Thérèse Oulton

Someone wrote a piece on Thérèse Oulton and titled it Fairy Craft; there have been others in a like vein: Painted Dreams, Marketing Magic, In the Dark Wood. No one, let alone a babe, could possibly find a path through the metaphorical thickets, the choked vegetative folds of Oulton’s painterly world. They would die for lack of air. Ambitious early works like Space for Leda, 1983, and Old Gold, 1984, were fit for the gods, or rather goddesses. The kind of thing a latter-day Artemesia Gentilleschi might have painted were she not compelled to do Judith topping Holofernes. Since then Oulton seems to have fallen to earth, even penetrated its bowels—there are quantities of fire and brimstone in Tremolite, Precipitate, and in Alloy (all works in this show 1989), a surfeit of that “yellow fever” which so drove Thackeray to distraction in late Turner. There are also younger ghosts invoked in these recent works, Jackson Pollock for one, especially in the large white Confessions 1. Oulton seems to be attempting something even more Herculean: a painterly odyssey through Gilles Deleuze’s A Thousand Plateaus.

Deleuze’s metadiscourse on the Baroque takes the fold as the self-differentiating force central to the Baroque dynamic: shrouding the body, perpetually dissolving matter into spirit. Each of Oulton’s new paintings is a honeycomb of cupped rufflike folds that contain dark and reflect light at their lip. We, the viewers, are placed on the edge of matter: the fullness and the void are beyond the rippling coruscation of surface light as sumptuous and decadent as 17th-century court dress. (The descent into hyperbole is almost irresistible in talk on this painting). The color is garish and shot through with rods and arcs of liquid silver and gold which supply surface tension by their vertical and horizontal thrusts. We know that the Baroque soon stiffens into Mannerism when the fold is no longer a force but a formal device. We sicken from those folds, hankering for the oasis of clear, cool, unrippled color where the soul can breathe loosened from the weight of all that flesh. Oulton embarks on a dangerous course with these monstrously dressy paintings whose underskirts are boned with theory. She knows this; she calls one dark crimson painting torn with green, Vanitas.

Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton