Sunday, 2 October 2011

Exclude, excise, erase: the paintings of Mark I'Anson

I think Kensington's Thackeray Gallery is hosting a couple of paintings by Mark I'Anson for the next two weeks, between exhibitions. The Scottish artist is probably best known for the distinctive paintings of ships central to his 2006 exhibition Drifter, which was supported by the Scottish Fisheries Museum and the Highland Council.

In acrylic on pencil he concentrates on the boats, to the literal exclusion of all else. The harbourside in a painting of a ship in port is ignored to create a sharp excision through the hull (Drifter XVI); elsewhere, Drifter XV sits on the bottom of the frame. I'Anson doesn't paint the thrashing waves in a picture of a storm-tossed boat at sea (Drifter XVII), so it looks as if the ship has been torn out of page or a giant rubber has deleted all else: a violent erasure.

These are big paintings, too - some are 2m by 1m - so the images are as much about the fine detail as the enormous silent space that makes up the rest. For an exhibition at the Thackeray Gallery three years later, Dividing Lines, the artist included smaller portraits, using the same techniques. North Berwick's Greens and Blues has a nice little gallery of some recent work, including a beautiful portrait inspired by the character in a book (Wee heid).

I was reminded of I'Anson's work by the Vintage book cover to Vasily Grossman's seemingly ubiquitous Life and Fate (detail, pictured). The image is by Dmitri Baltermants and is strikingly similar to the Russian photographer's classic Attack (1941), though I can't work out if has been manipulated somehow or is another from the same sequence. Snow in another picture from the same year, Behind Enemy Lines, First Guards Cavalry Corps creates a similar effect as in I'Anson's paintings, as if the horsemen emerge from the print - unsettling and beautiful.

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