Magazine article The Spectator

Visual Games

Magazine article The Spectator

Visual Games

Article excerpt


Anthony Whishaw - Maverick Images: shaped, triptychal and rectangular (Art First, till 7 November)

Lying about on the surface of Anthony Whishaw's Bethnal Green studio during his open day last month were some hand-tinted etchings from 1997. One showed an open Filofax, its glinting metal clips and their hooped shadows so realistically drawn you could almost hear them snap and, meeting across the join of its two pages, a flood of jumbled letters, numbers and symbols: an image of thought. The proper province of philosophy and neuroscience, thought is not something most painters try to depict. Empty heads are more their traditional territory: vacant skulls as subjects for vanitas paintings. But Whishaw likes his heads full, and buzzing with thoughts.

Unlike Ecclesiastes, he doesn't find the transient world to be full of vanity - his world is an endless river of perceptual data into which, as an artist, he can never step twice.

As the trompe l'oeil in his Filofax print betrays, Anthony Whishaw is a contradiction: a cerebral artist whose means of expression is thoroughly physical. His paintings have always announced their existence as objects, and underlined it by incorporating matter in the paint: bits of wire mesh, rope and passing flotsam and jetsam - even, in a painting in his new show at Art First, model bulls from the tops of Domecq brandy bottles. Yet his art is less concerned with objects than with how we see them, especially that critical moment preceding vision, before visual stimuli resolve themselves into a fixed image. So he hangs about the doors of perception like a stage-door Johnny waiting for halfformed glimmerings to emerge into consciousness. and while he waits amuses himself - and us - by playing sophisticated visual games. Tucked behind his studio door is his latest invention: a trompe l'oeil play apparatus called 'Sportif' in which bouncing painted balls tied to painted string hang from real nails - well, all real except one which is painted, just to confuse. (In a smaller version, `Sportif II', in the new show, the single nail is real, but its shadows are painted.)

Because emerging images need space to develop, Whishaw has recently favoured the triptych format. At his last exhibition at Stephen Lacey Gallery two years ago, he showed a series of massive triptychs inspired by trees. More recently, his largescale work has focused on the reflectivity and surface tension of water, with its suggestions of different sorts of space: shallow space, deep space and, of course, 'space in the mind'. …

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