Islands’ – might find themselves slightly overlooked, yet rightfully complement the exhibition as being essential to the understanding of Kovats’ practice. The show as a whole offers a small yet astute selection of the artist’s recent works and admirably conveys the poetry of Kovats’ waterscapes.