1.1 The scale
One thing that the postcard didn’t prepare me for was the scale of the paintings. Kettle’s Yard is not a large gallery, there’s only one room with double-height ceilings (which was being used to show works by another artist). Sybille Berger’s paintings are 187 x 183 x 6cm and this left what seemed like only a small space between the edges and the floor and ceiling. But the size of the paintings worked well in this space, there felt like there was a synergy between them.
The paintings themselves were not completely flat. There was a slight surface texture to them – probably not enough to be a feature, but noticeable nevertheless. This texture changed from colour to colour, becoming more or less smooth. With minimal works like this your eye gets drawn to potentially meaningless (from the artist’s point of view) details like these.
1.3 Dividing lines
A feature that I think was most definitely important was the nature of the dividing lines between colours. There is a peak where the two lines meet, which adds a very subtle effect to the canvas. From a distance I wasn’t sure if the paintings were made up of a number of panels, one for each colour, this peak seemed to define a small gap between them. Up close it became clear that it was creating a shadow and a highlight line along its top and bottom surfaces which was modulating the visual effect of the division, creating this illusion of a break. These highlights serve to increase the contrast between the colours by adding a fringe to the edge.
1.4 Designed to make galleries look good
Speaking from an interior design perspective, it’s works like these that make ‘white cubes’ look good.
1.5 Canvas studies with penciled notes
In addition to the large-scale paintings, there were a number of small sets of studies on patches of canvas. These showed a selection of 8 or so colour combinations with penciled notes. The notes seemed to record the names of the colours in the main, with one or two general statements, like “none of these with light blue” (from memory – need to confirm this).
1.6 Heroic photo of studio tucked away
In one corner of the gallery there is a photo of what I assume is the artist’s studio. It shows an almost prototypical scene – the chaos of paint pots, canvases, tables and all the other accouterments of an artist. The canvas studies and this photo seem to be trying to give the audience a more personal impression of the artist, perhaps it was felt that the paintings are not enough to engage the viewer?
The catalogue is a small booklet, the proportions of which seem to reflect those of the paintings. It comprises front-on photos of the paintings, their details and a short essay about them by Michael Harrison (Director of Kettle’s Yard). It’s quite a nice little book, designed by Paul Allitt.
1.8 Catalogue essay
Sybille Berger is said to impute an emotional and physical referent for one of the colours used in the paintings. The author (jokingly?) contrasts this with the (“Twentieth-century art education” – Modernist?) separation of form and meaning:
. . . she dismayingly let slip that the bottom band of pink was the colour of her mother’s lipstick when she was a child.
A (significant?) technical aspect is revealed when the author states:
. . . painting on canvas is begun . . . each [layer] masked from the others until complete and revealed.
As the layers build . . . what already was a colour poised on the edge of becoming another, now takes on light and shadow and the shifts of daylight and perception.
which would suggest that the final colours are less certain than the studies propose.
The movement from four to three bands is noted as a process of the two central bands merging, with a suggestion of landscape appearing (to my mind):
The merging of two central bands into one has turned band into expanse.
It seems difficult to divorce three bands from a relation to landscape. Four bands seem to be more abstract.
1.9 Some other reviews of Sybille Berger’s painting
2.0 I plan on writing more about these Paintings once I’ve had a chance to visit the show again