Alice Walter, Sherman Mern Tat Sam
22 September - 14 October 2023
PV Thursday 21 September 6 - 9pm
There is a part of looking at paintings that other painters cannot help themselves but become caught-up within. Alongside a negotiation of the relationships of coloured areas, or an engagement with the ostensible subject, what really puzzles painters when they look at paintings is how they are made. Attempting to disentangle which bits went on first; how this thick passage is achieved, or that thin bit, or this darker area, or that outline; this stain or that drip (etc), is a kind of reverse-engineering type of looking, and it is often accompanied by a better question – why did they do that like that? What provoked that change of tempo, that segue into more descriptive painting; why did they feel the need to overpaint something that evidently was once there?
Painters don’t all think alike. They don’t all want to make the same types of painting. But that doesn’t mean they can’t sense an opportunity to find new tools or new ways of hypothesising ‘next-steps’ to use when faced with problems of their own, while painting. When painters look this way at paintings by other painters, they are trying to live vicariously (for a moment) through that other painter’s reactive sensibility, and they are trying to gain some insight into new methodological possibilities that can be practiced and tested back in their own studio.
In very different ways Alice Walter and Sherman Mern Tat Sam present viewers (painters and non-painters alike) with many playful, astute, freewheeling, peculiar and joyous ways of resolving paintings for us to think our way into, and out of. In each painting, there is a tangible sense of the artist pausing before it, loaded brush or gluey wooden splinter in hand as they contemplate their next move.
Sherman has long been an advocate for living with paintings, allowing them space and time before committing to the next painting-decision. He is a gatherer of groups or families of paintings-in-progress, and he is a peripheral looker. It’s as if to confront a painting head-on to steer it toward its resolution puts too much pressure on each colour choice and on the implication of each brush mark. Consequently, his paintings (even after 5 or 7 years) remain sprase and airy. His long arcs of painting-time however do not cultivate a preciousness of sophisticated or lyrical touches, rather he can see and treasure the value of a tentative, awkward or casual mark whenever it appears in the painting’s process and allow it to become acclimatised and necessary within the developing mesh of other marks. Passages of the paintings can become dense soft quilts of coloured dabs, while other nearby areas can remain almost untouched, passed-over by a pair of slowly zig-zagging lines, or carrying the trace of spattered drips of wet colour that instigated the painting’s very beginning.
As the paintings infinitesimally begin to bloom, Sherman is not averse to taking a saw to the panels to ensure that he is not merely filling a given space, but that the parameters of the space are equally complicit in reaching a delicately held concomitance of colour, space, time and movement.
Alice’s studio involves regular use of the saw too, though for Alice, the cut plywood sections (often only a few square centimetres) are stuck onto the paintings-in-progress in order to create a new surface, and so allow the painting to change its direction of travel mid-flow, or to re-set its becoming emphasis. Obliterating previous painting-decisions with the imposition of a fresh shiver of wood causes these small paintings to develop a subtle yet unavoidable patchwork of contiguous surfaces. The paintings play out their dynamic of motifs and hovering spaces across a substrate that feels a bit like the clints and grykes of Ice Age limestone pavements and a bit like the jigsawed veneers of marquetry (or parquetry). Navigating the fissures and transitions of these meta-panels are flora and fauna that only otherwise thrive in old folk tales. Worm-like root systems uncurl into the pictures with the silent malevolence of venomous snakes, hills take on the attitude of a playful, domesticated dragon, and signboards communicate with one another by blinking their heavily-lashed eyes. The logic of these mythical (if not mystical) pictures is the same as that of the illuminated manuscript and of the scrolling computer games that endlessly iterate variants of the given world. Just as in medieval manuscripts the teachings of the saints might be introduced with a polychromed letterform containing a throng of cavorting hares, and in computer worlds, space and time are not bound by the laws of natural science, so too Alice’s paintings contain worlds where strange events permit themselves the luxury of occurring.*
Both Alice and Sherman make modestly sized paintings, both embrace an openness for being guided toward what the painting needs, and for previous painting-decisions to become the palimpsest for all that is yet to come. They are both really good at yellow too. They don’t only make yellow-oriented paintings (obviously) but both make paintings which allow warm soft yellows, or sprightly acid yellows to be the chromatic centre around which all other colours orbit, and that in itself is a rarity.
*Strange Events Permit Themselves the Luxury of Occurring was the title of a wunderkammer-like exhibition curated by Steven Claydon at Camden Art Centre in 2007.
Alice Walter graduated in 2014 with a BA (Hons) in Painting at the University of Brighton and is based between St Leonards-on-Sea and Bexhill-on-Sea where she lives and works. Solo shows have included Fruit Foole (2021) and 'Paintings' (2019) at Project 78 Gallery, St Leonards-on-Sea, ‘And the Gang’, East Sussex College (2018), Hastings, and ‘Close’, Airspace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent (2015). Recent exhibitions include the Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2023), In gratitude for all the times we start over, Flatland Projects, Bexhill-on-Sea (2022), Honeycomb Smocking, Liquid Gold Studios, London (2022) and Mare Karina, Italy (2022). She has completed residencies at Glyndebourne Opera House and Airspace Gallery and has received grants from Flatland Projects and The Bridge Bursary Award.
Sherman Mern Tat Sam is an artist and critic based in London and Singapore. He has exhibited internationally, including one-person shows at The Suburban (Chicago), the Rubicon Gallery (Dublin) , Equator Art Projects (Singapore), Annka Kultys Gallery (London), and Ceysson-Benetiere (Luxembourg). His work has also been included in numerous group exhibitions, including M6: Around London at CCA Andratx (Majorca), Connected at Feature Inc (New York), The Theory and Practice of Small Paintings at Equator Art Projects (Singapore), Slow Painting, a UK touring museum exhibition organised by Hayward Touring, and Strange Forms of Life, STPI, Singapore. He will next show at Mamoth Contemporary (2024) in London.