John Hurrell – 28 October, 2010
The work is virtuoso in the sense that Watkins' perfect placement and inventive explorations of shape look effortless; but such confidence comes from years of painting construction and knowing not only where to put things, how to control liquid paint and when to stop, but also what canvases to chuck out after agonised reflection.
13 October - 6 November 2010
Denys Watkins has a new display of multi-sized canvases on at Bath Street Gallery, entertaining works that sizzle with his delight in manipulating colour, shape, tone and line. (The photographs online here are poor substitutes. Their colour is quite inaccurate). Many of these works use mid-grey as a background on which to apply thin washes of cream, white or black as a means of articulating a wet-nosed, whip-tailed, rubber-limbed canine - specifically the Disney cartoon hound Pluto - usually poising on a plinth or table-top like a self-conscious life model.
The work is virtuoso in the sense that Watkins’ perfect placement and inventive explorations of shape look effortless; but such confidence comes from years of painting construction and knowing not only where to put things, how to control liquid paint and when to stop, but also what canvases to chuck out after agonised reflection.
This painter clearly enjoys surprising himself, coming up with new colour combinations and morphologies that often reference twig and bud forms and underwater sea life such as sponges or jellyfish. There is a certain kind of swelling and balloonlike kidney shape Watkins is attracted to, and whether he is remembering some decorated village wall in India or thinking about a fifties animated cartoon, somehow these formal attributes tend to rise to the surface.
This artist’s fanciful otherworldly elements bring whimsy but such associations (as a bigger chunkier, comic, less illustrative version of Klee) are not crucial. The work succeeds not so much because of the triggering of the viewer’s imagination, but more through pleasure in the form of brushed on or scraped off textures over linen, delicately rimmed washes that delineate layered shapes, or masked off wiggling lines containing railway track patterns.
Earlier exhibitions by Watkins have tended towards eccentric comic-based narratives that are slightly self-conscious, but this one is more overtly modernist with its abstract, curvacious geometric components - and more successful in avoidance of suggested plot. Being decorative for its own sake, watching the behaviour of runny fluid paint, or just arranging sets of shapely juxtapositions to discover negative spaces against canvas edges, here works brilliantly.
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