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Christopher Orr - ArtSway - 24 April - 20 June 2010

The paintings are small, condensed. They are like fragments of larger works. Orr's antiquated style, deliberately using a palette of predominantly sepia browns, evokes ageing varnish as if to situate these paintings in the distant past as part of the illusion.

Does this work take us 'beyond the crisis in art', pace Peter Fuller? Painting no.1 'Untitled, oil on paper, 2010', is reminiscent of the earring, in Vermeer's 'Girl With a Pearl Earring', an image which haunted Peter Fuller: " I am fascinated by this painting and by scores of others which pose the same problems: these touch-stones have led me to resist the views of those who would reduce aesthetic effect to ideology, sublimation of sexual instinct, formal characteristics, or a work's position in an assumed continuum of ever-evolving art-historical styles. Nonetheless, I am not an idealist: I am engaged in the search for the material basis of aesthetics." [1]

This material basis seems to concern Orr in this collection of his latest works. As your eyes adjust to the images they glow more and 'come to life'. In 'The Dream Turns to Dread', oil on linen, 2010, meticulously painted red apples cascade down; the artificiality of the still life composition, redolent of Rococo painting, suggests the seduction of beauty and the image which at the same time is a contrivance, an illusion. Is this not a transposition of some kind of 'material basis of aesthetics?

This materiality has perhaps to be seen in the context of an alter modern sensibility. Okwui Enwezor has commented: "I have witnessed and marvelled at the breathtaking speed and scale of the modernisation occuring in [China and South Korea] ... Europe, on the contrary, feels old and dour in its majestic petrification. In fact, many European cities feel less like part of our time... walking through these cities feels like being in a museum of modernity." [2]

It is perhaps this quality of petrified time which Orr's works explore. It is to be found in the antiquation of the technique, which becomes a fetishization of the surface of each painting; the cloth showing through the sparingly applied paint, in 'At Dawn They Sleep', oil on linen, 2010.

Because the work looks backwards, rather than incessantly forwards, it revives aesthetic concerns while at the same time remaining contemporary; with the deeper historical climate affecting European sensibility.

More apples in 'Lest Darkness Fall', oil on linen, 2009, their classically representational portrayal contrasts profoundly with 'Phantom Empire', oil on linen, 2010, which hangs next to it. This image appears, like a proportion of the others in the exhibition, to be an abstracted 'close-up'.

It is as though the classical, the representational, meets Ranciere's 'aesthetic unconcious', or the 'identity of contraries' as he characterizes the historical 'aesthetic revolution': "It seeks itself in the double sensible exteriority of matter and the image. It seeks itself and misses itself." [3]

In 'The Thin Air', oil on linen, 2009, a blue background is surrounded by abstracted flowers and foliage in an aethereal way, as if to suggest a stage setting for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. But it is exactly what is not said, what is not depicted which makes this image contemporary, and aware of the subconcious, to the extent that it is almost Surreal.

The 'Elizabethan' quality of 'The Thin Air' also appears in 'Ghostly Monarch', oil on linen, 2010, which has intriguing hints of geometry, albeit that they appear to be related to an antiquated cosmology. This cosmological aspect is to be found also in 'Up On the Sun', oil on linen, 2010, a painting which partially reminds me of William Blake's work, although the image is clearly post-Blake in terms of its comparative 'passivity', in terms of that which is not said: "This is precisely what I have called the aesthetic revolution: the end of an ordered set of relations between what can be seen and what can be said, knowledge and action, activity and passivity." [4]

What is interesting is the use of antiquated language with contemporary knowledge of the unconcious, to know how and that it existed in painting much further back in history, but without the painter being concious of it. It is the contemporary familiarity with the subconcious applied in painterly terms to a time and mode of practice where, historically, there was only 'representation'.

Sarah Thompson 01.06.10

www.artsway.org.uk

[1]Peter Fuller, Beyond the Crisis in Art, Writers and Readers, 1980, p.11

[2]Okwui Enwezor, Modernity and Postcolonial Ambivalence, in Alter Modern, catalogue for Tate Triennial, ed., Nicolas Bourriaud, 2009

[3]Jacques Ranciere, The Aesthetic Unconcious, Polity Press, 2009, p 29

[4]Jacques Ranciere, The Aesthetic Unconcious, Polity Press, 2009, p 21