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Colin Crumplin       Axiom, Cheltenham 1986  









Reviewed by Robin Marriner
in Aspects     1986


Over the few years at the end of the '70s and the beginning of the '80s Colin Crumplin showed work at the Anthony Stokes gallery which, though acknowledging and drawing from recent Modernist painting, with what now seems a degree of prescience, engaged in a critical reflection on it.

The works of that period used a wide range of mark making, and painterly languages that could be associated with Modernist Painting -whether in the Hommage a Queneau - which involved the presentation of a hundred images of a cup through different modes of drawing or in the paintings, which characteristically consisted in. a figure constructed from thick-ish, sweeping, gesturally applied paint juxtaposed with a carefully painted re presentation/representation of the 'same' image. In juxtaposing different modes/styles of mark making in the same piece of work, and in counterposing the 'same' image in different modes within one work, these pieces constructed relations through which the languages used begin to separate from the meanings normally associated with them in the Modernist canon. It was as if that more usual reading was put into suspension, or held up for scrutiny. Although the works were premised on, perhaps unreadable without, a knowledge of modernist painting, they seemed less a commitment to than a comment on it. Despite the often gestural surfaces and ostensible hommage to painterliness they were discursive of such notions rather than exemplars of it. Given the displacement from the centre of the art-world stage of U.S.- style modernism in the last few years, and the present currency of work that aspires to engage with questions of meaning-making and re-cycles different pictorial modes, it's perhaps surprising that Colin Crumplin's work has not received more exposure. Recently a body of work has been presented in the excellent Axiom Gallery in Cheltenham.

The show presented mostly two-dimensional pieces, though there were three three-dimensional pieces from the last four years. The strongest of the work, that which seems most rigorous and most resonant, perhaps not surprisingly, seems to build upon and extend the earlier preoccupations. Typically it consists of at least two panels, one of which has had paint applied in sweeping acres by hand to build up an all-over loose, gestural field. This panel is than blotted onto an adjoining one, certain of the marks thereby produced are then chosen for re-working or re-production, characteristically by over-painting on the first panel (eg Five Figures); rendering certain configurations of marks form the second panel on it in different modes. The starting point for both the two-and three-dimensional work is related to bodily movements, size or surface — e.g. the three-dimensional Dancer is related to the sweep of a child's leg undertaking a particular exercise, and in one way or another can be seen as traces, or as recordings of activity/ presence. As such, one might in both cases see them as offering particular forms of bodily presentation; in the context of art-making one might also see them as opposing or exposing the conventionalism of the privilege that is given in our culture to figuration as the most 'natural' mode for such presentation. It seems in regard to this that the two-dimensional work is the stronger. For in their originating panels not only do they, like the three-dimensional work link to their subject by virtue of our reading them as indexical marks -as traces, or recordings -but in their overt re-working of those initial marks using different conventions and modes of image making the encourage us to think around the whole issue of what it is for something to 'stand for', or 'look like' something else. We compare the 're produced' configurations with the 'original', and often we cannot but compare the reproduced configuration with other representations of which they are suggestive, e.g. in for Magritte where the reworked marks become readable as part of a bowler hat -encouraged of course by the anchoring effect of the title. In the former case what perhaps is most conspicuous is the difference in the 'reproduction' from the 'original', and yet one's preparedness to acknowledge or accept the one as an 'image' of the other. In the latter case, where the reproduced configuration becomes additionally suggestive of something else, e.g. Magritte's hat, or in another case a banana -we become aware of how that inflects our perception of the initial marks -once the connection is forged it's almost impossible not to read the image of the hat, for example, back across and into the original contingent marks. In both cases what seems to be underlined is the arbitrariness of the ways in which different forms of representation are secured: the relations between marks and what they are seen or read to mean is conventional, even in the case of marks we take to be indexical and the least arbitrary. Or, to put it another way, and just as importantly given the apparent reference to modernism in their languages: what is underlined as we moved round the gallery from one work to another is a singularly un-modernist awareness of how much the meanings we attribute to and read off the marks is contributed by the knowledges we bring to them at the moment of their perception.