Luke Gottelier

Kate MacGarry

Luke Gottelier used to make photographs—orchestrations of items found in his studio which, shot close-up and flooded with lens flare, instigated scale-collapsing double visions: A modest cluster of erasers would read, for instance, as a dramatically backlit ring of Neolithic standing stones. In the late ’90s, as if disdainful of these works’ effortless assimilation into the discourse of constructed photography, he began to produce paintings, casual semi-abstractions in a pastel palette. At first exhibiting them alongside his photographs, Gottelier then dropped the latter altogether. Literally so: His last London solo, in 2001, scattered photographs across the floor to be trodden on. “Split personality!” cried several critics, although Gottelier had in fact displayed a fair degree of continuity across media. His was (and, to judge by the seven canvases in this recent show, primarily continues to be) an aesthetic in which the process of representation is tempered with affectionate ridicule.

Rabbit Looking in the Mirror (all works 2003), for example, is the work of someone who clearly loves the sensual properties of oil paint but—for historical or biological reasons, who can say?—can’t take the activity of painting entirely seriously. Floated over a legitimately pretty, sky blue and white lyrical abstraction is a crude, cartoonish sketch of the titular animal framed in a tilted rectangle, its fearful eyes on Gustonesque stalks. Surrounding the edges of the “mirror,” meanwhile, is Gottelier’s trademark gesture: a looping phone-pad scribble of a line suggestive of a metal spring stretched out so that its tension has gone. Here we find the pitch apparently aimed for: significance in offhandedness, and vice versa. Gottelier has not yet titled a painting This Isn’t Rocket Science, but Pork Scratchings (named after the foul British bar snack) comes close in sentiment, especially when appended to a shit brown miasma in which one of his distended springs threatens to hijack the entire picture plane. Like The Card Game, whose raw spades and diamonds skid comically across a baize green ground, this work suggests the ambitions of, say, Howard Hodgkin—to recall in tranquillity a past social event and transmute it into paint—downgraded by several stations and fed through a wringer.

All of which leads to the question: Is this the forced bravado of an inveterate dauber who, seduced by a medium he doesn’t have the raw talent to master, must perpetually surround his practice with a preemptive air of superiority? The final answer might lie in Montelimar, a burst of sunshine yellow paint that cushions the lightest of iconographic confections—a wedge-shaped form near the top that, to judge from the title, is probably nougat, balanced precipitously on three hemispheric, varicolored curves that suggest scoops of ice cream. Even the by-now-inevitable springs seem bouncy and effervescent. Confident yet provisional, lighthearted yet compositionally smart, Montelimar is simply a very good painting and, tellingly, was apparently the quickest of this bunch to produce. In the gallery office, Gottelier laid out several books by artists and satirists that inspire him, including Edward Lear’s Nonsense Omnibus. The English poet and cartoonist apparently had ambitions as a painter and was disappointed to be known for something he considered trivial; posterity has proved him misguided. Doing what comes naturally isn’t necessarily wrong, and with any luck Gottelier knows it.

Martin Herbert