A group exhibition curated by Ruth Calland and co-selected with Mimei Thompson for Contemporary British Painting.

APT Gallery, 6 Creekside, Deptford, London SE8 4SA
Private view: Thursday 4th November 6pm – 9 pm.
Exhibition dates: 4 to 14 November 2021

Artists: Karl Bielik, Ruth Calland, Jules Clarke, Deb Covell, Gordon Dalton, Jeff Dellow, Natalie Dowse, Susan Gunn, Susie Hamilton, Ruth Philo, David Lock, Paula MacArthur, Sekai Machache, Andi Magenheimer, Enzo Marra, Monica Metsers, Paul Newman, Sikelela Owen, Chantal Powell, Cherelle Sappleton, Anna Sebastian, Sarah Sparkes, Harvey Taylor, Mimei Thompson, Casper White, Jonathan Waller, Joanna Whittle.

Darkness at Noon:

The experience of feeling ‘in the dark’ about what is happening, is part of a Nigredo phenomenon: the term used by alchemists for a time of falling apart, putrefaction, chaos, contradiction, paralysis and closeness to death. Darkness at Noon explores the Covid-19 pandemic as a nigredo phase, in a wider process of transformation, and reverberates with a sense of the paradoxical in our times: the coexistence of anxiety and stillness, doom and hope, fracture and heightened connectivity. A show of mainly paintings, enriched by sculpture and film, many of the works seem haunted by an awareness of loss, impending or already dealt. This show elegantly weaves themes relating to the personal, social, and global effects of Covid. Sikelela Owen’s monumental picture of her family overseas is a testament to enduring connection during separation. Ruth Calland’s monochrome scenes, from horror films made during the Spanish flu, point to the unifying nature of a widespread fear of disease and sickness.

The American writer James Elkins likened artists to alchemists, each working at and into their chosen materials, bringing deep personal integrity to their exploration of process. Here we see the work of 27 artists in response to the pandemic and its context, at the intersections of medical, ecological and social disaster, engaged with soul-searching, and mapping this valley of shadows.

This moment is both ‘now’ in an existential battle with demons internal and external, and also a sudden return to a sense of history, as we stand newly in relation to previous plagues and pandemics. Reworking images of antiquity, Jonathan Waller’s funerary pieces and Casper White’s spectral paintings hold a dual sense of disconnection from and connectedness to the temporal. The exhibition returns us to ourselves as spinners of ritual, myth and the archetypal, as in Jo Whittle’s image of an eerily-lit altar in a forest, and Chantal Powell’s sculpted alchemical totems.

Both Whittle’s and Sarah Sparkes’ diminutive images remind us that our personal worlds have been shrunk in these times to the confines of our own homes, a recipe for mental strain, and depict hallucinatory moments of ceremony and structures of ghostly significance, vibrating with the drama of the uncanny. Under pressure and anxiety, we seek solace and escape, and Enzo Marra’s dark compressed image looks as if it were made as part of a magical spell to undo our misfortune.

A silver, cracked piece by Susan Gunn seems to speak of emotional shattering: if this painting had a soundtrack it would be a single high pitched note, disappearing into a void. Gordon Dalton’s painting of an impenetrable tower sums up the prison-like experience of lockdown, with a sense of paralysis also evident in the meditative work of both Jules Clarke and Jeff Dellow. Chaos becomes surreal, or absurd, in the work of Paul Newman, David Lock and Cherelle Sappleton. The world turned upside down, and rearranged in ways unfathomable only yesterday. The familiar made unfamiliar and challenging us to keep up and assimilate the new, and the newly seen or acknowledged, as the medieval alchemists would have fought to do in the midst of seemingly failing, confused, and prolonged experiments.

Sikelela Owen

It is not surprising that waters of all kinds are present here, given the linking of our fates with those overseas, the fluidity of emotional states, the watery effect of Covid on the lungs. Harvey Taylor’s painting of a calm and frothy sea suggests the patience and endurance of the planet beyond the human, and reminds us of what connect and divides us – when the spread of Covid has used our global mobility against us, and how we struggle to shift our behaviours around culture and race, and the wellbeing of other nations. Sekai Machache’s moving film The Divine Sky connects the liquidity of sea and paint and speaks powerfully and poetically to the need for healing, whilst Anna Sebastian places human presence and natural lake scene in dramatic juxtaposition, mediated by the mystery of divine geometry. Tender poetry suffuses Monica Metsers’ surreal arrangement of sea forms.

A nearness to death is pervasive; implicit in Susie Hamilton’s nightmarish images of Covid wards, and Ruth Philo’s piece made in grief for her daughter. There are also moments of resilience: exuberance from Karl Bielik, and whimsical dark humour such as Andi Magenheimer’s Funeral for a Mouse.

Natalie Dowse’s forest at night lit by car headlights could be a scene from a horror film, yet Mimei Thompson’s sensually painted Cave (Seeker) gives us a sense that, as in alchemical work, there might be hope within the darkness. Paula MacArthur’s luminous multifaceted crystal forms shine purposefully from their dark setting, and Deb Covell’s piece, the hardened set of soft metallic drip and fold, suggests both the end of a process and the possibility of further forms to be evolved, reminding us of the always provisional nature of our own progress.

Darkness at Noon Catalogue

An accompanying catalogue is available for this exhibition here.