Stirling & Stirling: Gallery 27, Cork Street, London W1
15 – 20 November 2010
Allotments by their very nature are places of concentrated effort; they are compact and full of the potential of next season’s growth. They are also places where between each tenant’s visit, time stands still for the tools, sheds and furniture with which people have made these individual community spaces their own. Many of Stirling’s paintings of these allotments mark that time between visits when the vegetable patches are unpopulated.
In her paintings silhouettes of empty or overturned chairs tell us something of the last occupation of an allotment but for the artist these inanimate traces of human life offer the opportunity for contemplation. There is something unexpectedly poignant and beautiful about how personal these spaces are and to study them in the absence of their owners is, in a sense, a kind of gentle voyeurism to which we as viewers are party.
The Allotment paintings vary in their treatment with some containing focused and specific detail with discernable garden canes, empty doorways and discarded furniture while other pictures stop just short of complete abstraction with patches of colour and tone distilling the scenes into wedges of paint. In the large scale canvas City Pleasure Gardens the artist takes this use of pattern to a different level with traces of an allotment just readable beyond the bold and vibrant blood red triangles which track across the canvas plane. These shapes appear in other works in this exhibition, including Venetian Blind and echo Stirling’s interest in the dynamic designs of Turkish Kelim carpets, a motif which she describes as ‘a map to walk around in; a way to begin a journey setting out from home’.
Stirling sometimes applies and later removes masking tape at different stages during her painting process. This effect can be seen in City Pleasure Gardens and in a number of the smaller Allotment paintings and other studies in this exhibition. Visually the act of peeling away the bands of tape creates a very raw window on to past layers of each work.
In a few of the Allotment paintings the tape is cut into small sections and applied to the works to build up the shape of a chair or the silhouettes of garden canes and then removed in the final stages of the painting process. There is something very pleasing and faintly mysterious about the absence of paint making up the forms of those objects and revealing the soft ground of the painting beneath.
There is an ethereal and transient nature to so many of Stirling’s paintings most notably in the remarkable Pandora’s Box, the delicate ink studies Wave Land and Whispering Land and in the pared down line study Shroud I. In each of these works, and others besides, there is the sense that a moment has been caught, a passing interaction between one person and the scene they see before them somehow bottled up.
The series of paintings entitled Love After Love relate to the subject of a poem by Derek Walcott of the same name. In these works and in the painting Pandora’s Box Stirling deals with the idea of love lost and the journey toward finding yourself again and remembering that familiar stranger you have neglected while you were taken over by the love for another. Stirling has focused on her own image reflected in the mirror for these paintings.
Upon talking to the artist about these particular works, with her characteristic warmth and openness, she reveals the memory of a time when she slowly embraced life again without the company of a previous lover.
The paintings entitled Shroud I and Shroud II, which have a Futurist quality to them in their angular nature and peculiar sense of motion, are pictures in which Stirling gradually worked up surfaces much like a printmaker would build up the incised or relief marks on a print plate. Here the artist would wipe ink over the surface of the picture allowing the dark tones to catch in the lines and mottled crevices left by earlier mark making. There are other works in this exhibition, entitled Cosmic Collision and Cosmic Alignment, in which relief was built up by the artist from squares and rectangles of applied card and paint and unusually, over a period of time, the surface of these works were inked up and monotype prints were taken from them. The paintings bare the evidence of what they have been through and benefit from that pleasing ware.
There is one element or theme within Stirling’s painting which seems to surface in each and every series of works she embarks upon; the idea of the marking of time.
The passing of the seasons and the regular visits of the allotment owners, the memory of love lost and the idea of moving on from times past and emotions felt, the catching of a transient moment or scene witnessed, the removal of masking tape to expose previous stages of a paintings history and the taking of impressions from the surfaces of paintings at different points in their evolution; all of these elements divide time and inevitably make us think about the passing of time.
These thoughtful paintings do, however, exhibit a particularly positive and redemptive quality in the celebration they display of the moment. With a joyful use of colour and the energy of applied paint, Stirling captures something of the fortune we all have in experiencing life and as the poet Derek Walcott ends his Love After Love poem; you as a viewer are reminded that you must, through the ups and downs of daily experience, always occasionally break time and remember to ‘feast on your life’.