Sam Cartman: At the End of the Road
Kilmorack Gallery, until 13 April 2013
INSPIRED by Scottish and Italian landscapes, Sam Cartman’s first solo exhibition at Kilmorack Gallery represents a significant progression in the artist’s work to date.
THIS IS a show of absolute clarity in the skilled handling of paint, distillation of visual language and command of composition. Characteristically the relationship between elements of nature and human architecture create a sense of immediacy and tension, with linear draughtsmanship and gestural brushwork exquisitely balanced throughout. Moving more deeply into abstraction has arguably strengthened the artist’s composition, and there is new verve and dynamism in this latest body of work, taking Cartman’s practice to a whole new level.
The artist’s acute understanding of the essential crafting of images through line, form, colour and texture is resoundingly evident. Driven by paint handling and with the element of design less consciously visible than in earlier work, formal elements of structural deliberation become fully integrated with the most articulate and subtle handling of paint. Bold planar treatment of oil on board, strong lines and a magnificently controlled palette are tempered by a variation of mark that can only be fully appreciated in viewing the original work. Cartman draws the eye and mind of the viewer into the image with remarkable consistency, a confident rhythm which is sensed and felt from the smallest scale work to the largest in the exhibition.
Towards Glenshee (Oil on board) is a beautiful example of finely tuned pictorial, structural and human elements within the landscape. A pure, bold expanse of aqua sky, undulating interlocking hills and geometric forms are punctuated by singularly decisive marks of russet. Warm accents of colour, typically rust, ochre or flashes of vibrant orange sit in contrast with a predominantly cool, contemplative palette. This restrained use of colour gives Cartman’s work a distinctive edge.
In Towards Glenshee the striking crescent of white feels like a signature and a sense of unexpected depth is created by larger forms in the far left foreground receding into a curvature of seeing and perceiving the landscape. On closer inspection the plane of sky reveals gentle stippling of paint, this together with areas such as a triangle of fluid layers in blue, green and smeared charcoal, encourage consideration of the qualities of the medium from flattened almost industrial treatment to delicate stains. Allowing the white ground to emerge beneath the horizon line creates an impression of luminous, Northern light often glimpsed behind a curtain of sky or dense seemingly immovable cloud. Human dwellings are suggested but largely subsumed in a complex arrangement of abstracted form. It is the feeling of pure blue that immediately draws the viewer and like a great piece of music the underpinning structure of the composition is seamless in its execution.
The large scale Usan Diptych is another superb example, an expanse of sky and scattered semi industrial/residential buildings that brings the eye masterfully to the centre of two equally balanced halves. The imprint of palette knife and roller in a geometric cascade create unexpected nuances in the dominant sky; comprised of two blue variations separated by a jagged band of white ground emerging from beneath the painted surface. The loose treatment of the foreground, opaque or stained pigment and animated gestural marks cleverly add to the viewer’s sense of perspective, while the sparing use of eye catching warm colour: ochre, yellow, russet and orange, placed with the utmost precision and instinct, achieve a perfectly balanced composition. In his Single Panel Tryptich Cartman presents a complex arrangement of interlocking man made architectural and semi organic forms testing the structural and compositional boundaries of the image. This exploration of the picture plane, paint quality, density and mark, allows the artist to create a multi-layered response to humankind in the environment.
Temple 5 is a fascinating work in the suggested relationship between human architecture and nature. The jutting apex of the building suggests a stark purity of intent and aspiration in its heightened perspective. The sharply defined vanishing point adds to the sense of human presence in the landscape; the outline of stone walls, tiny darkened window and shaded solidity contrasted with the more ephemeral smears of charcoal and ever present blue/grey sky. Delicate textures of drizzled turpentine and a light touch of ochre path invite closer inspection while sharp geometric accents of purple and linear orange trace the eye’s movement to the horizon line.
Stylistic contrast in works such as Castle Road where drafted, precise lines of architecture and tonal definition meet fluid paint handling and pure abstraction are convincingly balanced in visual counterpoint. This dynamic between design and spontaneous mark is exemplified in the reaction between pigment and board creating a shifting sky of bled ultramarine in Roccasecca. Here the white architectural façade of the building is juxtaposed with liquefied sky. Sharp linear perspective guides the eye into the image but it is colour and paint density that governs our emotional response to the image.
Another highlight of the exhibition is Outpost, an image divided by a serpentine line between foreground and mid-ground. To the left of the composition, hard-edged abandoned structures in greyish blue and black contrast with large boulders, stones and viscerally sketched grass in ochre, tinged green, russet and orange. Treatment of the sky is poetically distilled and immediately tactile, stained grey beneath white, with a curvature of thickened paint bringing movement of cloud to the profound stillness and isolation of the scene. Human habitation and its figurative absence in Cartman’s compositions remains poised and enigmatic, an eternal dance between natural and human marks in the landscape. Throughout this latest body of work the artist delivers a sustained and potent exploration of the plastic elements of image making and his chosen subject, creating finely balanced compositions of expansive depth and insight.
© Georgina Coburn, 2013