Terri Apter 2019
Terri Apter, Ph.D. is a psychologist, writer and former Senior Tutor at Newnham College, Cambridge.
Concerning Andrew Aarons exhibition “Buy Before I Die” March 2019 Menier Gallery, London.
This exhibition shows a marked departure from Andrew Aarons’ past works – though these themselves have varied across the six decades. It is impossible to draw a simple line of style, subject or palette because these are often layered, but my first introduction to his work was through the clean bright lines of familiar cityscapes, where the ordinary was cherished, the light sharp and inviting. This loving focus on the ordinary emerged, too, in the hair salon paintings where rituals of grooming were celebrated. Heart-stopping, vivid landscapes, particularly of France, followed; then came the tender renditions of Newmarket scenes. Here horse and rider and groomer were at one, all sharing a single purpose. In the midst of these painting were prints suggesting sexual attraction, receptiveness and comedy. Then came the darker images clearly associated with the Holocaust.
The paintings and prints on display at the Menier Gallery might startle those familiar with his previous work. The usual band of colour is replaced by a dark shape in the foreground that suggests menace and mechanism. “Almost Black and White” is a title they share, but the title is an artist’s tease. This artist sees a mass of colour in both black and white, while often paint itself leaps from the frame, yet another way of drawing the viewer in.
Almost Black and White no. 8 provides a very clear model of the repeating image. The dark horizontal sweep in the upper part of the painting seems to be in the foreground, but as you follow it down, without any clues of ordinary perspective, it recedes in the lower quarter, while two horizontal lines (slightly curved) score the middle. Within this “almost black and white” are gradations of grey, the “white” is never white but suffused with darkness, and there are several slashes of blood red. In Almost Black and White No. 9, the paint strokes have a hurried sketch-like quality, but their control is evident as that dominating form appears in the process of dissolution, as though enveloped by the brown background. In Almost Black and White No. 10 that repeated (albeit with much variation) image is more fluid, and the red marks both the foreground and the space beyond it. A blue is contained in the “almost white” mixes, and, in one crescent at the lower left hand corner, combines with the red to become a calming purple.
My favourite is Almost Black and White No. 15 where the sweeping lines of the dark figure extend beyond the frame. The lines are full of movement, and the entire painting spins, part dance, part storm. Through the paint we can see to the paper base, with its newsprint look, sporting “For Rent” ads, a reminder of how big questions about survival and immediate concerns are rarely separated.
Of course Andrew Aarons himself might dispute this discourse. At the opening of the exhibition I heard him reply to questions about the meaning of his new work: “The meaning is the image; there is no meaning beyond that.” And for the artist who sees meaning in images, who thinks through images, that can be the case; but for many of us, talking about what we see in paintings is an enjoyable exercise.