‘Alan Gouk at 80’, at the Hampstead School of Art, is a modest show with immodest ambitions. Five paintings- four of them mural-sized- hang in the ground floor exhibition space, with a batch of works on paper in a room beyond.
These paintings are built, and the building blocks are stripes, swipes and swatches of hot, high-keyed colour, some of them short and choppy, some travelling the whole arc of an arm’s reach, all of them the width of the implement (a plasterer’s trowel, at a guess) that put them there; deployed singly, or bunched together as interlocking slabs and wedges of paint. In places (such as the lower left corner of ‘Loud Macaw’) the marbling and mixing of the overlapping, colliding sweeps of brightly-coloured pigment evoke Richter’s squeegeed abstracts, but there’s none of his deliberate courting of vagueness or loss of sharp focus here, nor, for that matter, his all-pervading irony; rather, every part of these paintings declares itself emphatically and equally, locked in place by the sheer physical presence of the paint, yet grinding and shifting tectonically as colour works on colour, and the surface seems to buckle and twist.
It has to be said, the work’s packed in tight: only two of the five paintings can be viewed full-frontally, with the option to step back far enough to take the whole thing in; the rest are hemmed in by corridor space. The thought did briefly cross Instantloveland’s mind, that the only way to position oneself for a proper look at ‘Loud Macaw’ or ‘Afternoon in Pompeii’ would be to get a job in the school office, or behind the café counter….but that’s to take nothing away from the HSoA for hosting the show, or from Gouk for supporting the school, of which he is a Patron. The work is up on the wall, and that’s the important thing.
Exhibition runs until 22nd November 2019.