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

 

As the eye seeks to sum up the composition and resolve it into the image of an object, its attention is drawn instead to the many small points of conjunction. This creates rhythm literally in the field of vision; it is no longer symbolic imagery but actual visual experience.’ Of course we may read this as descriptive of our experience of Gammon’s own painting: he emphasises that the work exists to activate the space Gammon quotes John Milner on Mondrian’ s Pier and Ocean series of 1914-15, around it, to provide what he calls ‘a specific aesthetic charge within that space’; that is something in painting that is achieved primarily by the image i.e. the ‘actual visual experience’, and in the Ocean paintings specifically by ‘rhythm in the field of vision’. (I say, primarily, because we cannot avoid the fact that paintings are objects whose placement in a space is crucial to their effects upon the spectator, especially when they are objects as imposing as these paintings.) For, of course, Mondrian’s Pier and Ocean series presents us with images, just as do Gammon’s paintings (in the Mondrians there are, indeed, recognisable elements of what Milner calls ‘symbolic imagery’) and that ‘actual visual experience’ is experience of the image. The question arises, at the heart of any critical approach to Gammon’s work: what are these images of?
The first answer is always self-referential: the images are of bands of colour, whose tonal relations are predetermined, deployed in a certain order and relation, usually symmetric, if sometimes complexly so. They create effects of light. In the case of the Ocean paintings, as their titles imply, these effects, created by scale and presence, and by the blue colour/tone sequencing described above, what Gammon calls ‘a multiplicity of blue’, are of a kind that recalls our experience of the sea, but they do not imitate its actual turmoil or the evanescence of its ‘constant cry’ in the ‘meaningless plungings of water and the wind ‘.They are the outcome of an act of invention; they perform their duty towards art taking blue and white light from nature and transforming it into a particular configuration of given forms. They are images then of an idea of order expressions of what Stevens invokes as the ‘Blessed rage for order . . . the maker’s rage to order words of the sea . . .’ ‘Rage’ may not seem the proper term for Mondrian’s Pier and Ocean meditations, but there is a close and particularly apt parallel: ‘Observing sea, sky and stars, I sought to indicate their plastic for through a multiplicity of crossing verticals and horizontals’.

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