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No. 8.

Critical Review 'Galleries' magazine

By Luke Elwes

Exhibition: 'PIP DICKENS'

Solo Exhibition | Cassian de Vere Cole Gallery/ELGIN

Some artists find their voice later than others, which is as it should be, despite the pressure to arrive as a fully formed practitioner by the time of your degree show. In Pip Dickens' case, this has been greatly to her benefit. Now in her late thirties she has had the time needed to deepen her enquiries - in literature and music as well as painting - and to pull off quite rapidly a body of rich, mature work to coincide with her graduation from the Slade last summer...

...In the spare elegance of its white space hover six large black canvases, four square and two double squares. The impact would be overwhelming were it not for the fact that the paintings release themselves slowly, revealing patterns of refracted light as you move among them, with something of the same absorbing effect as a room full of Rothkos. These are carefully wrought images, playing with the effect of busy and dense, or loose and sweeping, brush marks on a black surface.Sometimes she paints wet on wet, disturbing the newly laid surface, and sometimes she builds on a dry base with blacks subtly modified by a little coloured pigment. Sometimes she will even punctuate the dark patinations with pale openings in the canvas. Always she works quickly and decisively, rubbing out a day's work to start afresh, and completing the image at a single sitting to achieve the desired delicacy of effect.

‘Legerdemain’, (detail) oil on canvas, copyright Pip Dickens

What she achieves are pictures of paradoxical beauty. With her brushes she disrupts and explores the darkness, thereby turning a negative into a positive and making her blacks shimmer with light. Within a single colour she can also suggest many colours. Aware that no black is pure black, she hints at the chromatic ranges that lie within it, as in the 'coloured' gardens of 'Retiros' and 'Acanthus'.

What might appear to be a limited field of enquiry has yielded many surprising possibilities, from the tightly controlled checkerboard surface of 'Essential Solitude' to the wide open space of 'Legerdemain', with its floating baroque patterns. Her scope is both narrow and wide, and in an exciting first show recalls something of the work of Therese Oulton and Estelle Thompson.

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