Pannello Rosso (Red Panel) (2010)
After two years of experimentation and frequent visual research into fading architectural features, this work proved to be a breakthrough and starting point for a series of works titled ‘Panels’. An interest in using red squares, or oblongs, within a wider compositional framework developed having previously witnessed red fire hydrant covers in the front walls of properties in old Tuscan hilltop towns. These simple, bold shapes suddenly began to generate ideas and symbols referencing emergencies: cries for help from the empty, crumbling and neglected properties themselves, and further, to warn us of general societal decay. At the same time a comment is made about the ancient art of painting itself, and in the context of the contemporary art world, alerting us to the possibility of the discipline simply fading away.
Pannello Rosso Sfalsato Alla Destra (2011)
By 2011, the exploration of using red panels in paintings was split somewhat evenly between conventional canvases and ‘composites’: pieces made of a number of canvases fixed together in regular formats. This exploration of works showing composite parts reached its height with a mini-series of metre square paintings of which ‘Pannello Rosso’ was the strongest example. The painting suggests something serious and playful at the same time. Lines are both physical (caused by the thin gaps between the canvas panels) and depicted (measured, drawn and rendered in paint). Variations in the underpainting are allowed to show through hinting of earlier compositional arrangements and prior ‘acts’. This latter idea proposed a new direction whereby these earlier renditions, rather than being completely covered and hidden from view, should be seen as assets and part of the meaning relating to ensuing work.
Zero Hour (2011)
‘Zero Hour’ marked a significant move away from the use of red panels in compositional arrangements and the highpoint in creating a picture structure using lines and shapes to echo the doors, panels, shutters and architectural features witnessed in rural Italy. It also marks a breakthrough in understanding how using strongly contrasting colours in a work’s underpainting can affect the way the final layer is addressed then appreciated. This painting elicited as strong an emotional reaction as a mentally satisfying one following completion.
Feeling a need to expand visual research further afield and embrace a more diverse investigation into ageing and decaying architectural features, a road trip to Arizona and California was organised. Empty roadside buildings and spaces once populated (but long since abandoned) became central to the journey. These places revealed a wide variety of patinas upon natural or painted surfaces caused by extreme weather effects, the passing of time and general neglect. One such ‘stop’ was Hackberry on Route 66 in Arizona. Previously a gas station, its patchwork corrugated iron cladding just about clinging onto the sides of the wooden walls, the building seemed to typify and symbolise the discoveries made all along the road. The challenge back in the studio was to make a statement about ‘loss’ and ‘change’ whilst honouring the service of communities such as Hackberry when they were at their zenith. This also precipitated a move into much larger work (in this instance 100 x 200cm) and meeting the challenges of painting at a more human scale. Consequently, the tools required to make larger marks needed to be exploited and a new, more physical approach adopted.
Golden Gate (2013)
The 2012 road trip to Arizona and California culminated in a visit to San Francisco and a day spent around the disused fort and battery protecting San Francisco Bay. The cavernous battery, built into the cliffs high above the Golden Gate Bridge on the Marin peninsular elicited numerous examples of walls painted then overpainted, again and again in a futile attempt to protect the walls from the corrosive sea air. The motif for this painting was taken from one such wall. Instead of multiple layers of oil colour paste, thinner washes of colour using turpentine, oil and medium were applied, like classical glazes, to mimic the process using thicker treatments on other works until the painting ‘clicked’. The remaining evidence of a drawn structure, in orange-red, somehow mimics the grand bridge spanning the sea below and helped to form the painting’s title. The work, sized at 138 x 186cm, is now part of the University of Winchester’s collection.
Having moved back to the UK from France, a strong urge to capitalise on new surroundings and to intensify experimentation arose, and ‘Veil’ was one of a number of metre square canvases that emerged from a new temporary studio in Winchester. Heavily influenced by Gerhard Richter’s approach to laying thick swathes of oil paint onto surfaces using a tool like a squeegee, a new system was invented using alternating ‘warp’ and ‘weft’ layers, wet onto dry, and allowing each stage to have a greater ‘say’ in how the painting evolved. Areas that didn’t seem to want to be covered were left alone and areas most prone to coverage indulged with further layering. Inevitably the outcomes were more purely abstract and instinctive. The painting’s title was formed because the final layer of intense green resembled rainwater sliding down a car’s windscreen creating a colourful veil between the interior of the car and the dark road ahead outside.
Manhattan Window #3 (2015)
A walk around the Meat Packing district of Manhattan resulted in discovering some abandoned warehouses being readied for conversion into expensive apartments. The buildings’ windows had pieces of wood fixed behind their glass panes. These in-fills had clearly been improvised and plundered from various sources. This prompted an idea to regain some formality towards the composition of future paintings and move away from very loose looking and seemingly unstructured compositions. A series of paintings at different scales and formats was the net result. Manhattan Window #3, shown and sold in London soon after its debut at Store Street Gallery, was its strongest outcome and best echoed the original observations made in New York the previous year. It also pays some homage to the work of Sean Scully, a strong influence in the period leading up to living and working in France some years before.
Deepest Harmony #03 (2017)
An opportunity to show work at a gallery in Manhattan elicited a series showcasing many of the core ideas and processes that had evolved up to this point: exploring the possibilities of composite panels; applying pastes of oil colour; juxtaposing colour based on layering (as opposed to traditional surface creation); the use of shape as a formal device, and feelings associated with the act of Time. The Deepest Harmony works proposed the idea that in visual perception we all have a personal sense of aesthetic balance and satisfaction, and no two persons are likely to have the same. Each piece was made up of nine removable panels, and were retained on a base using magnetic materials, meaning, upon engagement, if the composition was not quite to the viewer’s satisfaction, panels could be moved, repositioned, rotated and changed until a perfect harmony was achieved. The pieces, essentially, were interactive aesthetically and practically. A viewer could feel part of the process of completing the work, with the artist merely present as the maker of the ‘parts’. They also questioned the value of an art object, the hegemony of the artist in decisions about an object’s final appearance and commented upon perceptions of the art market itself.
‘Redemption’ marks the beginning of a three-year phase of works exploring a more minimal approach to formal composition with a maximal approach to elevating the textural sophistication of surfaces. A relationship to compositional organisation is maintained via the use of a grid that, thanks to numerous treatments, gradually seeps into the background. This was deemed necessary as a counterweight to the more random and expressive surface effects generated by the process of applying paint, time and again, over a period of years. Evidence of alternatively configured grids is allowed to show through, as are older compositional elements and marks. To bring such diverse elements together, a cooler, neutral final treatment was decided upon, so the use of white was deployed.
A method developed whereby stronger, bolder coloured layers would be interspersed with layers of pure Titanium White creating a dynamic ‘ply’ in the surfaces of paintings. The timeline was also extended. Some works, not fully resolved from as far back as 2015 and 2016 became ideal candidates for treatments such as this, meaning a number of canvases would have been worked on for a period of four or five years before becoming fully resolved. ‘Nexus’ is an example of a painting started two years before and showing the use of an inner ‘frame’ as part of its compositional profile. The full spread of visual elements seen in previous series are evident and deployed, but here with deeper expression. The inner frame seems to hover between foreground and background, dissolving and re-forming, a view through to a distant and uncertain world then closing again shutting out the viewer to be consoled by the textural physicality of the surface.
BRIAN NEISH STUDIO – Painter Brian Neish is an internationally acclaimed contemporary abstract artist based in High Peak, Derbyshire. He is fascinated by painted surfaces and the exploration of time and experience through the layering of oil paint, colour and texture. Brian exhibits at local Derbyshire art shows, national art exhibitions, and international art shows. He is represented by a number of galleries including London Contemporary Art (London, UK), Bell Fine Art (Winchester, UK) and Ivy Brown Gallery (New York City, USA) FIND OUT MORE