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That Irresistible Climb II (2013)

That Irresistible Climb II (2013)

Basil Beattie stepping up

Peeking through the Jerwood Gallery windows it is intriguing to see Basil Beattie’s large canvases of staircases and steps, block upon block, going up or down. HOT reporter Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went to take a closer look at his new show, Promises Promises.

These paintings, except for one, have never been exhibited before. These are of ladders and staircases, blocks going upwards or downwards, promises of what and where do they lead? Or do they lead anywhere? Those answers the artist seems to leave hanging in the air. It is as if he wants the individual to ponder and explore the metaphor, going up, aspiration and hope, at the same time going down with thoughts of descent, limit and self doubt.

Days Begin and End Here, 2013

Days Begin and End Here (2013).

This work is a departure from his  well-known Janus series, which was named after the Roman God, he of two heads, the god of beginnings and endings, of doors and passageways.  However, some of the Janus  references,  tunnels and passageways, have crept in. Viewing life from two perspectives, rather like how one views life through a car windscreen and the rear-view mirror – seeing where you are going and where you have come from.  The future and the past.

Studying the paintings there is a real depth to the black or the reds. Examining the edge of the canvases it is possible to see the reds and yellows and blues that have dribbled down from the main image, and have made up the layered experience of black. You can view the black as black or you can appreciate all those layers of colours that imbue the painting with joy, hope and optimism.

Basil Beattie comments, “The staircases do not touch the top of the canvas and they don’t touch either side. That for me is intriguing, that [there are] ways that look as if one can be optimistic – there’s always perhaps the possibility that they don’t lead anywhere.”

These paintings have been painted fast and furiously, mostly this year, almost as if Beattie is running against the clock. However, now in his late seventies, he appears to be in robust, good health judging by the size, exuberance and ambition of the canvases.

Above & Below 2013

Above & Below (2013).

It is as if he is painting by instinct. The curator Mel Gooding observed that in “late painting an artist of surpassing talent  (like Basil Beattie) reaches a stage where they achieve a freedom from inhibition, …What marks late painting tends to be not simply a freedom to paint what you want but to paint how you like; to let go, let rip”. It  allows the painter to plumb their years of knowledge and to trust their instincts.

Beattie was influenced by Abstract Expressionism, particularly the work of Mark Rothko, Philip Guston and Willem de Kooning, all of whom  he saw in the New American Painting exhibition at the Tate in 1959. (An exhibition celebrating the  centenary of Philip Guston’s birth is  showing simultaneously at the Jerwood Gallery.)

 Accompanying the exhibition is a series of ink drawings, showing work in progress.  They are subtle, gentle little drawings indicating how Beattie plans the painting in the space, the shapes and how they work together. They look as if they are drawn fast, the hand working quickly to keep up with the quick-fire ideas and imagination. So by the time Beattie gets to the actual canvas, all of that perception is in his head, ready to be unleashed.

Promises, Promises is at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, until 8 January 2014. Open Tuesday-Friday 11am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-6pm.

NEWS  There is free entry to the Jerwood Café from Saturday 2 November until Wednesday 8 January.


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Posted 09:15 Friday, Nov 8, 2013 In: Visual Arts

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