Space Oddities


Clayton Colvin

by Brett Levine     Photo by Jerry Siegel

Clayton Colvin

In Clayton Colvin’s world, pictorial space isn’t something that is marked by a simple exploration of perspective.  “I am as interested in the endless possibilities in a fixed space—like the movements of players across a soccer fields—as I am in the possible limitations of space that we experience inside a picture frame,” he says.  Colvin, a painter whose works traverse a complex field that meshes representation and abstraction, finds these types of influences to be equally important.

For his new exhibition, “Space Mountain,” opening December 9 at Birmingham’s beta pictoris gallery, Colvin draws upon diverse interests and experiences to form the foundation for a series of new works.  “I am very interested in pattern, repetition and structure,” he says, as he shows “Perch View,” the surface of which is covered with delicately hand-drawn images drawn from art deco patterns.  Still, at the edges of the image, the regularity of the repetition begins to break down, to cover itself over.

“I started working on linen in part because I was thinking of many roles art often plays,” he says. “Sometimes it simply has the role of an acoustic tile. It is there to deaden noise at the same time that it is adding to the visual noise of the space.” This resulted in his asking a simple question, “What can painting do?” with surprising results.

In “Asphalt Green,” for example, Colvin literally grounds the work in the recognizable space of the soccer field.  The background shows a pattern that bulges to one side,  reminiscent of the optical works of Viktor Vasarely at the same time that it suggests the curved space of quantum physics.  It’s as if the background is pushing itself out of the picture.  This is overlaid with the traces of a simple gesture in which a series of single strokes serves as a record of how immediate mark making can be.  “I have always drawn, and the majority of my works are grounded in drawing,” Colvin says.   “So at times, part of my work is concerned simply with this practice, and with the techniques and gestures.  In works like “Asphalt Field,” I have taken the idea of the mark out of its usual context and just left it on the surface as traces of a series of gestures.”

The idea that the process of drawing itself can serve as the foundation for new works is something Colvin has always pursued.  “I spend time drawing patterns, spatial studies, structural studies and images in the abstract,” he says.   This leads to the marks themselves serving as unifying elements. The simple gestural stroke appears again in “Midnight River,” and the curved lines that suggest space—Colvin’s topography, if you will—can be found both in this eponymous work and in the related “Parts of Magnets Live Forever.”

For now, Colvin is continuing his exploration of the seemingly uneasy relationships between painting and digital technology.  “I have been very careful about the media I have been engaging with over the past few years, but that doesn’t stop me from sketching out some basic ideas in a program like Brushes,” he says, laughing.

Obviously, for Colvin, the influences and complexities will continue to be drawn from diverse sources, whether from the fictional spaces of literature or from the complex spaces of strategy.   “I keep returning to the idea that painting really is more closely related to sports than we realize,” he muses.   Of course, some may call it a game.  For Colvin, as he explains it, “it is simply a matter of grasping a space, and understanding what is going on at the margins.”

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