John Chilver / Morrison Judd, Time Out London, 28 July- 4 August 1999
A notice asks viewers not to touch John Chilver’s paintings. People have walked away from previous shows clutching souvenirs – lengths of extruded paint sitting temptingly on bright monochrome grounds. Chilver asks for it; his paintings induce instant, Plasticine-like regression and, since his work is a soliloquy on the physicality of paint and the artificiality of representation, it’s a compliment that viewers see it a stealable ‘stuff’.
A nature painter of sorts, Chilver is as far removed from Constable as imaginable. Motifs such as fences, birds and stiles hang incongruously in the middle of the canvas; they are immediately readable, but one is also looking at paint – thick, square chunks of it. The mark-making is comically impersonal; squeeze out some lines of paint and, hey presto, you create a sparrow or an axe buried in a tree-stump. As an observation about art, it’s like saying that football consist of 22 people kicking some leather around; isn’t the suspension of disbelief a necessary part of the game? Chilver seems to miss the days before art was afflicted by self-consciousness. Featuring a befuddled bird poking around a modernist box, ‘Klegaland’ succinctly narrates this yearning.
Chilver’s paintings are an entertaining mix of visual flash and humour. He also varies his approach; a lovely, Guston-like tangle of torsos coolly appraises the human body. Conflicted, witty and assured, he is one of the most interesting painters working today.
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