October 16, 2021

Marks of Intent: Helen Booth and Nicky Hodge

25th February – 14th April 2012

The Art Shop, No. 8 Cross Street, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

When confronted by art that seeks to be abstract, a common question in the mind is, what is this about? Association on some level with the image determines the viewer’s degree of engagement and human beings always seek some kind of reference point wherever possible.  On the face of it, there is little to connect the two respective bodies of work here. Yet one could say that for both artists, their art is about the process of making and the process is the work we witness. Within and underneath each piece is a compulsion to respond to materials, to the surfaces they inhabit, to the potential of the imagined space and to the challenge of creating something meaningful out of the combination; the artists’ response is emotional and intuitive. The alchemy to which we refer here is about producing something metaphysical out of attention paid to the world, interpreted via the manipulation of form and colour, to bring pictures into being.

For Helen Booth, being present in a landscape – particularly during inclement seasons and at times when day is becoming night and vice versa and when nature is stripped back, so that the skeleton of a tree is reduced to the stark promise of fecundity to come – is a starting point for her attempt to conjure the very essence of the experience. Her work is more about sensibility than the senses. The weather has an effect on her mood, which might be translated into the menace of black in the form of an agitated block as in ‘Strings ‘, or a distinctive graphite line as in ‘Blue String’. Black for Booth is a positive colour that she uses a lot.  It is by such darkness that we distinguish light and light is the core and spirit of her work and, particularly in her ‘Persephone’ series, patches of light come and go among the pale colors, like the shadows of clouds travelling across a landscape on a breezy, sunlit day.

exhibitionsHelen Booth, Persephone, Oil on canvas, 75 x 94cm

Booth does not use a sketchbook but printmaking (via etched, acrylic sheets) and drawing alongside painting. Drawing and printmaking she loves for the rough and readiness of process of their making, allowing free flowing honesty and truth to the idea; painting on canvas calls on her reverence and patience and she takes a more methodical approach to working with this material.  Just as light is always changing, her work is constantly in progress. She will revisit works over several years, as if they are never finished, always having the potential to be stripped back and worked on again.  However, she stops short of obliterating a canvas or piece on paper completely, working on or into then with marks or thread. Recently she has taken to stabbing points into her work, enjoying, “the black dot or the void” that each attack on the surface creates.  She claims to be fearful of colour; when she uses it, she does so tentatively, using muted rather than shrieking tones, emphasizing her aim to create an atmosphere of quiet and calm.

Nicky Hodge sees her work as a collapse between the idea of painting and drawing and describes it as, “exploring a psychological terrain through an active engagement with the struggle of its making”.  ‘Group’ is a disquieting series of stark works, the starting point for each being the blank canvas, (preferably that of a previously discarded, bothered work).  The artist will begin by painting a slash, band or wedge of colour and then make another mark in relation to it. The image will grow quite quickly in this way and much as we might like to see the results as figurative and representational, each image defies being read in any terms to which we can relate. Hodge is not trying to recreate anything in the real world, rather she is illustrating a state of mind. What emerges are works seemingly unconnected to one another and yet seen together, they are like a dysfunctional family of misshapen misfits, conversing and relating to, but never harmonizing with one another.  In fact, their existence is only really substantiated by the relation of each to one another.

Nicky Hodge, Group Series: Wreck, Oil on canvas, 91 x 71cm

What determines that or that shape cannot be predetermined or defined. The works are entirely process based and what we see as a finished ‘product’ is one version of a moment in time in that process. Managing the medium is very much part of this and the method, the wet or dryness, the thick or thinness of the paint layers, the mark marking, the finish or lack of it, depends on a variety of factors on the day in the studio. The process is as abstract as the shapes that appear to be the subject. There’s an undeniable tension and off-centred imbalance in each painting, making for a general feeling of unease. ‘Veer’, for example, is a bold and certain statement, the patch of colours, bottom left, edging it’s way out of the frame and off from the frenetic ground that attempts to hold it in. Alternatively, ‘Wreck’ reveals what looks like a morse-coded message, not quite communicating anything coherent, suspended against a dense grey mist through which some warmth struggles to be noticed.  Once could say that each is only resolved as a final piece in its awkwardness, in its unresolvedness. Each is a victim of chance.

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