‘…he stood knee-high in the dreadful-looking inky deposit that accumulates by the river walls; and was groping higher than his elbows, with a shrewd sense of touch for anything buried and worth fishing up.’
James Greenwood, ‘Toilers in London by One of the Crowd’, 1883
‘Usually I am on a work for a long stretch, until a moment arrives when the air of the arbitrary vanishes and the paint falls into positions that feel destined… to paint is a possessing rather than a picturing.’
Philip Guston, ‘12 Americans’ exhibition catalogue, MOMA, New York, 1956
FOLD Gallery | London is pleased to present ‘Mudlark’, an exhibition bringing together seven artists who share a similar approach to the process of painting. Although arriving at what is arguably contrasting final imagery, each artist – to varying degrees – embraces a way of painting that celebrates the spontaneous, seeks the unexpected and wishes to explore the materiality of paint.
The title of the exhibition refers to riverside scavengers of the Victorian era who trawled the Thames riverbed at low tide searching for items of worth. In recent times, Mudlarks are more akin to archaeologists, aiming to make sense of history from the treasures they unearth.
Paint is inert, messy and resistant. Here it is persuaded and pushed around on the surface, trying to find a subject, trying to make sense and trying to avoid failure. Even if working from a loose starting point or external imagery, the end result is by no means predetermined. Images are stumbled upon, discarded or embraced. This approach throws up unexpected yet welcome surprises with ‘mistakes’ not merely incorporated, but courted. Fragments of form are found; a gesture or mark that activates the paint brings it to life. Corporeal forms and spectral objects slide between recognition and ambiguity and are divorced from any obvious narrative. Images are unearthed through a spontaneous activity where chance encounters are very much a part of the painting process. Often the image that is found and settled upon comes from an unconscious act or from the edge of the imagination.
Resolution is sought by following the painting’s own internal logic as it unfolds. A stage is reached – and finally – the image accepted, with the end result challenging the very notion of ‘finished’. These moments reveal the painting’s construction: here, an undertow of marks that barely cover the ground; there, a thick, excavated form carved into the paint. Precariously balanced, the image is held together by a fragile collection of form and line that seems, at times, to be at risk of collapsing back into itself, back into the inert matter of paint.