24 May–16 Jul 2006, Pump House Gallery, London
‘Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness. Let us not take for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than what is commonly thought small.’
—Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, 1925
From under the looming presence of Battersea Power Station, Hanneline Visnes’ latest show wrestles a space for contemplation and tracing patterns. The crow wants everything to be black is like a mysterious secret in the corner of Battersea Park, weaving intricate schemes up the gallery walls.
The first painting hangs like a statement of intent. A huge, red sea-anenome/magnolia comprises elements that emerge in many of Visnes’ other works —eagles, skulls, hearts, eyes. Small and big are given equal attention in the Glasgow-based Norwegian artist’s evocations of artifice and nature. Developing a theme of folk art and symbolism, Visnes finds new ways to explore deep pagan sensibilities and the universal urge to make decoration from nature’s forms.
‘In the Flowers’, 2004, is arresting—a big white board over-painted with exotic flower and leaf shapes, tempting with long tendrils, long-tongued, like hibiscus. Deep greens are mixed with pale greens and turquoises. Petals in blood reds, vivid oranges and yellows tangle happily across the surface. The style is Eastern European folk art and it sings with life. Down towards the bottom, though, a little clutch of eyes stare out, lonely and disembodied—there are eyes in the walls. Could this be a reference to all-pervasive surveillance of past regimes, or is it our own eyes staring back? This sinister twist suggests Visnes’ concern with entwining the decorative and the dark.
‘Red Landscape’ 2005, uses the anenome motif, red flame colours licking the paper. Symbols of earthiness—a wintry, bare tree, angled by the wind, and open wing-spans huddling in a corner—find a corner. Behind such images is a thin-lined, minute pattern of flowers, covered in red wash. Each element taps into something lurking deep below.
While maintaining symbolic threads, some of Visnes’ naturalistic elements are also nostalgic in their representation of the natural world—similar to The Observer’s guide books of the seventies, or the more recent, free Guardian wallcharts. ‘The Cotton Crown’ and ‘The Cotton Crown Part II’ 2006, have a repeated image of a finch, used in a blend of pattern, symbol and plays on the regal implication of the feathery name. So is it a deep collective unconscious Visnes is exploring, or one much more rooted in specific culture references? Perhaps the answer lies in another visual metaphor in ‘Part II’ where yellow and black flame patterns streak across scrawls of floral outline. It’s like tearing wallpaper, when you reveal the old underneath—you keep going and there are more and more layers. If you kept going, you’d finally peel back through the psychedelic swirls, through William Morris, through Islamic motifs, through gypsy roses, through baroque burlesque, to eventually pull back a strip onto the inside of a cave wall and find the rudimentary elements all still there.
The crow wants everything to be black is much more than wallpaper, but the idea stands. Visnes’ arrangements, motifs and compositions trace the pattern ‘however disconnected and incoherent in appearance’, with beauty, intuition and skill, that is both simple and complex.
Ruth Hedges is a writer living in London