02 Mar A Thinking Line – Making Space: South-West abstract artists in new exhibition
Exhibition: Thinking Line – Making Space
The Slade Centre, Gillingham
Saturday 24 March – Sunday 15 April 2018
A pause: a temporary cessation of activity; an interruption of action; a moment to just stop. In an age when we’re repeatedly told how busy our lives are a new exhibition at Gillingham’s Slade Centre revels in the matchless joy of simply taking a minute.
The show, Thinking Line – Making Space combines the work of two Somerset artists Pennie Elfick and Tony Martin, both of whom draw inspiration from the environment but respond to it in quite different ways.
“We’re constantly bombarded by visual stimuli, I want to make work that presses the pause button,” says Tony. “The work has to succeed as a made thing as well and you could spend a long time looking at a piece and it still won’t connect with you, but that’s OK. What is certain though is that you won’t get it if you rush past it, in the same way you can’t read poetry in a rush either.”
Tony’s highly distinctive work is based on the geometry of landscape. He trained as a fine artist and made work about landscape but outgrew conventional representations. Going back, quite literally, to the drawing board he rediscovered his passion for lines.
“I realised that what I was interested in was representing landscape without the need for the horizon line, or rather to represent the lines that I can see in the landscape. I’m also interested in architectural spaces and in the quite beautiful marks I saw when I worked in art therapy with people who have limited dexterity; then there’s the simplicity of a basic hopscotch drawn on concrete – so you get this wonky geometry echoed in the fields and patterns on the Somerset Levels.”
The work also has roots in music and poetry – the space between sounds in music and the space in words that poetry creates.
“I like the idea of starting with a theme then exploring variations on it before coming back to it but having been on a journey – there’s that Eliot poem in which he talks about the end of exploring when you arrive where you started and yet know the place for the first time.”
As well as his distinguishing blue line Conté chalk drawings Tony will also be showing a series of pen and ink drawings. Presented in three by three square blocks of nine or four by four blocks of sixteen, the drawings are meticulously executed yet with an indisputably human touch.
“There are endless combinations of lines and dissections but I wanted to explore how moving a single line can totally change the dynamic of a picture. The lines are precise and ruled, but they are still hand-made – I heard a pianist describing how playing Chopin was like ‘compassionate geometry’. I love that phrase and perhaps that’s what these works are about.”
Tony speaks as highly of Pennie – “we’re good critics of the work and the best of friends” – as she does of him: “Our work sits well together and he is such a lovely person as well as incredibly talented. He’s much calmer than I am.”
Clearly relishing the opportunity to exhibit together having first done so in 2014 at Poole’s Lighthouse, both arrived at their visual voices by many twists and turns.
“I started off doing fashion and design in the 1960s,” says Pennie who went on to do a fine art degree in the 1990s, but having found herself bogged down in life drawing and portraiture, she developed a style of painting in abstract blocks of bold colour.
“I worked like a Trojan and those paintings felt completely right to me. I was a much happier person. I did an MA and found my paintings had started to get a little quieter and it has gone on from there.”
Pennie’s inspiration for her pared back, hard edged abstractions comes from the world about her – the Somerset Levels her studio overlooks, but also the urban environment.
“People often assume the work is based on architecture or something very solid but it isn’t. Most of what inspires me is transient, fleeting,” she explains. “It could be the way the light reflects off a surface, or the way a shadow forms as it zigzags down a surface.
“Fragments interest me, little sections of something larger that are impossible to pinpoint. It’s the feeling I get from what I’ve seen that I take back to the studio and work on, rather than the image itself.”
The work invites contemplation. It takes a moment to become attuned to the use of colour and to understand what is being shown. Much of it is made on tulipwood in acrylic and Pennie is not afraid to take the sander to it and begin again, painstakingly building up fine layers of paint then masking out sections and applying the next colour and so on. Only at the end does she remove all the tape and see the complete work.
“The cubes are relatively new. They have three base colours and then I work the lines around them, so they go all the way around, but depending on the face you are looking at sometimes the colours can almost disappear and sometimes they’re in bold blocks.
“But I like the spaces between things because that’s where the imagination can roam. It’s all a struggle to get it right, but even when things don’t go so well there are lessons to be learned – you can learn something from everything.”
:: Thinking Line – Making Space opens on Saturday 24 March and is open 10am to 5pm Thursday to Sunday until 15 April at The Slade Centre, The Square, Gillingham, SP8 4AY. Tel 01747 821480 / 07775 431652.