7 July — 9 September 2023
Los Angeles Gallery
On occasion, one observes a color so beautiful that it must be committed to memory, but what happens to its exact shade, dimension and luster as it is filed, to be recalled at a later date?
Liam Stevens and Sarah Kaye Rodden produce work that explores this elision of memory and color, time and tone – generating color not through observation but through the act of remembering. For Kaye Rodden, it is Whistler and Vermeer that are called upon, as are Piero Della Francesca and Morandi – artists whose treatment of tone is in equal parts subtle and sublime. For Stevens, it is André Derain and Monet that have impressed themselves upon him – painters who conjure the play of light through generous and rhythmic daubs of color.
Revisiting her memories of encountering Whistler’s portraits, presented in a room of ‘lovely browns’, and of the Vermeers that hung in the jewel-toned galleries of the Mauritshuis den Haag, Kaye Rodden’s recollections of these masterpieces are enmeshed with the spaces they inhabit. As such, her palette draws upon the alchemy of these finely curated spaces as much as it does the painter's handling of color.
Characteristically elegant and formally restrained, Kaye Rodden’s paintings, sculptures and assemblages have a strong sense of the architectural: her horizontal pieces follow in the Palladian style; cigars of rolled canvas interrupt the flat expanse of the picture plane, like the dado rails that trim the walls of smart Georgian interiors; and recurring cylindrical forms read like columns, their roundness producing natural highlights and lowlights – perfectly formed gradations of a single tone.
Likewise, the paintings of Liam Stevens are equally intertwined with architecture and the built environment. Placed directly on the walls and floor of his studio, the linen and canvas panels are painted as a fresco painter might, to be peeled away from the wall and stretched over bars upon completion. Windows and apertures are suggested through composition and framing, as is the world that exists beyond them on the other side of the glass.
Rows of small dashes form a regular, repeating motif across Stevens’ sotto-voce surfaces. Pixels, perhaps, or impressionistic brushstrokes, a net curtain or brick facade – these marks simultaneously form and obstruct the image. Painted through a plastic mesh designed for applying render, Stevens achieves a complex doubling effect as the paint pools around the cells of the stencil, tracing its grid-like structure whilst also seeping beneath and around it, like light spilling in through a window.
Diluting his acrylics to such an extent that the pigments and polymers separate, Stevens produces complex color transitions that are reminiscent of J.M.W Turner, sharing in his ability to render the intangible tangible. Whether with buttery yellow or a damp gray-blue, Stevens is able to convey a sense of light, and his trembling colors, laid down in transparent layers, have the ability to warm or cool the atmosphere around them.
In a continuation of her work with leather, Kaye Rodden has made a series of gentle, curling sculptures in vellum – a thin parchment made of calfskin. Cutting soft rounded shapes from large flat sheets of the parchment, she embarked on the painstaking work of shading them in their entirety – front and back – using only pencil crayon. Waxy on one side, and velvet to the touch on the other, each shaded vellum pad is awash with color. Mink and graphite, pewter and cream, terracotta and rose-petal pink – these are hues that were built in layers, of pigment and time, to produce a distinctive hand-drawn ‘grain’ and a buff, lustrous finish.
Each work is a delicacy, a morsel of exquisite tone and sensitively balanced texture. There is a certain synesthesia induced by the work of both Liam Stevens and Sarah Kaye Rodden, whereby color is not only understood by its shade but by its consistency and character, its temperature and timbre.