Sunday, 6 January 2013

Two paintings by Justin Hawkes. Landscape? Or abstract art?

Two paintings by Justin Hawkes.  Seen at the Williams Art Gallery, Cambridge on 25 Nov. 2012.

1.  Landscape Tension

Justin Hawkes, Landscape Tension (Red Glow), acrylic (behind glass), 40 x 68 cm, Williams Art Gallery, Cambridge 2012
Justin Hawkes, Landscape Tension (red glow), acrylic (behind glass), 40 x 68 cm.

Landscape Tension is aptly named:  there is a tension here between abstraction and the illusion of a 'real' landscape.

On the one hand, we see a landscape.  The horizontal format encourages us to see one.  (Not for nothing is this format known as 'landscape format' by computer printers.)  We read the dark scribbly line in the bottom quarter as the horizon.  With bushes and trees (and perhaps the spires of buildings?).

Above the horizon is the deep orange glow of a sunset.  (Or sunrise?)  And above that is the strangely opaque sky.

Justin Hawkes, Landscape Tension (detail)

On the other hand, however, we see five rectangles, stacked one above the other.  The top rectangle is a matt teal; the two below are a dirty dark orange and a jewel orange; there follow a dark brown and a dark brownish-blue one.

Between the dark brown and the jewel orange rectangles (or broad stripes), there is an uneven line that blurs the boundary between brown and orange.

There is no depth here, just flat rectangles of colour.

Landscape or abstract shapes?  Duck or rabbit? 

The point is:  every painting is both at once.  At once an illusion of three-dimensional space.  And a reality of colour shapes on a flat canvas.

2.  Montage

Justin Hawkes, Montage, watercolour, 14 x 8 cm, Williams Art Gallery, Cambridge, 2012.
Justin Hawkes, Montage watercolour composition, 14 x 8 cm.

Montage.  A tiny watercolour.

A vertical format.  Also known as 'portrait format' but we don't see a format.  We see a landscape.  Or what we think may be a landscape.

It's also two rectangular pieces of drawing paper, stained with orange-brownish watercolour.  The pieces of paper are separated by a torn edge and pasted onto a mount.

Justin Hawkes, Montage, watercolour, 14 x 8 cm, Williams Art Gallery, Cambridge, 2012.
Justin Hawkes, Montage (detail)

The white uneven line is reminiscent of the horizon in Landscape Tension.  But here it is not only an illusion of a boundary: it is a real boundary.  A real bit of torn paper.  The white colour is the colour of the paper mount underneath.

The motif of torn paper reappears in the artist's sketchbooks.

Justin Hawkes, sketchbook.  Williams Art Gallery, Cambridge 2012.
Justin Hawkes, page from sketchbook 

Williams Art Gallery
I saw these paintings last November.  (I know... it's taken me ages finally to get this post together!)  They were part of an exhibition by the painter Justin Hawkes at the Williams Art Gallery on Gwydir Street.

Justin Hawkes, view of exhibition at Williams Art Gallery, Cambridge 2012, seen from Hot Numbers Café.
Williams Art Gallery on Gwydir Stree with Justin Hawkes exhibition, seen from Hot Numbers Café

Meet the artist
I was also lucky:  I met the artist and asked him some questions.

•  I asked Justin Hawkes what got him started as an artist.  He said that he was inspired by Cézanne when he was around 15 years old.
•  And what did he think were the differences in painting in acrylics and in watercolours?

Justin Hawkes told me that the challenges of the big acrylic canvases lies in resisting the masculinity of the kind of colour-field painting produced by Ellsworth Kelly

The challenge of the watercolours, by contrast, lies in resisting their prettiness.

Justin Hawkes does not want to fix a moment, like a photographer wants to do, but wants to allow for time.

From Justin Hawkes's artist statement:  
'The relevance of late Mondrian remains important to me.  I work to avoid my paintings becoming a mishmash of styles because as well as responding to this influence I feel a need to develop a direct line to nature.'
'Paintings evolve from a consciousness that is aware of what they are and what they are about -- simultaneously.'

How about you?
What do you see first?  The landscape or the abstract shapes of colour?

Find out more:
Justin Hawkes' websiteincl. upcoming and past shows, and an image gallery

Related posts:

Paintings © Justin Hawkes.  Images used with permission of the artist.


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