Art: Winifred Nicholson, 'Music of Colour'
Jon Sanders checks out Kettle's Yard's latest offering, and finds an alternate reality
by Jon Sanders
Friday 12th October 2012, 10:16 BST
Jim Ede, founder of Kettle's Yard, said that Winifred Nicholson "taught me much about the fusing of art and daily living". Yet, I wonder what exactly 'daily living' refers to as I wander through the new exhibition of Nicholson's paintings in Ede's gallery: the works are in no way realistic. Why they are not realistic is not because they depict fantasy - but because they seem created from entirely unfamiliar raw material. I do not mean 'unfamiliar raw material' in a physical sense - the activity of brush and paint is evident from thick globules and
crazed shapes - but I mean that a more abstract raw material, Nicholson's thinking, is alien.
The paintings are scenes of an alternate reality. The exhibition puts this unfamiliar quality down to the "Music of Colour", and Nicholson's construction using tones is certainly interesting: an apparent orange is upon inspection scarlet, flesh-pink and turquoise. But what is most intriguing about the paintings is their perspective - or lack of. Backgrounds are sometimes indeterminate (as in 'White Saxifrage'); other times they resolve after a few transformative seconds of inspection - as seen in the blue obelisk in 'Daffodils and Hyacinths in a Norman Window'. Sometimes lines and shapes lacking depth appear irreconcilable with burrowing perspective (subtly in 'Flowers' and more strikingly in 'Seascape') yet are ultimately not incoherent. These perspectival exercises are varyingly effective and disappointing across the exhibition.
Nicholson did not experiment in texture, and the exhibition testifies to this fact. Having said that, undoubtedly the single most arresting phenomenon in the paintings is one instance of textural audacity: Nicholson's works are small, and so whilst stepping in closer to view 'Seascape'- simply to distinguish colours and lines - a rushing mass of paint rose like a wave in the corner of my eye. It is this arching confidence, and not 'music of colour', or surprising harmony of perspective, which is the painting's centre-piece.
What surrounds the minute wave of boldness is paintings which leave me feeling unsure. I am uncertain as to how to receive work so ostensibly apparent and familiar, but so undefinably strange. I want someone to explain to me that Nicholson was insane, or experienced an uncommon form of synaesthesia - anything that might explain her paintings' imperceptibly alien quality. And as I leave, I find the oddity I have been missing: in a neglected niche of the gallery there is a large photograph of the artist looking frightened, anxious, as if I am a dangerous animal that has trespassed upon her woodland setting. I feel that she has been watching me as I looked at her paintings, worried about what I might think, worried that she might be this wild creature's critical dinner.
'Winifred Nicholson: Music of Colour' runs at Kettle's Yard until 21st December.