Kristian Day presents The Diamond Sea in collaboration with the Saatchi Gallery, featuring the work of Gareth Cadwallader, Kaye Donachie, Markus Vater, Jonathan Lux and Freya Douglas Morris.
Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4RY
The sea plays tricks on us. It shows us things that aren’t really there—bending and distorting light and space. Seafarers spoke of the ‘looming glim’, a distortion that can be glimpsed at the horizon line where we momentarily see beyond into a realm of delicate light and phantom islands. The romantic imagination drew nourishment from these possibilities of vision—took solace in the subordination of man’s ambition to nature’s greater mysteries. Painting and music were needed to translate poetry and philosophy into sensual experience. Landlocked, we no longer talk of glim, but we do glimpse, and things do glimmer. From Turner to de Kooning, the relationship between the sea and painting has been understood by these painters of glimpses into a looming unknown.
In the harsh noise refrain of Sonic Youth’s “The Diamond Sea” we are cut adrift on a turbid ocean. After the delicate reveries of the vocal we break from safety into a greater world of emotion. Improvisational performance escalates until we arrive upon a plateau of sound. In this place of waiting, treading water, we find ourselves. This is the romanticism of the millennium, big emotions that don’t break, we find ourselves caught in a moment of sublime tension. What will come next? The song doesn’t propose to know the answer—we must discover ourselves in the depths of glimmering feeling.
Most of us believe in love at first sight, and we respond to painting in much the same way. We are still caught in the diamond sea of romanticism. Contemporary painting, with its sensations and its gestures and its improvisations, remains indebted to the romantic imagination. In this world, the human is subordinate to greater nature—but now we have changed nature, and so the romantic within art must necessarily change. Perhaps it is the case that we are now caught in the storm of our greater selves, and while we believe in our universality we also glance at the mirror with fear. We make signals in the dark, hoping to glimpse a reply.
Considered together, these paintings chart a course into the tension between human experience and the greater world. Each glimpses a beautiful moment, and at the same time brackets that sensation with doubt—the ability of painting to describe a moment and a sensation of deep time simultaneously. All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. These figurative paintings are theatrical in their composition and form, each juxtaposing a world of ordered civility with bordering elemental forces. Moonlight illuminates a ritual dance—or is it flood light? A fool steals a kiss and a chorus girl takes a bow on a vaudeville stage, decked out to resemble the bottom of an ocean. Elsewhere in the distance, a stormcloud takes shape. These are paintings retrieved from the glim, mysterious and enigmatic, where signal and noise meet.
David Surman, artist & writer