Every age has “its own gait, glance and gesture”, wrote Charles Baudelaire in his great essay The Painter of Modern Life. He encouraged the artists of his time to abandon the timeless drapery of a played-out academic tradition and concentrate, instead, on the depiction of “the crinoline” and the “starched muslin petticoat”. His words inspired the restless, acute, self-consciously modern art of Manet, Degas, Renoir. But what does “modern” look like now?
In her own quiet way, Anna Gardiner attempts to answer the question. She is a keen observer of how people live today in certain corners of England – a very different kind of here and now. There are no classical draperies in her paintings, nor are there crinolines and petticoats. Instead, there are hoodies and sleeveless vests and bright orange cardigans with the stretch slightly gone out of them. There is a pair of skinny teenage girls in identikit skinny jeans and sneakers, using casual wear as uniform – the badge of belonging to a particular sort of tribe, their tribe, whatever it might be.
In this version of modern, landscape and cityscape seem conflated, as if there were no clear distinction between city and country. There are distant clusters of houses, grouped in wildernesses of palette-knifed colour. There are trees at the edge of a car park. There is a bouncy castle, with no one playing in it, the colour of strawberry and vanilla ice cream. There is a beach hut black as coal that may or may not be inhabited.
There is mood as well as observation in these paintings. Most often, it is a mood of slight anomie (to use a word Baudelaire might have used). People in these pictures live with a lot of space between them. They are often seen heading towards places of uncertain refuge. Sometimes they seem self- possessed but often a little lost on the way.
Andrew Graham-Dixon, April 2009
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Publication published by the Lemon Street Gallery to
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