The place discovered through the process of painting may also be a place you want to leave. Hurvin Anderson paints places that he wants to see, to find, and remember, but also ones that he hopes will surprise him. Working with, and referring to, a repertoire of realigned, rearranged, and reprinted photographs, and drawings, Anderson paints as if always at the cross roads of expectation and meaning. His talk of push and pull is not just about appearance or what comes to the front of the image and what denotes deeper space. ‘Push and pull’, for Anderson, is the struggle between figure and pattern, finished and unfinished, drawing and painting, paper and canvas, empty and full, home and away. The relation between paint and print: the power of a washed out photograph, in sepia, relates to a sort of unconscious association, where drawings done from various photographic sources take the artist further into a different visual logic. The result painting is miles away from the image in which it may have originated, if only very loosely. Layers of meaning are peeled back and then replaced across the surface.
The recent drawings, calm and strong when alone, are a telling revelation of a working rationale. Drawing on inkjet print, layering with transparent paper, this fluid process, with build up as important as taking away, is a series of additions and subtractions. Anderson attempts to undermine sections of visual thought, to disrupt, break, destroy the rationale, as if to metaphorically kick away the props of an ancient mine. The structure gives suddenly, and reference is redefined, repositioned and reposed until it the effect is of something bleached and washed out. The layers, drawn up, through tracing at times, are always about a conflicted desire within Anderson to picture a place but never hold it still with the anchor of description. Much more about a merging of two different and yet real territories you become aware of colour in its strength and perversity. Through this method, making a combination of time and memory, the result starts to weave a warp of understanding that brings together memory and novelty, risk and knowledge simultaneously.
Anderson talks of seeing from an hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica, boys climbing trees, picking mangoes. He says it reminded him of when growing up in Birmingham his brother would go away and then return, having been scrumping for apples. In his recent series of paintings two places become another almost normal place, part of the same thing. Painting has the ability to draw time and imagination together, to concertina familiar experience and unearth association. The element of time travel here, as in any good painting, carries a shift between the artist’s initial observation and the observer’s expectation. Anderson’s position is one of asking ‘how do you find your position, at the beginning, in order to perceive that place’.
The artist’s process betrays not so much his attitude towards making a fixed image, the power it may have for others, as his relationship to it. The generation of the fixed image is as much a negotiation with himself. The familiar image, an outline of a pear tree, around the corner from the studio in South London, for instance, fades in a desire to start again, with the figure brought in, and then left out. It seems as by positioning himself each time in terms of creating a combination of place and space, he is able make a hybrid of somewhere known and yet undiscovered. Anderson has always principally and intuitively, rebuffed any easy exoticisation or understanding of subject. He says he is trying in the work not to be too personal, but has got used to people coming to his work with certain expectations. That he is a black guy from Birmingham, ‘that is how I am, make of it what you will’. He tries to control what we see through his eyes and is certainly not trying to speak for us all.
When Anderson makes a painting he picks up on the drawings, and vice versa, and works at both ends. The recent set of drawings feeds directly into the most recent painting, the method for painting not dissimilar. Familiar in the hope that anything can happen, Anderson talks of elements, figures especially, that do or did not appear, despite his intentions, somehow. The figure, or middleman, does not arrive. The role of the observer is key, as we automatically throw ourselves into a pictorial space and attempt to negotiate it.
In the Barber Shop, the Peter Series, the last set of paintings, that lead up to ‘Is it OK to be Black’ 2016, we are thrown against the mirror. The original idea was to have a figure there but again we are alone, apart from photographs of Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Marcus Garvey who look back at us.
Anderson often grids up pictures in the traditional method for transcription. A grid, through which layers of formal structure can create a series of rationales, in a journey, is more about creating than representing. Gridding, like for like, in order to transfer drawing, Anderson apparently prefers not to wholly depend on direct translation by eye alone from surface to surface as he works. The equivalent of an artists’ impression for architects results in a stranger environment than any known or seen one. While the grill in earlier paintings provides a challenging metaphor for vision, light and desirable space beyond, the barrier plays with the familiar and constant theme, of the split between distance and familiarity, the ability of a surface to curtail any real romantic loss of self. The place desired but beyond grasp is still denied its role as conveyor of fiction.
© Sacha Craddock 2017
Executive Member - AICA
Member of Faculty - British School at Rome
Chair - New Contemporaries
Trustee - Shelagh Cluett Trust
Trustee - Braziers
Trustee - Art House Foundation
Arts Advisor - Royal Borough Kensington and Chelsea
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