Imagine a city devoid of its people. Not somewhere bleak and decaying, but a city whose inhabitants had lived lives so vibrant, so full of energy that the city they left behind couldn’t help but reflect that energy.
Casting your eye over the surface of one of Russell West’s works and letting it be drawn into the many layers takes us on journey to that city. As with any painting we start with visual impact it makes and make no mistake, these paintings look impressive. There is enough here in the interplay of colour, light and shade to keep us occupied far longer than many other artists working today. We are invited to to consider the physical act of making, how the artist controls the flow of pigment across the base of wires, pins and their extension into the mount behind.
Russell West’s inspiration came from a transformative moment in 1993 when he witnessed the destruction of the ‘Walled city of Kowloon’. Imagine if every building of a city reflected in its colours and shapes the life of the people who lived in it; how they lived - alone or with others - maybe found love, maybe raised children; how they cared and were cared for. Imagine a city whose inhabitants were set free from the normal constraints of the city of today; where planners and archi- tects designed buildings which could be reconfigured, and engineers delivered materials which could be customised. A city where building codes kept us safe but didn’t constrain us.
And while you’re thinking about that, come back again to the painting in front of you. When we look at the flow of paint in any action painting we are taken back to the instant of its creation, and the same is true of Russell’s work. The pigment flowing through his sculptures is spontaneous, and the tools by which he could control the finished product are the same as for any other dynamic artist, the difference being that the end result of this dynamic artwork arrives much more slowly.
Even after one of West’s artworks has left the gallery and is hung on the owner’s wall it is still hardening. So finally, perhaps, this thought has something to tell us about how cities or buildings evolve. We build a physical structure; we paint the walls and arrange the furniture, we knock through walls and build extensions. For many years our homes keep us safe. But then we pass them on to someone else and the changes commence again; this small record of our life is recreated, always new, a living document of the lives we all lead.