Cipher is the latest solo exhibition by Richard Nott. The title is an intriguing indicator, as it is clear when speaking with Nott about his recent work and his oeuvre in general that any emotive meaning or reasoning within these matter paintings is not denied but remains coded and elusive even to him. A mystery that keeps the wheels in motion.

When Nott speaks of the work, he speaks of its form, its torturous and chaotic construction, the elusive quality that has to ‘happen’, and do so without shortcut. His description of much of the process makes it clear that his role is as conduit, there is no clear method; the matter is affected by its own particular and peculiar circumstances – by pouring, burning, scraping and peeling. His control over it at times is limited. When Rene Magritte titled his painting ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ (‘This is not a pipe’) he illustrated paintings potential to create illusion. Nott’s paintings are not illusionary, the history of the surface is one that is real, and has to be built. These paintings are objects – tableaus of their own history.

Nott originally trained in sculpture and he often talks about the work in sculptural terms. Given its physicality it should come as no surprise. But these are paintings. When he talks of the vital aspect of the structure of the work, a difference between the practices occurs to me. In sculpture the structure for a piece of work literally enables it to stand. Without it the piece would fall. In painting such a device does not have the same tangible necessity - so why to Nott does it feel so imperative? It is through the deliberated structural mark that is often violently and obsessively incised in to the surface of the material that the artist makes his emphatic appearance. The control to even out the confusion perhaps. Man’s ordered existence within the chaos of nature is felt. A scar is made.

Mark Rothco once remarked ‘Art is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness’. Nott is an artist at the centre of the confusion of making, it is art because of the artists need to intervene, to spontaneously but assertively make his presence felt, and to leave a mark. It is this structural intervention that these paintings, indeed, stand upon.

Through these intricate, entropic panels one can contemplate the ephemeral, the elemental, the environmental, the physical and perhaps the spiritual but also behold man’s fundamental need to be present and to seek to gain order. Our disconnection with that which lays beyond our control does not supress our attempts to enforce our presence.

Joseph Clarke


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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.