The recent theme of the gallery shows demonstrates their loyalty to around 50 artists over the past 50 years, and for 40 of those years, Alan Charlton’s work has been a consistent feature. Charlton is known for his geometric, grey, flat paintings, discharged with serious precision to the extent that it almost appears as if the works had been teleported from a military or alien production facility.
The presence of the human hand we are so accustomed to via the history of painting via Fauvism, die Neuen Wilden, abstract expressionism or action painting is certainly and calculatingly expunged from Charlton’s painted canvases. The perception of course might be that Charlton is a serious artist, making lofty work to be appreciated by a fictional rarefied intelligentsia with the apparatus necessary to grasp the aesthetic finesse of painting sans colour, texture or picture plane narrative.
Known for his workmanlike approach (he works from 9-5, Monday to Friday in his studio) and for work with implicit references to Sheffield and its ‘grim-up-North’, austere sensibility, Charlton might be accused of making paintings with all the poise and panache of a jobbing steel erector. But here, believe me, there is not a sable hair or a paint particle out of place.
If anyone said to you that they had just visited a two-storey exhibition made up of variously shaped and sized, flat, grey paintings, I can imagine your excitement. But seriously, and I don’t know how he’s done it, but Alan Charlton just persuaded me that grey is the sexiest, coolest and most mesmerizing ‘colour’ in a form that I will always remember.
The top floor of the gallery is accomplished, professional and utterly meticulous in its product and preparation, but actually when one descends to the 3rd floor the collective impact is simply astounding. I can’t recall the last time when my hair actually stood on end when entering a one-person show, but this was certainly one of those very, very special moments.
The geometric and material transparency is clearly accompanied by a razor-sharp insight, and what I can only describe as some charismatic near-miss dalliances with symbolism; symbolism both contemporary and ancient. Here we get the pyramids, ziggurats, James Turrell, undertones of the Maltese Cross colliding with some carefully orchestrated optical impressions delivered by objects that subvert our perceptual grasp of scale and distance. The more time one spends in the space, the size of the works becomes strangely indeterminate, only measurable by how long it takes to physically traverse the frontages. The precision serves to render them infinitely big (or small) – for once, size really doesn’t matter. Describing rooms full of grey paintings is actually really tricky, but the experience and the impact is thankfully, dazzlingly unpredictable.
In summary, Charlton’s approach comes across as being modest, honest, hard-working and intensely expressive without resorting to crudely expressionistic means. It is a strangely moving show, full of spectacle and contemplation, of stillness and measured drama. The Annely Juda Gallery continues to discover and support new talent, but crucially it surprises us with some absolute treasures and some shows that really are landmark experiences. This is one.