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HUMANITY IS PUT ON TRIAL IN PAUL WINSTANLEY’S 'REPRISE' AT CRISTEA ROBERTS

The absence of human civilisation in Reprise works to intensify Winstanley's distinct feeling of ecological longing. (...) The obscurity and abrasions that define the exhibition's body of work act as a mirror to present the viewer with the myriad ways in which humanity has spoiled the natural world. writes Daisy Culleton.

From left to right; Paul Winstanley, Alp (Blue-violet) 2024, Alp (Cerulean), 2024, Alp (Red), 2024


Cristea Roberts presents Paul Winstanley: Reprise, a collection of new hand-coloured prints and paintings by British painter and photographer Paul Winstanley (b.1954).


Winstanley, exhibiting internationally since the late 1970s, is best known for his photorealistic ethereal paintings of desolate commonplace ‘semi-public spaces’ such as waiting rooms, hospital lobbies and modernist corridors. Rendered in a muted palette, his depiction of sparse interiors containing lines of vacant chairs, veiled picture windows barren monochromatic walls and delicate passages of light cultivate intense feelings of abandonment and of time relentlessly passing by. Combining the tenets of contemporary minimalism with the traditional values of still life and landscape, his work performs an investigation into the memory and experience of social spaces. 


From left to right: Paul Winstanley, The Viewers 8, 2020-22, The Viewers 9, 2020-2022



For Reprise, however, Winstanley exchanges uninhabited interiors for the rugged, weathered exterior of the Alps. Gripped by the aesthetics of the sublime, a Romantic notion used to describe the ineffable feeling of awe that the greatness and grandeur of nature arouses within oneself, Winstanley appropriates and obfuscates historical paintings of Alpine landscapes using wax resist techniques: “...how you apply the resist, the gesture, whether it’s sprayed on, painted or scraped on...the image is different each time but there is always a shadow of the original image. Details are lost to be replaced with the details of the process, the spots and specks of coagulated ink. The image is abraded, it disintegrates, and all sorts of interesting incidents occur, though you can still see the shadows of trees, rocks, water, mountains, all the elements of the image.” 


Using Photogravure, a photochemical process in which a photo is etched into a copper plate with light and chemicals and then printed with ink onto paper, Winstanley elevates his method of re-invention, re-casting the mountainous landscapes teeming with rushing water, jagged rocks, leafy trees and velvety clouds in a series of thought-provoking, expressive tones.



The oeuvre consists of eight uniquely coloured photogravure prints, five larger scales photogravure prints with hand painting and two never-before-seen Oil of Linen paintings. Reprise is also exhibited alongside his earlier work The Viewers (2020-2023) which comprises a series of installation shots taken from Winstanley’s previous solo shows. 



From left to right: Alp (Black), 2024, Alp (Umber), 2024


The paintings originally crafted to convey the Romantics’ heightened perception of the natural world, through Winstanley’s meticulous process of re-invention, now communicate an overwhelming anxiety and dread relating to the modern condition or as Winstanley stated in the exhibition catalogue: ‘I was interested to see if they could be re-invested with greater urgency and made contemporary again.’  Saturating the body of work is a hazy, distorted quality that conjures a sense of nostalgia, which, combined with their history as 19th-century paintings, appears to hark back to a time just before humanity stood on the precipice of environmental destruction. The absence of human civilisation in Reprise works to intensify this distinct feeling of ecological longing. Acting as a catalyst for introspection the exemption of human civilisation encourages the spectator to consider how they have negatively impacted the landscape without so much as directly touching it. 


An underlying sense of darkness is what distinguished the work of Sublime artists from the rest of the nineteenth-century landscape genre. Prior to the introduction of the contemporary philosophy, artists cast the natural world through a picturesque lens as a solely heavenly, tranquil site. Meanwhile, sublime artists like Turner and Constable framed nature in a far more theatrical and emotive light. Hoping to capture their subjective feelings towards nature, sublime artists devoted equal attention to Mother Nature’s idyllic and unnerving qualities. Indeed, Winstanley cites Joseph Anton Koch’s The Wetterhorn (1824), which depicted the beauty and unpredictability of the Alpine mountain ranges, as a central source of inspiration for the exhibition.


Winstanley subverts the ominous undertone of the sublime by visually conjuring the notion of Mother Nature’s fight against human domination. His artworks vividly express the idea of Earth grappling with humanities selfishness and greed. The piercing medallion tone used on Painted Alp 4, (2024) evokes ideas of nuclear waste, radiation and pollution – thereby, alluding to humanity’s destructive role in the downfall of nature. The murky, prehistoric quality of Alp (Umber), (2024) nods to humanity’s sinful presumption throughout history that it was our inherent right to conquer and dominate over the land. Alp (Cerulean) (2024) and Painted Alp 3 (2024), induce a bitter coldness. The obscurity and abrasions that define the exhibition's body of work act as a mirror to present the viewer with the myriad ways in which humanity has spoiled the natural world.


Paul Winstanley, Painted Alp 3, 2024


Throughout Reprise, Winstanley compels the viewer to stand trial for humanity’s exhaustive list of crimes against the natural world. Through his evocations of a struggling earth, he figuratively pleads with us to recognise that the darkness no longer resides in the environment but within us, the viewers. He urges us to reflect on our collective behaviour, and to reconnect with Mother Nature before it's too late.


Paul Winstanley's Reprise is showing at Cristea Roberts from 07 June – 27 July 2024. 

 

Daisy Culleton is an Essex-based writer with a degree in BA American Studies and History from the University of Nottingham.  She writes about sustainable fashion in her Substack publication VNTG.

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