The Paintings of Iain Andrews by Graham Crowley
When I first saw one of Iain Andrew’s paintings I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t get it ‘out of my head’. It appeared to be a transcription. But a transcription that didn’t seem to refer to a single painting but something approaching an ‘ethos’. What Iain’s doing is using transcription as a means of invention. A tool. It’s as if he ignores his source; which can range from populist and sentimental Victorian prints to Titian. Low and high art. It’s as if he’s transcribing the reputation of a painting and not it’s appearance. Even in his choice of medium, Iain doesn’t make things easy for himself – who would think that referencing some of the most accomplished and sensual painting – ever – could be ‘captured’ in acrylics? There must be something else at work.
Contrary to what others have written about his painting, Iain embraces elements from his source that might be described as mannered, rhetorical and downright difficult. His sense of colour can seem arbitrary and disruptive – almost violent. His ‘straight from the tube’ colour can almost ‘stifle’ both painting and spectator. It’s a fact that Iain embraces these problematic qualities that it’s that which makes his paintings so compelling. So unresolvable and so provisional. These are paintings which are fascinating rather than likeable. They’re memorable, irritating and confusing. It appears that as a painter Iain is driven by the desire to reclaim and expand what some might call ‘painterly’ language.
As a storyteller – an aspect of painting at which he excels, his narrative is seldom, if ever linear. He asks us to suspend expectations and ‘trust’ him. A dangerous business considering the fictive nature of painting. However, it’s this high octane conflation of fiction combined with an inescapable sense of surface and object that lends Iain’s paintings their tension – their unease.
The methods of paint application and handling is vast. Ranging from the wilfully ham-fisted to the almost-elegant and the sometimes rhetorical. Nothing appears to be any one thing; marks seem to change their function and some serve several functions.
One of the highest accolades I can think of is that these paintings make me feel that I don’t have to ‘like’ art to appreciate them. These paintings thrill and un-nerve in equal measure and tap into a sense of ourselves that isn’t always – if ever – ‘good’.
In plain English – these paintings risk failure – in a spectacular manner – and some do. On meeting Iain I rapidly realised that he and his painting were both sophisticated and somehow ‘home-spun’. Iain’s painting doesn’t refer to any one world – but many, often simultaneously, and in a confusing and sometimes irritating manner. It’s this genuine sense of the unorthodox that mark these paintings out. His approach is remarkably refreshing. He seems to be aware of current trends but hasn’t become victim to them. Its as if – what he doesn’t ‘know’ – he’ll invent. Iain is a genuinely fresh ‘voice’ – an intelligent man who as a painter seems to tread a singular path. A path that’s strewn with pitfalls and false hope.
I’m always amazed at the sheer ‘mix’. Iain’s paintings manage to summon the impact of Frank Stella’s ‘post-modern baroque’ relief constructions of the 1970’s and the epic sense of ‘spectacle’ that puts one in mind of the epic 19th century luminists such as Cole, Bierstadt and Church whilst nodding towards artists as disparate as Moreau and Repin. The mixture is intentionally heady, almost intoxicating – not always convivial. Look out particularly for the depicted shadows in the midst of what is otherwise – a gesture.
Finally – when I look away, they persist. In old-school academic-speak these paintings shouldn’t ‘work’ – but they do. I think that’s because they break rules. Rules that Iain isn’t entirely aware of. Iain’s paintings are frustrating and fascinating in equal measure, they’re also thoroughly memorable. – Graham Crowley, September 2012.
We live at a time where shifting cultural assumptions have shattered fixed notions of continuity and value. The essential truths that Postmodernism has denied – love, evil, death, the sacred, morality and soteriology have become absent from much contemporary art as they have from wider contemporary culture. Yet Postmodernism’s failure to offer consolations to these enduringly relevant subjects means that as an artist, an awareness of modern developments must be balanced by a dialogue with established traditions and past narratives, and yet not become nostalgic. Whereas in the past, the artist or thinker had the shared symbolic order provided by religion within which to refer and ground their work, the artist today must find a way of surviving the bewildering plurality and subjectivity that has become the norm, if the truth of what they have to say is to maintain any force or credibility.
My paintings begin as a dialogue, both with a particular Folk Tale and also an image from art history – a painting by an Old Master that may then be used as a starting point from which to playfully but reverently deviate. The sheer enjoyment of making these works is not intended to be an exercise in grand, expressionistic gestures, but is rather an attempt to transform and renew the subject through the act of making. Peter Fuller talks about how, in the past the artist could ‘transform the physically perceived by the manifestation of allegoric devices like haloes and ‘human’ wings, whereas now this can only be realized through the transfiguration of formal means like drawing, colour and touch’* . The act of making becomes inseparable from the message that is being conveyed through the marks, one of the importance of a vital, living dialogue with the past.
It is vital that pictures are not sedatives, but are capable of evoking sensation and awakening feelings. I hope to frustrate the process of recognition through treading a path that plays between the borders of figuration and abstraction, and thus slow down the viewer by creating a space for sensation to emerge. I want my works to be sensuously addictive, synaesthetic and material, yet also to have a sense of contemplative silence akin to a religious icon.
I currently practice both as artist in residence and Art Psychotherapist at Trinity High School in Manchester. – Iain Andrews, March 2014
*Peter Fuller – Images of God, Hogarth press, p.61.