8th - 30th September

Campden Gallery - High Street, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, GL55 6AG | E: info@campdengallery.co.uk | T: 01386 841 555

A Compelling Dance of Shapes

by Andrew Lambirth

Although she often paints figures in a setting, Katherine Hamilton is primarily a landscape painter of skill and inventiveness. Travel is the life-blood of her art, but if this exhibition ranges from Blackpool to Ghana, Lochinver to Benin, she is also content to paint subjects on her own doorstep, such as North Sea Dawn. She applies her paint thinly, diluted with turps, and seeks a quality of surface that is deliberately reduced, classic rather than romantic. She prefers to concentrate on structure rather than interpretation, and is always aiming to simplify her imagery still further. Already, her work has reached a remarkable harmony in the depiction of such empty buildings as those in African Village (Ghana). She uses oil paint like pastel, with dusty surface overlays entirely appropriate to the subject.

The dynamic of poise and roam in her paintings recalls the fact that she trained as a dancer, but their mysterious quality is entirely a product of her understanding of the potential of paint.

The paintings in this exhibition divide into two groups: those in which the place is specified and those in which it’s not. Thus, there are four named Scottish paintings: Winter’s Wood, Gorge, Scottish Dusk, and Torrent, but there are at least two others which take a specific place in Scotland but render it universal by generalizing it. Although detail is not entirely forfeited, and someone who knows the site would no doubt recognize it, the urge towards abstraction endows these images with a wider relevance. Hamilton distils a poetic entity – such as The Deserted House or The Edge of Town - from actual things observed in reality. It’s easy to imagine such titles used for poems as well as paintings, perhaps by Walter de la Mare or Robert Frost. Although the particular underpins each of her paintings, there is always a dialogue between specifics and formal values. In these deliberately more universal images the challenge is to present a convincing sense of place and at the same time a more generally applicable identity. Very often the impulse behind the genesis of the image is not to make a portrait of a scene but simply to capture certain arrangements of line and light.

Derelict buildings in Namibia are marvellous subjects for the articulation of interior space, for the near-abstract juxtaposition of shapes. At the same time, the narrative element begins to nag the attentive viewer. What’s the story? Why are these rooms deserted and empty? What tragedies lie behind their wrecked armatures? Is it something as prosaic as a diamond mine failing? Or is there something more humanly definitive - a death or infidelity, an unexplained disappearance? In The Deserted House, the chairs and books and rugs have been left behind, suggesting a swift and urgent exit. Was it a simple economic collapse, or were the missing occupants fleeing some other disaster? Or are we overdramatising, and the tenants are simply out about their business? After all, there’s a person in Dusk Interior …

The increasing formality and abstraction of her landscapes and built environments contrasts intriguingly with the anecdotal quality of her figure paintings. Whether her subject is nomadic herders or fishing boys, market vendors in Benin or boat builders in Mali, the human element approaches the hieratic and symbolic as Hamilton pursues her goal of timelessness. Her luminous new work is increasingly emblematic; perhaps that accounts for its mystery.