Superimposition, a group show featuring four leading contemporary British artists, opens at Partners & Mucciaccia London gallery on June 15. Paul Morrison, Barry Reigate, Michael Stubbs and Mark Titchner are united by an awareness of the rich tradition of painting in Britain and beyond, plus the will to show the medium is alive and well in the 21st Century.
The exhibition takes its title from the concept of superimposition. Derived from the Latin word superimponere, meaning “to place over” or “to place above”, it is mostly associated with the world of graphics, when one image is layered on top of another to partially or totally cover the previous one, sometimes using different materials. Superimposition is a process based intervention; one layered or mapped act follows the previous one to reveal the final composition.
There has been a strong historical impulse towards superimposing in British art. It dates back via the Pop art collages of Richard Hamilton and his peers, pieces of merz assemblage by Kurt Schwitters in the 1940s, to the abstract paintings of Ben Nicholson. These precedents often seem to occupy separate strata in one single piece. All four of the artists in this exhibition are finding expanded ways to embrace superimposition using the medium of paint. Michael Stubbs is perhaps closest in outcome to the Pop artists and abstractionists of the 20th Century, piling up riotous fragments and configurations of over-layered colour, whilst simultaneously introducing graphic logos. His preference is for household paints and coloured floor varnishes and to view his paintings is to be involved in a compulsive game of both revealing and hiding buried imagery.
For Mark Titchner – a 2006 Turner prize nominee – superimposition tends to be verbal. He writes phrases and ideas onto his works, duly transforming not just their appearance but their meanings. In numerous, large-scale public projects he might also be said to be superimposing his texts onto the streets – and indeed, people’s lives. Titchner’s words are taken from song lyrics, corporate mission statements and the maxims of revolutionary socialism. The viewer knows that he or she is being asked to ironically respond to them, but quite how and why is never clear.
Barry Reigate’s method is to apply acrylic paint to canvas with an airbrush. His work combines street art aesthetics, merging cartoon characters with disembodied limbs and passages of purist abstraction. Its many elements don’t simply compete for our attention but seem to fight with each other in a race "upwards" to occupy the picture surface. Finally, Paul Morrison’s striking, black and white paintings find their inspiration in old, topographical engravings and botanical illustrations. Using digital software – and often scaling up, cropping and/or distorting his source material – he seamlessly combines different elements from different imagery creating a surreal, monochrome universe. "These four artists operate at the interface of popular culture and aesthetics," say Superimposition's curators, Catherine Loewe and Michael Stubbs. "Through distinct, highly individual processes, each one employs a free-style play of forms and idioms, extracted from the cultural zeitgeist of the early years of the 21st Century. Yet their work is also underpinned by an awareness of, and deep affection for, the rich repository of British art from the previous century.”
Morrison, Reigate, Stubbs and Titchner all know each other, but this is the first time they have exhibited together. All received training in British art schools and have developed practices that reflect the less stable, rapidly shifting sands of contemporary culture and technology which they explore playfully and diversely.