Rorschach butterfly

Art Life , Reviews Dec 10, 2010 No Comments

Meredith Birrell imagines a Rorschach butterfly in the work of Michael Hall…

In his second show with Ray Hughes Gallery, Miles Hall presents a robust show of twenty eight paintings that engage with abstraction, colour and the evocation of place and mood. In Hall’s previous exhibition the artist had painted on aluminum but he’s now experimenting with the layering of textures on canvas, each painting is a construction of layers and markedly different textures.

Miles Hall, Sanguine Earth II, 2010.
Oil on canvas, 51 x 41 cm. Courtesy Ray Hughes Gallery

Hall uses oil sticks, which allow a deliciously chunky, pigment-heavy mark to be made but colour is also applied with the brush and there is some rubbing back of paint and scratching into the surface to create fractures and scars. The final step in these paintings is to add a band of colour of varying widths to the bottom part of the image, but the method of applying this paint is intriguing. Imagine a child’s Rorschach butterfly; the paint having been applied thickly, it leaves little peaks and spikes after the paper is opened out, this is the effect across the whole of these colour fields – thick paint has been brought out from its two dimensional plane by this particular method of ‘printing’ the paint. It is this contrast between types of painting as well as the use of colour that creates such intriguing tension in these works.

Colour is one of Hall’s principle concerns. The titles include examples such as Jaune Brillant and Sanguine Earth II, making us aware of the artist’s particular colour choices and their prime role in articulating the meaning of the work itself. This attention to pigments also brings these paintings closer to the idea of being born of the earth and married to the landscape, which their forms strongly evoke. Dark, broken marks suggest fallen scorched tree trunks, suggestive of worlds destroyed by fire or some other calamity, while soft, misty areas register hazy skies or trees obscured by smoke. The horizontal colour fields (in some cases taking up half of the canvas) also provide a ground and even a classical entry point into these ‘landscape’ spaces. You can follow Hall’s hand as he made these marks, they feel deeply intuitive and personal, yet without being arbitrary. It is also the spaces between these lines and smears that create an infinite through space that continues to reveal its mysteries the longer you look.

Miles Hall, Brown Pink, 2010.
Oil on canvas, 51 x 41 cm. Courtesy Ray Hughes Gallery

The powerful colour combinations that include contrasting hues such as lilac and orange as well as paynes grey and black set off against clear pastels and brights, generate a particular mood for each work. Certain tones also add a temporal dimension that is very palpable. The tonal harmony of the blacks and umber tones, for example in Brown Pink, reminded me of historical photographs and there was something about the whole show that made me contemplate my particular historical moment and my relationship to the recorded past. The physical and temporal are inherent in these paintings whichever way they are analysed. On the surface, Hall’s painting action is seen in his gestural marks and the time involved in making them is also traceable. Then there is the space of the painting itself, which while non-representational, is also suggestive of place. All this combined with a sense of the passage of time – not a historical specificity, but a feeling about a time and place that is somehow familiar even though you’re sure you’ve never been there.

Miles Hall – Three Part Painting, Ray Hughes Gallery, until Dec 24

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