Lots of what I’ve been looking at painting wise lately has had large doses of ‘wham bam’ and plenty of it has been pretty decent. But sometimes you crave a fix of something with a bit more of a delicate touch, maybe a bit quieter and considered, and maybe with just a touch of craft. Luckily Margaret Orrell’s ‘Romola’ currently at Repton’s New Court Gallery is just what the connoisseur ordered.
This body of work is suffused with light that sings out of pictures offering a visual commentary on George Eliot’s novel Romola. I confess that other than a few passages and a synopsis of Adam Bede I haven’t read any of Eliot’s work (and I doubt I’m alone in this). Set around the turn of fifteenth to sixteenth century Florence the novel intertwines the personal with the epic struggles around power in the city. Orrell has a light touch, physically and metaphorically on both the picture surfaces and on the narrative. She offers a range of images, both figurative and abstract, that poignantly reflect the interior aspects of the novel’s charcters and exterior glimpses of the context in which they operate. This opens out in the very first canvas where one of the key characters stares out at us every inch a Renaissance noble and yet somehow also such a very contemporary portrait.
The richness of the muted palette is first evidenced here and right through the exhibition there is a sureness to the colour relationships that bind together the formal elements of images that incorporate blunt passages of flat colour set against delicate flower and figure drawing.
The freshness of many of the paintings, especially in the later images where the artist has permitted herself greatest license with the narrative source (and at the very last departs from it altogether), is a real visual pleasure and suggests more quality to come. Surprisingly the artist confides the fact that she has never visited Florence, so these pictures reveal a visual idea of a city, a place in time filtered through the imaginations of both author and artist, in such a way as to give insights into both and also allow access to the painters own sensibilities. Now I have been fortunate to walk those streets, to stand in Santa Croce gazing at Massacio’s Trinita, and despite the filtration process it is surprising to see the place, the ambience and it’s history so accurately and sensitively rendered. This is an exhibition that offers both content and painterly form, delicacy and craft. I’d urge you to go and take a good look…the show will continue until Friday 6th February and will be open to the public from 2.30 – 5.30 pm, Monday to Sunday, closed on Fridays.