4th June - 19th July 2015
The press release introducing RITES, the Edinburgh-born artist Peter Davies' fourth exhibition in The Approach, made much of the notion that while these new monochromatic abstract paintings had a "graphic appearance in reproduction", they were more "tactile" when viewed first-hand.
This wasn't a declaration backed up by my own first inspection, visible brushstrokes - even at the closest quarters - being at a premium. It all meant that as intrigued as I was by the distinctive process of making these paintings initially by collage conveyed onto blank canvas via a projector, such was their outward appearance from afar that simple screen printing would have affected a barely different outcome.
However, I certainly hadn't anticipated the sheer, unadulterated blankness of these blank canvasses - utterly raw and unprimed beneath the painted grey, albeit faultlessly stretched. The aforementioned 'tactility' also becomes more evident on witnessing certain pieces across the space - all mysterious thrown shapes and dark, protruding shadows.
There are no wall labels or captions identifying the images, their lack of even names of their own further accentuating that this is a group to be appreciated as one, its constituent members unable to be fully appreciated separately.
The association to be made by many observers will be with Henri Matisse's '50s cut-outs, only for their greyscaled palette to render them the black sheep of that particular family - or a murkier underbelly. Nonetheless, all manner of associations can be made here with wider Modernism, formalism and conceptualism, in which Davies has shown ample proficiency in his career to date.
Although the setting for RITES - above a humble pub in a still slightly rough-around-the-edges Bethnal Green - might speak of a certain 'salt of the earth' warmth and distance from the contemporary art elite, the space is nonetheless a fairly nondescript white cube.
Some of the squarer graphics here give the sense of the ghosts of Tectonic plates, rubbing along uneasily. Among the more jagged of these shapes, it is tumult and even violence that are principally communicated. These qualities could have their origins just as easily in 'nature' as in the human hand - if such a distinction can even be made.
For all of the claims of 'tactility', Davies has seemingly aimed for the utmost flatness in his application of paint, even as bobbles and bumps do show up as a seemingly inevitable part of the process. Nor are the bare canvasses a continuous, immaculate shade, with apparent little dots and nooks appearing amid the grain. Not-altogether-intended dust, dirt or even paint? It's hard to tell.
Much emphasis on contrast prevails - some pieces seeming to be dominated by the canvas, others by the paint. A couple of the pieces seem to relate to their counterparts in closest proximity - or do they? Am I the chief participant at this point, teasing out similarities only discerned or cared about by me? Perhaps Davies took a resolutely unplanned approach to the positioning of canvases?
And yet, even the most minor background details of these pieces' production seem to beg for interpretation at the centre stage. The collage-projector method of working, for instance, points to a dimension of respectively blocking out or allowing light. It is also possible to see hints of the pen outline where Davies has traced the projected images onto the canvas, prior to painting them in.
Sure, there may be much about RITES that appears to say very little - right down to the nonplussed exhibition space and the manner of the pieces' installation. But perhaps by saying very little about some things, art can actually communicate more.