Christopher Orr: NYEHAUS

Article excerpt

Christopher Orr's dark, diminutive oil paintings seem at first glance to have been salvaged from some alternate past. Employing an earthy palette of browns, reds, and ochers, and building surfaces on which areas of dry, scraped-back pigment are juxtaposed with richer, fresher-looking passages, the Scottish artist conjures a dramatic lost world in which characters, scenes, and objects culled from popular midcentury print media seem to have strayed into the sublime landscape visions of a nineteenth-century Romantic. But though united on the same canvases, these incongruous pairings tend to remain at odds; sharply defined figurative elements drift unmoored across muddily ethereal grounds as if literally cut-and-pasted, and the theme or mood of any given work is hard to establish with any certainty. In many of Orr's most recent works, recognizable images have vanished altogether, subsumed by a cryptic murk.

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In Take It, Take It, 2008, a small bird with brilliant red-and-blue plumage perches, apparently on thin air, in the top left corner of a composition otherwise defined by amorphous patches of olive green, dusty red, and deep umber ranged over a parched taupe ground. It's as if a John James Audubon ornithological study has been spliced with one of Ivon Hitchins's woodland studies. A clump of berries hovers to the bird's right, just beyond reach, while a wandering line defines something indefinable in the bottom left, and three slim diagonal vectors crisscross the whole: teasing evidence of a stylistic shift, perhaps, or intimations of an underlying structure.

If Take It, Take It and As Above, So Below, 2008, another delicious bird-and-fruit pairing, belong to Orr's established method, Internal Emmigration, 2008, is of the newer school. Here, all traces of the precise one-to-one-scale copying that Orr has so often used are absent, replaced by what seems to be an exercise in pure atmospherics. …