Exhibition report: Reconnecting with matter at Beam editions
Striped and worn but equally intense and dramatic, Eleanor Bartlett’s paintings draw the viewer, enticing him. Full of intrigue and mystery with their thick black tar coated and their striped lines, they have the appearance of large gaping black holes, gaping, ready to consume their environment. The paintings are thick and heavy, covered in huge amounts of tar, gravel, and dirt, with each painting overlooking the small exhibition space from Beam to Primary like a dark landscape.
Eleanor Bartlett began producing art in her late fifties after leaving a career in physiotherapy and is very self-taught. The title of his last exhibition, Reconnect to matter, indicates a refocusing on the materiality of art. The idea of ââreconnecting with matter is an insistence on seeing the real world physically, rather than seeing it represented on a screen. The crudeness of his work is particularly poignant in a time of COVID-19 restrictions, when we face digital erosion of the material world.
Bartlett’s paintings and drawings are presented to the viewer with a dramatic mystery, making this work difficult to define. Filled with lots of themes and ideas, juxtaposing dark and gloomy feelings with a sense of playfulness and exploration. These works are both abstract and concrete, with a clear emphasis on time, place and materiality.
Reconnect to matter highlights the very particular work of Bartlett. She uses tar, wax, and metallic paint as mediums, and there’s an aggressiveness in the way she applies them. She digs marks and sprays paint on the canvas surface, sometimes making holes through the canvas. Untitled (2019), made from tar and metallic paint on canvas, really has that quality; you can feel the emotion and expression through the form of the brand.
Bartlett’s work draws on the history of the Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s and 1950s, with his gestural brushstrokes, markings and, in particular, the spontaneity of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Like the skid marks of a car, you can almost hear the screech of the brakes emanating from Bartlett’s sharp brushstrokes. The aggressiveness of Bartlett’s expression allows you to really feel the emotions that went into her practice, and you can immediately feel the physical act of doing within the work. He has energy.
“The paintings are thick and heavy, covered in enormous amounts of tar, gravel and dirt, each painting overlooking the small exhibition space from Beam to Primary like a dark landscape.”
Yet Bartlett goes beyond simple abstract expressionism. His work shows an interaction between deliberate branding and design, as well as total abstraction. It is a combination of the deliberate act combined with the presentation of the effects of the materials. In this way, his art can also be considered as process-art, mainly concerned with the process of his creation. Again, Bartlett brings the viewer back to the artwork as a physical object, showing the physicality of materials and the physicality of the act of their creation. The paintings are at the same time a negotiation between the will of the artist and the will of the material. The torture of materials gives the work a certain history and gives it an aged quality. In this way, art touches a lot on a specific type of Process-Art; a Japanese philosophy known as “Wabi Sabi”, a traditional Japanese aesthetic centered on the acceptance of the ephemeral and imperfection.
There are videos and interviews in the gallery space of Bartlett doing her work. She can be seen scratching and throwing paint on the canvases with her characteristic explosive method. This approach consists, in a sense, of torturing materials; bring out their essence and their own expression. This raw, no-nonsense approach gives the artwork a strong sense of authenticity, as you really get a feel for the physicality of the materials.
Bartlett’s work contains a very authentic and honest approach to the materials she uses. This is especially true for his series Untitled, whose works are exhibited in the gallery. These are large, square paintings with huge smeared marks and lines of tar and metallic paint, all done in the past two years. These works only contain colors that are a direct result of the true qualities of the materials used, rather than being arbitrarily applied to make the paintings more aesthetic. In fact, the energy of the brand is at the center of our concerns; the color would only detract from that. Her trademark making is also reminiscent of the art of Japanese calligraphy, in the way she creates pictographic forms through gestural form. But she uses tar instead of ink and a brush instead of a pen. Sometimes the brush looks more like a blackened stick because it is totally clogged with tar. The energy that connects the hand to the brush gives vitality to the shape that the tar sticks to the canvas.
Eleanor Bartlett’s work reminds us of the beauty of reality, with all of its drama contained within, and an experience that can only be enjoyed in the virtual world, when confronted physically.
Eleanor Bartlett: Reconnecting with Matter is on view at the Beam Gallery through December 4.