Monday, September 30, 2013

Audrey Atkinson: 'Bodies of Work'

Looking forward to seeing Audrey's exhibition at the vernissage this Friday in the Greene Gallery at St John's. I have followed her work as a friend since I came to Belgium 16 years ago and have been impressed with her honesty as a person, the quality of her work and integrity of the feelings and processes involved. 

Audrey Atkinson: Bodies of Work.

Audrey’s Atkinson’s paintings are complex things built up over time in multiple layers with surfaces of linen, gesso and paint that recall plastered or distempered walls.  Embedded as collage into these light absorbent and reflective surfaces are shadowy human forms drawn in calligraphic gestural line drawings and sometimes organized in sequences that recall the motion of film strips. These human traces, worked up from sketches and drawings made over time from the live model are fixed into the architecture of the paintings so as to juxtapose dynamic arabesques of movement against the static geometry of the horizontal and vertical axis of the picture plane, which acts like the frame of a door or window, a stage or catwalk for the lines that dance or writhe in a kind of kin-aesthetic notation across the surface before disappearing back into the surface.  Complex formal tensions are played out here between figure and ground, form and space, light and dark and rich visceral blood reds, smeared or stained browns, and inky blacks against bleached whites and creams. At first glance they appear aesthetically pleasing and decorative but look closer and longer, contemplate them, and there is something deeper, more disturbing, more rewarding happening here. 

Audrey’s sketchbooks, etching and engraving and painting have always had a unity and focus that made them an integrated whole with one process flowing into another and developing a rich interaction and symbiosis. More recently she has extended this approach into three dimensions to include work in ceramics and mixed media, wire and cloth assemblages in which the body plays a central role.  Small carefully modeled torsos and other fragments of the human form are draped with slip soaked rags and fired to a hard, rough stone finish with burnt cinder qualities that remind me of the figures from Pompei, frozen in the moment when the volcanic ash buried them only to emerge from their ancient rock cocoons when archeologists took casts by pouring plaster into the cavities to reveal their moments of final surrender. The body is a cipher in which we can read sensuality, pain, and the passage of time that both fixes, even as it erases, the contortions and expressions of the creatures it captures in fossilized stone.
In contrast to this hard sculptural material her soft sculptures involve the more feminine act of sewing fragments of cloth onto carefully constructed wire armatures that are based around the shapes and forms of bones to create three dimensional rag collages that are assembled from many separate parts to make partial or incomplete wholes rather like fragments of bone from an exhumation in the forensic laboratory. Audrey’s background in fashion is clearly evident in this use of materials but the medical and forensic allusions resonate beyond the merely aesthetic and allude to the body as damaged or outraged, in need of healing or justice. There is no raw horror or sensation here, rather quiet and persistent questions about the nature of truth, beauty, goodness.

Audrey’s art is the art of healing through touching pain, a laying on of hands, literally, like touching the earth. Her art is the art of fragmentation and decay even as it is an art of reconstruction and restitution. Ultimately her work is a silent witness to the power of art to transform our understanding of the human condition though forms of expression that pre-empt written or verbal communication, the language of the senses, the language of the body itself that is at once timeless and profound.

Alan Mitchell.

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