The title of this exhibition gave an indication of plural intentions. Toby Paterson deployed the term ‘Exploded Plan’ in the same way as he now uses the vocabulary of forms at his disposal: as a means of conveying both his attraction to the ideals of Modernist architecture and his interest in the failure of those intentions. Although there were still some works here that delineated architectural forms in their planned state, the most intriguing paintings take certain forms apart without putting them back together. In contrast to the perfected representations and aerial oblique perspectives of earlier pieces such as Black Axonometric (2000) and Arabesque (2002), these more recent works are delivered from a position of optical subjectivity – a place where abstraction enters architecture.
The most immediately striking of these pieces was the wall painting Climbing Forms (2004), which appeared to be an abstract image but was actually derived from a cast-concrete climbing wall in a Denys Lasdun-designed building at the University of Liverpool. This detail was an incongruously playful intervention in Lasdun’s otherwise austere design. Paterson placed his version beneath a skylight in the gallery’s sloping roof – a position that exploited the protean potential of these forms. Within the context of this gallery (formerly a lock-up garage) the painting summoned a tension between the real and the imagined. Something in the lines seemed concerned not only with architecture but also with the distilled evocations of speed and strength in the logos of motor parts suppliers such as General Tire, Luk Clutches and Uniroyal.
The key work in the exhibition was Our Routes (2004), another wall painting, this time depicting the entrance portico block on Berthold Lubetkin’s Cranbrook Estate in east London. The imaginative possibilities of the image are closely related to Lubetkin’s interest in abstraction. Like his 1934 Penguin Pool at London Zoo, this building is both functional and sculptural. The colour scheme of lemon yellow, grey, white and black, his splayed plan, shifting of levels, distinctive signage and complex array of surface textures resulted in a structure that looks invented or imaginary. It is precisely this sense of skewed, almost decorative Modernism in both Lasdun’s and Lubetkin’s work that provides a means for Paterson to articulate a sense of place and culture through his consideration of designed space.
At first sight the building depicted in Our Routes resembles a rather elaborate garage forecourt and seems to gesture once again to the specific history of this exhibition space: cars raised on blocks, cold spanners lying in pools of oil. Although the spirit of Ed Ruscha’s Standard Station (1963) is clearly evoked, Paterson neither perfects nor simplifies Lubetkin’s almost excessive design. The planes of the staircases and landings do not seem to connect convincingly, and the cobbled areas suggest a structure fluctuating between the second and third dimensions. By approaching this structure from the point of view of someone on the ground, he introduces a further element of doubt. This perspective has an unnerving quality, similar to that of the work of Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, who constantly used the point of view of an observer sitting on the floor. The difference in terms of how we perceive the image is about power – the building depicted in this painting seems somehow beyond control.
The painting also reflects the effects of weather and neglect, which have extracted a ready-made pun from the signage, which originally read ‘Puteaux House’. These disordered letters, spelling a variant on the idea of the building being ‘put to use’, point to the sense in which meaning as well as form has become destabilized in Paterson’s work. In showing the ruin of the building, he moves away from the kind of idealized depiction seen in earlier works such as the series ‘Sunlit Emergency Exit’ (2000–02). Previously the thwarted ambitions of the International Style were only summoned in the viewer’s mind in response to his idealized depictions of Modernist buildings. The dissembled message of the signage recalls something of the 1940s Lettrisme movement, and its co-founder Isidore Isou’s articulation of the ‘difference between our fluctuations and the brutality of words’. Here the implications are the same: a sense of subjectivity has been introduced into an existing system.