D31 Art Gallery, Doncaster

The venue for Jane Walker’s solo show is the stairwell and old lift shaft of D31 Art Gallery in Doncaster. They are often described as ’difficult spaces’, yet can be made to work superbly if given some thought and wit.  It is reassuring to see spaces like this being utilised to such good effect and so intelligently, as Jane has done here, blithely embracing the building’s particular characteristics and locale.  ‘St George’s from D31’ is this in concentrate, a large painting inspired by the view across the rooftops from the window next to where the painting is hung.  How appropriate that it is now lit by the very light it captures.  High colour, fragmented and complex, the configuration of the nearby cathedral begins to emerge from the surrounding shapes of which the whole painting is constituted.  It is, in this way, semi-abstract, forms only revealing themselves after a period of focused looking.  The restricted palette and the way in which the canvas is divided, and subdivided, are reminiscent of stained glass, clues to the true subject being revealed.  A lot of the paint is pure colour, with just enough of Jane’s ‘in-between’ colours, subtle variants and hues, to moderate it and prevent it from being overpowering and gaudy.

‘St George’s from D31’ is one of four similar works, each light and bright, made with this specific space in mind.  Cotton thread is used to delineate sections, forming mini reservoirs to hold the paint.  The works are painted tapestries, with a complicated web across their surfaces and unique stories duly woven and fit for viewers to weave.  Some of the lines are derived from the motif with which Jane is working – the architecture of the station’s ticket office, or Art Nouveau windows (recalling the block primary colours of Mondrian); other lines are from Labanotation, a system for analysing and recording human movement invented by Austro-Hungarian choreographer Rudolf von Laban.  This underlying compositional structure gives the artist the parameters within which to proceed, essential limitations for a freedom with the potential to run wild.  It also gives the painting its inherent energy and life, introducing ideas of movement without Cubist-esque clichés, coupled with quick, fluid brushwork.  This is the vitality of the people who inhabit the city, who live and work there and are its pulsing heart.  The sense of the unpredictable flow of urban life is enhanced by the initial marks Jane made on the canvas – quick notations, allowed to show through in areas where the paint has been thinly applied or is translucent.  The marks become blurred, echoing the effect of looking through stained glass.


So immediate and striking; a huge cymbal crash of colour.  In one extraordinary passage in ’Railwayman’s Lamps’ brilliant vermillion shimmers into a hot orange and back again.  The shift is so slight, barely discernible, but is indicative of how this work gives more the longer you are able to invest.  The eye flits around the whole canvas unable to settle and make order of the picture’s space, like a fleet of dazzle ships.  Eventually the eye calms down slightly and finds rhythm, albeit unsyncopated, in the way a city moves around you, side to side, to and fro.  Pure versions of warm colours leap forward initiating pictorial space.  ‘Railwayman’s Lamps’ and ‘Priory Place’ are both vivid, the latter possessing a continental flavour, possible East Asian, in its more exotic colouring and architectural allusions.

‘Cusworth Hall’ is solemn in comparison, and based around five images.  At its top stands the Hall in all its grandeur, and below that is the Chapel which helped to save the Hall from demolition at one point in its history.  This painting retains much more of its under-drawing.  This is of some of Doncaster’s chemical works, the industries that created the wealth used to build places like Cusworth Hall. Although little remains of these old industrial buildings, some can still be found around the edges of the city.  We are thus able to look at two layers simultaneously – an intriguing series of drawn marks beneath colour applied boldly.

The adjoining display of source material is a charming and insightful addition to the exhibition.  Images of the local points of interest that influenced Jane’s paintings have been colourised and overlaid to create stunning digital prints.  If the paintings are a feast for the eye these are rich amuse bouche.  Presenting artwork so different in nature, designed on computer, serves to sharpen the sense of how painterly the paintings truly are, and what a joyous celebration of picture-making they are.

When making work that is so visually challenging, convoluted and dynamic, the task at hand is to resolve these works, both individually and, to a lesser extent, in concert; to be of its surroundings, and of Painting; to harness something of the things that constitute a city – people, architecture and spirit – yet stay true to the essences of Painting too – colour, tone, texture and form.

‘Doncaster Scene’ runs until May 24.