Thompson Hall was commissioned by Outside In and HOUSE to produce a new solo exhibition, Home Away from Home for the HOUSE Festival in Brighton. The exhibition runs from 30 April – 29 May at the Regency Town House. Review by Colin Hambrook.
Within the various Creative Minds events that have engaged arts organisations across the country over the last year or so there has been a lot of talk about what makes for ‘quality’ in art. How do we define whether or not a work is ‘good’ or even ‘exceptional’? Organisations like ActionSpace who Thompson Hall is a member of, have been seeking to examine how they progress the careers of their artists.
The conversation about ‘quality’ is destined to go around in circles because there are as many ways to respond to and to judge art as there are people who are passionate about it. But Hall’s presentations have been very eloquent about his work within Creative Minds, showing what an important and valuable conversation it is.
Context is key: how does the artwork sit as part of its surroundings? The traditional white gallery has its own hermetically-sealed convention and history. Hall’s exhibition of paintings in the semi-derelict Regency Town House broadens out from the idea of white-walled uniformity and considers the use of negative space as a key element of artistic composition.
The paintings made in situ reflect the inner and outer world of the rooms they inhabit. Hall has made paintings that focus on architectural elements, only occasionally incorporating vague figures. It is clear that he wants us to look at the majestic windows, the fireplace, cornices and arches within the space and to interpret those in human terms.
Several paintings mirror the marks on the bare plaster where scrubby patches of white filler reflect his use of brush stroke in an effective way. A painting of the fire place sits opposite the actual fire place. A painting of the view of the Regency Square from the window dominates a side-wall within the room. There are paintings of views through the building, and so every ‘outer’ external view becomes a mirror being reflected back at us.
It reminded me of Rachel Whiteread’s iconic House, which was situated for a while in Hackney in the late 1990s. It was a negative moulded, sculptural imprint of a typical Georgian Townhouse, revealing the inside features on the external facade of a copy of a building. On a smaller scale Hall does something in syncronicity with Whiteread, except we are on the inside looking out of the building, rather than on the outside of the building looking at the inside.
My favourite painting − a large portrait looking through the windows in the room − emphasises the height of the features and the grandeur of the space. Built after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, at a time when a new mood of opulence came into being, the Regency style with its high ceilings and relaxed and confident classical English Palladian features created rooms for people who had no issue with the amount of space they inhabited. And within Hall’s paintings of largely uninhabited space the viewer gets a sense of the artist using the act of making as a mirror for his mood and his sense of a search for home and place, both in actuality and internally.
The exhibition works especially well in the upstairs space in the house where the artist has been given more room to express himself. The cross-beams installed in the downstairs space tend to work against the meaning of the paintings as visual recordings of an artist talking about what the room means to him.
Intention is another important qualifier of the effectiveness and quality of art practice. It measures how well the artist has conveyed the ideas that are the foundation of a project. Hall has set up a dynamic within the exhibition of wanting to tell us how he feels about Brighton in comparison with London.
The paintings of Hall’s London home, which are interspersed amongst the paintings of the Regency Town house represent a new way of working for the artist. Using a darker and muddier palette Hall tells us he is “expressing the sense of anxiety and claustrophobia of London.” Windows within the paintings show sinister ‘feelers’ crawling into the foreground as symbols of the outer world imposing on the inner world of the home environment.
In comparison, the palette of the Brighton paintings are the vivid colours that we expect to see in Hall’s work. These ‘mood’ paintings draw you in with their energy and vibrancy. There is a tension between the solidity of the black lines delineating architectural features and the thick visceral brush strokes of the interior walls, floors and ceilings.
Overall, the exhibition presents Hall developing his style in a powerful and effective way. But there are also flaws within the exhibition. The artist had only two weeks in the studio to make the work - an incredible output in such a short time, but on close inspection it shows. Some canvases look unfinished, containing brush strokes that look as though there has been an attempt to go over them, but have been left due to lack of time.
The mirrors within the exhibition equally point to the strength of the ideas that are present in Hall’s exhibition. But their presence within the space looks like an afterthought, rather than something that’s been fully conceived.
On the whole, this exhibition shows what the artist is capable of, with a strength in his intention and his ability to adapt and develop his work within a specific brief. I hope the opportunity that Hall has been given here is the start of bigger and better artistic projects.