Richard Nott’s paintings are built: they are made out of paint and resin and bitumen and various other substances fused together, gouged, scratched, compressed and even burnt. They are the result of a protracted physical process.
Many painters, for example Frank Auerbach or Leon Kossoff, make paintings incorporating layer after layer, those under-layers build to a final surface, giving us a sense of the struggle of achieving the image, of depiction. In comparison when we look at a work by Richard Nott, we cannot separate the final layer in the same way, not only because he has not sought to depict an observed phenomenon, but significantly because there is no distinction to be made between a final composition and what lies beneath: what we might call the image goes all the way through that slab of matter, like a honeycomb.
Nott’s form of ‘realness’, then, is nothing to do with those forms of realism that depend upon illusionistic painting, in fact it is nearer to its opposite. He is seeking to make work that exists as other objects exist, that has qualities of its own.
The range of qualities Nott achieves in his work are only appreciable when in front of the paintings: from the most delicate veining to chalky opacities, from liquid translucencies to calcified solidity, from rich browns which glow darkly to burnt blacks, ashen and dead. Nott must instigate the physical and chemical processes of existence, largely avoiding tell-tale physical or emotional signifiers of deliberation. Creating a form of expressivity through process rather than gesture. Except that the paintings do bear one very clear mark of the deliberate: the ‘grid’. If, as is often the case, the grid is taken as symbolising the man-made, the logical, or the rational, then it has rarely been as precariously sited as in Nott’s paintings, cotinuously in danger of being overwhelmed.
Art critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss explored the artistic obsession with the grid in her essay ‘Grids’ and also in ‘The Originality of the 'Avant-Garde’: she traces the way in which the grid has managed to contain, or repress, two opposing impulses, one towards the material and the other towards the immaterial - the spiritual, to what lies beyond physical experience. The grid, in other words, has been used at various times to signify both the secular and the sacred and its ubiquity in the careers of twentieth and twenty-first century artists is possibly down to its ability to evoke both simultaneously: hence the drastically opposed readings of Piet Mondrian’s work, or Agnes Martin’s, or Ad Reinhardt’s.
Many of Nott’s titles bear this out: ‘Martyry I’’ becomes a Rothko-like revelation of spiritual space, a curtain of darkness that parts to reveal the physical world; and by way of an example: ‘Unearthed VI’ becomes a gateway, an immanent revelation. These elements are so merged in all of these paintings, so inter-dependent, that we cannot separate the roles they play. Their interpretation, therefore, is as much a matter of where we, as viewers, situate ourselves in relation to that duality, to the material/immaterial, to the secular / sacred, or to the real / depicted, as it is of Nott’s intentions or the paintings themselves.
Mike Walker, 2011
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Richard Nott is a British artist born in 1963 in Cornwall. He currently lives and works in west Cornwall.
Richard Nott’s paintings are unique. There are no oil or acrylic paints in his studio, he works with industrial materials, bitumen, emulsions and varnishes, building them up layer upon layer, often over intimately drawn or gouged grids, lines or marks, into a textural palimpsest, before courageously scraping or burning them back to reveal what lies underneath. Viewing Richard Nott’s artwork is witnessing a protracted collision of creative and destructive processes. An evolution of matter, exposed, concealed, exposed, concealed, continuously. His paintings become the consequence of years spent where Nott’s history merges with the history of the elements used. He has little interest in illusionistic ‘texture’, the work must be its own entity, have its own story and be its own statement.
His objective is to create an organic object that evolves like a living thing with truth and imperfection. His process of working allows for a contemplation of a cycle of existence to become imbued in to the work. Not a beginning with an end but a journey where genesis leads to dissolution, and on once again to genesis. Something eternal akin to alchemy.
Richard Nott gained his Fine Art degree at Lancashire Polytechnic and his MA in fine art at Reading University. In 1985 he worked as an assistant to Andy Goldsworthy on site-specific sculptures in the Lake District. He was gallery assistant at the Royal Academy from 1986-7 and at Oldham Art Gallery from 1991-2. He won the South West Arts Visual Arts and Photography Award in 1994. He gained a residency at the 12th International Weeks of Painting in Slovenia. Exhibitions have been extensive and international notable included numerous solo exhibitions at Anima-Mundi over a long and fruitful working relationship, ‘Art Now Cornwall’ at the Tate St Ives and Chashama, Avenue of the America’s, NYC. Richard Nott is represented by Anima-Mundi.