Angus Collis, Hotel Poolside/Ice Seal (detail), 2011, diptych, oil on canvas, overall 86 5/8 x 55 1/8".

Angus Collis, Hotel Poolside/Ice Seal (detail), 2011, diptych, oil on canvas, overall 86 5/8 x 55 1/8".

Angus Collis

Galería Estampa

Angus Collis, Hotel Poolside/Ice Seal (detail), 2011, diptych, oil on canvas, overall 86 5/8 x 55 1/8".

It is becoming less and less common for galleries to show the work of younger artists who entirely and unapologetically focus on painting. Perhaps it’s that fewer and fewer young artists paint without pursuing some other rhetorical agenda; instead, they attempt to endow the act of painting with metalinguistic meaning or, though engaged in painting, simultaneously deny it as a medium. And, of course, there is an abundance of young artists with an indirect relationship to painting—for instance, artists who draw, sometimes in color. An artist from New Zealand who now lives in Spain, Angus Collis is thus atypical in a context in which the relationship to painting tends to be so hedged. Indeed, his connection to the pictorial tradition is underscored by his references to the history of painting. Some of his earlier works were suggestive of Edward Hopper, and in his most recent exhibition, that influence was even more evident, especially in the canvases depicting industrial buildings in vast landscapes with low horizons that contrast with the vertical and visually invasive structures. The iconography of such paintings as Railway House, Fire Tree, and Dalmainy Corner (all works 2011) is strikingly similar to Hopper’s. But that’s not to say Collis is merely an imitator; his works have a special atmosphere of their own, thanks in part to the use of abstraction as a means of muting their representational quality. Such deployment of abstraction is a constant in Collis’s production. It gives his work a strange ambiguity because it reminds us that his paintings are not only straightforward representations but are also keenly aware of being paintings.

This ambiguity makes itself felt by other means as well—for instance in the way the paintings suggest stories without fully developing them. Not all the works contain human figures but in those that do, the painter’s attitude toward them is remote and impersonal. As do Italian Metaphysical paintings—with which Collis’s work also has a great deal in common—these works insinuate enigmatic situations that are never played out. Despite or perhaps because of the presence of distant human figures, these landscapes are marked by absence, silence, and emptiness. Especially intriguing are works like the diptych Hotel Poolside/Ice Seal, in which the spatial and formal complexity—with bodies and spaces that move forward and then back—and the transparent, mirrorlike, and opaque surfaces evince the artist’s interest in working with tense oppositions. All the paintings, in any case, demonstrate first and foremost Collis’s overriding interest in creating powerful images in which the modification of color, however subtle, plays a crucial part—images that, precisely because they are not explicit, are highly suggestive.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.