ON ASH FORK by Gemma Billington (October 2013)

NOBLE DECAY Solo Exhibition at Malraux Gallery (June 2011)
1st June 2011
JOURNEY Solo Exhibition at Store Street Gallery (November 2013)
12th October 2013
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Ash Fork (2013) Oil on canvas 48.0 x 36.0" / 122 x 91.5cm

On being asked to contribute some thoughts and ideas about Brian Neish’s work for this publication, I was able to have Ash Fork hanging in my studio for a few weeks. It was an engaging presence so I often found myself looking at it, and absorbing its particular qualities. At first sight he appeared to have dissolved the distinction between painting and drawing, line and language. He uses the phrase ‘Noble Decay’ to describe what he is interested in and the work he does. For me this might also refer to a sense of abandonment.

Although he appears to have dissolved this distinction visually, there is nevertheless an incredible presence in his work. The smell of sweet decay lingers in the many layers used to render the work, so that the painting appears more as an object that has had a life as opposed to merely a depiction of something on a surface. The warm but lone shape to the right, seemingly trapped in a black rotting chamber, might be an element expressing loneliness, abandonment, isolation – or something entombed in its immediate environment, like the front door of the house in the small roadside settlement it is based on.

Looking deeper, the presence of the orange in Ash Fork seems to indicate something about the deep down ‘soul’ of the painting too. The viewer becomes engaged with this lone shape, urged to move with it across the whole canvas, almost swapping places with it and feeling its isolation. Is this shape, like a gure, pushing to break out of the space it is confined in, or to burst forward like the colours embedded in the painting’s background? Might this indicate something of the artist’s own isolation in France at the time and a struggle between loneliness and the joy of making?

Ash Fork (2013)
Oil on canvas
48.0 x 36.0″ / 122 x 91.5cm

On this particular ‘road trip’ in America, Neish seems to have extracted the trace elements of once important objects almost like an archaeologist discovering skeletons on a dig, and signalled his concern for the abandonment of such neglected shells. In Ash Fork, the withered paint peeling from the surface of the dwelling’s front door, an object that once stood as a threshold to comfort and security for its occupants, elicited images in his mind and a profound need to take these back to his studio in France…

This door has, over time, collided with weather and climate, and this impact is something he feels compelled to explore – not in a literal sense yet faithfully all the same. The layers of paint might also mirror ourselves as human beings – we too carry layers of experience and growth, and we too are bashed about by the environments we fine ourselves in: personal, professional, social and emotional. It is here that the direct connection between the object and viewer, ultimately, might lie.

So as I become increasingly engaged with the lone shape in this painting I also feel a longing to travel with him on his journey to abandoned Ash Fork the place, and see what he saw. In the meantime the painting communicates what he felt: the pain, surprise and loss associated with abandonment and a preparedness to expose his own soul layer by layer…

GEMMA BILLINGTON, OCTOBER 2013