Thursday, 26 March 2009

Clare Woods

Black Vomit, 2008
Enamel and Oil on Aluminium 200 x 220 cm
Modern Art, London
17 September 2008

This was the first time I had seen work by this artist in a gallery and I was impressed by the confidence with which she works on such a massive scale. These are enourmous psychic landscapes, that for all their scale, look and feel claustrophic with their intertwined braches. It is almost as though they are pulling you in and engulfing you in the panorama. They are less about the place than the feel of the place. The high gloss black surfaces in some of the paintings almost act as a mirror, and in these passages the painting not only picks up the image of the viewer, but also the other works in the room.

This piece, charmingly titled Black Vomit, is typical of her oeuvre and working practise. She starts by taking flash photographs of dense unkempt woodland at night and then transferring and combining these images to a line drawing. This is then enlarged using an overhead projector to transcribe it onto the primed support. The paintings are then built up through pouring and mixing a number of layers of paint. Given that she is working from an image drawn on the support, I would guess that in some areas, the background must be painted last. The process must be hard to control on this scale, and I think this uncertainty of the outcome contributes to the look of the finished work.

Her work provides an interesting contrast with the fantasy landscapes of Laura Owen, but her use of pouring and dripping paint has more in common with the rhythmical working process of Jackson Pollock giving an illusion of painterly spontaneity.

The titles of Woods' earlier paintings referred to the names of orphanages and asylums and perhaps she is exploiting the horror film connotations of these institutions. Evoking through association the forbidding High-Victorian edifices, set amid dense forests whose rustling branches tap at the window. However, her blocky, fragmented branches and the simplified background reminded me more of the fantasy Disney cartoons of my childhood. I remember being sufficiently terrified of this animated world of unjust confinement and suffering to cause nightmares associated with death for several weeks after seeing Sleeping Beauty.

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