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Bonfire, Charcoal on canvas, 122 x 150 cm, 2004

Of Atmosphere and Otherness                                                                              Catalogue essay for the exhibition 'Everything Remains' 2004                                                                   

Gareth Reid, Ava Gallery, Northern Ireland


The cultural mainstream of the West is fast moving, visually saturated and predominantly urban in character - set against such a backdrop the work of Gareth Reid could appear to be from a previous age. But whilst contemporary work of a more sensational nature may capture headlines and successfully reveal divergent interpretations of twenty first century human experience, it is not our sole conduit for meaning. In fact, it could be argued, such velocity of experience necessitates work such as Reid's, typified as it is by intense, disciplined and somewhat meditative practice. 

Manifestly figurative, Reid's images are far more than virtuoso representations of the encountered world. Seductive, beautifully rendered and elegiac in appearance, they exert a muted yet powerful influence upon the viewer. 

 An air of longevity pervades these canvases, as if long before their making they awaited realisation in precisely the form in which we perceive them today; these images exude a restrained confidence that has no need for grand expressive gestures in order to communicate their sensorial dimension. 

 Reid speaks of the 'it-ness' of a place, instinctive recognition afforded by the seemingly haphazard arrangement of objects in nature, of atmosphere and 'otherness'; it is this intangible essence that lends his drawings their intrigue. It is not the apparently 'captured' image that is the true subject of these works but the ethereal forces of nature and perception. 

 Woodlands and forests are locations imbued with deep-seated associative meaning, they hold a primordial sense of trepidation and wonder for us all, despite our overtly urban modern existence. However limited our experience of forests in reality may now be, it is unlikely many of us escaped their dark influence as places of unknown and mortal danger in fables and fairy tales read to us as children. This combination of instinctive and learnt response prompts receptivity from even the most cynical of urban consciousnesses. 

Based in Glasgow but of Northern Irish origin, Reid draws upon experiential knowledge and personal photographic imagery of both Scotland and Ireland as primary source material for the works in this show. But these are just starting points, the processes by which these images develop in the studio underpin their integrity and a casual glance is not enough to comprehend their depth. 

Beginning from a defined and coherent perspective, Reid becomes increasingly absorbed in the compelling interplay between the physical act of making, (itself an intricate and skilful process), and remembrance of place. Emerging somewhere between the two are images of dramatic and sensitive effect. 

 

© Sophie Morrish 2004