Shadows & Reflections - Christopher Page7 October - 11 November 2021
In Shadows & Reflections, Christopher Page deepens his investigations into the effects of light on surfaces and the dialogue between pictorial and architectural space. He conjures a psychologically and philosophically charged exhibition through a dyadic suite of paintings, comprising unnervingly blank 'mirrors' on the one hand, and colourful paintings of framed 'paintings' on the other.
Both series are illusions-entirely flat, oil-painted canvases masquerading as joinery, glass, passe-partout, light and shadow. And yet, these paintings are not trompe l'oeil in the traditional sense. These are hard-edged compositions of 'colour fields' that look as much to Modernist abstraction as they do to Baroque illusion. In Page's hands this combination has a distinctly digital air.
The admixture of abstraction and trompe l'oeil on a single canvas borders on the paradoxical. While trompe l'oeil paintings are of interest precisely because they deny their true surface, masquerading as things which they are not-a fine wooden panel with objects pinned to it, say-Modernist abstractions, by and large, wish to be seen for exactly what they are, namely paint on a surface. And yet, in marrying these strange bedfellows, Page exposes some deep affinities between them. They are both self-reflexive modes of painting (they are paintings about painting), they are life-size and 'in the room' and they both engage the body of the beholder in space as much as the eye and the mind.
Page's paintings are both 'in the room' and strangely absent. In the illusory sheen of a mirror, are we looking at a surface that is close to us, or through the surface into deep pictorial space? Perhaps both, or neither. The gestural 'paintings' floating within the phantom frames are in fact painted, gesturally, whilst simultaneously being set back within a virtual space that calls their facticity into question. They are both fact and fiction. It is in this undecidability, in the visual and ontological slippage, that the power of Page's work resides.
While highly conscious of art history, Page's work is ultimately oriented towards the world we inhabit today. His paintings help us to refocus our attention on our everyday visual landscape, where artifice abounds and the legacy of Modernism repeatedly collapses into tromp l'oeil deceptions. This is no more evident than on the screens of our computers and smartphones, whose design language is at pains to appear rational and Modern, whilst also being gilded with the Baroque illusions of virtual depth, false textures, shadows and reflections.
For if Modernist abstraction attempted to make us see the paint for what it is-not look through it, but at it-what does it mean to now reframe this kind of painting within a new illusion? If much Modernist painting was tethered to a wider architectural and political project that hoped to dispense with the illusions of tradition and build society anew on rational grounds, might Page's paintings be seen as a lament at Modernism's failure and subsequent perversion, and at our own acquiescence to the new illusions of a pseudo-Modern world?