Alan Ibell's Landscape with Expectant Figure

An Angel, Then! – Alan Ibell

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25 May - 29 June 2019 /
Parlour Projects, Hastings /
By Michael Hawksworth

Alan Ibell’s An Angel, Then! is a show of almost deafeningly hushed new paintings at Parlour Projects that would seem to be exploring the borderlands of his usual figurative world. Where once featureless suited gentlemen could be discovered engaging in cryptic activities within incompletely rendered or (alternatively) half-erased settings, now a new minimalist classicism has frozen his picture plane, replacing transience with stillness, narrative with stiff formalism.

Talk about the ghosts of Modernism. Ibell’s 2017-18 work has drifted onto a stage dotted with old props from David Hockney’s very early style. There’s the sense of a fetishizing of compositional balance and an aesthetic self-consciousness where painting becomes “painting”, deliberate and simulated, even when it is “expressive”. I guess if we’re talking about post-modernist pastiche it might make some sense: Currently showing at Napier’s Spa_ce Gallery, John Brown’s small oil paintings are theatres of jostling modernist fragments where one nevertheless gets the sense that the artist is attempting to shake loose some vivid sense of the now or the here or the I.  Ibell’s stage, on the other hand, is set not to facilitate drama, but simply to deploy pictorial elements according to a hierarchy that is meticulously decorative to the last.

Ibell’s figures have always been ciphers, but in works like Landscape with Expectant Figure (I and II), expectancy is pretty much all they have left, all agency having been drained away, to better suit them for their new condition as ornaments. There they perch, on the tips of their shadows or upon horizons separating a tasteful pink from a tasteful grey in otherwise featureless expanses of barren “landscape” or (alternatively) barren acrylic paint – take your pick. This may be a world “outside time and place” (as detailed in the gallery’s literature) but it is affectless, inert. There’s no sense of the “uncanny” (the representation of which, generally speaking, fails in the moment it is consciously attempted) in the landscapes supposed to add to the instabilities of the perfectly positioned “stranger”.

The most engaging painting here is, ironically, one not included in the catalogue, perhaps because it is regarded as a ‘mere’ study for the larger (and quite pretentiously titled) Travelling Stranger (Night Apparition). It happily lacks what deadens the other works in the show – fussiness. It is lo-fi as opposed to “lo-fi”, and there’s a sense of the search, perhaps even a glimpse of the “uncertainty of perception” claimed by the gallery’s description of this artist’s work as its hallmark. Paintings as blandly affectless as Ornament III and Revelation I could do with some of that spirit, to save them from this otherwise somewhat anaemic and over-aestheticized paradise where paint goes to live out it’s half-life and painting goes to die.

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