Untitled Gallery
North West England

In city centre Manchester’s freshly painted ‘Untitled Gallery’ are nine A3 and A1 drawings, and a leaning sculptural corner-piece, which make up Lee Machell’s ‘Drawings And Matches’ exhibition.

Machell has begun the process of compiling a peculiar alphabet of pictoral forms by producing a series of drawn, simplistic transcriptions of completed and prospective sculptural works. Each is a reductive combination of two mass-produced components: ‘Tape Twig’, a length of tape from a cello-tape dispenser buckling a fine twig; ‘Vertical’, a vertical stack of matches protrude from a slit in a plinth-like block; ‘Kerbstone’, an angled view of a kerbstone marked by a horizontal suture of marks left by lighting a line of abutting matches. To further complicate matters the drawing ‘Bag’, a paper bag with origami stiff handles apparently balanced on a slightly angled line, has its three-dimensional forefather occupying the gallery’s end wall.

In reality the bag is pinned into a corner of the space by the leaning weight of a waist-high length of wooden doweling. The perplexing lightness of the drawn line undermined by stubborn gravity and the material heft of real things.

The strongest drawn works – ‘Kerbstone’ and ‘Bag’ – have the slick purity of computer generated images, insinuations of the volume of objects abandoned in the rectangle of picture space, and exist on the knifes edge of visual illegibility.

The opposite wall shows the results of a mapping or tracing of the contours of casually insignificant objects by the ignition of a line of matches leaning on its periphery – a series of small ignitions, a lick of fire and light – resulting in ASBO cousins of Man Ray’s rayograph photo-experimentation; the staining of heavy watercolour paper leaving surprisingly subtle tonal effects.

In both these groupings, images are conceptual compacts of substance; the substance of the sculptural work proposing a spartan image. More significantly, the centrality of drawing as a preparatory process is being hijacked by an infinite looping procedure: completed sculptural collisions of materials lead to diagrammatic portrayals – stranded in the centre of white sheets of paper an isolated form; a frozen moment in the 360 degree circling of an object – which themselves suggest the future reconstruction of three-dimensional works.

This is why the drawings seem muted by layers of distance, strangely immaterial spatial conundrums with the ambience of a series of memento mori. Appearance through substantive physical actuality now being merely an option in the fabrication of an image, they hanker for the peculiar comfort of the locatable, obdurate ‘thingness’ of 3-dimensional fact.

It will be interesting to see if Machell can find new ways to maintain a balance between this desire for measurable, tangible reality and the parallel seduction of a quixotic alphabet of forms.