ART / In the Studio: When seeing is disbelieving: Iain Gale talks to artist Clare Neasham about the dovetails, lozenges and wedges that underpin her work

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The Independent Culture
From the wide window of her Fulham studio, Clare Neasham looks out over the Thames. Parallel strips of grey sky, yellow towpath and green river are framed in one of the panes. Start to walk backwards, though, and the scene changes. As the panes become a grid, the viewer's understanding of distance and scale is blurred and the view redefined as numerous small, flat areas of colour.

Such visual ambiguity lies at the heart of Neasham's art. Pasting screen-printed images on to wall-hung boxes of white- painted board, she invites her audience to question how the human eye constructs reality. In Vista, four shapes abut on one another: blue triangles to the right and left, a yellow trapezium above and a red one below. As the title suggests, it is possible to interpret this image as an infinite horizon, the 'big country' of a technicolour western. But this, Neasham points out, is only one interpretation. 'There is a tendency to read a light colour as space and a dark one as matter, but that's not necessarily true. From certain angles it looks as if the blue on the right is coming towards you and that on the left is receding - like two flat hinges.' It is this uncertainty that fascinates the artist, as it did Ellsworth Kelly and the 1950s Hard Edge painters, who are her most obvious formal influence. To further confuse the viewer, Neasham has introduced a 'real' third dimension, giving her boxes depth, and often making the facing surface either concave or convex. Such variants reward the viewer with subtle changes in colour, created by the shadow of the incurve as the eye travels across the surface. For an artist still in her twenties, such sophistication seems remarkable and is testimony to both Neasham's intellect and education.

She trained at Newcastle University and at the RCA under Richard Wentworth. 'He was an absolute inspiration,' she says. 'He understood entirely where my ideas came from - that we have an openness to look at everything, and that it's only later that a sort of control comes in to narrow everything down and bring it out in a potent way.'

Like Wentworth, Neasham plunders a universal language of everyday forms. Specifically, though, she targets the functional, geometric, forms of engineering construction: the dovetail, the lozenge and the wedge. As she explains: 'My works are objects to be seen alongside other constructed objects. The cooling towers on the River Tees, for instance, are the most beautiful massive still-lifes you could imagine.' 'Real' scale is unimportant in Neasham's work, whose viewers must abandon themselves to form and colour. Her forthcoming project will further divorce her audience from reality, as they peer through slits into a box in which horizontal slats divide stripes of colour. Quite what they will see inside, however, will depend entirely on their own willingness to participate. For, as the artist admits: 'It's all just a question of how you look at something.'

Clare Neasham shows with the Francis Graham-Dixon Gallery, 17-18 Great Sutton St, EC1 (071-250 1962)

(Photograph omitted)