Ffiona Lewis – Tide Lines but also flowers

Ffiona is currently holding her fifth solo exhibition with the gallery. For this showing, the artist has focused on broadly maritime themes that sit particularly well with the gallery’s St Ives location, however she still harnesses the still life and deals with flowers such as in ‘Hemlock Chalice’ below.

It’s interesting to re-visit the catalogue essay from the last show when looking at this work.

On the Table: Collage and Painting

‘It is working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How can one get through that wall? Since hammering on it doesn’t help at all. In my view, one must undermine the wall, and grind through it slowly and patiently.’ (Van Gogh, letter to Theo.) In Ffiona Lewis’s show, a slow and patient process is revealed. She has always been a maker of cards, whether birthday or thank you offerings. This has been a major starting point for this body of predominantly interior still lifes. Both worlds share their socialness, their tributes to friendship and events around tables.

The starting blocks are small collages (‘Single Bloom’), manageable, and very importantly, quick to finish. Lewis’s familiar vocabulary is here glued down at the table. Flower shapes, receipts, napkins, sugar in paper sachets – all testimony to things that have happened, arranged into a series of planes, edges and colours with the inherent surprises and enrichment of the collage process.

In tandem with the collages, Lewis remains deeply influenced by her long exploration of flowers. Like other work ‘on the table’, these bouquet offerings are not nature studies, but memories of events and circumstances. Nature is then a springboard into colour. ‘New Rose Cuttings’, with its lustrous red blooms and dark raw umber and olive greens becomes its own investigation, transforming nature’s colour balance into oil paint on board. A quick glance at the work on show might suggest a fork – flower paintings, which retain Lewis’s strong figuration, and the series of apparently more abstract work, clearly related to her collages.

This would be an oversimplification. In ‘Still Life with Broad Bean’, Lewis shows the intimacy of a small table, its cloth and a series of abstracted planes which we can imagine as the leftovers of some event. The work is then anchored by the beans, which we can identify, slightly preposterous, slightly humorous, testaments to something remembered.

‘Glass on Nappery, Indian Yellow’ is not seen by Lewis as an abstraction. It is evidence of a new relationship with colour, mined from the collage and flower paintings. Paint is applied in blocks, but then scraped back in a series of edits to reveal under-painting of lime greens and turquoise blues.

These bigger paintings are informed by the smaller oil studies, back and forth. The balances Lewis sees in nature must be worked out. A plane of white goblet in ‘Still Life – Café 6!’ must be restrained with the tone of its context. It is a work of establishing foregrounds and avoiding ‘splintering’ the composition’s unity.

For Lewis, ‘On the Table’ is not a series of compositions. It is her latest report on the slow and patient process Van Gogh describes. It is a theatre of conversations around the stage of the table, as well as a series of spatial concoctions. For the viewer, it is the product of a discipline of finishing.

CNK, August 2014.

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