London’s Lisson Gallery is one of a handful of influential galleries lying outside the Mayfair heart of the commercial contemporary enclave. Attracting a roster of established and important artists, it proves that location isn’t everything – it’s the quality of the product. In his third solo show at Lisson Gallery, Spencer Finch has taken the title of Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red in an attempt to question ideas of vision, and how we can look beyond what we physically see, into the realms of one’s imagination.
Born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1962, Finch is best known for his large scale light installations that recreate cloudscapes and natural phenomena, including a 9/11 memorial in New York consisting of 2,983 individual squares of paper representing each life lost, hand painted by Finch as a recreation of his memory of the clear blue sky from that day.
In this show, Finch combines the meticulous eye of a scientist, closely observing that which is real, with a poetic love for visual experiences and how the physical spectrum of visuality can be broadened within the onlookers mind. It’s is a synthesis of light, colour and pattern, but planned with excruciating and often minute detail.
The most ambitious and gripping work in the show is Mars Light Piece (2016), which consists of a fan of multi-coloured neon lights stretching up to the sky like a peacock’s tail. In this specially commissioned piece, Finch has taken light recordings from the Pathfinder unmanned mission to Mars and recreated the exact colour tone of a sunrise of the red planet, allowing use to experience it recreated on earth before anyone has out in the chasm of space. The work is engulfing and sensory – without even knowing the subject of the piece, one feels inclined to bask in the hues. The colours and not only pretty, but cause a physical reaction as it washes over the onlooker, transporting them to an otherworldly realm.
Other works in the show exemplify Finch’s adoption of science and obsession with colour – Meadow #2 (following a bee) (2016) is a large scale pencil drawing with blobs of summery sweet shades of pastel colours. The work traces the path of a bee through Finch’s garden, logged via a GPS machine Finch carried while escorting the animal on its pollinating journey. A digital pin would be dropped at each flower that the bee stopped on, which he then photographed, and colour matched in the work. The gentle allure of the work captures the natural phenomenon of this species that is essential to the prosperity of our natural habitats in the UK, and as the gentle pencil line traces the bee’s twists and turns, and the pastel blobs radiate their summer tones, one can almost smell the sweet flowers, hear the buzzing wings, and feel the intensity of the summer garden. It creates a idealised quintessential summer’s afternoon through such minute detail, whilst raising questions on the nature of human’s vision as opposed to that of animals – does the bee see the same we do? Does the bee have a favourite colour perhaps?
Further works explore this use of colour within nature and how it can be evoke in the mind, elucidating all five senses. Still lives of fruit and flowers, show each item as one swatch of colour against a white backdrop, but the colour variables are then charted throughout the day, represented by a timeline of images across the gallery wall exhibiting exact colour matches of the fruit or flower head, examining how light alters the colour, and that in turn alters our imagined perception of the image.
Other works include pastel pictures of sunflower heads in the Fibonacci sequence, from a “bee’s eye view”, white and grey cloudscape mosaics that represent “wandering lost” on mountaintops, washed out grey drawings of fog descending over a lake in Connecticut that simultaneously frustrates the onlooker through a veiled landscape while also questioning the beauty of the fog itself.
The show feels like a window into Finch’s charming mind – it’s attention to detail is whimsical, if not borderline obsessive, but the use of warm colours often pins it within beauty rather than apprehension. It paces a large emphasis on the method – works feel like graphs plotting the chart of their own outcomes, but this sense of passion for results gives the art its own sense of dedication and pride. Art and science are having a bit of a moment currently, but it’s a very welcome one. The show is a wonderful step away from the often vacuous and self-aggrandising works seen in commercial contemporary shows in London recently – Finch is clearly not in this game for the fame, and that is refreshing – and well worth the trip to Lisson.
Words by Harry Seymour
Spencer Finch, The Opposite of Blindness, 1 April – 7 May 2016, Lisson Gallery, 27 Bell Street, London, NW1 5BU. Admission free.