Jeannie Avent Gallery, East Dulwich
There’s a certain persuasion about digital platforms. Despite their omnipresence and commonplace presence in our everyday lives, the prevalence of images on-line still gain some sort of elevated credence. Our computers and other digital devices place virtual galleries in our hands.
I first discovered John Taylor’s work on Instagram (or was it Twitter?) last year and have followed his work with increasing interest. Little more than a week ago a tweet alerted me to his latest exhibition and, even on an iPhone screen, where the diminutive 9X5cm portal presented a 5X5cm image, I was especially struck by the combination of abstract, minimalist compositions in ‘Nine Collages’. This was the necessary bait to coax me along to the Jeannie Avent Gallery.
In this small but light and uncluttered gallery space (just the one room of a former corner shop) these works that I initially sought out lived up to my expectations. Seeing and experiencing the ‘real thing’ was even more satisfying than the initial digital representation, particularly in the context of the exhibition that was something of a mini-retrospective. The ‘Geometric Incidents’ that make up ‘Nine Collages’ are relatively small works, but they combine perfectly in this grid-like configuration (maybe four would work fine as well, but 12 would be too many). As they are so small there’s a suggestion of intimacy in these collages. Initially, the implied spatial play is confined and locked-in, but after a while the flat colour-forms take on a teasingly monumental impact and reveal a more expansive, architectural sense of structure that suggests asymmetrical order in apparent arbitrariness. The shapely and geometric forms in these collages could have been a pared down version of a number of the more complex works on show that do not deny, but celebrate, some indebtedness to Ben Nicholson and the abstract wing of the St.Ives School.
For example ‘Sense of Occasion’ features a modernist exploration of space on the picture plane. In this instance the visual play is typically both contained and fixed but with indications of a larger scaled environment of planar forms. There is enough information to suggest an interior arrangement on a tabletop and an airy opening (on the right hand side) where the grey forms bring in breathing space for the viewer’s imagination. A central window or mirror-type rectangle might suggest a head and shoulders – or a large goblet or other vessel. It probably doesn’t matter which, but this virtual and implicit content humanises the potentially anonymous abstract configurations.
In another work, ‘After Barcelona’, these interspatial collusions also reveal Taylor’s predilection for a spatial harmonics that, through restraint and clarity, speaks quietly, though insistently. The constrained and limited palette of colour combinations is carefully juxtaposed (rather than undermined) by mildly surprising colour appearances. In this composition the light blue vertical strip, with a wavy edge, evoked my own abstracted memory of Barceloneta; and the brown structures suggested the tight alleyway spaces and tiled roofs of the Gothic Quarter. Or maybe there are suggestions of wooden furniture or tables in a small bar. This Hodgkinesque response, triggered by both the composition and the title, demonstrates that the personal is transferable, yet inevitably transformable.
On further reflection, particularly with access to this imagery after leaving the exhibition (another plus point with regard to digital reproductions), further looking and contemplation of Taylor’s paintings and collages confirms his talent for creating visual harmony. Interestingly, there is also a subtle sense of melancholia (ennui is too strong a term). Is there a positive, or amiable, form of melancholy? Are these the Abstract Voices alluded to in the title of the show? The works will have to speak for themselves, through the filters of the viewer’s personal experiences. Emotional responses to people and places have not only made the work – but are passed on.
All images © John Taylor.
“The ongoing development of my work continues as I constantly revisit, revise and explore abstraction. In my most recent works I have allowed my paintings to become their own voice. Simple shapes are used in a very simplified or modernist way.
I believe that by following my emotional response to the process of abstraction I am responding most genuinely to myself and my integrity as the artist. This is a challenging and sensitive process, a process with which I feel an increasingly emotional and confident connection.”
Additional images and information also on-line at: