Paint is a luscious material. Morphing between liquid and solid states, it gives artists the chance to be alchemists as a kind of fluid philosopher’s stone. Key to this is the element of natural processes: what the paint does, how it behaves, and how the artist intervenes to manipulate the material to their own ends. But it is by no means a one-way relationship. Gravity and time clash with action and intent, so that paintings become the place where natural forces and human endeavour collide. Process painting becomes, more often than not, a battle of wills.
The Great Outdoors presents new works by Jon Braley and Luca Sangjun Kim who use this process as a focus in their painting, and by extension use their paintings to explore how we relate to the natural environment – the desire to control and exploit, the romanticism of the sublime, and our increasing distance from the organic world we inhabit.
In Jon Braley’s work, this romanticism is articulated through a sense of separation, as if the sublime ideal had been captured in amber like a fossil of a lost age. Braley’s amber is industrial resin, a material akin to liquid glass that the artist grapples with like a paint to turn his works into slick reflective objects. What it encases seems to have been packaged and shrink-wrapped, turning any naïve notions of a transcendental sublime into a consumer product. In this new series of paintings, Jon explores this through the use of metallic gold pigments, creating rough underlying landscapes that glitter with the allure of a gold-rush. They suggest both the escapism and the profit so often associated with the raw natural world as something distant and finite, and increasingly beyond our reach.
Luca Sangjun Kim’s paintings allude to an idealised purity of nature but in a contradictory way – as if the idea were compressed, squeezed out of a tube, and then engineered beyond recognition. His works are constructed from layer upon layer of pure acrylic, into which the artist makes intense, definite gestures that compound the colours in the centre, leaving the sedimented excess colours outside. The paintings ooze purity around the edges, whilst bursting with creative intervention within. Kim acts like a prospector on the desire of an uncomplicated vision of wholesome nature, bringing his energy to bear on the materials in a very visible way to create a kind of visceral, visual electricity.