Very rarely in the course of writing this blog do I get to enjoy art for its own sake any more. These days it’s all about researching the artist and understanding their motivation, deciphering symbolism and recognising influences, and then working out how to turn the visual into words so those messages can best be conveyed. It’s not a complaint, I love what I do, but sometimes I crave an artist whose work I can enjoy without the peripheral noise.
So I’m really pleased that I made it beyond Jan Manton Art’s slightly intimidating entrance (which, by the way, you should totally ignore, because past the formality of the entry buzzer is the warmest welcome you can imagine) to check out Miles Hall’s latest exhibition Solid Liquid States.
Miles Hall, an Australian now living in France, is an artist who seems to exist purely for the joy of making art. Each of his canvases is a tribute to the process of creating, the result of intuitive experiments with pigment, texture and composition, and as a result are impossible to photograph in a way that does them justice. Raw and textured, they feature bold colour combinations that bleed in to and repel each other in equal measure. Standing amongst them feels like the art world equivalent of the Colour Run marathons that have taken over the world, minus the sweat and mouthful of dyed corn starch.
Saffron, indigo, mossy green, pale grey, magenta, emerald and duck egg blue are thrown together with the sort of randomness that only a truly brilliant colourist can achieve. I haven’t seen anything this effortless since the day I dropped an entire case of pastels on the white carpet of my lounge room (don’t ask, still traumatized), an effect that can only be realized by an artist confident enough to follow his instincts and not overthink the outcome. The works reminded me of Moroccan spice markets and Thai shot silk, though the minute I was told Hall’s inspiration lay with the patisseries near his home in Montpellier, all I could think of was the trays of macaroons I had salivated over in Ladurée’s Paris boutique. Where the canvases feature more serene colour combinations, the effect is soft and ethereal, like diffused light on a film set.
As with all things though, the process Hall undertakes to create his work is significantly more intense than it seems. Each finished piece is the result of layer upon layer of paint applied to the canvas before being sanded back and painted over again and again. Occasional holes are punched into the works to allow layers to dribble through and run into each other, the canvas battered in to such a state that they end up almost sculptural in texture and appearance. Paint trickles run down their edges, further highlighting the fluidity of his approach. Each piece is testament to the level of care Hall takes every step of the way, and the training that has led him to have such precise understanding of how colour, texture and technique combine on canvas.
I think the great strength of this exhibition is the restraint with which the works were executed. The results could so easily have been too rough, too hypercoloured, too textured. Instead, Hall’s work is a perfect balance of gritty manipulation and organic movement, a bit like a boat builder who controls the overall design of the vessel, but not the inherent beauty of the material with which he is working. And I love that at a time when digital media and high quality printing is changing how we view and understand art, this work exists as a reminder that not everything can be fully appreciated without getting off your bum and seeing the original.
Which has just made me realize how much Miles Hall has now given me to think about, despite what I said in the beginning about enjoying this art for its own sake.
Miles Hall: Solid Liquid States
Jan Manton Art
Until 5 September 2015