‘Oceans and Other Paintings’, Stephen Lacey Gallery, London 1999

 

Gammon knows that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a pictorial language (writing, for example, works by means of abstract symbolic reference to natural language) any more than there exists a musical language: there are, as he puts it, in an idiosyncratic list, ‘only conventions, rules, tricks and methods, devices and precedences, manners and etiquette, that we use in the hope that someone will follow the drift.’ As a painter he has devised his own rules in order to make works that will keep the promises of nature, that will bring into concrete form the phenomenal elements that wait to be organised into artistic realisation:’if it was only the dark voice of the sea/That rose . . ./lf it was only the outer voice of sky/And cloud . . ./However clear, it would have been deep air/The heaving speech of air, a summer sound . . . /And sound alone.’ (my italics) It would remain, that is to say, the ‘constant cry . . . /lnhuman, of the veritable ocean.’ Gammon’s Ocean paintings ‘sing’, as Stevens’ poem has it, ‘beyond the genius of the sea.’
The paintings are actually made up of thousands of small blue rectangles (in the case of Ocean No I there are 2,800; in No 2 there are 2,560) that range through a regular sequence of ten tones from dark indigo to ultramarine and copper blue to a near-white, and is then reversed. In Ocean No. I this sequence, of horizontal-format rectangles, runs from top to bottom in forty vertical columns parallel from left to right (or vice-versa) across a canvas field nearly sixteen feet wide; in Ocean No. 2 the rectangles are vertical in format, and they are configured across four vertical canvases seven foot by three foot. In both, the mix of wax with the oil medium gives the surface of the painting a reflective sheen that increases the shimmer created by the repetition of the individual tonal elements in sequence. Approach closely and it becomes clear that slight and unavoidable variations in surface facture also play a part in the visual complexity of the work. As Gammon points out, the powerful optical effect is not illusionistic, or trompe l’oeil, it is, in fact, a consequence of a visual fact. It is not unlike that dazzle occasioned by sunlight shimmer on disturbed water, or that impossibility of maintaining focus on any one of a succession if incoming coastal waves: the eye is actually tricked by the conflicting demands on the retina of successive waves, of light or colour or moving matter, into switching between one and the other, and is never allowed to find more than a momentary fixed focus. In the paintings the effect itself is of a constant rippling up and down (No. 1) or from side to side (No. 2), and of an unceasing undulation, like that of the seas rhythmic sway and swell, but rhythmically ordered by an optical regularity disturbed only by those slight textural irregularities remarked above.as indicating the essential shift in those works towards objective abstraction: ‘

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