Adrift in a dreamworld – the genius of Michael Andrews… By JONATHAN JONES

‘Melting in the heat’ … Permanent Water Mutidjula, by the Kunia Massif, 1985, by Michael Andrews. Photograph: © The Estate of Michael Andrews. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London and Gagosian.


“Adrift in a dreamworld – the genius of Michael Andrews makes us doubt our own eyes”

‘He left behind 1950s Soho to spraypaint wondrous landscapes full of rocks, shadows and mystery. This show finally captures the brilliance of Michael Andrews’

By JONATHAN JONES


In his painting The Colony Room I, Michael Andrews pays homage to two giants of British art. You can’t miss them. One is a short, orange-haired figure in a bomber jacket turned away from us with his paunch spilling out of his trousers. This is unmistakably Francis Bacon. “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends!” the gutter genius is no doubt declaiming, as was his wont. From the group around him, a keen angular face stares out of the painting – and you sense with discomfort that you are being sized up by the all-seeing eyes of Lucian Freud.

It might seem dangerous to open a Michael Andrews exhibition in this way, given the artist often gets dismissed as one of the so-called School of London painters who worked in the shadow of Freud and Bacon. And this work isn’t just a reminder of their fierce glamour – other Soho bohemians mill around in this louche history painting, too. So is Andrews just part of that crowd, an interesting bit player in the story of modern British art?

Perhaps, at the end of the 1950s, he was, having just turned 30 (he was born in 1928). Yet this beguiling exhibition at the Gagosian in London takes us on a hot-air balloon ride far from the madding Colony Room crowd, into realms of quietness and vastness where he truly found himself as an artist. It is the rare kind of show that changes a reputation for ever. By hunting down a dazzling array of his very best paintings and displaying them in perfect light with plenty of space, the Gagosian is doing what a public gallery should have done by now: proving that Andrews, who died in 1995, is the poetic equal of Bacon and Freud.

‘Fierce glamour’ … Bacon and Freud glimpsed in The Colony Room I, 1962, by Michael Andrews. Photograph: © The Estate of Michael Andrews. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London.

‘Fierce glamour’ … Bacon and Freud glimpsed in The Colony Room I, 1962, by Michael Andrews. Photograph: © The Estate of Michael Andrews. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London.

I recently met the owner of his masterpiece Lights VII: A Shadow (1974) at a party. Lucky bastard, I said. This painting has haunted me ever since I was a teenager, when I knew it as the cover image of The Penguin Book of Contemporary Poetry, published in 1982. The book’s designer made a brilliant choice – because this is painting as post-modern poetry. The shadow of a hot air balloon is moving gently across a beach. Painted in flickering yet precise detail, the dark image cast onto bright sand is beautifully real, but it’s not real at all. It is merely a shadow.

To paint an object just by its shadow recalls the ancient philosopher Plato’s claim that we are like prisoners in a cave where a fire burns, seeing not real things but only their shadows on the wall. Andrews seems to be saying that art too is just a shadow, a secondary glimpse of a life elsewhere. When you look at the painting in its opulent frame, you realise that reality is failing in other ways, too. For the great turquoise expanse of sea that laps the beach is not quite in perspective: what at first seems to be a literal depiction looks, on second glance, more like two expanses of abstract colour, blue over sandy yellow. It could be a Mark Rothko abstraction but for the shadow of the balloon. That shadow is all that makes this moment real.

Who is in the balloon? In other paintings in the Lights series, we see the actual balloon, but it is just as elusive, just as coolly distant. In one, a black balloon passes over the Thames by night in an echo of Whistler’s Nocturnes. In another, a yellow balloon glides above the soft green English countryside in summer.

Gradually you realise why these paintings are so eerily tentative and dreamlike. They are done with a spraygun. Today, sprayguns are often associated with in-your-face street art, yet in the 1970s Andrews began mixing acrylics and water in a spraygun to create landscapes of a Japanese delicacy. His visions of countryside passed over on a hot summer day, or seen from such a high viewpoint he might be in a balloon’s basket himself, have a frozen wonder that makes me hear pastoral psychedelia. Were some of these used as 1970s album covers? No, but they should have been.

‘Coolly distant’ … detail of Lights VII: A Shadow, 1974, by Michael Andrews. Photograph: © The Estate of Michael Andrews. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London.

‘Coolly distant’ … detail of Lights VII: A Shadow, 1974, by Michael Andrews. Photograph: © The Estate of Michael Andrews. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London.

Andrews’ art may ache with alienation but it glows with awe. In Australia, he found landscapes so strange and colossal that, to question the very foundations of reality, all he had to do was paint them. The vast rocks of the Olgas and Uluru rise up in spray-painted stains of redness, marked with black holes of caves and swirls of vegetation, above trees that look like they are melting in the heat.

These huge paintings do justice to nature at its wildest in a way that bears comparison with Turner – yet the geology they reveal, under an empty blue sky, is so bizarre it mocks the very act of representing. Andrews does what all the School of London artists in postwar Britain were trained to do: he just paints what he sees. And the result leads us to doubt our own eyes, as the ochre masses of Australia’s rocks turn into abstract shapes, coloured stains.

There is something rare and enigmatic happening in Andrews’ art. From 1970 onwards, he appears to withdraw from the crowd, to stand back from the world. The spraygun method he used perfectly mirrors his decision to abandon portraits for landscape, for it removes his direct physical touch from the painting surface. He is not pressing a brush down, not making his mark. The paintings appear to be made passively, in a reverie. They well up out of the light and shadow. Looking at the world from far away, with a mystical scepticism, he sees it as marvellous but not quite real. Just a shadow on the shore.


Exhibition:

“Michael Andrews: Earth Air Water”
January 20 – March 25, 2017
Gagosian, London
20 Grosvenor Hill, London
http://bit.ly/2jCxeZ6


By Jonathan Jones, Reprint from TheGuardian.com, 22 January 2017, © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.

16 Comments

Got Something To Say:

Your email address will not be published.

There is definately a great deal to learn about this subject.
I love all the points you made.

After study a few of the blog posts on your web site now, and also I truly like your means of blogging. I bookmarked it to my book marking web site listing as well as will certainly be inspecting back soon. Pls have a look at my internet site too and also let me know what you believe.

very wonderful article, i certainly enjoy this website, go on it

thank you for sharing – Gulvafslibning | Kurt Gulvmand with us, I believe – Gulvafslibning | Kurt Gulvmand really stands out : D.

Oh my goodness! an incredible write-up guy. Thank you However I am experiencing problem with ur rss. Don?t know why Incapable to sign up for it. Is there anyone getting identical rss issue? Anyone that knows kindly respond. Thnkx

Aw, this was a really good blog post. In suggestion I would love to put in composing similar to this in addition? taking some time as well as actual effort to make an excellent write-up? yet what can I claim? I put things off alot and by no means appear to obtain something done.

plastic and storage bins are both great, if i want a more durable storage bins then i would opt for steel storage bins`

Hi! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading through your articles. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same topics? Thanks a ton!

Nice site, nice and easy on the eyes and great content too. Do you need many drafts to make a post?

An excellent share, I just offered this onto a colleague who was doing a little evaluation on this. And also he as a matter of fact purchased me morning meal because I located it for him. smile. So let me rephrase that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for investing the moment to review this, I really feel strongly concerning it as well as enjoy reading more on this subject. When possible, as you come to be knowledge, would certainly you mind upgrading your blog site with even more details? It is highly handy for me. Big thumb up for this post!

I just want to say I am newbie to blogging and really enjoyed your page. Most likely I’m likely to bookmark your website . You actually have beneficial well written articles. Regards for sharing with us your web site.

whoah this weblog is magnificent i like reading your posts.

Keep up the good work! You understand, lots of individuals are looking
round for this information, you could aid them greatly.

My spouse and I stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I may as well check things
out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to finding out about your web page for a second time.

I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out right here.
The sketch is tasteful, your authored material stylish.

nonetheless, you command get got an nervousness over that you wish be delivering the following.
unwell unquestionably come further formerly again since exactly the
same nearly very often inside case you shield this hike.

I think that everything posted made a great deal of sense.
But, what about this? what if you were to create a killer headline?
I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run your website, however what if you added something that grabbed folk’s attention? I mean Adrift in a dreamworld – the genius of Michael Andrews… By JONATHAN JONES
| I Require Art is a little plain. You should look at Yahoo’s
home page and see how they create post headlines to grab viewers interested.
You might add a related video or a related picture or two to get people excited about what you’ve got to say.
In my opinion, it could make your website a little bit more interesting.