Hands Stuffing a Mattress
11 September – 8 October 2009
Josh Lilley is delighted to announce Sarah Dwyer's first exhibition at the gallery. Hands Stuffing a Mattress will display a body of new paintings by the Irish artist, her most comprehensive show in London to date.
Dwyer is fundamentally an abstract painter, yet she elicits a strong need to cope with tangible things. Curious amorphous forms are constructs of her memory, where half-remembered fragments of found imagery (magazines and newspapers) or various experiences are mapped out, often imbued with an historical aura. Such visions are then drained of their original meanings, where transparent thin veils of paint lie alongside coarse brushstrokes & rough textures. Looking at a Dwyer painting is like gazing into Ophelia's pond; beneath the surface lie strange reflections and beneath that, perhaps another pond. Canvases are often worked on simultaneously then left to gestate in the studio; old works are revisited and remade, undergoing a continual process of editing and refining, subsequently retaining something of their past through the painting's multiplicity of layers. This sense of the passing of time attempts to slow the viewer, revealing periods of objective contemplation and a keenly developed intuition.
While gesture and action predominate in her work, be it the fluctuating rhythms in her application or the painting and rapid erasure of certain forms, Dwyer possesses the freedom to instinctively trust and follow her imagination. Her interest in the light created in historical paintings, and her reworkings of imagery that has caught her eye — specifically an affinity with Goya's inclination for fantasy and invention where the layering of imagery emerges from dark recesses — all allude to certain thought-out motivations. Yet the importance for Dwyer is to act both consciously and unconsciously, to be as content not knowing as to be somewhat in control.
In this respect Dwyer has a shared response to Philip Guston's inability to make comments about what his paintings meant. Guston believed that stated convictions on art have a habit of tumbling and collapsing in front of the canvas. A focus more to do with process and feeling allow her to empathise with a story Guston told about Franz Kline, who proclaimed You know, painting is like hands stuffing a mattress. To observe Dwyer applying paint, and she remains only one of a few artists that are quite happy to proceed in front of you while having a meeting in the studio, one can understand her admiration for such sentiments. The brush is pushed around in quick, almost impatient gestures; dabs and squirts of oil paint are squeezed out over countless layers of thin surface and underpainting. The finished work succeeds in its dichotomy of loose wondrous areas, aligned with more tight, refined, cared-for and literal suggestions. Dwyer's paintings are boisterous. They are filled with punches and jabs, yet can be strikingly ephemeral and quiet at the same time. They are at once personal images of a particular inner life that slowly begin to gain resonance for us all.
Sarah Dwyer (b. 1974, Cork, Ireland) lives and works in London. She graduated from the Royal College of Art, London, in 2004, winning The Sheldon Bergh Award. In 2006 she was shortlisted for the Celeste Painting Prize, and in 2007 she had a solo exhibition at Kyubidou Gallery, Tokyo, while also participating in Art Futures at the Bloomberg Space, London. She featured in Daily Miracles at Josh Lilley in 2009.