Sheila Ravnkilde Long Boxes – 12 Colours at Harrington Mill Studios in Long Eaton
It can be quite a tricky space…essentially a short and then a long corridor, the latter punctuated by the entrances to the studios…but nonetheless it has hosted its fair share of highly individual and distinctive exhibitions over the past nine years. None more so than Sheila Ravnkilde’s third outing in the gallery. Given her knowledge of the foibles of the location and well known talent for investing whatever space she selects, or has been asked to animate, it is perhaps not surprising that this project is a joy.
I’m a great fan of Barnett Newman and one of my most treasured catalogues is that of his Tate outing in 1971 within which is a reproduction of a stunning painting entitled ‘Shining Forth (to George). Although very close to monochrome (as close as Newman gets except in the Stations of The Cross series) it has an amazing luminosity. As Thomas Hess says in the catalogue essay (a marvellous piece of poetic writing that we seem to have all but lost over the past forty years) light “seems to pour from behind the quivering negative zip and intensify brightly at the edges of the severe black cuts”. I reference this picture because despite its seeming lack of colour it does in fact point up the opposite…that the bare canvas colour is accentuated by the blackness of the two zips and the feathered stripe.
And precisely because of this, and the more obvious connections between the zips and Ravnkilde’s bars, I see connections. Connections of the kind that Don Judd also saw in his work and Newman’s. What all three artists have in common is an unerring sensibility with what colour, surfaces and forms can do when treated with craft and respect, but also permitted to behave as they must be…given their inherent properties. Much has been written on this (especially as regards Newman and Judd’s responses to him) but in this current exhibition where Ravnkilde goes a deal further into spaciality than certainly Newman (and perhaps – and more surprisingly, Judd) she seems to be explicitly courting ideas about the nature of both painting and sculpture.
Indeed in this work (and the other piece on show here) the physicality of paint and the chance operators in the relatively mechanistic procedures by which the works are made are openly revealed and, more so than in most of the earlier works I’ve seen, celebrated. Where Newman uses intervals in order to regulate and allow colours to breathe and Judd regiments them within rigidly constructed form Ravnkilde uses both regularity and colour in space to modulate the overall composition.
In the second of the two works here…Boxes (24 colours) these operators are perhaps even more evident…the luminosity is more concentrated and the use of sensitive and inspired colour juxtapositioning reinforced. The willingness to allow what Judd called “matter-of -factness” to come through is clearly revealed in the individual panels in just the same way as Newman would occasionally allow drips or splashes into his pictures in what his wife Annalee dubbed ‘tears’.
Its a matter of fact too that this level of serious enquiry into the nature of painting and its essentials has been rather out of fashion of late (a consequence of the falsity of the post-structuralist stranglehold over art criticism up until a few years back) but some artists (the best ones) stick to their guns. Ravnkilde is one such and this was an exhibition of high ambition and considerable quality.