Soft Abstractions, Geoff Gibbons

In this new series of mixed media works Rita has extended her exploration of the sensuous beauties of fabrics.  The draped and folded fabrics have assumed a haunting presence, often partaking of the human from.  This semblance of the human is referenced with great subtlety.  Some images suggest the shrouded head, and others a veil.  They can evoke a rich play of connections ranging from the coquettish courtesan to the now familiar burkah worn by many Islamic women. 

Perhaps the most obvious association made by these works on paper is to the package.  Wrapped in Red String makes explicit reference to packaging which is associated with waste in the west but in countries like Japan it has become a refined art form.  In many cultures the body is wrapped in a single piece of fabric.  The monk’s robe, the kimono and the toga can be seen as different ways of wrapping the body using systems of folds and tucks.  One of the most deftly realised images is Shroud.  Delicately printed lace is overprinted in white which softens and slightly flattens the form.  It is one of the most insubstantial images in which the implied figure begins to dissolve and dissipate.  We begin to look through the outer shell and sense the transience of life, of the body becoming spirit.  Others such as Gaze offer a more surreal hint of a face under the veil, a figure muffled by its drapery.  Immured beneath its veil it not only connects with the silent world of artists like Rene Magritte, but also the tradition which likened painting to a mute form of poetry.

In some images like The Red Scarf the background has been stained in a vermillion watercolour which forms an aura around the upper part of the draped figure. A Buddhist presence is evoked from the effect of this soft-edged colour emanating from a triangular flap on top of a seated figure.  In The Velvet Head Dress a hard conte crayon has been used to create a dense texture on the coarse grained paper forming a strong cast shadow behind the draped head.  It is a shadow which is atomised with tiny flecks of light.  This contrasts with the softer tones rubbed into the printed lace.  The result is an image which plays with our expectations of the material and the ephemeral.

A small draped model was used as the basis for many of these works.  Drawings were made from these models before the larger printed fabric was developed into a fully rendered image on heavy cotton rag paper.  The process of working back into a relief–printed fabric collograph with materials such as charcoal, conte, and watercolour enables the artist to vary the modelling of form through the play of light and shadow. By these means Rita has successfully varied our awareness of the essentially two dimensional patterning of the printed lace and its relationship to the folds and wrapped forms wrought through a careful manipulation of tone.  This duality of means results in the enticing ambiguities of the draped forms she has created, which can be read as fabric, packages, or referencing the body.  The effect of this is for the work to exert a strongly felt presence which is both material and spiritual.

Geoff Gibbons, Lecturer in Visual Art

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