It was late evening when I arrived with my little family at JFK airport NY, we were then driven out to Montauk to stay in a Stanford White House on a painters property whilst they were travelling in Italy. It was a muggy night and as we got to the coast we wound down our windows and the car filled with American salt. Eventually we moved off the road and wound our way up a leaf framed gravel drive way for what felt like those long minutes that only visit when paired with anticipation. The night was liquorice now but for the humming glow of light escaping from the leaded windows which played support for the warm pool of light pouring across the porch, down some stairs and onto the soft summer lawn.
We were met by Mason Saltarrelli, a guest in the house. Drenched in kindness he helped us with our luggage. Graciously surrendering his quiet occupancy, Mason showed us to our rooms, we were friends instantly. Mason Saltarrelli is an artist with a long tradition working with paper and raw canvas, working into the fibre with stains, with memory, with marks. Imbuing the material with a quiet, stoic and private language, a language clearly developed over a long passageway and coded across a most emblematic lexicon.
When looking at Saltarrelli’s iconography I think of notes on a page, I think of sea flags, I think of a location where music and the ocean intersect. I think of some kind of place where signals might be made, birthed, nurtured and pushed out across water with the hope that they might reach loved ones wherever they might be.
We shared a studio out there in Montauk, a studio with no roof, rough sawn timber under foot, Three jurassic walls and a divine rose garden of pink, yellow and white made up the fourth wall and it all took place above a large mass of water. Utilitarian in function the floors could be hosed and scrubbed down like the deck of a ship somehow extravagant in its economy of means. Mason would work from early evening well into the night and myself early morning and well into the day. We forged an easy rhythm of soft habits and this gave us a gentle and slow way in which to learn and digest each others work with the passage of time playing it’s part. We would often cross for a drink before Mason clocked on for his evening shift. We spoke freely in the way people speak when far from home away from the trappings and borders of our lives. One such evening I spoke to Mason of Jake Walker.
Jake is a painter of the emblematic, a communicator of inter-generational concerns around line and form. A painter on an insatiable pursuit, striving towards an ideal form, it came as no surprise to learn that he is the son of an architect. I bought a Jake Walker painting almost a decade ago, made in a period where the works presented a restless and vigorous pushing and exploitation of material to the point of plasticity. These works have a hard won resolve about them which I find completely intoxicating.
In more recent work we see a new intention around the support, the labour we see earlier on in the cancellation and layering of forms is now transposed into the preparation and care placed on the foundation of the very object. By the time it comes to lay down only minimal intervention is required giving way for ‘the deft touch’ meaning a new level of self trust and awareness is central to the process. We see new material and ephemera, shape and scale vary and we see a new economy in the application of paint. Hand built and fired clay frames are introduced, some with tubular elements protruding outward from the frame and away from the image. In a range of speckled and earthy glazes from a high keyed white, through earth tones and dropping into midnight black we are reminded of architecture, function and the domestic. A reduced pictorial syntax of iconography and marks give clarity in the way Walker is able to communicate with language of the past and bring that into a contemporary idea of process and image making.
The artist is inside, underneath and on the very idea of process. Studio detritus as much become the paintings as the paintings become them. Oily paint rags, knives, pallets, marks on floors and walls, shoe scuffs, even switches and doorways by osmosis enter the work… Jake is highly tuned and responsive to his environment that all these things that surround the work are undeniably in the work meaning, the two cannot be separated and this sort of mimicking speaks of intelligent and thoughtful painting.
Sails move across the the plane of a Louise Gresswell painting, I think of the stitching and repairing of a sail so it can once again fill with air, slap against the sky and carry us away. Louise Gresswell paintings work through and conceal the compartments of life, paramount to address yet too sacred to fully expose. Although luminous in colour I find Gresswell’s paintings enormously quiet, they are paintings I can trust. Louise is one of our great colourists, pairing hot and cool hues which reminds me of the values and cadences of pigment found across a Vuillard or a Bonnard. To call a Gresswell painting simply yellow or only pink would be as callous as calling the sky simply blue or the sea only green for what we actually find is a whole range of hues, stains, treatments and applications radiating a sophisticated and thoughtful understanding of colour and it’s ability to transform us.
Thick and sticky oil paint wrap and contour around the whole support from the edges, across the face (the edges are as important as the front) and occasionally falling into a recess or void burrowed out by the artist. They have a fantastic grubbiness about them, like tar, like molasses, like cake. The found object is present, the tradition of assemblage is present, the economy of Arte Povera is also present though however evident these tropes are, they disappear as quickly as they are identified and become emphatically new. Her work is imbued with long emotional provenance revealing things ‘felt’ from grief to the sublime.
The identity of Gresswell’s work is acutely aware of where it has been made. Dismantling, joining, repairing and the collaging of things owe debt to the studio environment and the discipline of collecting and archiving detritus. A library of personal collage material accumulates, the artist mining her own practice, nothing is wasted, everything is ground down and reduced into some kind of cerebral and physical stock and put back into future possibilities. We see these artefacts as they sparingly populate the paintings. Through a private passage the works gain a stability and defiant structural integrity. Nuance and intuition are at play and there is a clear and deep understanding of the self.
Like an acute flash of memory found in the powerful split seconds of a day dream Gresswell encourages us to access the other places of ourselves we too often discard. A way of coping with modernity is to tenderly patch, bandage, repair, and put things back together.