DAVID GARLAND

3 - 24 May 2006

 

David Garland combines the painter’s eye with the ceramicist’s hand and now he has united them to new and powerful effect. His heroic vessels, high-sided containers or great platters, fit for a harvest of olives or a tree’s worth of pickled lemons - they irresistibly conjure up ancient eastern Mediterranean feasts - achieve a grandeur and certainty of touch for which his earlier work has been the preparation.

There is a strong link with stone (his mother was a stone carver), the great pots being virtually sculpted after they have been thrown, built up in two or even more lifts as they extend, some tall and straight-sided, others rounder and more gently graduated. In many, the clay has been sheered back, at the very last moment, causing the pot to taper down into almost vertiginous slenderness - a meticulously calculated relationship between eye and balance. David Garland professes a fascination with ancient engineering sleights of hand - the small marvel of corbel stones, slipped nonchalantly into the masonry but supporting great weight on (apparently) little or the seeming inversion of sturdy Egyptian temple columns, teetering on little bases, like a woman in most unsuitable heels.

David Garland has also adjusted his palette; a chance glimpse of a glorious sixth century Chinese bowl alerted him to the possibilities of black and white ceramics. In certain pieces he applies a lacquer-smooth black glaze, its unbroken surface sheered into by no more than a mere vertical sliver, a shaft of moonlit through heavy curtains, or a horizontal slash, a near-eclipse, unveiling a glimpse of fir green or dark brown loam beyond the nocturnal solidity of the glaze. There is, for me, a reminder here of mezzotint, velvet density intensifying every tiny, subtle possibility that light provides.

But nor is David Garland the colourist lost. On huge pale cream dishes, purposeful black lines mark off small blocks of intense red or burnt sienna, earthy origins conveyed by grain as well as tone. Sketched out in oil pastel in the studio, something of that quality of svelte grittiness reemerges on the fired earthenware. Other vessels are marked by generous dabs of colour, cream or russet, or striations scored at angles through the bitumen-thick dark glaze. Despite the pull to abstraction, he intends that his wax resist or sgrafitto embellishments should hint at a story - of trees, muses or man-made structures as the case may be. The contrast between these more extrovert pieces, with their figurative allusions and half-hidden textures, so inviting to close examination, and the spare calm of their companions, is, he says, analogous to music where a composer may be expressionistic and exuberant, but then alter the mood of a piece to melody or stillness in an instant - contrast at will, even within a single piece.

David Garland senses he had been holding back, pacing and even limiting himself in scale and ambition until recently. In the studio he stops beside one piece - ‘I love that - how nice that I can say it.’ If the momentum and self confidence are their own, well deserved, rewards for an artist at the peak of his powers, the work which results is ours.

Gillian Darley

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