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Stewart Geddes

March 6, 2015

SG Polyphant'; acrylic on panel; 30cm X 23 copy

It would appear that Stewart Geddes’ abstract paintings have little to do with landscape. However the urban landscape, the rural and the cubist motifs of cube circle and triangle are deeply embedded in his work. Just out of art school Geddes pursued a successful career making painterly Plein Air landscapes. However the subject palled and as he looked at the abstract flattening of the picture plane in Lanyon and Alfred Wallis, and the way the same motif in Lanyon became a signifier of multiple meanings, the importance of Lanyon’s paintings became, ‘not a copy of a view but a painting of an experience’. In a revelatory moment Geddes reconnected with the cubists, and moved into abstraction.

Living in London his source material was the urban landscape with occasional forays into the Dorset countryside where the original beach huts near Portland Bill, before gentrification, yielded rich pickings. His subject was rooted in the concept of The Modern Ruin, ‘something by which you can experience the remoteness of your childhood’. Buildings which had existed for barely fifty years and which when constructed ‘were the last word in newness’ were now undergoing demolition, offering views of broken interiors, collapse, deterioration and destruction. The bleeding walls of peeling wallpaper in torn rooms represented the memories of lives lived in those spaces and were frequently a cue for a yearning for the irretrievable. For Geddes, an object in the process of breakdown attains a new meaning and he replicates this natural or human-precipitated process in his work. A constant cycle of addition and reduction, degrading the surface, tearing, scraping, the addition of colour, collage or mark-making which is then subjected to further degradation.

'SG Shippen'; oil on panel; 30cm X 23 Oil on wood panel copy

Shippen. Oil on panel, 30 x 23 cm

He subscribes to Picasso’s maxim that making art is a process of ‘not seeking but finding’. A statement that relates to Stewart’s methodology and to the ‘the found painting’ as an object which has become increasingly central to his practice. He does not seek them out, it is almost as if these ready-mades find him. He relishes the moment when a change in orientation decontextualises an object leaving it devoid of its utilitarian function, ‘yet liberates it to hold a simultaneity of meanings’. Then comes the delayed realisation that it is actually what you originally thought it was. Hob is a decommissioned cooker hob, with the look of a ‘60s spirograph drawing, but re-positioned, hanging in a domestic interior its faded damaged surface attains poignancy.

SG 'Hob', 49cm X 44; ceramic cooker top copy

Hob. Ceramic cooker hob, 49 x 44 cm

It was Matisses’s paintings from his most cubist phase around 1910 that stirred in Geddes an interest in collage, further fuelled by the research he did for his M.Phil at the Royal College of Art into the French Décollagist group, in particular, the work of Jacques Villeglé and Raymond Hains. Geddes’ approach is constructivist and the build up of collage, mark and paint has an affinity with the idea of layers of history. His method relates to his view that time is being held on the surface.

His paintings are improvisations, not in a musical sense with that swiftness of change generated through performance, but rather spread out over a long period. They stretch out time because the processes are so slow. The improvisation occurs through the use of a visual language that gradually emerges through the experience of a generic landscape, acquired via the constant exposure to and absorption of the urban terrain. He gathers information through photography, the act of a moment, rather than drawing, which takes longer and which he sees as ‘a physical, empathetic performative act’. His palette is observed, coming from his constant garnering of images whilst walking through the streets of Bristol with a camera, recording buildings, hoardings, graffiti. He values the city for its amalgamation of the urban the pastoral and the maritime.

By a process of subtraction and editing Geddes filters out and discards the unimportant areas of a painting. His curved edges are informed by the ipod aesthetic as well as the notion of children’s round-edged school slates on which they would draw or write in chalk. More recently, only the tops of the paintings are rounded revealing his desire for a greater sense of stability. His process is methodical, organisation followed by disorganisation, followed by application and subtraction that “is nudged into a form of resolution, which is found through the negotiation with the process.” His motifs continue to be the circle the square and the triangle which can be linear, solid, manipulated, broken, echoed and repeated ultimately achieving multiple meanings.

SG'Keskeys'; acrylic on panel; 30cm X 39 copy

 

Keskeys. Acrylic on panel, 30 x 39 cm

SG 'Chandos'; acrylic on panel; 46cm X 60 copy

Chandos. Acrylic on panel, 46 x 60 cm

 

Header Image:  Polyphant, Acrylic on panel, 30 x 23 cm  

Stewart Geddes Feature published simultaneously in Evolver 86 March and April 2015

© Fiona Robinson 2015

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