ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK:A conversation with no conclusion
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back is an exhibition that brings together a diverse mix of works by seven artists reflecting on the process of creating contemporary Fine Art. It is a discourse on making art at times informed by irrationality, absurdity; bringing together incongruous, incompatible elements to co-exist in space; the sublime and the ridiculous. The works show a concern with paradox: lightness and darkness, harmony and discord, order and chaos, construction and deconstruction–subjects that are irrevocably bound up with the temporal issues of past, present and future.
Stoke artist, Russell Willett’s ‘Paradox’ consists of five paintings that draw from his industrial background, precision and control vie against freedom of expression, Willett notes, “ it’s the process of building up an image and then doubting it”. Balances of abstract and realist elements are poised together in space and time. The idea of a point in time also runs through the work of Michelle Parr, who uses deconstruction to deal with an inner fear, referencing Edmund Burke, The Theory of the Sublime “In order to understand the origin of our ideas of the sublime and the beautiful, we must examine the experience of pain and pleasure”. Parr creates wire drawings of large constructions, such as buildings and bridges (which she fears) and then deconstructs them up to the point at which the illusion of a building transforms into matted wire confusion. Through her de-structuring, she questions the beauty assumed to be inherent in art. What becomes more important is the expression of human frailty in the face of the monumental power of industrialisation.
Several of the artists respond to the concept of the sublime in this exhibition; Jill Impey’s film work, takes a philosophical look at existence with reference to Turner, Darwin and Joseph Conrad in exploring relationships between human expression, evolution and the timeless power of the natural world to overcome boundaries. Questioning the representation of History is a thread running through Impey‘s work, her installation; Compare and Contrast creates a dialogue between locally crafted, antique ceramic artefacts and contemporary conceptual art. Chris Parkes tackles tentative subject matter in which the mundane challenges beauty and seeks to articulate the more capricious and absurdist aspects of the sublime. His film, sculpture and painting installations play with the human instinct to engage and respond, that which “seems inescapable in our description of how the world appears to us. We take the initial steps to process what is perceived to be real, with the understanding that our perception is true”.
This is an exhibition of contrasts and dialogues between opposing forces, an element seen in the work of both Lawri Slack and Andrew Flint. Slack takes us into a world of macabre beauty and violence, with her paintings that retain a feminine elegance while their creation through the medium of blood and the action of boxing forces us to be both attracted and repelled. Flint’s works reflects his disenchantment with the modern technological world, in this show his idealised vision of how the world should be is dispersed by the interruption of an anthropomorphised item of technology.
In Barrie Felton’s site-specific work A Spiral Staircase, A Work in Progress, the mind and thought processes of the artist are visualised as a three dimensional structure. Alluding to the sentiments of the show’s title, the work implies that the creation of art and the means of achieving critical recognition, are not easy or straightforward.
This exhibition stands as an unveiling and questioning of human progress and a response to the art of the last two centuries. It also considers future evolutions, the pause for reflection before a leap forward.