Published by Anomie, spring 2015
A woman lies flat on the ground beneath almond blossom, her legs pumping against a tree. Runners everywhere warm up, cool down, stretch their limbs and hug their knees. Moving in pursuit of further movement with lines running from ears to connect them to the reaffirming beat of another world, they appear impervious to other people and cars, unfazed by obstacles as they look to keep going. Black tracksuit tops with fluorescent stripes, orange bands, matching shorts and bare legs, stripped of identity, luggage, keys, money even, but even in twos or threes, they seem seriously, strangely, alone.
How do you convey a perpetual state of mannered movement with arms held high? The first view of a painting by Benjamin Senior betrayed an arch, explosion of activity. What is this? Some form of revival of Chicago 1980’s colour, patterning and graphic cartooning Where does this madness, such a studied, opaque, build up of figure, reverberation, echoing, and spiralling on tempera surface come from? But from Chicago, suddenly, later perhaps, to the early renaissance where movement through space is echoed by a figure described once again, elsewhere, at the same time.
Senior is making work now, and has no need to reinvent the Renaissance experience of conveying movement. He has cartoons, comics, digital imagery and myriad other forms of visual language to consider in relation to paint – a whole gamut of heightened indulgence to enjoy, and yet his painting suggests a strong relationship with the art of the past. Senior’s work might, for example, have something to do with Carlo Carrà, or to Italian futurism in general, or to late nineteenth-century impressionism and symbolism. It was useful to think, in situ, how gesture and movement in paintings at the Prado convey expression, and the other way around. Expression starts to lack exactly that when the subject is the perpetual state of everyday self-improvement in isolation. Sport may be expressive but fitness most definitely is not, yet a patterned prismatic feeling does build up. Senior’s paintings of runners, swimmers, joggers, walkers and more recently, people held close within in the street, morph from observation to a fixed state, a graphic surface quality.
Nature is natural, but the unnatural nature of painting takes the surface and finish elsewhere. We are looking on with a somewhat perverted observation, not feeling how it is from the inside. The patterns that are set up are both lovely and absurd. Clothed and naked, sacred and perhaps profane, serene yet almost comical, what exactly the artist is saying isn’t always entirely clear, the relation between him, us and the subjects still fascinating He observes, we observe, but we are not being told. Limbs and loops and hoops settle into the surface, the grids and grilles of ironwork holds across, and language and fact are united in time. This quality of observation is also a touch voyeuristic: topless bathers seen through elaborate railings, girls exercising with rubber balls viewed from above, people stood or sat on their own, their bodies the centre of our attention in various states of undress. Absurd, alone, in pairs, or a gang with no conversation, the body is the object for the walker, swimmer and runner as much as it is for us.
Senior’s recent street scenes have demonstrated the evolution of his use of pattern, alluding to associative content, the heightened decoration of the street.
The ornamentation and decorative architectural elements add another layer of pattern-based complexity. The figures emerge and disappear into the scenes to varying degrees, returning to the Prado, a scene with a wicker basket in a Joachim Patenir painting, or the head of a dog in a Goya oil sketch. A Balthus-like hiker posing in Senior's directly luxuriant painting of Beacon Hill, 2014, is independent and trapped. There is a struggle between the relation to the surface and the over all pictorial. The figures do not express but are attractive, their stylised depiction a short hand for their conformity. From a compact rotation of action within the space, from trapped comic rendition, the sensibility and seriousness of painting fills the ground and a static still life makes the painting itself.
© Sacha Craddock - Mar. 2015