At a time when the elements of visual art are becoming blurred and artists are constantly seeking new ways of seeing through challenging but often ephemeral means, it’s inspiring to find an artist working within a framework of painting based on traditional methods and media and honest craft.
That’s not to say that Paul Bloomer does not stretch the boundaries or refuse to compromise when it comes to expressing himself. Indeed the many large canvasses that make up his new exhibition at Da Gadderie in the Shetland Museum are evidence of his balancing traditional painting methods with an almost primitive energy.
It is an opportunity to see the range and quality of work produced by this Bigton-based artist and many have already been stunned by the amount of work he has made especially since that crucial move to the south Mainland.
Colour and texture are the first two elements that stand out. There is an elemental rawness in his most recent canvasses and Northern Lights is indeed a feast for the senses. Bloomer focuses on the “how” of painting and each work draws you in not only to the subject but also the technical aspects of making a painting. Flowing rivulets of oil and spirits are overlaid with sweeping brushstrokes; you can smell the paint.
Bloomer has always been a physical artist keen on gesture. I once watched him drawing in charcoal and it looked and sounded like a struggle to bring the image into form. This physical aspect, also seen in the paintings and sketches made outside in all weathers, is crucial to any understanding of his work.
Colour is paramount; the richness and strangeness of his colour harmonies are what gives these paintings their power. But it shouldn’t work, all that turquoise and purple bleeding into acidic greens.
Summer Sea- St Ninian’s is one of a series with double dates testifying to revision or addition to canvasses, work that is often in progress just as nature is in constant change. This work owes not a little to Monet but Monet viewed through the world of Expressionism, even Pollock.
Yet he’s not forgone the brush. What I like is the evidence of an almost chemical reaction of oil and turps. It’s another sensual piece; stand close and the paint fumes hit you.
This artist makes his own paint in the laborious traditional way, grinding by hand with pigment and oils but that physical act gives you a contact with the medium that simply squeezing a tube doesn’t give. But you get the impurities, the lumps, which can all be seen in Summer Sea- St Ninians More recently in the later work we see an emphasis on small elements growing and developing. Like a motif in music the contrast between stillness and flow is prominent in The Sound of Quendale simple in structure but complex in texture the sky becoming flocks of birds perhaps.
St Ninian’s Beach – Winter is a glowing semi-abstract painting but the horizon is just there. The rest is a riot of colour and movement, a joyous celebration of painting.
St Ninian’s has been Bloomer’s fixed point of reference for some years now, particularly that shifting abstract shape which is the tombolo. In Turning Tide – St Ninian’s there is a movement in the brushwork suggesting overlapping waves and currents at work in front of a brooding landscape.
But the term landscape or seascape is not an adequate description. These colourful works are filled with feelings, emotions as epitomised by German Expressionist Emil Nolde who wrote: “Yellow can paint happiness, but also sorrow. There is fire red, blood red and rose red. There is silver blue, sky blue and storm blue. Each colour contains a soul, which cheers me or repels or excites me.”
That sentiment is, I think, important when faced with a painting like The Muckle Baa with Hail then Sun of 2008-9. Another significant statement is the artist’s own: “In winter my creativity intensifies with the brooding storminess of the sea.”
Bloomer is an observer of weather and light, never happier than being out in it and putting the experiences into drawing and painting.
Northern Lights over St Ninian’s is visually stunning but also strangely confusing – it pulls at our internal gravity, the dribbles heading off diagonally at the top. Bloomer uses the canvas almost as battlefield in a variety of angles allowing the paint to drip and run. Here there is the symbolic image of animals leading us back into his other-worldly dream-like imagery of earlier work.
At his most minimal Bloomer has created a series of paintings, of which there are two oils represented the Bigton Sunset series. These are not his largest but certainly give us the biggest perspective within the simple structure of sea or land and sky.
As a valley dweller I often miss these sunsets with the reds almost too red. The others in the series can be found by delving into Bloomer’s smaller work. These can’t be classed as sketches because one feels they are fully formed work in their own right. Most use water-based paint and are little treasures.
If I have a slight disappointment it is that these smaller works were not mounted and framed and hung elsewhere in the show. However, I can understand the temptation of getting those larger canvasses displayed in such a welcoming venue.
A brief residency at Noss last summer has borne fruit in several paintings especially those featuring gannets; they whirl below the textured cliffs and sea in related but complex rhythmic patterns. Migrants returns to a simpler structure, flatter and more concerned with the design than the mood.
The Lamentation of the Fishes and Birds, Lovers and Northern Lights draws together several of the themes found in Bloomer’s work, figuration, strong expressive use of colour and developing pattern.
Harking back to his earlier work, which culminated in huge monochromatic woodcuts, are similarly large figurative paintings such as Flood. This is a disturbing image of motionless figures in boats, a cross section of human life, the flood a metaphor for some kind of diaspora. These dark figures stray into the expressionist world of Munch or Nolde though shot through with bands of bright colour delineating the boat shapes.
Up Helly Aa is another expressionist work reminding me of the strange crowds in James Ensor’s paintings and asking more questions than it answers. We can play the “spot the references” game all day but in the end Bloomer’s style is all his own – expressive colour, strong imagery, gestural paintwork and obsessive attention to nature in all its forms. For me it’s one of the most impressive shows so far in this gallery.
The artist has donated a painting for silent auction in support of the CLAN appeal and you have until 20th April to be the highest bidder.
Bloomer will also give an illustrated talk about his work at Da Gadderie on Sunday. The event is free and tickets are available by contacting the museum on (01595) 695057.