This online exhibition has been curated to coincide with Eleanor McEvoy’s latest album ‘Gimme Some Wine’, the title track of which inspired this last great series of paintings on a theme by Chris Gollon (1953-2017), culminating, after many and various studies, in an exquisitely touching ‘Final Version’. But that’s the end – we should start at the beginning with ‘Study on Canvas (II)’, 2017, which sets the scene.
Sensitive portrayals of women had always played a large part in Gollon’s oeuvre – MRB
A tabletop is littered with the paraphernalia of drinking, harshly illuminated by a glaring electric light bulb, a half-full decanter of red wine, six half-empty glasses, two knaves of hearts, all set against a louring midnight-blue background. Playing cards frequently occur in Gollon’s work, a reminder that life’s a chancy business. Incidentally, McEvoy and Gollon were both admirers of Picasso’s Blue Period; intense blue, brushed through with a scumbling of turquoise are the dominant colours in a great many of the Studies.
A large cast of characters comes and goes. Mainly women, they range from the cheerful to the melancholic, from the grief-stricken to the resigned. In ‘Study on Paper (VI)’, 2016, the woman is accompanied by a dog whose soulful expression matches her own. She cradles the dog’s head in one arm, her other arm, terminating in an enormous skeletal hand, encircles a half-empty glass of wine, a decanter comfortingly close by. The oversized hands in several of the Studies is another reference to Picasso – in particular, his tragic portrait of ‘The Old Guitarist’, 1903-04.
Sensitive portrayals of women had always played a large part in Gollon’s oeuvre, and the two years of boundary-crossing with Eleanor McEvoy increased that sensitivity. The ‘Gimme some Wine’ series is the climax of a nineteen-year interest in artistic boundary-crossing, having previously collaborated with Thurston Moore and the Chinese classical virtuoso Yi Yao.
Gollon’s work should be seen in the context of North European Painting. He is heir to the tradition which produced painters such as Breughel and Bosch, with whom he shares a desire to expose man’s capacity for folly. Beckmann’s disaster-laden triptychs also come to mind, as do the sinuous figures of El Greco.
Unpeopled studies also occur in which the decanter and glasses perform a stately minute against a dark background, sometimes illuminated by a single light bulb, more often by a watery moon. In several of them, the carafe takes on a life of its own, bending and stretching until finally, in desperation, cork flies out. Gollon has inserted a playing card in every one of this series just to make sure that we, too, are still playing the game.
Quite different in colour, with a consequent change in mood, are two tall seated figures: ‘Gimme Some Wine (Male & Female Versions), 2016. The dark brown acrylic paint (male) is brushed onto the canvas with great sweeping strokes; a lighter, orangey-brown oil paint (female) is brushed onto the canvas with smaller, circular strokes. The colour is a nod in the direction of Rembrandt, another of Gollon’s painter-heroes. Although the pose is hieratic, there is nothing heroic about the crumpled suits and dejected air of the couple. He is literally worn down by grief, tears pouring from his eyes, but he will be redeemed by LOVE, which is referred to in wobbly letters encircling the decanter and glass on a small table at his side. A tiny playing card, the ace of hearts half-hidden, offers a beacon of hope for his future. No such reprieve for his partner, however, whose profile shows despairing acquiescence in her doom, whatever it may be, betokened by the ace of clubs.
Gollon’s way with acrylic was particularly innovative: he used a mixture of Old Master techniques – very thin glazes alongside spray paints and even printmakers’ rollers to achieve his powerful imagery.
The crescendo of this series is reached in ‘Gimme some Wine (The Party)’, 2017, although nobody appears to be enjoying themselves very much. Four of the women from the Studies reappear here, one staring at her palm as if trying to divine her future, another gazing mournfully into space, yet another passed clean out, her unconscious hand round the decanter just to make sure. A sinister ritual is taking place off to one side: what appears to be a voodoo figure is making obeisance to what may be a headless chicken; equally possibly, it can be read as a traditional Madonna and Child.
The Queen of Spades is the genius presiding over this unedifying scene. The theme and variations now having come to a climax of joyless enjoyment in ‘The Party’, Gollon gives us peace and resolution in ‘Gimme Some Wine (Final Version)’, 2017. The ugly drunk has metamorphosed into a serene sleeper, and there we leave her, poised on the edge of darkness. The Queen of Spades, illuminated by a naked electric bulb, has accompanied her here, a silent witness to her dreamless sleep.
Words: Mary Rose Beaumont Photos Courtesy IAP Fine Art