Paul Winstanley

The situation is a familiar one: you enter a lounge or lecture hall to find no one there, only vacant seats, and a feeling of emptiness, of being caught between moments, washes over you. You arc likely to experience a similar feeling when viewing paintings by the London-based artist Paul Winstanley. Much like works by Edward Hopper, Winstanley’s canvases invite the viewer to inhabit vacant rooms, generating his or her own narratives from personal memories. These works are like mental images in a double sense: first, each painting is itself a remembrance of something seen; and second, the depicted situation doesn’t represent an event but merely a transitional phase, a waiting period. As if arrayed on an empty stage upon which the protagonists have yet to appear, the furniture signals that this is a place where people gather to experience lectures, films, or simply everyday conversations. Any interaction, however, has been indefinitely deferred.

The theme of observer and observed was an explicit pictorial motif in two works that were included in this show, Winstanley’s first in Germany—Lounge (Night) and Lounge (Day), both 1997. A reproduction of Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (The wanderer upon the misty sea, ca. 1818), by Caspar David Friedrich, hangs in the lounge depicted in both works, a room with seven vacant seats. Friedrich’s famous work includes a figure in the foreground who is gazing at a landscape in the background—a figure who also represents the viewer. Depicting the room at different times of day suggests Winstanley’s particular interest in changing light effects. Whereas in the night scene a reflective, lit tabletop occupies the center of the painting, in the “day” image the highlighted area is shifted to the upper-left-hand corner, where sunbeams filter though the curtains in narrow bands. It is only through these special modulations of light and shadow; through soft contours and harsh lighting, that the objects in the canvases can be recognized.

In a painting entitled Viewing Room 2, 1997, the blue, beige, and brown vinyl coverings of the chairs in a student lounge suggest a particular cultural moment, by evoking a dated British design concept. Until recently, color appeared only rarely in Winstanley’s compositions, but the addition of color in newer works like this painting generates a particularly haunting atmosphere.

Justin Hoffmann

Translated from the Germany by Vivian Heller.

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