This exhibition represents the return of Brtish artist Tim Ayres to the UK. 'As Such And In As Much As' –the artists first solo exhibition in the country for almost 25 years–presents recent typographic and abstract paintings.
After obtaining his Master’s Degree from the Chelsea School of Arts in 1989, Tim Ayres left England to pursue his studies at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Instead of returning a year later, as originally planned, he remained in The Netherlands. His work has since been on view in a number of continental museums, amongst others Kunstmuseum Bern, Museum Wiesbaden, The Museum for Contemporary Art Oslo, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which also holds major paintings of the artist in its collection. Since his departure from England, his work has rarely been seen in the UK; As Such And In As Much As represents his first solo show since he left for the continent. Although the works in this exhibition are all recent, the exhibition arguably provides a synopsis of the artist’s oeuvre. Key subjects with which Ayres has concerned himself with over the last 25 years form recurring elements in the show. Words, music and the grid structures are essential visual aspects which have been, and still are, significant to his practice.
Ayres had been engaged in poetry when he was young, but set aside the idea of becoming a writer after having read Eliot’s »The Waste Land«, assuming that he could never equal the seminal work. The artist’s profound relationship with the written word would present itself in an altogether different medium: phrases and fragments of text would manifest themselves in his painting. Some short and straightforward, others more elaborate and hermetic; often ironic and at times self-referential, as in I Wrote This Painting Sitting By My Pool (2015). There is a certain dryness to be found in his paintings and a sense of absurdity in the wording he uses, both on the paintings and their titles (which one may even identify as somewhat British). Rarely are the texts narrative or descriptive and never carry simple messages; the phrases rather trigger the imagination of the viewer. And moreover, the painted letters are in their essence an arrangement of abstracts lines and curves; they are compositional elements that form the image that is presented.
»The Waste Land« is still a point of reference. One of the grid paintings in the exhibition is titled The Hyacinth Girl (2014), drawing from the first part of the poem, The Burial Of The Dead. Not that a memento mori was needed; Ayres melancholic predisposition –a prevailing discourse in his work– may be proof enough for his consciousness regarding the transience of life. In 2012 a car crash would nearly kill the artist. With a back broken in three places he survived, the injuries forcing and initiating changes in his life as well as in his work. Amongst others, he switched from painting on the MDF panels that he had been using for years, to stretched canvases. The reasoning, first and foremost pragmatic: he could no longer manoeuvre the heavy wooden panels with ease. The outcome however was startling: His painting became more fluid, free, and at times even gestural. The former closed, flat surfaces are now open and alluring, resonant and seductive. “Dead Is Easy” he writes on a painting from 2014, whilst still being very much alive.
Other developments would see Ayres abandon a proportional system based on a panel size of 150 × 130 cm, for a protracted 1 × 1.5 ratio, which he takes from ‘classic’ 35mm photography. The proportion of the grids –the grids being a constant in Ayres’ oeuvre since the 1990’s– is still linked to those of the paintings. With The Hyacinth Girl (2014) and A Sound Is Made At Ten Minutes And Twelve Seconds (2015) the exhibition includes two works in which the grid is occupying the entire format, the outline overlapping the edges and the crossbars subdividing the surface in four equal measured parts. Here the grid seems to prove, guarantee, and moreover, symbolise stability; it is a metaphor for ordered structures as such. It is indeed a »fetish« of rationality, the very icon of enlightenment. But like rationality, the grid might collapse, the crossbars could drop out of their fixed positions and the painting would become an image of turmoil and disintegration. Since Collateral Damage, a work from 2000, the collapsing grid occasionally returns in Ayres’ works. However, its current incarnation, as used in the work Linger (Rated X, 2015), does not carry much of the desperate notion of structural failure that applied to earlier versions. Rather, the painting exudes a sense of physical ecstasy and a blatant sensuality.
Tim Ayres’ paintings are evocations, stirring images and sounds in the viewer, triggering the memory of songs, fragments from poems or half forgotten impressions. But most of all they are paintings; essentially they are what happens on their surface, between the layers of translucent or opaque paint and the linear compositions. It is the surface, which holds their quiet beauty.