Paul Smith - solo show
1-18 July 2021
Opening Night 1 July, 6-9pm
Are You Moving to the Country? : New Paintings
“So shall I join the choir invisible…” – George Eliot
The far corner of a raptured park; the emptied woods at the boundary of a village; the temporary fencing along a suburban perimeter – Paul Smith’s latest paintings are landscapes of seemingly banal non-places that, in his vision, drip with the uncanny. They are landscapes of waiting, and in that they are instantly recognisable to us all after a year of dwelling within such things. And while we do not see our protagonists in these ‘empty’ spaces, there is a human presence. These are edgelands, and edgeland spaces are often inhabited by the people that have always just left. Here the humans linger outside the frame, seen not in person but in their ruins: their graffiti or a gate left slightly askew; the eerie, off-kilter remains of a picnicking group.
But it is neither the humans outside of view, nor the ‘nature’ they have recently moved through, that is the true subject matter in Smith’s paintings. That is reserved for lines drawn in light and steel and oak that illustrate the uncanny point at which human and non-human silently intersect. In works such as “Omens and Portents”, a riverside strewn with wooden picnic-table planks, or “And You Will Know Us”, with plastic lawn furniture uncannily empty beneath the trees, this intersection is seen in slivers of light that slice across the canvas. In others, it is more direct: in “Club Country” a temporary chain-link fence drawn across the landscapes appears to hold back the trees, oozing towards the barrier, as much Jeff VanderMeer’s Floridian swamps as Smith’s nearby Surrey suburbs.
The English landscape tradition has long used ruins as a way to paint the collision of people and place, and, through that, to imagine time. Are You Moving to The Country? does this by expanding our idea of ‘ruins’ to include those of the 2021 variety. Crumbling castle walls and abbeys and replaced with abandoned swimming pools and country clubs; where Constable might have seen the neat lines of rural enclosure, Smith sees gates mapped onto over-walked lockdown pathways. But in their overgrown complexities, ruins in the picturesque always spark of optimism. The way things are, they say, is not the way things have always been. In the shiver of the eerie is a bounty of possibility.
Some of this work came out of Smith’s time exploring George Eliot’s legacy in Nuneaton, as part of the writer’s bicentenary, and reflects her understanding of modern English life as being illustrated by the psychology of its marginalia. In his edgelands, Smith finds the haunting beauty of life in an England of suburban landscapes – places where the delicate balances that describe the ethereality of Englishness itself are pushed, and push back.