- The Gallery at Birdwood House
- South West England
An exhibition that brings together the work of two artists, working in different media, working with very different approaches, can come about for different reasons. These can be pragmatic reasons of sharing labour, cutting costs or energy, or they may reflect a shared studio or practice. In the case of ‘The Hand Also Has Dreams’ on first entering the space, it feels like these works are oddly paired, and share little formally, in terms of media, or in modes of making. As the viewer spends time with them these works begin to speak to and of each other more. On initial viewing the visitor is presented with a collection of photographs by Philip Pierce that might casually appear as tourist snapshots and oddly framed architectural details, and Karen Lorenz’s work mixes abstract and near abstract paintings and drawing with two sculptural works that incorporate moving image. With time, questions of formal composition, of motifs, of processes in both bodies of work open up a dialogue or a possibility for parallels in thinking.
Pierce’s photographs from Florence and elsewhere in Tuscany, show new angles and arrangements between lines and shades and tones, so that the images function as formal compositions while also reminding the viewer of lives lived just outside the frame, and of lives that have shaped the objects within the frame. Two of the images show paintings from the Museum of the Duomo in Siena, they are photographs of painted panels, paintings of the Virgin and Child. These are framed off centre, showing something of their context, the dark gallery walls, the information labels, the museum lighting that is never quite even. As photographs they feel oddly out of place, without a genre, being neither an art plate showing the medieval panel, or an interior revealing the room hung with paintings. They remind the viewer of the fact that these paintings have been moved, they now reside in a museum, away from their intended altar or niche, and they are placed in an art history chronology and narrative. This sense of the particularity of reading these sites and objects, of coming to them after many other visitors, of coming to them layered in centuries of interpretation, framing, description, is made explicit in the two photographs of the trecento panels, and yet they are made new by being given to the viewer so oddly placed.
These pictured gilded panels with intense reds and darkened blues set up interesting echoes with Lorenz’s dark paintings. Her paintings are mainly abstract compositions, with some recognisable drawn or scratched representations of bottles, a plant, a leg, or some defined shapes and lines. They parallel the tripartite structure of an altar panel with wings, the curve of a gilded frame, of a recess or a window arch, the circle of a halo. A set of parallel horizontal lines may be steps toward a portal, and within the lighter opening a painted circle is crossed by a vertical stroke of lemon yellow, and flanked by two rings, like ears or aerials they gather information towards them.
Tiny figures or parts of figures that appear in Lorenz’s drawings and other painted pieces, echo the many sculptures that appear in Pierce’s images. These sculptures may be the focus of the shot, a tomb group in an alcove in a dark church, cool smooth marble against dry frescoed walls, or they may be incidental almost, on the corner of a tower, in a high niche in a street view, above a fountain in a piazza. In the drawings by Lorenz, these figures come alive, the arm gesture follows through, the leg takes the next step, the sequence extends from the stone or bronze moment out from the wall or into the square. But these drawings did not originate in a response to the Italian statues, but grew out of the artist’s memories of her own poses as a life model, from a recalled experience of the body in a pose. Drawn from, or drawn as, this process of recollection, they barely mark the page, loosely scratched into expanses of emptiness the lines shift and adjust, ease and tauten.
Lorenz’s drawings and paintings build up layers of pigment, of gesture, of marks, moving wet and dry materials across surfaces that resist or carry them. The paper that allows the swirl of paint to slip and turn, or thicker surfaces that show the track of a point, a series of furrows, repeated gestures traced on the ground or the paper. Motifs recur in Lorenz’s work, linear shapes, outlines, parts of figures, and these become repetitions like other repetitions that operate through the work. There are sequences, counted out, 1, 2, 3, 4, … within a drawing, or sequences of gesture across a series of sheets, or sequences of process which has built up into a dense deep red surface. As sequences these suggest that they might be continued, that they could go on, and that any stopping here, at this stage, is provisional. Pierce’s photographs feel less provisional, and this may be a difference of process and medium, where choosing a density of blackness, or deciding on a particular framing arrives at a finality, and the image stands as (in part) evidence of those choices. And that arrangement, that composition is held in place for now. The church interiors show details, corners, of much larger complex edifices, complex in their structure, and in their layers of development. Over centuries alterations, additions, and investment have added information and features to the buildings, and the overlap and intersections of these are shown in the images’ conjunctions.
The exhibition title ‘The Hand Also Has Dreams’, refers to Gaston Bachelard, who wrote “The hand and not the eye alone has its own reveries and poetry”. These two artists in showing together their different practices, their distinct media, and through the conversation this allows, bring to our attention the materiality of the photograph, and the temporality of the drawn or painted.