Hunter/Gatherer brings together Frances Richardson's recent ink drawings with a selection of work by Peter Dreher. An exercise borne from the solitude of our current moment, Richardson's new works on paper gather together a group of objects each of which holds a sense of emptiness. Paired with the works are texts written by the artist.
It is inevitable that, even without a conscious desire, we develop relationships with things. Some things become such a part of our daily routine that we are inured to their presence. Some things are no longer of use, so we disregard them. Some things we choose not to deal with. Some things we just don’t recognise as being with. Some things announce themselves and say, take me home. Some things unexpectedly get lodged as a memory. Some things…
Back in March, faced with working from home for a while, I had the urge to make some representations of objects that I seem to have developed quiet relationships with. It is an odd list of items: a couple of buckets, an imaginary pile of breeze-blocks, an Olduvai hand-axe, a jug, some street fencing, a piece of sea-worn concrete, a used balloon, condom, envelope… The list continues, but at its own pace, wild and ungoverned.
Do they form a collection? I suppose that is the thing: they do, now, in the act of representing them.
I am full of doubt, wondering if impulses should be trusted at all, like a fool without reason. Representation tends to hold authority and domination over things, subjugates the object in a reduced form for the purpose of narrative or symbol; reductive nouns and images attach themselves to objects, a shortcutting of our sensory experience of the world. For me, representation was a ‘not seeing’ of things in themselves as a matter of vibration; but perhaps I need to deal with things as they seem to be the measure of us.
The gallery has lent me two Peter Dreher glass paintings to live with for a while. Unfortunately, I never met him before he died on 18 February this year.
The paintings are captivating in real life. The paint, matt, showing the minuscule ridges of the brushstrokes, slows the eye across the surface. Nuanced tones pick out with observed precision the wall, space, glass and table, all demanding equal presence. The glass, wall, space and table are significant in their ordinary-ness. The attention to the overall scene in equal measure is reminiscent of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin; the stillness and the absence of the artist’s own subjectivity is reminiscent of Juan Sánchez Cortan. Dreher painted nearly 5,000 images of the same empty glass – but is that what he was painting? Why am I being drawn in?
Apparently, Dreher felt the ‘most quiet’ when painting these paintings, but is his state of mind or state of being when painting of any significance? I sense something of the hunter in his meditative, repetitive approach: a desire to capture light and to master it. The hunter camouflages himself and loses his ego in order to hunt successfully. He is a painter, and his prey is light. The glass is the lure and the wall, table and space the trap. He is in control. The light cannot help but fall into the trap, and we fall for the lure.
Dreher stated that making the work was an attempt to ‘consider myself like an instrument and ignore any form of subjective intervention’. This meditation or exercise in looking and recording light would carry on in his own words until ‘the motivation stopped’. So why not use a camera? There must be some thing beyond capturing light, and beyond mimesis.
Still Thinking 1 & 2 (Bucket)
Day By Day, Good Day
Ungrounded object 1 (Olduvai Axe)
It is extraordinary that a painter should paint the same thing so many times and so methodically. Each painting had to be finished the on the day or night it was started. Dreher’s act of painting is as much part of the work as the image itself. I sit looking at two of these glass paintings. Each holds my attention. I usually enjoy playing spot-the-difference, but it is not a game they invite me to play. There is a quiet intensity to them as individual works, which separately draw me in, and yet I am aware of each being only a part of a larger whole.
I am intrigued by the image of the empty glass. It is empty in, of and outside itself.
I reflect back on Chardin’s Glass of Water and Coffee Pot (1760), receptacles inscribed by their contents, seen in servitude, their emptiness mastered, caught, inseparable from the act of offering.
Not this glass. I have fallen for the lure, and I look again at Dreher’s painting. It holds and reflects light. It catches and bends the light that passes through it like a lens distorting the artificial horizon where the table meets the wall. It reflects the light from the window in front of it, allowing within the image another image of glass, revealing a sense of the space of the room in which the painter sits, a space we cannot confront but can only imagine. The small image of the reflected window signifies a space beyond the window, the space in which we all are. The life-size scale of the painted glass holds our gaze intimately. It is itself reflected in the surface it sits on. The wall and the surface are mathematical infinite planes, x, y and z, abstracted from their objecthood coordinates of time and space. The glass is an empty thing placed in a hitherto constructed empty space, but it is all filled with light – even the shadows.
Tag um Tag guter Tag
I cut in shadows with ink slowly, releasing an illusion of a form. I can’t go back; each mark is absorbed and permanent. I am literally avoiding the light, groping in the shadows, carving out an illusion of the form as if I were touching the object.
I struggle to know where I am going, but I don’t think it matters, and I don’t want to rationalise it. I just have to trust.
Most of the time I feel like I am lost in a vast ocean. I wonder if it is the same for every artist; or maybe we deal with the predicament of being out at sea very differently. I am swimming, sometimes drowning, feeling for things in the darkness. Are there unexplored horizons or just nothing? It is 23 years since I started drawing with plus and minus, forming imaginary light in the darkness. They have been my ‘anchors’, but perhaps not anymore. I say this because now, not having made a representative image for 23 years, I draw a bucket. It feels like I have been tossed ashore. Well, at least I’m not drowning.
I hear the handle as it drops, the slight delay and screech-scraw as the pivot ring, thin and bent inwards slightly, impinges on its gravitational decent, just before the clatter as the ‘where I held’ now touches its own body. It is speaking, but I draw it dumb, still, ungrounded.
Still Thinking: A Fraction More Than A Desire
About Frances Richardson
Frances Richardson (b. 1965, Leeds, UK) received her MA in Fine Art Sculpture from the Royal College of Art, London in 2006. Previous to this she studied BA (Hons) Fine Art at Norwich School of Art and Design, Norwich. Following this course, Richardson received a Commonwealth Foundation Fellowship and trained as a Yoruba carver under Master Carver Segun Faleye in Nigeria. Later studies brought her to the Sculpture MA at the Royal College of Art.
Richardson exhibits both nationally and internationally. Key solo exhibitions include: Not even nothing can be free from ghosts, Standpoint Gallery, London 2018, In times of brutal instability, Chiara Williams Contemporary Art, London Art Fair 2018, Performed object: Fig.090616, Concrete Canvas, Treforest Industrial Estate, Cardiff 2016, Loss of object and bondage to it Fig.2, Bermondsey Square Sculpture Commission, Vitrine Gallery, London 2015, Loss of object and bondage to it, Lubomirov-Easton, London 2014 and Ideas in the Making: drawing structure, Trinity Contemporary, London 2011.
In 2017 Richardson was awarded the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award and Chiara Williams Contemporary Art SOLO AWARD and nominated for the Max Mara Art Prize for Women 2015-17 in collaboration with Whitechapel Gallery.
About Peter Dreher
Peter Dreher (1932-2020) was a German artist and academic teacher. He painted series of landscapes, interiors, flowers and skulls, beginning his series Tag um Tag guter Tag, wherein he painted the same glass some 5,000 times over the next decades, in 1974. As a professor of painting, he influenced artists including Anselm Kiefer. His works have been exhibited extensively internationally and can be found in numerous public collections such as: the Art Institute of Chicago; Columbus Museum of Art; Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and MAMCO, Geneva.