Essay by poet and critic Cherry Smyth
‘Let me submit to Art:
Art knows how to shape forms of Beauty,
Almost imperceptibly, completing life,
Blending impressions, blending day with day.’
CP Cavafy, from ‘I’ve Brought to Art’
Wilson’s work brings to mind the idea of misty luminescence. There is light but it is often veiled. There is darkness but its edges are diaphanous. Although she insists that the paintings are not emotional outpourings, the work evokes a very emotional response. It is peaceful without being sentimental and like an Autumn sky on a calm sea, evinces a quietness in the viewer and a sense of harmony with nature and oneself.
‘Interval’, 2000, is more complex than it first appears. The theme is reprieve, the tone, forgiving. The Black impasto is stippled with varnish and looks wet in the light while the White paint is muted and matt. Although the darkness initially seems unrelenting, the edges of the layered paint catch the light, while the areas of White are unreflective and surprisingly dense. There is a delicate balance between hot and cold. At first you may interpret the interval of the title as the light, the break of dawn, or an opening of cloud cover, but then as you study the rich lustre of the Black, it begs the question – is the darkness the interval, a welcome shelter from the starkness of consciousness?
These two ways of entering the painting draw you to return to it, rendering it infinitely resonant. The tension between night and day has always been a time of transformation, a magical time – whether it be twilight or dawn, called ‘entre chien et loup’ in French – between the dog and the wolf. ‘Interval’ is only part of a larger rhythm, the constant shift of light and darkness that is essential to human existence. It is this resilient, existential quality that gives Clare Wilson’s work strength and beauty.
Horizon is one of the recurrent symbols in Clare Wilson’s work, whether it be vertical or horizontal. The investigation of boundary, of border intrigues her. The titles of her paintings suggest her comfort in place, in security: ‘Crossing, ‘Asylum’, ‘Muted’ and ‘Cradle’. In each, there is a fondness for landscape, for weather, for the transient beauty in a passing phase, like a piece of elegiac music fading into the distance.
If ‘Interval’ is a map of the sky, ‘Crave’ resembles an aerial map of a landscape. It is more likely to be a landscape of the mind or memory, a place where trauma and fixity dissolves and calmness reigns.
Again in ‘Crave’, the surface is layered and thinned, scraped off and built upon, like textured, compacted snow. The composition plays with fragmentation within the whole: a splinter of light in darkness, a strip of shadow in brightness. Here the terracotta emits a smear of colour like a trail of memory, a seeping of emotion that can’t be contained. Is it trying to break through or remain hidden? It remains indeterminate and in that uncertainty rests a soothing quality, a sense of reaching towards something ineffable. The result is touching, ethereal and yet firmly grounded in emotional reality. The palette may be subdued, but the passionate energy of the paintstrokes is palpable.