Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Robin Holtom and Michael Wilson

Both artists in the current show at the Hastings Art Forum present an impressive mix of painting and sculpture. Robin Holtom’s seven sculptures of dancers and nude female figures are cast in bronze or ingeniously made from plaster reworked and painted to give the surface appearance of bronze. The exception is a white plaster head between two mostly white drawings, themselves exceptions to this show's rather beautifully coloured rule.

The almost exclusive use of darker toned blues, purples, oranges and greens creates an atmosphere of restfulness and stillness in this gallery that also emanates from the buildings and figures in each of the compositions. Skylines at sundown have an early evening hush while the natural and reflected abstracts of Venetian architecture are shaped into blocks and lines of colour. 

Groups of female figures and dancers are composed without physical detail which gives them a slightly ghostly but still sculptural quality. When there is an occasional hint of movement it is slow, gentle and considered. Using combinations of the same colours to depict hard surfaces like walls and steps in one piece, alongside the soft surfaces of the human body in another, is a lovely juxtaposition completed by the seamless transmutation of the human form into bronze.

Michael Wilson’s sculptures are very different in style, subject and substance. Made of light coloured stone, each depicts a biblical story or figure. Surfaces are smoothly worked and the solidity and suggestion of weight gives each piece a strong and captivating presence. The colour and work in the stone is enhanced by the bright airiness of the landscapes around it.

Michael Wilson lives locally and the majority of the paintings are recognisable Sussex landmarks, views or rural scenes. Many are perfectly executed with a scale and perspective of somebody moving through the scene depicted. This is particularly effective in the paintings of the Seven Sisters, the view from West Hill and some of the rural scenes.  Trees also feature strongly in many of the paintings and I particularly liked the almost electric blue of the trees in ‘Out of the Valley’.

However, there is a very strange anomaly in Michael Wilson’s exhibition. Displayed on the end wall is a five piece asymmetric panel depicting the story of Oedipus. Although foundational Greek myths are perhaps a natural historical companion to biblical scenes, the work itself lacks any harmony with the other paintings in the room. It is almost as if a less accomplished artist sneaked into the gallery and installed it when nobody was looking. Incongruity can be interesting but here it detracts attention from the rest of the work which is unfortunate.

The predominant focus of Michael Wilson's paintings also restricts the colour palette but the lighter, brighter and more expansive feel is a perfect complement to Robin Holtom’s minimal colour range next door. There is a link also in Michael Wilson’s pastel studies of nudes, one of which is a female figure reclining in similar pose to one of Robin Holtom’s sculptures. The differences and the similarities in these two shows communicate much about how art is both created and viewed. Each of the artists in this show are mostly painting or modelling a place, a person or a scene that they have observed or are observing. The experience of the audience is that the viewer remains the intimate observer in Robin Holtom’s work whereas it is possible to almost step inside the paintings of Michael Wilson. 

Such combinations of 3D and 2D work in one space are always very satisfying to view. They make the exhibition more interesting to navigate and the visual interaction between the two can create other unexpected observational delights.

Robin Holtom and Michael Wilson
Hastings Art Forum
August 23rd - September 4th 2016
Private View Friday 26th August