CALLUM INNES is one of Scotland’s most accomplished abstract painters. Gill Roth talked to him and discovered that there’s a lot to be said for watching paint dry.
At first glance. the paintings by Callum lnnes currently on exhibition at Glasgow School of Art seem stark. mechanical and clinical. But on closer inspection the hands-on process is obvious. ‘If people take the time they'll see the human touch in the paintings.‘ insists lnnes. In the livpaser/ series. the paint is applied horizontally and then removed with turpentine. usually from the right—hand side. exposing a portion of bare canvas. Initially. they seem geometrical and constructivist but a closer look shows the dividing litre between paint and exposed canvas as blurred. even slightly wonky with an irregular edge like torn paper or a softly drawn line. The exposed section of the canvas still retains the stain and residue of the paint that's been removed. confusing the definition of negative and positive space. ‘To me the ruost interesting part ofthe painting is the exposed part. That's the active part. where the painting actually exists.‘ says lnnes.
Initially. lnnes used only olive and white for his lit/mswl Paintings btit his move to a top-lit studio inspired him to use deep reds. purple and vibrant oranges. ‘My last place was very dingy. with strip lighting. Scotland has fantastic natural light and it‘s silly not to exploit it.‘
Resonance. a large white-on-white painting is at first easy to ignore. camouflaged against the white wall of the gallery. The canvas is covered with a structure of thin white drips that look as if they've been poured from above the painting and allowed to travel down the canvas freely. But lnnes says his method leaves little room for accident or surprise. Working from the bottom of the canvas he makes dot after dot of white paint with a small round headed brush. Then he places a dab of turpentine above that and lets it flow through the white paint in carefully controlled rivulets. This meticulous process is
‘To me the most interesting part of the painting is the exposed part. That’s the active part, where the
painting actually exists.’
repeated until he reaches the top of the canvas. The result has a delicate quality reminiscent of the texture of water-stained satin or rough silk. Although lnnes is reluctant to describe this painting as ‘white‘, the warmer tones of the canvas are not immediately visible. ‘There‘s the natural stain of the canvas
behind the paint and there‘s the effect of light. They are paintings that respond to the colour around. Unlike the red lirpasm/ painting which actually closes down the pictorial space. the white opens tip the canvas, allowing the painting to go beyond the boundaries of the stretcher.‘ Although lnnes uses white in an attempt to ‘limit and simplify". lx’esanaiu'e is the busiest painting in the show but also the quietest.
Using the formal strategies of abstract expressionism and minimalism. lnnes is conscious of his predecessors but not intimidated by them. At a time when so many of his contemporaries were working with portioned canvases he felt it was vital to develop his own visual language. "The Rothko room in the Tate is very important to me. When you step into that territory you have to have something significantly different to say or there‘s no point.’
In a relatively shOIt time lnnes has become one of the most celebrated Scottish artists of his generation. At 33 he has shown in most major art centres worldwide and his work is represented in public and private collections in Europe and the US. Unlike many artists. lnnes has had an easy time with curators. Generally his work is built around the use of a continuous line. which means he can place different elements together in the same show. as in this show where there's a combination of the dripped and exposed paintings. Making his paintings
Man of colour: Callurn lnnes
individually. rather than as a series. he finds that each painting nevertheless informs the next. maintaining a steady development of the various ‘languages' in his work as a whole. ‘The trouble people find with my paintings is that they don't work well on their own. I don‘t paint diptychs but I like putting them together because they need partners.‘ lnnes took seventeen pieces of work through to Glasgow but selected only seven. With the help of two students he hung the
‘There’s the natural stain of the canvas behind the paint and there’s the effect of light. They are paintings that respond to the colour around.’
show in a day. ‘Artists are like writers. they need good editors. It‘s exciting because you learn what looks good next to what. It‘s really important to have a constructive dialogue and it was a valuable exercise for the students as well.‘
Teaching gives lnnes a chance to get out of the studio and back to the shop floor. ‘lt's a great support system for an artist financially and to keep in touch.
I always say it's the students who‘ll change things. it's up to their generation. Also I like to keep track of the competition and sort them out if it gets too hot.‘ he says jokingly.
Cal/am lnnes a/ Glasgow .S't‘liaa/ (if/tr! until 3 F eb.
The List 27 Jan-9 Feb I995 51