Observatory is Alison Turnbull’s second exhibition at Matt’s Gallery and marks a new direction in her work. She has created a number of related paintings, originally inspired by plans of Thomas Jefferson’s observatory.
Collector, researcher and observer, Turnbull works with nature, but without literal illustration. Using specialist star charts as the genesis of her new work she shows the margins and transitional spaces of a human world. Plans and charts are already at one remove from their original source and Turnbull further distances her work from the subject through the act of painting. In this way new versions emerge that could not be depicted through media such as photography. By reconsidering existing structures she questions how we define things visually.
Turnbull’s approach has the quality of quiet and precise engagement. She begins her paintings with a set of internal parameters, or visual references, and as they develop she exerts pressure on these rules and the pictorial starts to take precedence.
Some paintings, such as Moon-viewing Platform, draw directly on the language of chart and plan; others are more abstract, but all are informed by close attention to colour and picture surface. Turnbull’s control of texture and composition emphasizes each work’s distance and depth. The canvas is sanded smooth and Turnbull applies finely detailed layers of painted shapes and dots that vary with subtle changes in the pressure of the brush on the canvas. With considerable skill and sensitivity she adjusts each painting’s structure; areas are built up by thickening the surface while others are pared right down. What emerges is a number of abstracted sites, each one a place where different dialogues might occur.
Turnbull’s drawings, created on pages from her extensive personal collection of exercise books and graph papers, both bought and donated, appear as notations contained by the graphic lines of the paper. The titles refer to the locations where each paper was purchased, conferring a sense of moving through familiar places. The drawings will be shown in an elongated vitrine running across the centre of the gallery space.
A publication to support the exhibition, Observatory, with an essay by Ed Krcma, published by Matt’s Gallery, will be available free to visitors.