Compulsive Dreamer; Graham Boyd at 90 is at The Cut, Halesworth, 12 April – 26 May 2018
“To Be Great, Be Entire”
To be great, be entire: of what’s yours nothing
Exaggerate or exclude.
Be whole in each thing. Put all that you are
Into the least you do.
Like that on each place the whole moon
Shines, for she lives aloft.
Fernando Pessoa, born 1888 Lisbon, Kingdom of Portugal, died 1935 Lisbon, Portugal
“Reveille”, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 153 x 97 cm, its foreground, background and mid-ground entirely integrated. A bald description of its glow, its spaciousness, its structure, the shining energy of its making, would do little. What is significant is what the painting ‘does’ for the viewer. One could say that it is evocative; let us give an imagined instance in contradiction of the title: a city evening, the crowd is hurrying to various transports after a day’s employment, I have been wandering the city whilst others travail. The light is peculiar, something evanescent in the atmosphere is unreal, fomenting a mysterious beauty that pervades a filmy filter that has these few still moments distracted the buildings, the traffic, the flow of the crowd. The moment is stationary, as if magical. As if, because we know that the light is bent by particles, a specific natural fleeting occurrence of optical particularity, caused by the temperature of the air, the barometric pressure, the slowing of the wind speed, the significant chemical constituents at that unique moment condensing in that particular place. We know this to be so. The painting conjures just such an other-worldly brilliance rooted in a particular moment. This will of course be otherwise for you but I suggest that the beauty sufficient in my moment will register as strongly in yours, memory of a different time and place suffice. This hard won painting, its slats and blocks chucked and ruled, paint pooled and sunk into the cloth.
Here we have Graham at his best. All of the singular major periods of his work have come to fruition in this show of mature late work. I had often enjoyed and admired Graham’s paintings but mostly with some reservation. A reservation particular and qualitative. That is, take for example the preceding period of his heavy impastoed collage painting with cut pieces of painted canvas embedded in the deeply rolled and striated gel, at first sight looking as if the whole surface was painted, whereas on closer inspection appears somewhat designed and modelled Not that this in itself is an objection; my reservations came with the quality of colour which seemed to adhere and inhere in the ‘stuff’, the material, and refused to come out as against the recent works where the light utters forth. I detected in that period something of the stucco of metro-land architecture and domestic decoration which has now been sloughed off. The structure and colour now holds your gaze, looks out at you rather than draws you in.
“Hector” 2017, 122 x 153 cm, has a dark ground with slight hints of efflorescence, attacked by a bridge-like structure of architectural energy. I am taken to the road tunnels underneath the overhead railway Liverpool Docks, November 1950. Of course I am not, but how else to describe this muscular quality. Of course you cannot visit this place, yours will be other. Fact is that given willing your feet rooted to the spot in front of this work, the aesthetic pleasures of just this intense quality of experience will not be a remembered or re-created nostalgic representation, but a unique creation complete in the present.
Graham’s achievement is, at this late mature stage of his career, to have brought powerfully together all the periods of his past work on each singular canvas. Here are the structures of his grids deconstructed, reconstructed and disturbed, not naked but adorned. Elsewhere we find are the blobs of beautiful gunk artfully chucked at canvas that I suggest have their origins in his American influenced painting of expressionistic action and intent that flourished in the early eighties. Now these cosmic and existential attributes have been married, integrated and conducted within the structures that had their day in the sixties with his grids and lines and boxes. And here we find the little square of red, (“Hector”) so necessarily and deliberately placed. Remove any item and the experience is gone. Add more and you’re hammered.
In “Dolce” 2017, 92 x 122 cm, we are sweetly seduced by a negligee of faded pinks blotted into delicate greens with yellow straps; it all reads left to right, top to bottom with absolute serenity.
All of the works I have mentioned are of a medium large almost squarish format and I think it is in no small way due to Graham’s brave foray into these larger works that pays off. The only slight criticism I have regards some of the smaller works where the gesture and incidents seem large if not cumbersome overwhelming the scale and proportions of the canvas. “Embers in Grey” 2015, 122 x 111 cm, with its strangely downward motion harks back to the slightly earlier period of the collage works. In the vast proportion of this very generous show Graham’s touch has achieved a sensitivity at which he has not hesitated or stopped at, to power every inch of the canvas with incidents that resonate with interest in themselves, which are strong and painterly, but do not draw attention by mere virtuosity to themselves at the expense of the whole. They are the works of a proud and self effacing efficiency at the dangerous edge of spontaneity. They have not held back at the corners, at the middle, at the edges, they are modulated with a sonorous frequency (see “Division” 2015, “Crash” 2016′ “Ricky Ticky” 2016 and “Picco” 2016).