Line Gallery, Stroud Valleys Artspace
South West England

When Alexandra Darbyshire first came to the UK from Canada four years ago she was making paintings that, whilst tending towards abstraction, never quite transcended their starting points in photographic images, sometimes of underwater scenes and, most strikingly, of military aircraft dropping flare patterns known as ‘angels of death’, intended to deflect enemy fire. Colour and surface were achieved by painstakingly layering tinted varnishes. The results were highly worked, dream-like paintings with slick lustrous surfaces, suffused with a queasy crepuscular light. Out of this dim half-light there were faint glows and sudden flashes of phosphorescence. They carried a sense of mysterious depth and of something coming into being, something dark, faintly repellent, but nevertheless compelling.

This work was continuous with the paintings that Alexandra had received wide recognition for in Canada. The working methods that had evolved through her early career sustained her through a period of transition into a new life in a new country. But the new work that she has recently shown in Line Gallery marks an apparently radical turn. She had come to a point when, having built a new studio, she wanted to break away from the established routines of her practice, to let go of self-imposed rules and to reflect the bigger changes that had happened in her life. Her approach to this transformation has been characteristically rigorous and systematic. Where she once worked within a tight, constraining, framework she has forced herself to paint spontaneously. Where the earlier work had a kind of meticulous, painterly precision, these new paintings have a loose, vivid unpredictability. The surfaces are no longer glossy, but are energetically course, with vigorous brush marks and crusty layers of thick paint. Her palate still includes murky, dark tones, but these are now overlaid with sickly ice-cream pastel colours that fizz with chemical toxicity. She paints quickly onto paper and board, taped to the walls of the studio, casting work aside as she goes along and then returning to it later, ripping out sections and collaging them together to create sudden disruptions and juxtapositions. Torn edges and fragments of tape are left to be incorporated into the new assemblages. Drips and spikey accumulations of paint run over the edges of the paintings blurring and undermining their formal limits. This work has a raw, dynamic force, but it is never unintentional. It draws on all of Alexandra’s experience and understanding as an artist.

Alexandra’s earlier work evoked Turner’s later paintings, such as those of Norham Castle at sunrise. They had something of the same sense of imminence, of a world swimming into focus in the gathering light. The reference persists in this new work, but where it once evoked primordial, organic processes it has now taken on more dramatic, cosmic, dimensions, suggesting vast geological events, new worlds emerging out of dark chaos.

The hanging of the show is quite idiosyncratic and highly effective. The work is arranged in loose clusters and sequences so that they are in conversation with each other. This sense of exchange sets up an additional dynamic that animates the whole and emphasises a feeling that individual pieces somehow resonate beyond themselves.

Since coming to the UK Alexandra has had a number of group and solo shows, but this will be her first opportunity to show a coherent collection of new work in Stroud. Line Gallery, based at Stroud Valleys Artspace, is an artist-led space curated by Jessie James and Rosalie Darien Jones. Their aim is to create a nurturing space for artists to try out new work and to develop their ideas. It Fell From Earth is the latest show in diverse programme that is always interesting and engaging.