I first came across Callum Innes' work by accident during a chance visit to Ingleby gallery in Edinburgh in 2009. I say 'by accident' because the work was so at home in the gallery that I almost missed it completely. Amongst the refurbished semi industrial spaces of the Ingleby gallery the many layers of stripped and reapplied oil paint on the surface of Innes' paintings happily resonated with the paint and plaster of the warehouse walls upon which it lay.
In the current Innes exhibition at Frith Street the works hold the space with a similar quiet confidence. Using Ad Reinhardt's reputed quip that 'sculpture is something you fall over when you are looking at painting', then we would have to say that Innes’ paintings are something you fall into whilst looking at the architecture.
The majority of Innes’ paintings are square canvases divided by what I can only describe as a “seam” into two asymmetrical halves. One side is often darker than the other and deeper in texture. Upon inspection one can sense that the relatively uniform surface colour conceals beneath it a wealth of other washes, and the hunch is confirmed by the residue of colours that remain on the “seam” and around the edge of the canvas. Innes washes away, or to use his own term “unpaints” the canvas many times and carefully removes layers of pigment with turpentine. The resulting layers possess an intensity of luminosity similar to the renderings of skin achieved by Dutch masters through similar techniques. These are painters’ paintings: they speak about the duplicity of surface, the nature of paint itself and the fine line between making and undoing.
The works on show come from Innes’ Untitled series. Like many minimalist practitioners (and I use the term in the broadest sense) Innes constructs work in a number of disparate series which he repeatedly revisits. The paintings are often microscopic variations on an established theme and only distinguishable by careful examination as if forensically deconstructing the scene of a crime. The description provided on the list of works provided no real help in discerning the location of each painting - telling the difference between Untitled No. 46 2011 and Untitled No 41 2011 is a rather tall order given the similarity of each piece. I would however say that this isn’t a case of repetition for repetition’s sake but rather repetition as a form of insistence.
Alongside the works in oil were a new set of watercolours which are also dominated in their appearance by the nature of the medium itself. Almost impossible to remove and simultaneously impossible to make opaque, watercolour allows a much greater transparency and so displays the various layers of paint with greater clarity. Rather like various lighting gels mounted one upon another, the layers of watercolor washes disturb and coalesce to varying effect. The play between the additive and subtractive is constant in this work and the huge reward of this practice reveals itself through patient sitting with this work.
-- Mike Tuck
Images Courtesy Frith Street Gallery
Images: Callum Innes, Untitled No 47, 2011; Callum Innes, Untitled No 94, 2010; Callum Innes, Untitled No 111, 2010.