Neil Clements: Paranoid (5 stars)

SouthSide Studios, Fridge Gallery, Glasgow (viewing by appointment Sat 14-Sun 29 Apr)


The small, dimly lit Fridge gallery acts like a mausoleum for Glasgow-based Neil Clements to create a painting, light and sound installation that takes an image of Op Art heroine Bridget Riley and the emergence of the de-tuned electric guitar in heavy metal music as subject matter for his show. This new work continues the artist’s obsession both with planarity in high modernist American and British painting in the 60s and 70s, and with the darker side of ‘pop’ music, influences that he also recently brought together in an exhibition entitled After-Human in a temporary space at Glasgow’s Trongate. Previously, Clements has exhibited as part of the New Work Scotland programme at Edinburgh’s Collective gallery, where what can be referred to as ‘black square’ European modernism was used to explore the satanic undercurrent in some contemporary ‘death metal’, post-industrial, seriously gothic music from Europe.

It is not by any means ‘new’ to create a relationship between music and art - there is a strong modernist tradition that links abstract, avant-gardist and dissonant manifestations of both art forms - and this seems to be the stream that Clements hopes to navigate. The enormous success of his work is due to a sophisticated understanding of paint, its flat application and brushy removal (in ‘High Priestess’, a portrait of Riley), brought together in perfectly composed canvases. The red neon barrier around the work adds an attractive otherworldly glow that also forces the viewer to keep her/his distance. His silver-grey and black canvases critique the distinction between expression (as mess) and abstraction (as cool, detached analysis), demonstrating that form is empty, and is only temporarily animated, or imbued by the viewer with elements from the stylistic cues that they take from the historical context they find themselves in.

It’s an age-old art historical problem - can an image contain or express an argument, a point of view, or, is it merely put there by the viewer who ‘reads’ the image and its glyphs? Clements cleverly exploits and inverts this ‘will to interpret’, and we find that we are reading the more lyrical elements of his work as analytical, and the severe geometry of other canvases as deeply expressive.

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