WE LIKE THE TASTE OF CERTAIN POISONS
At NoHawkers Gallery, Rodhus Studios, Brighton
1st to 2nd October, 2022
Returning home from the Private View for ‘We Like The Taste of Certain Poisons’, I am compelled to write something immediately about this small but compelling exhibition of Richard Graville’s paintings at NoHawkers Gallery, which is situated in the Rodhus complex of studios and workshops in Brighton.
Some sense of urgency (including the use of my iPhone photographs – so apologies to the artist) is due to the fact that the show is only open for two days and that if someone were to read this hurried review in time they might make it to see the exhibition. But another aspect of this impulse is due to my having spent a large proportion of the day preparing a teaching session, in which I shall ask my students to consider our shared human history of the landscape environment and might consider why this is still an interest for contemporary painters.
I had been re-reading Timothy Morton’s, ‘Being Ecological’, in which he posits the notion that:
“Picture postcards are descendents of what came before Romanticism in art, namely the picturesque. In the picturesque, the world is designed to look like a picture – like it’s already been interpreted and packaged by a human. You can easily see what’s what: there’s a mountain over there, a lake, maybe there’s a tree in the foreground… this is pretty much what humans saw in the savannah millions of years ago. Having a body of water nearby and some shade (those trees), encircled safely by mountains where you know there is water descending to feed the lake (for instance), is pretty handy if you’re some kind of ancient human. The picturesque is keyed to a fundamental human-centred way looking at things: it is anthropocentric.”
This seems strangely fortuitous, for although Graville’s paintings would certainly not be identified as landscapes as such (though they hold that possibility for a viewer who might be so inclined to wear their landscape-tinted spectacles), some kind of deep psychological and ‘pre-historical’ possibilities are pertinent to Graville’s project within a minimalist, systems/coding kind of approach to hard-edged abstract painting.
The last time I saw a Richard Graville painting (in the flesh, as opposed to on Instagam) was in H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G_x2 (Part 1) at the Phoenix Art Space in Brighton at the beginning of 2020. I wrote then that:
“Even Richard Graville’s pair of canvases, ‘Blushing Phantom’ and ‘Red Banded’, that come the closest to accruing accusations of painterly abstraction, have an aura of careful, premeditated control. That they echo the similar stripes on the workforce vans outside the building is either unfortunate or reminds us that abstract art is everywhere.”
This was my personal, uninformed but simplistically and naively honest response to two rather satisfying paintings. We search for meaning, some allusion, illusion or just good old subject matter in paintings. It’s habitual. That the red and yellow stripes on the Highway Maintenance vans had any connection with the natural world, as in animal colouration and patterning, I must admit was beyond me at the time.
From this solo show of ten new works by the artist (plus several more in his studio on-site) an information sheet presents this comment:
“Humans were once able to navigate and track subtle clues in nature. Now flat signs in primary colours tell us which way to go and what to do. I continue down that path to see where it leads.” (Richard Graville)
Hence my connection with Morton’s view on the picturesque, in that we humans create systems of understanding to navigate and understand the environments we live in – as do the other animals. Morton’s observations reference a perception of the world from a clearly human viewpoint (the anthropocentric), although also in the book he makes it clear that a worm’s experience of an apple is somewhat different to a human’s. Nevertheless, on all sorts of levels, data is interpreted, via various access modes, to be acted upon.
A wall mounted information display adjacent to the exhibition room tells the viewer that animal colouration systems, categorized as aposematism, inform potential predators that an animal is poisonous, venomous, or otherwise dangerous. All animals (which include us humans), to some extent, live (and die) by preventing attack (or not). Data requires interpretation, which is a form of code, taking us back to the work of the artist.
Not that Graville’s works could be categorized as ‘landscape’, but various painted arenas (canvases) are presented for interpretation and contemplation. Sensory input, from the simple act of looking, enables the mind to process information that we categorise typically as colour, size, shape, texture and finish or sheen. Each composition is relatively simple and geometrical and often references (purposely or not) windows and road signs. The colour palette is always limited (sometimes monochrome), though sophisticated and astute enough to prompt some reaction from the viewer. Every work is immaculately and carefully composed, painted and visually constructed. I suspect that the paintings might feel different depending on one’s mood and known or unknown frame of reference at different times. If you can accept a minimalist type of simplicity, aligned to a deep interest in colour (for its own sake, never mind any aposematic coding or sign) try to see this show – or look out for the next opportunity.
Geoff Hands (October 2022)
‘Being Ecological’ by Timothy Morton (quotation from pp.24/25 Pelican, 2018)
Guardian review –
Richard Graville – https://richardgraville.net/shop (see good quality photographs of the works)
H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G exhibition review – fineartruminations.com/2020/01/30/hardpaintingx2-part-1/
Social media: Instagram – @nohawkers @richard_graville Hashtags: #certainpoisons
Also – The teaching session I was planning – https://hampshireart.studio/abstract-approaches-to-using-colour-acrylic-painting/