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|Michael Samuels, Metabolist, 2011|
ROKEBY will present a two-person installation at the forthcoming ArtHK11 with work by Michael Samuels and Simon Keenleyside.
Both artists are united in utilizing the language of Modernism within a contemporary framework. Keenleyside works within the heroic tradition of British landscape painting, investigating the possibilities and language of his chosen medium through marrying the artistic dichotomies of representation and abstraction. Samuels employs industrially produced Modernist furniture and light; liberated from their traditional role and reconfigured into structures that no longer have a utilitarian purpose, Samuels pushes the work towards abstraction and maintains the notion that abstraction is only ever possible in relation to function.
For the last ten years painter Simon Kennleyside has worked within the tradition of British landscape painting, and to this day continues to explore the familiar surroundings of Essex, where he grew up and where he continues to live.
In a recent move the artist has returned solely to two specific locations; the backwaters and tributaries of the Thames and small woodlands that he discovered and explored as a child. Having endured numerous trips to just two sites the artist questions the ontological understanding of place. And though references to the landscapes remain rife in the artists work, in the last year Keenleyside has further investigated the possibilities of painting; it is as if he asks, What else is there to discover? as the paintings are pushed further towards abstraction.
The new paintings evoke the late work of British artist Paul Nash and predecessors such as the mystical painter Samuel Palmer, whilst simultaneously referencing International Postwar Abstraction. Like Nash Keenleyside returns to certain locations, interested in what Nash called genius loci, or 'the spirit of a place'.
Though some of his paintings readily bring landscape to mind, Keenleyside plays with illustionistic devices of perspective and depth - others are suggestive of states of mind or experiences of light, colour, form and texture, in yet others the surface collapses into what can be understood largely in terms of pure abstraction.
The paintings are suffused in ultraviolet colours and hues, which along with the short-circuiting of reference and abstraction make for joyous paintings which delight in their legacy. Keenleyside adds to this a pleasure in mark-making and the materiality of his medium. Under-painting is exhausted, paint is laid on thickly so that brushstrokes are visible, in other areas washes give way to controlled yet seemingly accidental drips, elsewhere the paint becomes an object in itself upon the canvas; throughout there is a sense of delight.
Michael Samuels' practice can be characterised as a form of contemporary bricolage, which utlises industrially produced Modernist furniture and light. Elements such as cabinets, tables and sideboards are liberated from their traditional role, cut up and reconfigured into structures that no longer have a utilitarian purpose. Through the displacement and reconfiguration of everyday items Samuels heightens the tension between the functional aspect of the objects used and their immaterial value. In pushing his work towards abstraction the artist maintains the notion that abstraction is only ever possible in relation to function. The artist reasserts arts autonomy infusing the work with an energy and tension that draws upon contemporary concepts of collapse, ruin, reforming and recycling.
Within the legacy of the bricoleur and in the spirit of adhocism Samuels is adept at performing numerous tasks within the constraints he imposes upon himself in terms of his materials and resources. Samuels is intent on undertaking work spontaneously with the resources available to him, often working without plans, or from sketches, he makes decisions that result in structures that are both abstract and dynamic, and which contain a performative energy that acknowledges the potential for constant change.
The DIY aesthetic that Samuels exemplifies extends to his use of G-clamps and ratchet straps to construct his structure; in his sculptures and installations the sliced, spliced and reconfigured elements are held together using these devices, raising further questions about function, performance and abstraction. Embracing ideas of fragmentation, the artists work is characterized by a visual unpredictability but with time reveal a controlled coherence. Samuels has repeatedly used light and translucent Perspex within his installations and sculptures, such inclusions add to the dialectic of presence and absence, highlighting the forms and infiltrating the viewer's space.