Over last weekend I caught up with a painting I’d admired some 34 years back but hadn’t seen since (the second time I’d had such an event recently) and its a very curious experience. The occasion was the opening of Geoff Machin‘s exhibition at Buxton Art Gallery. I barely know Geoff at all having not really met him at the time of the first show ( we were both in an Arts Council award winners group outing organised by the Ikon Gallery) and maybe having met him twice since but I did study the picture – Swiftly in a Winter Nightfall – quite a deal at the time.
One of the things that strikes you as a viewer of Geoffs work is…and lets whisper it for how non ‘u’ can you be nowadays?…the craft involved in it. Immaculate construction and sleek, almost industrial surfaces are a given in each of his works and although the recent paintings and drawings are a tad less physically complex than those of the past this attention to an aspect of painting practice long out of fashion is a welcome friend from the past. In ‘Swiftly’ the way in which the slight physical variations in surfaces result in occasional visual disparities in the reading of the colour planes is exceptional and it suggests one of the many ways in which non- figurative formalist art might still find room for manoeuvre and new invention today.
For Geoff it was back to the rigour and discipline of the flat rectangle with the recent canvases that make up the bulk of this exhibition. The forms interlock to considerable effect in newer canvases like Secure But Free with the heightened colour palette used to good effect, another aspect of this practice that sadly seems rather out of fashion now.
Perhaps one of the subtlest of these paintings though, and my favourite was Floating Harmony made this year. Alongside the paintings there were exquisite drawings…like the one here…from the White Meander Suite. Again immaculately crafted pencil studies that despite their clear historical lineage suggest an artist alert and alive and moving into his eighth decade…hope for us all I feel!
Onto the Tarpey Gallery where in addition to catching up with another old friend, this time an actual person!, there was an opportunity to check a newer painter altogether. Mandy Payne is based in Sheffield and only graduated from the excellent (but sadly discontinued) Nottingham University part time Fine Art degree last year. Although this work is quite determinedly representational there were some faint echoes of the earlier of the days exhibitions. In the best paintings there was a very restricted palette, primarily deployed here to reflect the drab context of the infamous Park Hill estate, that was accompanied by formal characteristics that suggested the kind of interlocking space that Geoff Machin is obsessed with. It will be interesting to see whether this is a direction this artist continues down…and whether her picture selected for this year’s John Moores – ‘Brutal‘ – is in this vein…the title suggests so! And coincidently congratulations not only to the artist but also the Gallery for conspiring to mount this show at this moment of success.