‘Perhaps all these Grids will begin to be finished together. They are there to be done. At the beginning of the 20th Century: Cubism. The beginning of THIS Century: the Grids. Well, I wonder. Do you really think so? Perhaps. Just go on working. Head down.’
(John Kingerlee, entry from his Journal of Work, 15 July 2003)
The series of grid paintings John Kingerlee has been working on since the year 2000 represent the apex of his achievement, both as a superlative technician and as a visionary artist. Each of his grids may be comprised of up to 50 layers of paint and will literally take years to complete, allowing for the fact that each coat needs time to dry before the next one is applied. In the early stages he uses bright colours, but he progressively adds more white to his paints as he loves the subtlety of reduced colour. The process is one of endlessly hiding and revealing, as each layer responds differently to its neighbour, breaking through the surface perhaps or even blending with a new skin of pigment. The unhurried addition of so many layers can be likened to the laying down of geological strata, as seen for example in the rock-strewn landscape surrounding Kingerlee’s home on West Cork’s Beara peninsula.
The Grids ultimately pay tribute to the prismatic disintegration and reassembly of everyday objects by the Cubist masters, Picasso and Braque, at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. Comparisons can also be drawn with the Harmonies of Paul Klee and the heavily impasted abstracts of Nicolas de Stael. But Kingerlee is far from being a mere follower. He uses colour and touch, whether wielding a palette knife or a brush, with great subtlety, and the intended effect is ultimately one of meditative calm. His grids evoke a serenity that belies, in an astonishing perceptive ‘leap’, the near three-dimensionality of their accreted surfaces.
Kingerlee views each grid cell as a miniature landscape. The present work is one of his larger and more complex grids comprising four horizontal rows of seven cells, followed by two rows of eight cells each. Close scrutiny of the surface reveals the enormous sensuous pleasure the artist derives from the manipulation of oil paint which, as he knows so well, is capable of an infinite variety of effects, many of them completely unpredictable. On the other hand, standing further back from the painting allows us to take pleasure in the rich harmonies that unify its colours and shapes. For the artist, the ability to perceive and suggest the Unity of all things is a cornerstone of his spiritual beliefs.
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