What unmistakably stands out for many painters are the long silences they have standing in front of an artwork. Often time almost stands still in both the studio and gallery. To an outsider, this may appear to be an unproductive period, as they digest what is in front of them. However, for me, this time is extremely valuable. l find that as l digest what is in front of me my imagination is inspired, triggering thoughts that often leads new works.
So here I am at Mori Corvi show to see Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s latest show, ”A Mind For Moonlight’. Lynette, the London based Ghanaian artist, was 26 when she graduated from RA schools in 2003. She has been married to painting ever since. Despite the myth of the struggling artist, Lynette has found a way to thrive with her deep love of pushing the paint around. I have come along to see what I think about when I stand in front of her work and I wonder what her thoughts were when she viewed the historic European portrait painters of the past.
Walking into the exhibition, which consists of one room with 11 paintings, I feel the immediate energy and briskness of the brushwork. All painters acknowledge that play is more virtuous than the outcome of the work, that the merit does not come from what I or a hundred others say, but it comes from the need to find a process to communicate this creative urge inside of us. Thereby putting value in what is up at risk.
Painting is akin to a game of chance. It involves knowledge, skill, and strength of character. However, more deeply in the practice of painting, it is the love of responding. Lynette’s paintings are not directly inspired by external stimuli, but instead, they are a dialogue with the history of painting and the history of art. When looking at Lynette work, I feel the presence of Degas’s, ‘La Coiffure’ (1885), Sergeant’s ‘Doctor Pozzi at Home’ (1881) and how the light plays in a Caravaggio or one Cezanne’s many self-portraits.
I notice the contrasting dance of colours, purple and yellow in ‘Afterword’, (2019), green and purple in, ‘The Black Agronomical’, (2019) and the brave and confident approach to so much murky and muddy brown, a colour that often repels hardened artists. Lynette paints fast and frenetically, often in one sitting over one or two days. Considering Lynette uses a wet on wet technique is it interesting to see that apart from the brown, there is a lack of muddy, messy colour when she works in this manner.
Lynette does not try for perfectionism. Judgement takes place afterwards. She destroys approximately three canvas a week. Her way of working allows for play and inventiveness. Who puts pink, orange and turquoise in a painting like in ‘Afterword’ (2019)? Who dares to use orange and yellow to sketch out beforehand, like in ‘The Emancipation Tracksuit’ (2019)? Who enjoys the play of pushing the colours through a range of tones and hues? The great artists of the past, trying things out on the canvas, of course.
Lynette uses thick textured linen as her canvas. The paint is sometimes thinned, sometimes applied dry without mixing. Gestures of rubbing with a dry brush, washes of thinned paint and everything in-between can be seen.
Once I get past the fun Lynette is having on the canvas with the colours, I make a momentary glance to the subject matter, quickly realising the narrative and the made-up people in the paintings are irrelevant. The pictures are left open for the viewer to make their own narrative. So instead I look around the room I am in and marvel at the refinement of the carefully considered, constructed compositions. I wonder is this really what the artist was focusing on? I look at the balancing of the space in the composition and how Lynette fills the canvas? I come to the conclusion the real subject is about taking painting apart.
The mechanics of the paintings reveal an exhilarating character. The figures and objects are here just to allow Lynette to move the paint around. With each picture so carefully balanced, I’m sure that Lynette takes great pleasure from the formal aesthetical qualities. A delightful appreciation of the heightened sensation of beauty comes from the balancing of space within the frame. It makes the work a feast for my eyes which needs repeated viewing.
Lynette has a real talent, an inquisitive artist. She lives and breaths the ambiguous knowledge about the grammar of painting. Her thinking is inseparable from the act of holding a brush and letting the creativity flow out of her. Her psychological studies are aloof. They feel poetic and compelling. This approach is a vehicle to getting to the real nature of something essential. Expressing and bringing into prominence her unique individuality.
It was clearly time well spent for Lynette, standing in front of the masters of the past. For some, the time a painter spends in the studio and in a gallery is the definition of insanity. But for me, Lynette’s playful and inspiring paintings make me want to rush back to my studio. Inspiring me to practice, to do it properly myself. All I know is, I have just had a crash course in understanding why I am failing. It has been an incredibly instructive experience. All I can say is, I’m in awe, Lynette really understands how to paint!
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye 2019 Lie to Me oil on linen, Diptych 140 x 85 cm All rights remain with the artist
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