17 March – 21 March 2020
Bermondsey Project Space is pleased to present ‘Tamesis’, an exhibition of new paintings by the Sydney based, British artist Laura Matthews.
This is Matthews’ first show in London for more than a decade and includes a body of works exploring the Thames, a river that has spawned cities and villages, defined architecture, threatened cataclysm – and is etched into the lives of all who live along its shores.
Welsh born and trained at the Slade School of Fine Art, Matthews’ painterly influences – later to become colleagues when she joined the Slade’s teaching staff – have also been some of Britain’s greatest modern figurative painters, William Coldstream, Norman Norris, Patrick George and the late Euan Uglow who was not only a tutor but was to become a great friend.
Her aesthetic and artistic vision of the world remains palpably British, particularly in the Australian context where she has lived and exhibited biannually for almost 17 years. Last year, she was a finalist in the prestigious Australian portraiture prize, the Moran and also won one of the country’s most lucrative, acquisitive prizes for her seascape painting, ‘Sea Creatures’, now owned by the Manning Regional Art Gallery.
In 2020 however, Matthews says she felt a compulsion to return to paint in London, the city she describes with affection as her much loved “old stomping ground”. Ensconced in a studio in Hackney, she was surprised to feel artistically unmoored, suddenly unsettled and challenged by an environment that no longer felt familiar or comfortable.
“I’ve worked continuously since I left and felt it was time to come back and see what I can do here,” she says. “Two of my children are totally Australian, even though they were born in London and my eldest is half and half so my heart and my painter’s eye are in two places at the same time,”
“It was unexpectedly hard at first and yet it has been good for me to be uncomfortable, to be challenged by a place I don’t feel I know any more.”
In ‘Tamesis’, an ancient word of Sanskrit or Celtic origin is said to mean ‘dark one or dark river’, Matthews has produced a series of powerful, evocative and at times mysterious vignettes that do not represent but allude to the river and the not-always helpful presence of human beings on its environs.
“When I came back, I wanted to travel the source of the river all the way to the ocean and I was thrilled by what I found, from the bucolic themes of the semi industrial marshlands to the big looming buildings in the urban parts and classic meandering Thames you see in South London and Richmond” she says.
After decades working and teaching to work from life and en plein air, Matthews has embraced photography with alacrity, using thousands of images as inspiration, almost as she did with her sketchbooks in her earlier years.
However literal interpretations of her photographic images are of no interest to her: “Experience allows you to have a kind of freedom in terms of understanding the plasticity of the surface and understanding the notion of what paint can do on its own if you allow it just to be paint,”
“There is no desire in me to render something into something which is like something else. I enjoy the fact that it’s paint: it is not flesh, grass, sky, not a tree, it is none of those things, it is a fabrication of what is. To copy something, is of no interest.”