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Riverfall and Other Works

Paintings by Alan Rankle 1991-1993

Stephen Foster

The Punter, Sept 1993
 

One of the most interesting exhibitions to see at the moment is a modest show in the entrance foyer of the NorthGuild. In fact, a suite of 12 paintings on canvas is here, but there is more upstairs, two more paintings hang alongside Rankle's personal choice from the permanent collection of the gallery - a delightful Dutch realist painting by Jacob van Ruisdale and an impressionist landscape by Corot.

Rankle studied, a couple of decades ago, at Rochdale College of Art and Goldsmith College in London. During this time he developed an interest in Chinese painting and philosophy. It is by bringing together an understanding of traditional Western landscape - Ruisdale and Corot - to Chinese philosophy, with the addition of Western abstract painting, the key to Rankle's paintings is unlocked.

They are really all Yin and Yang, and for every comment that I could make about these paintings, the opposite would also be true. Each has the look of a traditional landscape, on occasion trees against brightly lit skies are clearly visible, at other times a clearly defined leaf is sprawled across the foreground in the middle of the canvas. But these images are set against abstract painting with the emphasis on paint. Paint is dragged and scumbled, pushed and pulled, smeared and spattered and dripped, simply for the love of painting. In fact these paintings often look like an old Victorian landscape dragged from a junk shop and nearly completely covered over with modern abstract techniques. This whole process, and the paintings themselves, are saved by the link to Chinese philosophy.

T'ai Chi is aimed at completeness, but Chinese philosophy emphasises the fact that there are two sides to everything. In these paintings this is shown by the abstract and figurative, the thoughtful and impulsive, the old and new, the planned and accidental. They are both inspired and contrived, activity based and contemplative, and are enjoyable at this level. Unlike much abstract painting, which is daubed with the same kind of naive sensuous pleasure of a child's first paint set or a first attempt at making things with clay. These works are informed by spirit of the East; its calligraphy, its contemplation, its technical virtuosity.

Amongst the most successful are the Riverfall paintings from the title of the exhibition. Two of the four in the exhibition are about three feet by four. One has all the intensity of a Turner at his most passionate, the blood-red and orange sky and thick ropes of black paint at the bottom of the picture. The other has a composition cut in two where a dragged squeegee across the surface has left many?layered streaks of paint, reminiscent of the contemporary German artist Gerhardt Richter, who is famous for crossing the boundaries between pure abstract painting and a kind of photographic realism.

There are also eight smaller paintings which show the complete oeuvre of his work, with the washed skies and the thick-paint textures which in an abstract way represent landscape. All the abstract artists' tricks are here, from daubing, dragging and dripping to scumbling, scraping and scratching. If you enjoy the pure pleasure of staring at gorgeous colours, sensuous textures and oozie paint, then this exhibition is definitely for you.

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NorthGuild Art Gallery, Southampton until 21st November1993