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Lighting the Shadows

By Greg Thomas, 05.09.2023
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Images by Mike Bolam courtesy of Cample Line.

“Light changes everything,” says Rowan Mace in a film accompanying her current show at Cample Line, part of a double header with painter Amy Winstanley. Mace’s delicate, listing sculptures fill the upper floor of the converted agricultural building, set at waist height on simple wooden plinths, except for a single piece in powder pink on a little floating shelf. Five sturdier, squatter constructions nestle in a downstairs bookshelf, basking in the ambience of Winstanley’s abstract landscapes.

Trained as a painter, Mace began working in sculpture as a way of concentrating the points of dramatic tension between the different tones applied to her canvases. What if that meeting point also connected two planes in space? Her materials are strips and scraps of wood, including plenty of found materials such as skirting and plyboard. These are used to create whimsical little geometric constructions, often structurally tenuous: all tilting verticals and toppling horizontals, like collapsing children’s dens. These are playful, gently anarchic containers for Mace’s intersecting colour fields.

And what colours: pale, luminous, lively. Blues, greens, lemons, and oranges, with flashes of deeper, brighter pinks, and a nook of brown or royal blue here and there. In her artist’s video Mace talks about the pleasure of meditating on colour in nature, trying to work out exactly what shade you’re seeing in a plant or flower, for example. It’s as if her palette is the result of isolating all the most psychoactive points on the spectrum discovered during those reveries. An accompanying essay by writer Rhian Williams points out that, living in the West of Scotland as the artist does, one becomes something of a sun-worshipper: hyper-alert to the emotive effects of light.

Perhaps that’s why there’s something mutable about Mace’s colours, too. Light changes everything, as she says. She only works in summer, when she knows the quality of light will help her to render the exact mood she is looking for. Walking round the first-floor gallery on a bright but periodically cloudy day, the viewer might well be struck by how the atmosphere shifts as the sky grows darker, tones suddenly flattening out. Indeed, the arrangement of colours on adjacent surfaces pays dramatic homage to the interplay of light and shadow, as if the different hues were the effect of one plane being saturated in sun while another, next to it, is shielded.

Images by Mike Bolam courtesy of Cample Line.

All of Mace’s works in this show are untitled. She is keen to avoid any implication that the pieces can be ‘read,’ interpreted as a narrative on this or that theme. Bearing that in mind, it’s remarkable how colour alone, coupled with a sense of theatrically exaggerated shadow play, can activate such emotional intensity. The three-dimensional qualities of the works enhance these emotive effects, performing a tension between movement and stasis, solidity and fragility. Mace was raised in Cornwall, and there’s something of the spirit of St.-Ives-group geometric abstraction in evidence. At the same time, the use of found objects – as if the pieces were made using the detritus of a home renovation – has a more comic, Dadaish quality, in the vein of Kurt Schwitters’s bricolage.

There’s also a biographical trace, something that alludes to the unselfconscious creativity of childhood, in the way these rackety conceits come together. Everything is wobbling, subsiding, with little appendages perched on top like that last, fatal addition to a house of cards or stack of dominos. Glue keeps it all together, like air-fix models. Williams talks of the artist’s father “giving her matchsticks and Cow Gum to play and ‘make things with’ when she was young.” There’s a strong element of play at work in this show—of loss-of-self in the joy of making.

Images by Mike Bolam courtesy of Cample Line.

This is an exhibition which has nothing, as such, to say about the world. Instead, through its subtle activation of the magical properties of colour, light, and shape, its leads us back out into the world with a new sense of what it means to be part of it as a thinking and sensing being. It’s art.

Time’s Light by Rowan Mace is showing at Cample Line until 10th September.