Melting into the Landscape

Winner Sawtooth ARI Gallery review prize 2014.

It could be argued that Sue Henderson wields paint and paper as if they were sculptural mediums, the 2D works she produces are so textured and embracing. She describes herself as being ‘fascinated with how the material qualities of ink and paint might reflect perceptions, histories and experiences of places’, and this preoccupation is beautifully articulated in the painted work currently shrouding the walls of the Sawtooth Gallery. The paintings contain such palpable life, and have such tactile depth to them, that the boxlike white space is arrestingly transformed into a surprisingly seductive, tactile vista.
‘Geocritical: don’t just agitate – decorate’ is a wholly appropriate title for this installation, which manages to achieve both directives, fusing the idea into the work, and the work into the space, with striking effect. Rather than creating ‘in your face’ pieces that require the translation of an artist’s statement, Henderson’s installation melds her ideas skillfully with the work itself, allowing the viewer to literally sink into it. There is no discord; the walls metamorphose into the paintings, which are more like a textured, encompassing landscape than a two dimensional representation.
In the panels the contrasts between subtle and vibrant colours are suggestive of variations in climate and times of day; each work is like journeying through a landscape as the day or season flows over it, or the reach of light transforms it. Trees appear and fade, their foliage blurring into the landscape, while sudden chasms of white cut through the lushness, stark reminders of the unfathomable depths of the natural environment, its dangerous and unpredictable edges. Here is nature in its rawness, gorgeous but also remote, full of menace.
The unpredictability of nature is echoed in the production and presentation of the series of lichens; stunning individual pieces of controlled chaos, which have been pasted onto the walls in tightly regimented lines, beautifully embodying both the agitation and the decoration of the exhibition’s title. Each lichen is uniform in size and shape, but each one is handpainted and contains its own unique organic mayhem, its individual life cycle through colour, allowing them to both enhance and overcome the formally structural, ‘decorative’ aspect of their display.
Sue Henderson’s GeoCritical exhibition is sensational in a literal sense; it takes the viewer on a journey that is both visual and sensory, another aspect of her sculptural skill, in producing work of such incredible depth. The sense of place created is mesmerising. At times you feel like you are perched on a cliff face, with a landscape stretched in front of you; other panels enclose you within the stifling clutch of a jungle terrain, where the air is thick with the sensation of colour and fertility; you brush against the clammy wall of a rock path, or emerge into the entombing, subdued dimness of a cave. The alluring conversion of gallery walls into visions of natural landscapes that are both sublime and claustrophobic is masterful, a powerful blend of artistry and technical craftsmanship.
The result is an exhibition that is transformative, transporting the viewer into a symbiotic world where the combination of the agitative and the decorative is both harmonious and embracing. A world to sink into, and an installation worth experiencing.

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