Callum Innes at the Whitworth

Callum Innes, Exposed Painting Green Lake, 2012. Courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London

Callum Innes, Exposed Painting Green Lake, 2012. Source: Whitworth website

We paid another visit to the Whitworth gallery yesterday. We particularly wanted to have a look at the exhibition of paintings by Callum Innes, one of five exhibitions they’re showing at the moment. When we were there a few weeks ago, the main room where a number of larger paintings have been hung was inaccessible due to staff being trained on the use of a large scissor lift. This time the room was being used for the weekly “baby club” of activities for under fives. There were babies with their parents sprawled on the floor doing art related activities. But they were in a roughly defined area and we weren’t prevented from going in the gallery.

Callum Innes is an abstract painter, known for his "unpainting". He applies paint to canvases, sometimes two or more layers, and removes it using turps to create simple, but interesting patterns. Some of his paintings were like Mondrians with squares or rectangles of colour, but he creates then by applying and removing paint. Due to his technique His colours have a weathered look and run at the edges. Simple but effective.

Picture source: artist’s website

Although most of the paintings were created using bright pigments, there were a number of monochrome works. There were two paintings from his Monologue series. In these the canvas was covered with black paint and turps used to wash off sections of the paint the washes creating a ghostly waterfall like effect. There’s some examples from this series that can be viewed here.

Untitled 35 (2012) was another monochrome painting. In this work there is a thin vertical black line in the centre of a white canvas. At first glance it would seem that he had painted the black line onto the canvas but this wasn’t the case. It was covered with black paint, most of which was removed with turps leaving behind the vertical line and, noticeable on closer inspection, traces of black on the washed areas of the canvas.

Although best known for his oil paintings, Callum Innes has recently been experimenting with watercolours, and the exhibition a selection of works on paper and new watercolours made especially for the Whitworth. Interestingly the latter are displayed horizontally on trestle tables, underneath glass.

Each of these small paintings has been created using two colours. The first colour applied tot he paper in an area defined by masking tape. After the paint has partially, but not completely dries, the masking tape is removed and the second colour applied on top of the painted area. The two colours merging to create a third, but with traces of the original visible at the edges.  As the Whitworth’s website explains

His ongoing series of watercolours continues Innes’ experimentation with the power of colour, combining pigments to create an often fluid and unclassifiable hue. Throughout his work apparently simple actions create paintings with a complex depth, documents of the process and the duration of their making.

The following video, produced by the Tate, shows how creates these smaller works.

Source: artist’s website

For another view, there’s a good, insightful report of his visit to the exhibition by Andy Parkinson on his blog  Patterns that Connect here.


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