Gareth Cadwallader does not work quickly. It has taken him almost three years to finish this group of eleven paintings, currently on view in his first solo exhibition at Josh Lilley Gallery.
On closer inspection you can see why. His paintings are painstakingly executed with the precision, confidence and control of an Old Master. He paints small, jewel-like oils on canvas: in his work, figuration and abstraction converge and hyperrealism meets surrealism.
His compositions are an eclectic mix of different genres, from still life to landscape: what makes them fascinating – and slightly eccentric – is the unusual angle and his considered approach to pattern, shape and form. Milk, 2017, shortlisted for the John Moores Painting Prize last year, shows a black man in a bathrobe putting his finger in the spilt milk on the table. He observes the reflection of his hand on the white liquid surface, mesmerised by the contrast and reshaping of forms.
Milk is hung next to Egg, 2017-2018, a psychedelic study of a man with long hair catching an egg as it’s about to fall from the table. The pattern of the man’s sweater is juxtaposed with the romanticised shapes of the trees behind the closed window, a touch of “Wuthering Heights” behind the dark velvet curtain.
When it comes to Romantic painting, one tends to think of the celebrated French painters Gericault and Delacroix, whose scenes convey a romantic ideal of heroism and freedom. Cadwallader’s art avoids these large pronouncements. His paintings have more affinity with Dutch painting, and the work of David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield. Nevertheless, he could be viewed as a “romantic pragmatist” for the way he celebrates life in a turbulent world.
Cadwallader selects subjects that range from the familiar to the mundane, like the focus of Blue Plastic Bag, 2018, that hangs on the wall and is suddenly transformed into a potent abstraction that refuses facile definitions, or the lemon on a yellow tablecloth under the yellow moon in View From The Sailor Girl IV, 2018. Cadwallader highlights banality as a domain of undiscovered beauty.
This is a beauty that cannot be described with words or quantified, one which demands the viewer slow down and pay attention to the small but precious moments of life, like tender lovemaking (Shunga Tea Time (After Kuniyoshi), 2018), or enjoying an expresso in a ritualistic manner reminiscent of Japanese tea ceremonies (Coffee, 2018-2019). This is probably why the artist has chosen the title “Half Lowered Eyelids” for the exhibition: to highlight the importance of looking, thinking and relaxing, and to reinstate value to the fleeting and unpinnable. His art is a celebration of life and the confounding beauty of the world.
Curator of Programmes
Josh Lilley, 44 – 46 Riding House Street, London W1W 7EX. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11.00-18.00. Exhibition continues until 16 February 2019. www.joshlilleygallery.com