Jon Cattapan, ‘Pink Variance 3’, 2020-21, oil on linen, 183 x 250 cm
Jon Cattapan’s monumental new paintings engulf the viewer in eddies of high key colours and complex, latticed layers. Each one appears caught in a moment of passage or dissolution, from the vaporous and fluid to the more solid and fleshy.
In many of these new works, Cattapan walks the tightrope colour spectrum of pink, which requires the exacting use of magenta, alizarin crimson, reds and white. In Philip Guston-like tones, lashes of thin paint run down the large canvas titled ‘Pink Variance 3’. To achieve this, Cattapan has almost liquefied the oil paint to the point where its skin has broken down to form textural channels. Adding to the densely layered quality of the work, Cattapan covers these striations with a system of staccato brushstrokes, plotting out a cityscape against the tectonic crust of pink, yellow and green. Like a synaesthete’s view of urban sprawl, this painting encapsulates Cattapan’s fascination with the sensual potential of the digital.
This potential is extended in ‘Rose Group Forming’, the only large-scale painting populated by figures. At first, this work appears to be an electric charge sent through a surveillance camera, injecting a feverish rush of mismatching HEX codes through the image. On closer inspection, Cattapan hasn’t simply saturated an existing world, but built and moulded one from disparate pieces. Ambiguous and archetypal, these figures abstract into the foreground: a shoulder collapses into the data scape, a throng of bodies breaks away into shards that become part of the map-like layer. His figures live in a fugitive space that is never completely cohesive. Perhaps this is truer to the world we live in today; hyperconnected but also intensely dislocated.
‘Reaching Group Study’ offers a tender moment between the titans of colour around the gallery space, depicting figures reaching down towards a deep, hopeful blue. They huddle beneath a firmament of glowing dots that have been connected by meandering lines. They also have spectral echoes in streaks of yellow on either side, implying that the body can flicker across space and through time.
Even without an overlaying architecture, what Cattapan describes as the “miasma of information” that pulses around us is still insinuated in ‘Absence Field (Distension)’. This hot, arterial work gives the landscape a body. Its large scale draws you into its muscle. Encountering this work reminds me of Mark Rothko’s famous remark that the viewer should stand just 18 inches (45 centimetres) away from his canvases. Moving my eye across ‘Absence Field’ in this way, Cattapan’s fusion of streaks, imprints and swashes reveals an intense appetite for transforming paint.
Cattapan’s inclination to resist cohesion in order to keep his paintings in threshold states has influenced the entire group of paintings. In particular, ‘Pink Variance (Haze)’ sits between solid and porous, with nebulous clouds of pink sandwiching an uncanny turreted form. Where once his works recalled the submerged city of J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, here they seem more akin to his subsequent novel The Burning World from 1964. Cattapan’s streaks of red and cauterized pink could be Ballard’s “long plumes [rising] high in the air, drifting away like fragments of an enormous collapsing message.” In this work, Cattapan’s blooms of paint are equally looming smoke signals.
Meanwhile, ‘Blue Rise (Hokusai Rain)’ presents an entirely different palette, drenched with glacial blue paint that has been applied in many transparent washes. Here, passages of rain slide across the large, misty surface, forming a kind of ‘floating world’ that you could almost step right into. In this vein, the tribute to ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai in the title leads us to see the work as both rich in sensory pleasure and suggestive of transition and impermanence. ‘Blue Rise’ tempts us to pull aside the paint flecks like a beaded curtain and drift into its depths.
A series of 3D printed ‘Glitch Studies’ pivots dramatically away from these portals of colour. Without it, Cattapan’s architecture of lines, grids and dots comes to the fore like a physical blueprint, echoing the paintings in deep-set negative. This gives each 3D print the quality of a cyanotype, like an image captured in an instant. However, Cattapan’s paintings and prints share the process of accumulation, where it takes hours for the printer to build up the work’s topography, leaving traces of its diagonal path across. Close up, each individual tile is abstract, protruding like unchecked braille. From afar, they collapse into images of figures that are almost but not quite fully formed.
Words by Alanna Irwin
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