Sunday, 9 October 2016

Can't You Hear It In The Silence?

Turris Davidica ora pro nobis –Tower of David Pray For Us No.2
I have had the pleasure of knowing Malcolm Plastow for almost nine years during which time I have only begun to learn more of the colourful and eventful life he has had within the arts in London, the States and Somerset (to name a few!). In a career spent dominated by the commitment to working within Arts Education, ‘Rejoicing Song and Falling Rain’ at The Old Brick Workshop in Wellington is Malcolm’s first solo exhibition in over ten years and reflects his sustained interests in music and passion for painting. The paintings on display are part of a three-year and ongoing series influenced by Early English Choir music. For me it poses the opportunity to form my own opinions as well as shedding some light on Malcolm's work to a wider audience.
It is significant to note, before I begin writing about Malcolm's paintings that we are from a considerably different generations; Malcolm, now ‘semi-retired’ from a lifetime spent in art education, myself almost thirty, bursting with popular culture references and experiences of art education more on the receiving end than delivering. This is relevant because for me, the first experience I had of one of Malcolm’s paintings was that some of them reminded me of a puzzle-based videogame app called Monument Valley.

Screenshot from ‘Monument Valley’ app
I likened the graphic-like geometry and flatness of paintings such as ‘Tower of David, Pray for Us’ (pictured) with its Arabic looking architecture to the cell-shaded, equally creative and almost ‘impossible’ architecture of a videogame. A videogame which, coincidently won a substantial amount of awards and is comparable to exploring a world created by M C Escher. I clearly respect that this was never Malcolm’s intention in the work, if anything their flatness is more alike to that of a Fresco to which it shares a narrative and both spiritual associations or Kandinsky for its shape/colour compositions. Irrespectively, the reason why I am writing this post is because I think that Malcolm's paintings, whilst grounded in an almost archetypal symbolism, are still open to interpretation and perhaps more importantly, relevant and contemporary for an audiences or people such as myself, today.
Et vitam venturi sæculi –And The Life Of The World To Come
The works exhibited in the exhibition ‘Rejoicing Song and Falling Rain’ are in reality, derived from works by 15th and 16th Century composers Peter Philips and John Taverner. There is something likeably 'alternative' and almost rebelliously admirable about Taverner, “whose compositions allowed him to work musically outside of the confines of a set text, including references to the geometry and the construction of the floor plans and other symbolic architectural features used in the construction of the great European cathedrals.” It seems that Taverner’s work was creative outside its medium of being purely music into something word and worldly-based making it much more holistic (catering to both mind and soul if you like). I can see some of this principle applied in Malcolm’s paintings, other than the obvious direct references to cathedral architecture the imagery in the work is not confined to the realms of a singular religious belief; there is imagery from the tower of David and crown of thorns associated with Christianity to numerology and chakras, the latter more associated with Buddhism. The work is more encompassing to an idea of the spiritual and the sacred; a non preachy narrative that speaks of nature, femininity, the human body, doorways/passages and the many mixed connotations these have....?!

Regina angelorum, ora pro nobis –Queen of Angels, Pray For Us

These manifest themselves as birds, plants, open doorways, windows, streams, mountains and contrasts of light and dark which bring everything into balance. Some of the paintings are far from even being spiritual they are almost otherworldly (pictured) If I am allowed to drop another cultural reference the piece titled ‘Queen Of Angels, Pray For Us’ reminds me of the surface of a colonised alien Mars or scene from Frank Herbert’s Dune. Whilst grounded in historical architecture, the environments they are situ in still allow for much to be left to the imagination.

The titling of the exhibition, ‘Rejoicing Song and Falling Rain’ reflects that idea of opposites as an essential part of what makes balance and present in many aspects of the paintings in the show. For example, meaning and image coexist in a seemingly effortless synchronicity, everything is there for a reason from the pecked wings of the pelican to the architecture of the temples [derived from the Tree of Life].  Despite this attention to detail, ‘reason’ isn’t everything and Malcolm’s paintings are also a celebration and expression of the medium of paint, colour and form on surface. They are warm, rich and uplifting in their use of colour.
Turris Davidica ora pro nobis –Tower of David Pray For Us
I have since listened to recordings of the pieces "Litania Duodecima" and “Missa Corona Spinia”. It is powerfully, emotive music not limited to its religious origins in being able to be appreciated or promote a reaction.  In fact if one were to take the terminology that makes up any piece of music such as, tempo, rhythm, layering, crescendo, silence and pause these terms and more could equally be interpreted into visual works of art [think composition, texture, tone to name a few]. In Malcolm’s paintings being influenced by music the connection to that terminology manifests itself in the symmetry and balance between shapes, textures and colour using structure, proportion and light. What they lack audibly to their counterpart they make up for in matching contrasts of silence and visual noise in the form of birds in flight or perceived ‘loudness’ felt in tones of colour. These elements come together in the paintings to create something of a reverence that may be read as spiritual and it is worth mentioning resonance, as a word that gets all too lightly overused into art criticism today, but is easily understood in context to this music that is timeless and provoking on a deep, almost visceral level; the paintings also reflect an element of that affect.
There is certainly something spiritual in their devotional-like repetition or ‘truth-seeking’ in their revisiting of certain themes such as the tower, the star and the tree of life.

The connection and success between the understanding of listening to the music and the feeling expressed in the paintings is highly subjective and for me not all the paintings achieve this, and are perhaps as much Malcolm’s interpretation of the music as my drawings/prints of tools are to me. They aren’t trying to match the music as offer an alternative way in to it; what you do take away from Malcolm’s paintings however is a an uplifting sense of orderliness,  and harmoniousness that is as universal as the language of music itself.

Malcolm Plastow –Rejoicing Song and Falling Rain can be seen from Monday 10th  – Sunday 23rd October 2016, Open daily (10am-4pm) at The Old Brick Workshop, Higher Poole, Wellington, Somerset. TA219HW.
For further information visit:

No comments:

Post a Comment