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Gill Ord: Companions & Furrows

at Studio 1.1 London, until April 28

'Camber', 2019, oil on canvas

Full disclosure, I’ve known Gill Ord for many years and have seen enough of her studio back catalogue to know she is able to produce equally compelling views of things we encounter as things we think about. Often, they speak quietly in a familiar but not always visually audible patois, for its not as though you can actually separate figurative and abstract concerns in such a way. But her paintings, like those produced by the best of her contemporaries, draw the viewer into territories that connect the two.

With Ord, however, there is a fluidity to the way she travels – quite literally as an adventurer, but also across subjects and the canvas surface – that makes her appear unusually fluent in both. Of course, it’s not just an ambidextrous handwriting thing, the evidence of feel here for light and how it alters the physical world (and the moods of witnesses) has been developed over years of observing urban life and the landscape.

I always enjoy returning to Studio 1.1, getting slightly lost en route in a new way and re-discovering the gallery in changing situ – defiantly present and absolutely itself in a world of wannabes. Ord’s last solo show here, ‘Sotteraneo’, presented a body of work following her time as an Abbey painting fellow at the British School at Rome. The creamy 18th century light of a dreamily conceived group of paintings, existing at different points along a sliding scale of recognisability, has been replaced with something sharper and more tart on the collective taste buds in ‘Companions & Furrows’.

If ‘Sotteraneo’ was concerned with finding a personal connection with the intimidatingly time-worn, already well-described and unspeakably seductive architecture of Rome, ‘Companions & Furrows’ sees Ord grapple with effects that can only truly be 'understood' as sums on paper, as if in attempt to verify particular laws and accepted truths for herself. Where does an artist begin with something so essential, not to mention iconic as a visual trope in painting?

Armed only with a brush, oily hands and a will to feel the sting of citrus fruit in the face, it would seem in Ord’s case. As Tom Chamberlain says in his eloquent catalogue introduction to the series, Ord is not concerned with exactness, in her soft-edged universe forms:

“have a strangeness, a crookedness that has a meaning all if its own and that seems to be descriptive without describing anything at all”.

Acid wedges, pastel shards and wonky rapeseed-yellow ‘fields’ of colour appear to jostle one another in the frame as if playfully acknowledging each-others’ imperfections. For the most part, the paintings are titled with words that begin with a hard ‘c’ and blend European and more local sensibilities: ‘Cabal’; ‘Camber’, ‘Campanero’, ‘Culvert’. Certainly, the collective sense of brightness brings to mind places beyond here, and possibly out of physical reach entirely.

While each painting could be described as a variation of its ‘companion’, for aside from the hue there is a looseness of language that connects them all (and together they sing in the round), it's the differences that filter to the fore. Some compositions deliver us directly into ghostly suggestions of interior spaces, while others describe the sense of being above-site, possibly at great height. Lovingly rendered map-like and geometric details, in suite form, get the mind running between very different painterly concerns, imagining the associative distance between, say, Prunella Clough and Lygia Clark.

There are some interruptions to the colour scheme, a delicious trilogy of works on canvas in the office make an equally compelling case for the velvety pictorial depths achieved by tones at the darker end of the spectrum, but essentially, it’s rhapsody in yellow.

Of course, external light is key to how we understand its construction in these images. From one angle, Ord’s layering of forms might be almost edible and improbably delicate, while from another it can appear as if suddenly muted. Without full museum-quality lighting it would be almost impossible to achieve a sense of consistency across the exhibition, from every point in the room.

I like this duality, as it allows for grittier interpretation of Ord’s studies and room to imagine a more personal relationship with a colour I've personally never found to be ‘sunny’ in temperament. And a reminder, perhaps, of the impermanence and the difficulty of capturing a moment of illumination. It’s a colour of ripeness, richness, but also ageing and stains.

'Furrow S8', 2018, watercolour on paper

The sense of light given and shade thrown also facilitates the interior segue between the paintings and the ‘Furrow’ series of painted works on paper. The fat, ochre serpentines of brush marks pulled over holiday-lemon candy stripes offer moments of compositional satisfaction, as well as associatively take us (well, me, anyway) from rural idyll to a Britain of before, with bright prints, golden chips, and ashtrays – a memory mash-up of perfectly imperfect days.

All photos © Gill Ord


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