RED LEAD & LAMP BLACK ..

Something is unfolding. The encounter
begins with an abstract shape, a rectangle
composed from glossy black circles whose
contours, in their smooth precision, command
our watchfulness. Yet despite an apparent
uniformity, we begin to apprehend form
becoming texture, almost like Braille for the eye,
a surface that complicates our field of vision
until it vibrates. To pause, for merely a moment,
will allow that image to extend towards you,
enveloping your gaze, before a pulsating pattern
of colour comes into view, a startling trick of
green and pink on the retina's afterimage. The
measure of distance between the eye and the
image is enough to conjure a palette from a
halftone, like the children's colouring books that
ignite colour with the dab of a wet brush. In an
instant, an extraordinary flux has occurred. The
image seems to lock the act of contemplation
within its changeable surface. Its shape
gestures beyond the flatness of the wall to
permeate and inhabit the space of vision. These
shimmering black circles might have begun as
a newspaper margin or a printer's registration
marks but here, in magnification, they create an
object of elaborate symmetry and beauty.
....That pattern, which at first glance seemed
all too familiar, is a halftone, a grain that forms
the everyday currency of newspaper print.
The texture is also the template on which a
spectrum is formed, each hue being composed
of varying densities of patterned dots. A
halftone is a beginning, a mould for the value
and possibility of colour. In print, this halftone
is combined with a four colour process, in which
the shades of cyan, magenta, yellow and black
intersect like flower petals and mix optically to
generate an image. Studied under a magnifying
glass, a printed picture will reveal this rosette-
like spectrum, a meeting point of colours. From
out of the halftone, two paintings have been
conceived, each other's opposite and twin.
....Red Lead is not a red one would call to
mind but closer to the burnt orange of glowing
embers or a Dutch football shirt. Lamp Black is
a deep soot-like extraction. The remote flavours
of these names, in the painting's title, reveal a
wonder, an extended narrative on the origins
of colour. Unlike the mass-produced veneer of
the halftone, these shades have been mixed by
hand; ground on a glass slate. To look at these
paintings, finished and complete, is also to
imagine the pleasure taken in this deliberate,
haptic process.

A single rectangle of colour, on a white wall
startles in its absolute particularity, as if that
hue had been unknown to us before, almost
as if we must re-discover the world in its rich
weave of chromatic variation. In looking at a
black painting, we become sensitive to how the
particular shade radiates light around it. The
longer we look, the more darkness becomes its
opposite. Light gathers around the dark surface
and sparkles there like mist.
....Historically, colours were chosen for their
durability, for instance the brilliant lapis
lazuli which is still resplendent in the small
panels of icons. Colours have been ideals and
signifiers, capable of transferring a sensibility
through time, familiar markers that we read
like signatures. Colour becomes a touchstone
amidst the play of light on panel, the capricious
stroke of the brush, the complex information
that leads from proximity to distance.
....What would it be, to imagine returning
one day to find that the painting had changed
irrevocably? Like a ripe fruit, its texture had
metamorphosed.
....Red Lead is a provisional colour; like its
chemical namesake, it discolours over time until
it becomes black. Lamp Black, its neighbour, is
the fate of that former brightness.This two-part
painting is a journey of one colour towards the
other.The possibility of transformation is latent
within it, waiting to be unfurled, cocoon-like, by
time.
....This colour has a distant provenance, its
pigment having been used in the creation
of early codices and manuscripts. The term
'Miniature' derives from 'Miniare', 'to colour
with red lead', which in turn refers to the river
Minius where its pigment was first mined. It is
the fate of origins to be covered over, to remain only as a trace, as a subtle whisper or a blur.
The faded presence of Red Lead will eventually
only be imagined, faintly registering on the
surface of the black painting, a thought as
tangible as that other tactile memory, of paint
being applied to a surface.
....From halftone to brilliant orange to furnace
black, the colour has accumulated its own
history. Red Lead finally ebbs into a dusty
black, a darkness which might be taken as
the absence of colour but which waits to be
re-ignited by a glance, or by a memory of the
colour's passed intensity. We speak of colours
as 'vivid', a word derived from 'vivere', meaning simply 'to live'.

Tamsin Clark


<