Jerwood Space, London
13 January–21 February 2010
by MK PALOMAR
Phil Eglins has brought his studio wall (artist working process), into the gallery space, prints, drawings and scribbles, from Medieval Pieta's to sexy models advertising knitted apparel, a line of old fruit pickers (tools not people), a tragic photograph – dead children in a war zone – drawings, Jesus and footballers “I took a photograph of the workshop wall and recreated it, it was quicker than inventing it and I didn’t want to be too contrived”. Looking at Eglins’ large chunky containers – he calls them buckets – we can follow stories from his studio wall, now printed, painted, drawn or sculpted on the ceramic surfaces. The narratives lie around, punch through, and hide inside these vessels. Eglins must have been up to his armpits in clay, grappling to construct the shapes yet also delicately marking the form; the physical dexterity required for such work conjures an interesting image of the man and his material. From large chunks to small sherds(this is an archaeological term), his collection of broken test pieces; irregular fragments of painted or decorated clay are Eglins explains “like pages out of sketch books”, they show us the joy of investigation material process.
Inscription has works by different artists mixed together throughout the Jerwood Space so that Eglins studio wall faces Charlotte Hodes’s row of spectacular pots, and although Hodes and Eglins‘s objects might derive from very different concerns, still figure drawing is evidently important in both their practice. Hand drawn lines rendering clearly observed form, structure a solid core for their imagery. No footballers in Hodes’s work, yet her figures dance coquettishly, relishing their lavish environments. These formal-shaped urns, referencing a privileged history, are inspired by her residency at the Wallace Collection. Hodes’s pots are a contemporary baroque, sumptuously decorated in richly patterned and luscious colours. “The whole project starts with drawing – I work on the pots as a painter across the surface – the big difference between working on a painting and working on a pot is that you see it as you walk around it – you never see it in one go.” Hodes uses drawing, stencil and transfer,digital silkscreen, plaster moulds (for ceramic ornamental sprigs – sculpted pieces around the surface), and slip trailing – raised lines made with something like a cake icer. Where Eglins is grappling with his materials, Hodes appears to be absorbed in her precise process of exquisite adornment, resulting in gorgeous objects that shimmer and delight.
David Connearn’s works also evidence his presence, some marking his full physical extent. He is concerned with “the boundary between control and uncontrollability and meaningless – the inarticulate or unaccountable content of process.” Mapa Mundi is a hypnotising image, a large circle thickly woven in wavering lines; this orb maps the length of his arm’s reach, top to bottom left to right. And again in this exhibition the artist’s physicality in the process of making is conjured in the observer’s mind – a body pressed to the wall with outstretched arm – struggling to repeat a trace, over and over to completion.
Mapa Mundi could be a distant moon covered by some rippling surface. “In Orkney” Connearn told me “they navigate by reading the shape of the sea.” Connearn’s other works titled Two Lines Drawn Simultaneously, are a navigational puzzle: how could one hand know what the other might do? How could they both do differently together on the same surface? This might be a quantum drawing, with the practitioner during the process, in two places at the same time.
That the artists in this exhibition enjoy their process is engagingly evident and the strong sense of physical application in the work makes this a stimulating show. The contemporary practitioner’s preference to explore is, I suspect, an innate inquisitiveness. Posing the question: “what happens when I do this” leads to discovery through materials, and allows for serendipity. This Encounters series is a positive affirmation to makers; it is refreshing to see this celebration of material and process.