BY Dale McFarland in Reviews | 04 APR 01
Featured in
Issue 58

Clare Woods

BY Dale McFarland in Reviews | 04 APR 01

With their seemingly random tracery of lines and splashes of colour, Clare Woods' paintings look a little like cooled contemporary versions of old-fashioned gestural painting. The slicked-up insouciance and glossy control demonstrated by the works in her first solo exhibition are instantly seductive and remorselessly desirable, a deft exercise in painterly chic.

The four large paintings in this exhibition are based on photographs taken at night in woodland settings. Pointing a camera into the darkness and pressing the shutter seems like a pretty good way to freak yourself out. The instant of the camera flash is followed by wet blackness, creeping, rustling nature, goose pimples and who knows what else. But this is more than The Blair Witch Project done in paint - Woods' work highlights an awareness of the multiplicity of concerns and contradictions within a medium that, for some reason, is in a process of constant redefinition.

Against a gloss-black background, bare branches and tangled undergrowth emerge like a disorienting after-image. Filaments of colour that can only be seen behind closed eyelids swim to the surface: too vivid reds, neon blues, even dull beiges, fluoresce, overlap and then recede behind the magnesium white of the skeletal scrub. Woods' palette has something of lip-gloss-blue-eye-shadow-and-rouge aesthetic. The paintings are as self-consciously stylish as a fashion story, and, like many artists working in London today, Woods is happy to play around in the no man's land between fashion and art.Smylum, Fred Woolly, Rubery Hill (all works 2000) refer to various orphanages and sanitoria, while Oak Apple Day is named after a pagan ritual that celebrates the beginning of winter. These titles steer the work in the direction of macabre narratives: a walled Victorian asylum garden on a silent winter evening; the muffled gurgles of the virgin sacrifice drowned by the merry song of sinisterly cheerful country folk. But the paintings themselves do not have any sense of lurking malevolence or foul stagnation. There is nothing unsettling or malign in these lush, intricate works. The fragments of Hammer Horror seep away into gorgeously designed abstraction.

Each of these decidedly bijou paintings is perfectly contained and completely static. Exuberance is checked by discipline, gesture is imitated by procedure, elements of chance are frozen in paint and then repeated elsewhere. What remains is a bizarrely vibrant form of inertia - hysteria bluntly preserved in paint. By counterfeiting chaos, Woods allows the work to go beyond the cheap thrill of expression. She makes no attempt at any ironic quotation, but rather expresses a measured joy in the pure visual pleasure that can be obtained from painting. Any delirium is literally contained on the surface, in the details and the composition; decoration carried out with eloquence and