Hurvin Anderson

Thomas Dane

Anyone who has visited Trinidad and Tobago—as British-born, Jamaica-descended Hurvin Anderson did before commencing the series of paintings he’s produced over the past couple of years—knows about “liming.” This Caribbean colloquialism has two sides: It’s what locals are doing when languidly propping up the beachside rum bars; it’s what travel brochures say moneyed tourists are up to when firing tennis balls around at the islands’ country clubs. On the evidence of his paintings, Anderson finds lime-time tough. His eye twitchily takes in places that semaphore colonialism (Trinidad and Tobago gained independence in 1962, three years before the artist’s birth), and, later, he revives his apparently sharp memories of them in large-scale paintings that refract an ongoing mental fissuring.

He’s not always subtle about it, either. The architectural subject of Imperial Hotel, 2004, is painted so that its contours begin to melt into the surroundings, as if it were sweating guiltily in the island heat or collapsing into entropic diffusion. Its fenced-off, salmon and white architecture is a fragile presence against a looming backdrop of tropical foliage dripping over its facade and white railings. The hotel sign is similarly afflicted by gravity’s pull, and the lower third of the canvas has the whole scene petering out into pink and green runnels of diluted oil. The painting packs most of its rhetorical power into a detail-rich substratum, so that, for instance, momentary miracles of draftsmanship evident in an enclosure of power lines are almost swamped by pushy viridian clouds. Some may think, when viewing such productions, of Joan Didion’s neurasthenic literary forays into the tropics; those with short memories will namecheck Peter Doig (himself now resident in Trinidad). Yet Anderson’s art, with its deliberate surface thinness, most closely shadows the ’70s works of Michael Andrews, another British painter who used his medium’s slippages to signify what he felt about a subject, and who tended to let his iconography melt outward from a tight Photorealist core, as if drifting inexorably into the fault zone of memory.

The influence is distracting, but it does seem to be a schoolboy crush: Anderson is more self-assured in paintings such as Welcome Series: Carib, 2005, a zingy interior interpenetrated with exterior views, mixing reflections of a café milieu (electric fans, banquettes, posters) with whitewashed architecture behind a stinging diamond-patterned grid that one takes for a window; the WELCOME written across it is presumably ironic, given that the work would seem to convey a divided mind-set, a soul nowhere at home. Lower Lake, 2005, meanwhile, brings it all back to the source. A tree-spiked island languishes in the midst of a lagoon that’s the color of brick dust and reflects a sour autumnal sky. Holiday over: We’re back in England, and Anderson’s anxious, excavating optic has pinpointed what might once have been a training ground for future colonists, a temptingly inaccessible playground in the liquid heart of a Victorian park. Again there’s that fine brushwork, evident in the bare, brown branches that dance across the dirty atmosphere, and, again the choking cumuli of paint obscuring it. Recent canvases such as this feel incomplete (they lack, for example, the flick-of-the-wrist figures that Anderson sometimes used to insert into his landscapes), but intentionally so. If it’s liming you want—as plenty of artists and viewers apparently now do—then Anderson’s paintings, with their tenacious disavowal of placation and amnesia, do their best to suggest that you’ve landed in the wrong place.

Martin Herbert