Curwen Gallery

Arts Review –

This is an exhibition that does, in a positive way, remind you of things. Jonathan Gibbs’s images straddle the line between abstract and narrative, so that as you look at the thirty or so small works in his one-man show at the Curwen Gallery, you seem to remember stories. In one you see, perhaps, a busy, quite dark interior, with a window top left showing sky and a tower block. Another suggests a window, framing boat and hill, in just the colours and mood to remind you of Cornish holidays. A third allows you to believe it portrays the artist’s studio, with chair and table, top light and clutter.

Many of the works are built up of more abstract patterns, but in most there seems to be some tug of recognition: the mixed texture of an old brick wall, the aerial pattern of waterways or streets. The artist seems to be teasing us into building stories out of his untitled patterns and textures.

For there are memories too in the style of painting. One group of four small works has a feel of thirties coloured woodcuts of industrial landscapes: dark, stylised waves of smoke leaving angular chimney stacks against a brown patched landscape. The back wall of the gallery has a series of small works suggesting the elegant control of greeting card art in coolly abstract still lives.

I suspect these are again invitations to read things into the work, for although the artist relishes variety of texture, working in all forms of crayon and paint, on paper or block mounted canvas, there is an underlying consistency of vision. The picture surface is divided and sub-divided, and those areas that generate textures and colours, and the boundaries between them creep and mingle. It is a quietly sensuous business of small scale painting, creating beautifully balanced flat surfaces that encourage the viewer to see them with depth and story.

After I’d seen the show I read Mary Rose Beaumont’s piece for this magazine about Jonathan Gibbs’s previous show. She had written most eloquently, what I felt two years later, but ended by asking whether the artist will »advance further into the natural world, or retreat back into what has been described as ‘atmospheric abstraction’.« I think we can now see that he is deliberately and skilfully playing between the two.

by Andrew Hughes
16 June 1989