Gillian LAWLER


All around [St. Ignatius Church in Centralia], smoke was hovering wispily off the ground, and just behind it, great volumes of smoke were billowing from the earth over a large area. I walked over and found myself on the lip of a vast cauldron, perhaps an acre in extent, which was emitting thick, cloudlike, pure white smoke […]. The ground felt warm and was loosely covered in a fine ash.

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods, Broadway Books, New York, 1998.

Island, oil on canvas 40 x 50 cm, 2012.
Island, oil on canvas 40 x 50 cm, 2012.

Gillian Lawler, since her pictorial debut, has always shown interest and attention to architectural structures and bold volumes expressed through a tonal use of colour to highlight those spatial figures that only through pictorial ability they can express all the artistic value of painting as “art of space”[1].

Lawler sculpts through the pictorial matter, using the soft and refined chromatisms, the space volumes of the geometric elements that populates her paintings. Although it may be anachronistic to speak of sculptural and space volumes, more easily attributable to sculpture and architecture, in Gillian’s case it is, however, an indispensable parallelism given to the subjects represented.

The unusual perspectives make emerge from the frames sharp shapes with delicate colours, the absences of a lost or destructive civilization. Solid but at the same time vulnerable forms emerge from the oblivion of those desolate and bleak backgrounds in which the contemporary man is often forced to live because of his own acting. Isolated islands (Island& Island II both 2012), by linguistic definition, abandoned or uninhabitable buildings are the “objectual” worlds that appear as a warning by Gillian Lawler’s canvases. It is not a coincidence that they act as an admonition when assuming the sculptural function of a monument, a moneo, from Latin “memory”, a remembrance of a past that reveals a lonely and uncertain present.

Suspension, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm, 2016.
Suspension, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm, 2016.

Her tangible and pervading shapes wreck in ethereal landscapes, contrasting with the inconsistency of the backdrop whereby sometimes emerging lines of force (Suspension & Suspension II both 2016; Suspension, 2014), almost like to want to anchor those spatial universes before their sink. This type of physical suspension seems to turn into a spiritual, abstract, metaphysical suspension. This supportive process is not the only ontological theme faced by the artist who focuses her attention on the mysterious and mystic boundaries of space-time. Black holes (Sinkhole & Platform both 2014), limits to infinity, are represented as border territories to a mysterious region of the space-temporal continuum. The represented elements are thus led to the singularity in which they will dissolve in timeless nothingness.

Everything is locked, immobilized, as in the most perfect idea of ​​still-life. And it is exactly on this temporal category placed at the threshold of life and death, at that instant of eternal present, in a place idealized by the mind of the artist on whom the figuration is concerned. Lawler challenges the limits of perspective (Extension II, 2014) with a multiplicity of planes and shadows through a detailed execution that introduces us to the components of an abstract space constructed geometrically and where time is infinite.

The infinite therefore becomes part of the indefinite, thus overtaking the Cartesian limits to come, by Lawler’s painting, to a semantic equivalence between the two terms conforming to the Hegelian assertion, “the infinite belongs to the divine; the human can only reach the indefinite”[2]. It is the discursive syntax that reveals the fundamental anxiety of the artist’s gaze, her tendency to something, showing a rich spatial and temporal articulation of the look that is continually renewed through the absence of the frame. The lack of this artifice allows a continuity between simulated space and real space, space represented and spectator space. Spatial continuity thus determines an effect of reality and presence that is constitutive of the idea of ​​marvel, in the Latin sense of mirabilia,and, at the same time, produces a metaphor of temporality by figuratively reworking of the “existential” present contained in the painting. It is the time of the painter stuck in an instant motionless, which, as in the case of the series coming from Lawler’s trip to Centralia (Pennsylvania, USA) in March 2014, is a human catastrophe.

Suspension II, 40 x 40 cm, oil on canvas, 2016
Suspension II, 40 x 40 cm, oil on canvas, 2016

Her attraction for abandoned places caused by economic reasons and/or environmental disasters, it is the motivation which led Lawler to explore the city of Centralia, a place where severe environmental damage occurred in the early 1960s, which is still continuing, causing not only damage to local flora and fauna but to its own inhabitants who had been forced out of their homes since the 1980s. This tragedy translates into Lawler’s work through that sense of abstractness and metaphysics that originates from her reflection on architectures and uninhabited spaces. Suspended spaces where life has interrupted to relocate in other places that Lawer represents through her figurative syntax via the use of vector lines and triangles (Relocation & Relocation II both 2015). Paintings therefore become a “window on the world”[3]that testify the human absence and suggest alternatives to survival. As in The ideal cityof Urbino, Lawler establishes an aesthetic of simulation through prospective and luminous manifestations of the sublime and metaphysical.

The symbolic use of perspective is an intellectual operation that puts in contrast real with unreal, as in the case of the slides eminent domain (2014). These two categories of sense coexist in this work where images of devastation collected and manipulated by Lawler describe the streets of Centralia. The alteration and the introduction of colours and shapeless fumes confirm the will of the artist to denounce a place that now appears as post-apocalyptic. In this way she introduces us to the unreal dimensions of cyberspace generated by computers. Visual deformation as a figurative effect is made moreover by the presence of smoke as a perturbing element that mediates the vision of the work and subjects represented by creating a visual filter between the observer and the picture. The interposition of this phenomenological element introduces us into the art of another equally visionary artist: Maurits Cornelis Escher.

The interest in science fiction worlds is evidenced by the frequent use of the chess floor, an index of spatial values ​​mathematically expressed by computer simulators. These “systemic spaces” formed by geometric coordinates are nothing more than the progressive mathematical evolution of prospective research, already begun in the 17thcentury by artists to emphasize the spatial dimension, that in the era of British Industrial Revolution will have a follow-up thanks to the realization of the first mechanic computational machine of the world: Difference Engine, by the English polymath Charles Babbage.

Difference Engine is also the name of the artistic collective of Gillian Lawler since September 2009. Together with Mark Cullen, Jessica Foley and Wendy Judge, they create new imaginative extensions through the rework and description of new spaces. Since painting is nothing more than a descriptio, according to the interior painter Jan Vermeer, who was able to overcome physical pictorial boundaries by “jamming” as a change and break with the visual art traditions.

[1]v. P. Francastel, Peinture et société, Paris, Audin, 1952.

[2]G.W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art, trans. T. M. Knox, 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

[3]L.B. Alberti, On Painting[De pictura (1451)], Phaidon Press,London, 1972.


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