James Lumsden 'Reflex' @ Sarah Myerscough Gallery

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

James Lumsden 'Reflex' @ Sarah Myerscough Gallery

Postby CAP » Tue Apr 21, 2015 12:53 pm

Unfortunately I’m too slow to review this show while it was running (6th March - 2nd April). Shame. But it’s still worth a mention, if only to watch for the artist in future. The rest of the gallery stable are none too thrilling, but Lumsden strikes me as worth a little more attention. I was trying to review some different galleries for a change, to break out of the comfortable circuit one lapses into after a while. There are something like 200 galleries listed in London these days – even checking out web sites gets to be a daunting task, much less trying to navigate between promising locations. Anyway, after looking at around a dozen or so I was struck by how much abstract painting was on display. Not that abstraction has ever really gone away, but it looks like a lot of the cutesier figuration might have. The Post Modernist thing might have finally run out of steam – finally. New York critic Jerry Saltz, reporting on German art fairs found something similar – the trend to abstraction seems to be everywhere, for some reason. And it’s selling and re-selling briskly. It’s hard to explain critically, which has critics like Walter Robinson (another New Yorker) declaring it ‘Zombie Formalism’ – harking back to moribund formal issues from the sixties, and while there are certainly a few pushing the Minimalist tip again (without too much return for the viewer) a lot of it also seems post Richter/Polke/Oehlen – quite a different trajectory. I spent too much time trying to write about this, but it does at least give me a vantage point from which to assess someone like Lumsden, who as far as I can see, has flown under the critical radar for about a dozen years.

Is Lumsden a Zombie Formalist? No, but it’s puzzling why he hasn’t attracted the attentions of someone like a Stefan Simchowitz (notorious Los Angeles patron of ZF). The ZF template is really someone like Oscar Murillo, Lucien Smith, Israel Lund or Jacob Kassay – much more stripped down, more austere but with a kind of technical indifference or detachment that registers as false or faux grit (could pretty much sum up American art in the 21st century). Lumsden probably seems too crafty with his infinite and intricate glazings, too lush with his super-saturated blues and purples, too romantic in a fairly straightforward, non-theoretical way. But on the other hand, he works mostly around easel scale (a key indicator), the work has a distinctly technical and photographic quality (could almost be the products of Photoshop or science imaging) almost certainly derives from Richter at some point and composition for some time has been seriously serial. The guy ought to be a candidate. But these things are never straightforward, there’s always a certain amount of art world politics involved.

He’s an Edinburgh-based painter, around 51 years old and from what I can see on the CV didn’t attend art school, or none worth mentioning, no college group shows to speak of. This too, has to be a good thing. It might explain why the work has such a direct and diligent approach, why it might seem a bit romantic or uncool by London post-grad standards. The derivation from Richter too could be a sticking point, but Lumsden is now some distance from the drag-and-blur meister, largely through drawing. Shapes may start out being squeegee’d into place or generating vacancies or irregularities to the picture surface but Lumsden nurtures these into something else, vaguely volumes, vaguely patterns, vaguely in or out of focus, often sinking into a monochrome abyss. Sometimes they look like medical scans or molecular modelling and this to some extent explains and abets the somewhat shrill, synthetic-feeling palette. The work is dealing in realms we readily consign to the abstract by their exoticism or obscurity, but they have their rules, their lenses and events. The artist in statements acknowledges a sense of motion in places attributed to the blurring, as does Richter. But unlike Richter, the sense is not of massive erasure or concealment but here to counterpoint more static or sharper focussed shapes, to create differences or relations within the objects and setting. Sometimes the blurring models or grades an object with tone, sometimes it places it out of focus and sometimes it places it in motion.

This makes it seem much less abstract of course, at least by Minimalist or absolutist standards, but what is being abstracted is really the kind of screen-based imagery we think of starting from photography and x-rays and has grown exponentially with the digital era. More advanced or arcane realms may seem quite arbitrary in their rules, but as we track them slowly back to more familiar and realistic realms, it is hard to spot where nature ends and culture begins. For all Lumsden’s patient craft, this seems to me what makes his abstraction new and interesting. 8-)
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