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Press release for solo show at Threeworks  2019

Sharon Hall: Threeworks X 3

   The painterly language that informs Sharon Hall’s works is rooted in the experience and knowledge of how light works in painting.  Hall went to paint in Italy in 1991 when she was awarded a Rome Scholarship and it is possible that both her intense feeling for place and the colour language of her mature style come, at least partly, from her experience of Italy and Italian painting.   It is not so much the 'correct' chiaroscuro of the high Renaissance that interests her as the poetic-symbolic colour of the masters of the quattrocento, such as Fra Filippo Lippi, and also of the Mannerist, Jacopo Pontormo, that guides her in her quest for that ineffable sense of place that painting can evoke.

The geometrical scaffolding of the paintings is precisely as complex as it needs to be for the colour to do its work. In his essay ‘On Colour’ from The Salon of 1846 the poet Charles Baudelaire writes: “As the sunlight changes, tones change in value but, always respecting their sympathies and natural antipathies, continue to live in harmony through reciprocal connections.” These words could serve to describe Hall's colour modulations.  Tone-colour values are deployed in asymmetrical groups: dark, very dark, light, and very light, together with multiple nuances of warm and cool, strong and weak, that form a contrapuntal relationship with the symmetrical geometry. The geometry is the framework that enables this exchange system to function effectively.

The photograph on the front cover of the catalogue for Hall's solo exhibition entitled Colour in Place in the Palazzo del Podestà, Pescia, Italy in 2013 shows two very small paintings on an empty expanse of wall. Scale is given by the inclusion of a stack of larger paintings face to the wall.  It is due to their extreme clarity and economy that these small paintings have a presence out of proportion to their size.  To make a very small painting seem large is always felt as a triumph by a painter.  Not only is this colour in space – it creates a space.

David Saunders
Mercus-Garabet, France, March 2019

 Diary of a painting on Just Another Painter March 2017

 Imperfect Reverse review on January 2017

Terry Green Just Another Painter quote January 2017

The Drawing Collective #21
ABSTRACT PROJECT Espace Des Arts Abstraits
75011 Paris
online catalogue to view here
and here

Question and Answer for Threeworks

Interview with Sharon Hall on 
online publication January 2015

Catalogue Essay, Eye and Mind, The Mercus Barn, 
Mercus-Garrabet, Midi Pyrenees, France 2015

Sharon Hall’s paintings find complexity through colour rather than form, which is to say that a deliberately transparent permutation of geometric form becomes a context for the subtle shifts in colour relationships, that can be further explored as the paintings comprise more than one interchangeable panel. The resolved state of a complete painting is in Hall’s words “found”, through trial and error—the initial structure an adequate, or neutral armature, on which to place colour. Optically, there are also shifts of space that reflect the positive-negative aspects of the structure where there is also a tonal contrast. Take, In Part Sequence (Orange, Yellow, Terra Verde) 2014, in which this constant realignment of the segments of colour is a product of the duration of viewing. The rational construction of repeated triangles connected with a partial and implied grid is counterpoint to the structuring influence of the reduced chromatic range of orange, yellow and green. In, In Part Stacked Painting (GreenOrange, Yellow, White,) 2014, surface incidents from making—the action of a brush as well as characteristics such as absorbency—are all incorporated rather than illuminated. The two part painting, an overall vertical, the upper part of which is horizontal, reflects a duality in its repeated doubling—of two panels, and two pairs of triangles and displays a motion not unlike serial or fugue patterns in musical composition. In Hall’s paintings system and unitary repetition are willingly undermined rhythmically and not relied upon to provide cohesion—they represent a necessary premise that is then exposed to reconfigurations vis-à-vis colour.

David Rhodes

Catalogue Essay, Colour/Boundary, Gallery North
University of Northumbria,
Newcastle upon Tyne, 2014-15

Orange Fan

The painting’s structure is based on rational divisions of its surface area, first into two, around the perpendicular centre line, with the resultant pair of rectangles subdivided by diagonals drawn from the top corners to the mid-point of the bottom edge. These simple moves establish what emerges as a gestalt, namely an inverted pyramid, balanced on its apex. But the work is not symmetrical. The right hand triangle is further divided into three more areas that are not answered on the left. These three shapes are perceived slightly differently to those within the pyramid. They seem to move in a one-sided clock-wise movement, adding a dynamic in terms of geometry, which is taken up by the colour, swinging through the spectrum from orange to yellows, deep then pale. The closeness in hue of the orange allows it to hang off the edge of the cadmium red, but the red, which is the key architectural element in the painting, is strong enough to support it.  
The surface is consistent throughout, while the density of the pigment confirms that the colour is ‘built’ out of the traditional material of painting, selected from the traditional palette rather than from the refraction of white light arranged around a colour wheel. The geometry is also practical rather than aspiring to the art of pure relationships. Left of centre the ambient chromatic temperature changes. The blue, ochre and umber represent the earth colours ranged against the more luxurious cadmiums, dividing the light in the painting virtually into two seasons. This gives rise to the significant visual experience offered by the painting, created by the contrast between the conditions across the recto/verso axis. It is as though the eye is taking a journey from north to south through several latitudes, sweeping left to right, from grey-blue to pale yellow, before returning to the chromatic and formal hospitality provided by the red triangle. 

David Sweet

Catalogue Essay, Colour in Place, Palazzo del Podèsta,
Pescia, Italy 2013

Colour in Place

Sharon Hall’s paintings have, over the years, evolved a set of dialogues between both abstraction and imagery, and also between drawing and colour. In the 1990s her work slowly transformed itself from the use of found imagery (usually linear drawings from anachronistic printed matter) to a series of paintings that investigated more self-reflective form: looping traceries, grids, and divisions. Slowly this latter set of work developed into the current series whereby colour and form stake out a position where imagery, if we can call it that at all, exists more as a colour memory. Form is reduced to a device for enabling colour, in the sense of finding the right ‘duration’ for a particular colour within set of relations that constitute a piece. Colour requires the form and yet renegotiates it on its own terms. We might say that such an argumentative dialectic between colour and form has been seen not only in the work of many other individual practitioners, but also on a grander scale throughout art history itself. It is an ongoing tension especially since the Romantic period. This might recall the divisiveness between Ingres and Delacroix, but also in mid-period American painting with the intense cleavage between the followers of de Kooning and the colour field painters; perhaps also, of late, between conceptualists and any form of ‘late’ abstraction. The French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard saw this drawing/colour binary as a schism between form, design, logic on the one hand, and the act of colour, which always appears on the side of the indeterminate, always ‘live’, waiting to be tamed by the ‘civilising’ cultural nature of form. 

   In the context of this present exhibition, what Hall proposes is another dimension to her own personal debate around these issues. This is accentuated by the presentation of the paintings together with her photographs. Each exist as autonomous projects in their own right, and yet there are parallels and interconnections on closer inspection. Perhaps the first and obvious connection is location. Hall’s paintings in the past have often referred to specific locations (in her earlier work – whether these were appropriations of Roman topographies and maps; or California during the gold rush, etc.) but we might see these as representative of a kind of ‘post-modern’ dislocation, whereby the surface of the painting can conjure up any place and any time. As in Leo Steinberg who, in his famous 1960s presentation of the notion of the flatbed – the surface, that is, as an open system – suggested it as being akin to: any receptor surface on which objects are scattered, on which data is entered, on which information may be received, printed, impressed.[i]Hall’s approach in this period, however, was to meld the surface and appropriated image together with linear systems extrapolated from the technical means of the imagery itself. The present paintings and photographs, in sharp contrast, offer a very different sense of sensibility of location. We might suggest they are more grounded in place (they are made in her studio in Castelvecchio in Tuscany) and tie together various moments in her oeuvre (both a concern for abstraction and also, from her study at the British School at Rome in the early 1990s, an attraction to early modes of representation such as fresco and Roman decoration). These, in fact, could be seen as abstractions with a distinct Italianate style or accent. Despite, on the one hand, a connection with both European and American reductive abstraction, it is in their colour and architectonics that these paintings develop an intimate connection with their surroundings both as origin and destination.   

   A piece such as Tondo (2010) might allude to this with its contrasts between dyadic and triadic division, as well as earthier and more chromatic colourations. While the tondo creates its own ‘perfect form’ (and hence its difficulty as a format) this, and other tondos by Hall, use this as a foil to play with internal balance and imbalance, symmetry and asymmetry. This is also a trait that has formed some of the great works of Italian architecture and art. In Hall’s photographs of Italian architecture we can also sense that this is at work: the photographs of the derelict limonaia at Villa Reale, Lucca or the Roman Mannerist frescoes in the Villa Giulia, Rome – both of these dwell on the subtle undermining of perfect symmetry. In the Villa Reale it is the counterpoint between the facing of architectural symmetries and the vagaries of desolation and nature taking its toll. The Roman frescoes show quasi-tapestry designs with their doubled symmetry only undermined by the uneven patina and discoloration here and there. We might also note the geometric patterns on the borders of these frescoes – with their sense of flatness and yet implied illusion something that informs Hall’s choice of geometries in her own work. 

   Colour, in the paintings, functions in various ways, either earthy or chromatic as noted above, or as a light/shade division which is often at play. In turn this can disrupt the symmetrical blankness of the structures, as in Not Titled (Diagonals in Yellow Bands)2011 where two creamy yellows conjoin two of the triangular segments into one unit because of their close tones. Similarly, the next two segments of lemon yellow expressed in two tonalities create the illusion of a volume in space. So what starts off as extreme flatness – barely inflected colour, a schematic division of the surface – reveals its capability of a myriad of spatial depiction. Such spatiality alludes to both decorative borders (as in the frescoes mentioned above) but also spatial systems in pre-renaissance art. If the colour is at times acidic, luminous and bright, this has little to do with the influence of Pop (a ‘given’ reference for hard edged colour abstraction of the 1960s and early 70s); likewise, the colour within systematic constructivism (the other polarity of colour/geometry painting) is just as irrelevant, as it remains reductive in the sense of its spatial behaviour and approximation to the surface. Hall’s colour has more in common, in fact, with certain Mannerist painters. Pontormo, for example, in the painting Joseph sold to Potiphar, 1515, National Gallery, London, shows an astonishing palette of yellows, oranges, pinks, scarlets, that fixates on a double triangle within the lower half of the composition, forming an ‘x’ (not unlike Hall's Untitled, 2010, that features a similar schema in its bare bones). Pontormo’s colour rebels against the classical symmetrical design, creating a set of indeterminate spaces that appear to exist simultaneously with (and not ‘held’ by) the drawn form. Something similar is explored by Hall; whereby the colour develops its own logic over and above the geometric design – creating illusions, sensations of sharp light illuminated then obscured, of architectonics and the patina of nature. 

   If these are paintings in a distinct Italianate mode ‘both in origin and destination’ –  that is drawing on the rich traditions of Italian art and architecture and requiring this as a context for them to be ‘seen’ – in this sense I would regard them as ‘situated paintings’ in that while they have their own self-sufficient logic they also require being offset in an architectural situation. This does not make them ‘site-specific’ in a literal sense, and certainly a white cube space would be equally welcoming, but they seem to thrive in the proximity with the more ‘hand-made’ and physical interior spaces of Italian architecture. Their current installation in the Palazzo del Podestà in Pescia underlines this, whereby Sharon Hall’s colour compositions both situate themselves, illuminating the architectural surround, or operate as a floating foreign body: an intervention within, an interruption to, the flow of the architecture.

David Ryan  
December 2012

[1] Leo Steinberg from a lecture (Museum of Modern Art, New York), 1968first published in ‘Reflections on the State of Criticism’ in Artforum in March 1972 and in Other Criteria, 1972,pp 61-68

Catalogue Essay, Colour in Place, Palazzo del Podèsta
Pescia, Italy 2013

 The Gravity of Colour

Light is the most mysterious element of painting. It can be as palpable as the colours that both create it and are imbued with it, yet it is even harder to describe. Attempts to do so invariably result in generalisations and similes that reveal our paucity of vocabulary in relation to it.
                    It seems to me that over the past ten years or so there has been a consistent formal and experiential development in Sharon Hall’s paintings. Moving from what might be called a concern with painterly devices – with the various components of painting seen as elements, almost, of a visual grammar – the paintings subsequently became more concerned with the appropriateness of shape and then, in order to define shape more precisely, with colour.
                    Now, in her recent paintings, colour itself is taking on new properties and becoming, it seems, more related to experience. It has acquired a ‘lived-through’ sense of substantiality of effect and become both more structural, with the architectural overtones thus implied, and more attuned to the particular light within which the paintings were made. This doesn’t imply a contradiction, it’s rather the case that the two elements are fused in the same way that the interior of a building both shapes the light that illuminates it and is also revealed and given form by that light.
                    In a group of recent paintings, some of which are quite small and circular in shape, hard-edged beams, or wedges, of colour radiate outwards, sometimes from the centre and sometimes from a corner of the canvas. In several of these works the relationship between colour and light could be seen to be almost graphically represented by the format. These paintings further suggest a temporary stasis in a process of double movement which proceeds both outwards from a point and also moves in a circular fashion around that point, thus emphasising the rhythmic relationships between colours. These relationships heighten the contrasts between colour and light, or tone. Rather than establishing a sense of consistent intervals between individual colours, the paintings generally follow a pattern of grouping two or three closely related, often pale, colours together and then juxtaposing them with a sharply contrasting beam of a very different colour. For instance, a sequence of three successive shades of cream may be followed by a deep crimson. This suggests gradations of light falling unevenly across a wall and then being interrupted by a differently coloured object. In fact, an image like this appears in a photograph which Sharon Hall took of two paintings on a wall of her studio; the light from a window creates a sharply angled shape which cuts across the wall and one of the paintings, significantly changing the colours of each.
                    This approach to colour rhythm has been carried over to the current, larger, paintings in a more subtle way. Colours are still grouped into units of two or three, but their arrangement into vertical bands or vertically-orientated shapes, as opposed to tapered beams, not only gives a greater autonomy to individual colours but also creates more of a sense of relative visual space within and between different groups. In addition, the verticality of these paintings appears to relate to an experienced verticality as opposed to the act of simply dividing the surface of the canvas into vertical shapes. It comes from the bodily experience of gravity and as a result the colours now seem to be charged with a weight or density which they previously didn’t have, even as they radiate light.
                    So, although these paintings are abstract in appearance, they relate to two fundamental facts of human experience: light and gravity. These are not represented but are embodied in visual form through the medium of paint, which gives the paintings their own reality as coloured surfaces within the spaces in which they are displayed. Perhaps an awareness of this relationship between  paintings and  space develops into a general receptivity to the qualities of interior spaces. Certainly, Sharon Hall has become fascinated by the fusions of light and space, and the subsequent atmospheres – warm, limpid and redolent of both earth and air – in many old Tuscan buildings. I’m reminded here of a quote from Paul Valery which appears in Roland Barthes’ essay about Cy Twombly, ‘The Wisdom Of Art’. “These vast rooms of the Midi, very good for meditation, with their tall furniture looking lost. A great void locked in – where time doesn’t count. The mind wants to populate all this.”
                     In Sharon Hall’s photographs the rooms also look ‘very good for meditation’. These are calm, quiet, pellucid places, old and harmonious, which suggest contemplative states of mind. Viewed together the paintings and the photographs strangely complement each other, they create a particular quality of feeling which is different from that of seeing them separately. Each may lack a conspicuous attribute of the other, the photographs don’t possess the brushed, physical surfaces of the paintings, and the paintings contain no representations of space or volume. Furthermore, when they are seen together these differences become immediately apparent. Yet there is a deeper complementarity at work, an interrelationship of structure and light and a recognition of proportion and harmony. The photographs allude to the architectural sensibility hidden within the paintings, and the paintings, in spite of their formal austerity, bring out a kind of sensuousness of light and surface in the photographs.
                    Finally, Sharon Hall’s paintings and photographs, in their different ways, make visible a set of concerns which now appear to constitute the core of her art. Such concerns – with light, colour, structure and space – could be said to form the artistic basis of painting and, excluding colour, of photography and film as well. Although they are generally described as ‘formal’, these concerns always manifest themselves through the particularity of an individual artistic personality and they are capable of infinite modification and development. Had Sharon Hall not moved her studio to Italy her preoccupations may have been similar but the paintings would have been different and the photographs probably wouldn’t have existed. It may be said that in Italy she has found the architectural spaces and the light to guide her in her progress as an artist.

Stuart Bradshaw
December 2013