Karsten Schubert London is pleased to present 51º43 33.56 N 3º07 58.63 W, a solo exhibition of new paintings by Onya McCausland.
Throughout her career McCausland has worked almost exclusively in monochrome, pursuing an understanding of mark-making that rejects a dependency on colour, specifically its associations within the realm of formal abstraction. Her practice seeks to capture the essence of her materials, allowing her to draw and paint with a sense of weightlessness both in terms of legacy and physicality.
In 2014 McCausland embarked on a project working with the Coal Authority to collect and recycle the natural ochres present in the waste water that flushes through defunct mines, a material that would otherwise be sent to landfill. The ripple effects of this research have been far-reaching, positively impacting local communities, who are now involved in the manufacturing of the waste minerals into oil colours and an emulsion paint that is the very first of its kind. For McCausland, the launch of these rich, chromatic paints is but one of many creative outcomes of her wide-ranging, investigative practice. Perhaps the most pertinent, while minimal in its intervention, is the Six Bells mine site in Wales being recognised as a work of land art by the Coal Authority in 2020. This change of status, and the reclaiming of this land as a public resource, is a remarkable achievement at a time when we are being urged to rethink our attitudes towards environmental sustainability.
For 51º43 33.56 N 3º07 58.63 W, McCausland will show paintings that have been made using two of the five ochres her research brought to bear: Six Bells and Saltburn. Their colours are defined by the immediate geology and minerals present in the mines they originate from, giving each pigment unique properties and hues. For example, the intensity of colour in Saltburn 54º34 07.37 N 0º57 42.87 W / No. 3 is achieved through a meticulous process of layering film upon film of diluted paint until the desired luminosity is attained. As the density of colour increases, so does its vibrancy, thus altering its appearance without the need for mixing. The work is a compelling study of colour, line and form that conveys a sense of the infinite, diverting the eye from foreground to background in a way that is both unsettling and visually pleasing.
In Saltburn 54º34 07.37 N 0º57 42.87 W / No. 10, 11 and 12 McCausland describes a spatial orientation across multiple small-scale canvases that references a view of the earth from above, echoing the way she first discovered the mine water sites via satellite imagery. These paintings are not intended as descriptions of landscapes, and other than in their titles they do not tell the viewer anything of their origins; nonetheless, their complexity of colour perfectly embodies each site and its history.
This is the first time that pigments sourced from these five disused mines have been used to make paintings, and in that sense they are truly radical. But for McCausland, it is the way they fit within a cycle of research, creativity and social change that underpins their value. Ultimately, her interest lies in the way the Six Bells land art, its sustainable paint production and her studio practice have poetically overlapped her desire for balance between material and subject.
Press release courtesy Karsten Schubert London.