On Painting, Part 2: Peter Kinley & Paul Winstanley
It is unusual to find paintings by Peter Kinley and Paul Winstanley on show together. Viennese-born Kinley studied at St Martin's in the early 50s with Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. Until his untimely death in 1988, he had been living and working in England, making paintings daring in their simplicity. The pictures are schematic, pursuing the essence of that which they depict. Eliminating perspective, they pare down the depiction of their subjects to their fundamental shapes. His paintings owe much to Matisse and de Staël. They aspire to a childlike vision of the world and also look to non-Western art forms for inspiration - Indian painting was an important influence.
Having studied painting at the Slade in the 70s, Paul Winstanley comes from an entirely different generation. His work confronts a crisis in painting. Engaging with photography and video, his pictures deliberately confuse painting's ontology. Winstanley plays with mimesis and mediation: his art offers an interesting twist to the role of the photo-realist painter, fastidiously rendering blurred video stills of such scenes as the interiors of cafés and restaurants.
While Winstanley's subjects are fairly nondescript, Kinley's resemble those which might be found in a young child's colouring book: two cows, a house and hedge, a rabbit, a warplane, a submarine. Behind the simplicity of Kinley's subjects and style lie evident struggles: seeking the essential shapes of things from memory, it often takes a whole series to get it right. They can also offer up some rather idiosyncratic visions of things. The essential shape of Two Red and White Cows (1980) is two box-like bodies without legs and two wedge-shaped heads. When we see the complete shape of an animal, legs and all, as in Rabbit (1980), we are to infer the animal is dead, laid out flat against its grass background. And his pictures are not without humour: In Four Geese (1979), for instance, the canvas is cluttered with a noisy gaggle, the geese all jumbled up in a circle, beaks and feet facing outwards.
For Kinley, painting is a process of distillation, a means of seeking a particular truth tied up with the belief in an innocent eye, a purity of vision. Winstanley's work, on the other hand, can be said to exploit the impurities of photo-mechanical vision. It involves recording scenes with a video camera, then photographing stills from the video and painting from these images. The resultant paintings appear out of focus, foregrounding the deterioration of image quality from the various processes. All detail and colour is lost, muted. It is his evident fascination for lighting effects that gives his pictures their life: daylight filters through vertical blinds and over café tables, reflective surfaces appear again and again, and special attention is given to light as it is refracted and reflected in glassware. Two paintings of a similar interior appear to fix moments from a camera pan. Paired, these works allow us to follow the sweeping path of the camera's movement across the room, and across the surface of the pictures.
Winstanley's one 'landscape' in the show pulls us into the space of the painting. Painted not from video but from a photographic snapshot taken from a car window, the blurred expanse of a road recedes into the picture - a barren landscape with a dull overcast sky. The paintings invite comparison with Gerhard Richter's, but the latter's blurring takes place on the surface, through a smudging of paint. There is no hint of painterly surface incident in Winstanley's pictures: they are as resolutely matt as a photograph, the only gestural occurrence being the video camera's path through space.
While purity and simplification are hardly the touchstones of Winstanley's work, there is a surprising affective potentiality to his pictures of unpeopled places. This aura, like that of Kinley's works, stems from a lack of definition, but this time because of photomechanical reproduction. The blurred images actually welcome memory and invite reflection. It is with such responses to the work that one begins to see how these two artists are not so alien to each other after all.
First published in Issue 18