Contemporary Art Market: Monochromes stage a gallery comeback

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The Independent Online
THE smartest thing among the cognoscenti this summer is to mutter about painting 'coming back' after being ousted from fashionable exhibitions in the late 1980s by multi-media concoctions, installation and photography.

The Lisson Gallery has come up with a summer show which reveals what kind of painting is 'coming back' - a cool, minimalist abstraction by artists whose main interest lies in process and materials.

Nicholas Logsdail, who runs the gallery at 67 Lisson Street, London NW1, is a man with his finger on the pulse. He promoted a swathe of New British sculptors - among them Tony Cragg, Anish Kapoor and Grenville Davey - in the 1980s, most of whom won the Turner Prize. It is an odds-on bet that Logsdail will prove to have selected winners once again.

We are back to monochrome canvases in Logsdail's view. Having enjoyed popularity in the 1920s and 1960s, monochromes now have had to find a new raison d'etre. These artists are investigating the process of painting in a very self-conscious manner; they tell the viewer what materials they used, and how they made the surface, and leave him or her to contemplate what such a process of production says about the nature of reality.

The youngest artist is Jason Martin, 24, who graduated from Goldsmiths last year and presents box-like, three- dimensional canvases to which thick oil paint has been applied with a single sweeping stroke. He has a nice line in titles. There is a tiny red one called Flirt (pounds 750), two pink ones side by side called Marilyn (pounds 1,750), and a white one which leaves a sweep of brown canvas showing Rehearsal (pounds 1,000).

Clem Crosby, 36, creates monochromes by building up layers of paint. He underlines the length of the process with his titles: June 1992-October 1993 is dark green (pounds 2,300), August 1993-July 1994 purple (pounds 1,600), and June 1993-February 1994 black (pounds 3,500).

There are two mid-generation artists doing something slightly different. Sam Reveles, 36, makes a dense, graffiti-like tangle of lines which he spreads and textures by brushing, ragging or rubbing. He refers to his motifs as 'lifelines' and suggests they are 'a painterly equivalent of the linear pulse of a medical cardiograph'. His titles add showbiz connotations, Chavez Madonna (pounds 6,000), for instance, or Brando Khiyl McQueen (pounds 8,000).

Alex Landrum, 39, combines monochrome with ironic references to tabloid horror stories. A text is spelt out in low relief and covered with eggshell paint. The pieces on exhibition are priced at pounds 5,500 and pounds 6,000.

Then there are two grand old men, both survivors from the heroic days of Minimalism in the 1960s. Logsdail is trying to underline the links and use them to highlight the 1990s shift in emphasis. Robert Hunter, now in his forties, makes geometric patchworks of colour and veils them with anything up to 50 layers of predominantly white paint. His works cost pounds 8,000 each. Peter Joseph, now in his sixties, places one small rectangle of colour within a border of a different colour. He works in thin washes, in many layers, and pays special attention to harmonies of tone. His canvases cost pounds 16,000 a time.

(Photographs omitted)