dramas enacted in Beattie’s paintings represent not so much the literal space of the physical world as, instead, a private domain of invented images. The landscape they explore is internalised. In this respect, the motifs offered are a bridge to subjective experience, to psychological states and feelings that are no less intimately connected with the experience of being alive. Such motifs, and the relations between them, are charged metaphorically.To engage with them is to experience them expressively and in the imagination. They evoke and embody states of being that cannot be named, yet they seem weighted with immediate significance. The source of this vocabulary of forms was an extraordinary four-month outpouring of drawings made in 1991. From almost seven hundred works on paper made spontaneously, over three hundred were exhibited as a single installation at Eagle Gallery, London in the same year. As with the preceding Curwen exhibition, the sense of internalisation was intense, as if the viewer was occupying a contained world of pure representation. That event, and the images generated at that time, have sustained the development of Beattie’s work ever since. Exhibitions during the 1990s included those held at the Maak Gallery, London, the Todd Gallery, London and Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham. They revealed an artist in full flow, at once creator, explorer and protagonist within a personal pictorial drama. At its centre, there is the abiding presence of metaphor, luring the viewer into the situation of suggestive substitution, as each image unlocks another apparently unconnected object of thought. This ascent – or descent – through a landscape of implication found startling expression in the installation mounted by Beattie at Sadler’s Well Theatre, London in 2002. A long, stepped line of framed drawings was arranged so that it passed between the floors of the building itself. Using the connecting stairs, the viewer followed the images as the result of physical movement through actual space. It provided a moment when imagination and architecture seemed intimately connected. Paintings from Beattie’s most recent sequence of works, the Janus series, were shown at the Two Rooms Gallery in Auckland, New Zealand in 2009 and, subsequently, at Purdy Hicks Gallery, London. The defining characteristic of these 10
enigmatic works is a rounded, crescent-like form, almost like an arcade. Usually three of these shapes are stacked one above the other in a vertical formation. Also implying windows or perhaps a car’s rear-view window, frequently they contain a horizon-like shape to which the eye is drawn by deeply recessive perspective lines leading to a vanishing point. In a number of these paintings, the lines resemble train tracks. In many, the landscape is consumed by an oppressive, brooding darkness that seems less physical than psychological.The night they evoke is not so much temporal as expressive. Similarly, the horizon seems only tangentially connected with place. A horizon brings to mind a plethora of associations, being both a destination and a prospect. Connected with both is the question of what lies beyond.With an insistently repeated horizon, these are paintings that, perhaps more than any of Beattie’s earlier works, lead the viewer not only towards the ineffable but to the unknown.
(Endnotes) 1 In Ernst Gombrich, Meditations on a Hobby Horse and other essays on the theory of art, Phaidon, London,1963, Fourth edition 1985, p14 2 The artist in conversation with the author, 11 March 2011
Bail Beattie Large Paintings and Installations