MAstars 2010: Gareth Cadwallader, MA Painting

MAstars 2010: Gareth Cadwallader, MA Painting Gareth Cadwallader, Reynolds, 2007. Oil on panel. 20cm x 23cm

Irene Bradbury selects Gareth Cadwallader from the Royal College of Art for MAstars

Contrary to the first president of the Royal Academy's belief that a painter should not slavishly copy nature but seek an ideal form or 'grand style', 'Reynolds' (2007) by Gareth Cadwallader depicts the artist in the form of an ageing bronze bust ossified and caked in muddy patina. Extracted from the mayhem of Leicester square, Sir Joshua Reynolds is depicted against a flat vivid blue ground, leaving us to focus on his tarnished noble features. Notable are his cleft chin, disfigured pout and averted eyes under the rim of his hat – details that realistically capture this distinguished artist mummified in bronze. Sharing with Glenn Brown an interest in the revision of old masters and a fetishism of art historical imagery, Cadwallader melts the surface texture with dramatic lighting and expression that transform the bust from heroic to melancholic. In Cadwallader's degree show 'Statue' (2010) continues this theme. Set against a warm lit background, the head of a girl wearing a bonnet looks downcast and despondent, worn over time by her dappled green patina or 'verdigris'.

The other small and intensely painted work shown in Cadwallader's degree show, titled 'Still-life' (2010), reflects on the abundance and visceral nature of the imagery we associate with Dutch or Flemish circles in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Cadwallader hangs a freshly skinned turkey next to a leg of smoked ham while various vegetables, fish and fruits, some already in string bags or bunches, are carefully positioned to create a wall or cornucopian spill of produce. A chequered tablecloth enhances a trompe I’oeil effect, defining a surface along which an outstretched arm emerges from behind the pile of cherries, peppers and mangos. Casually having another fag with an ashtray on hand, the arm bears the hallmarks of an artist taking a break from his painterly labours, perhaps a playful interruption or ironic reflection on their own practice.

I was definitely struck by these two small paintings as I wandered around this year's RCA Fine Art degree show (both the Painting and Sculpture departments are now all on one site at Howie Street by Battersea Bridge). Having then looked at other paintings by Cadwallader on his website, such as 'Apples', 'Gingham', 'Degas' and 'Window', it becomes apparent that he is further exploring a convergence of hyper-realistic figuration and abstraction with extraordinary skill, reductive invention and vision – indeed, creating his own refined or 'grand style'.

Gareth Cadwallader will have a solo show with the Hannah Barry Gallery, London, in January 2011.

Selected by Irene Bradbury
Published October, 2010

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