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Contemporary British Abstract Landscapists | PHD Thesis

Imy Antall | Lecturer in Contemporary and Modern Art | University of Kent 

Nick Malone paints ideas, adopting the paint brush as his expressive implement of choice, his mind's eye finely attuned to the hand manipulating it. Originally a writer, his first book had an intdroduction by Sir William Empson; Empson was author of the brilliant Seven Types of Ambiguity which proposed that the power of literature follows in direct proportions to the ambiguity and multiplicity of meaning inherent in language. It is interesting to note how similar thought patterns dealing with sign adnsignificance reflect in the contradictory language of Malone's visual world. 

Subsequent periods as a Visiting Professor in Contemporary Literature at the University of Thessaloniki (Greece) and Wisconsin (U.S.) gave the opportunity to experience other types of extremes, of climate and culture, which have since further surfaced in the duality of his images: their temperature, rhythm, texture. Since 1997, Malone has fully given himself to painting; leaving writing behind, the artist may have found some of the deeper realms of his sensibility unutterable and hence the written word proved insufficient. Word, in fact, still seem deficient when attempting to read his intense visions. 

Malone's images are settings for dreams, vaguely unsettling, almost uninviting. Nevertheless, the viewer develops an obstinate curiosity to linger on them, in the hope that something familiar will start relating them to actual places seen before. Meanwhile, one gets this sense of being lulled into oblivion of our past and present world, our eye following the artist's long awinging brush-marks, in their horizontal passage from one side of the canvas to the other, only broken up by a few strong verticals. this transversal flux is possibly the only way one could visually link them with real-life landscapes. The impression, though, is strong enough to identify them as such. 

His images are positively unique in the way space is treated. The perspective is ambiguous due to what appears to be a reflective layer peeled onto the actual depiction. The translucent film is some times visable through the elusive shimmering accents or curiously blurred areas which do not seem to belong to the image itself. The appearance of the sky in Gihon II, for example, is like looking at an eerie landscape through glass or water, or at a reflection in a mirror.

The titles often bear biblical or mythical resonances. Their implied significance only adds to the existing dilemma of reading the image. Yet, more importantly, they contribute to creating the special kind of atmosphere Malone wishes to convey. The monochrome palette, the variations of paint consistancy from earthy to etheral, together with the mystifying denominations - all these represent various means of transporting the spectator into a certain viewing mood. Titles like Gihon, for instance, must have originated from the Old Testament, which describes it as the spring outside the city walls in Jerusalem providing its main source of water. We also read in Genesis that the river that flowed our of the garden of Eden divided into four rivers; the second river called Gihon means "gusher" in Hebrew and comes from a word meaning "to burst forth", "draw forth" or "break forth" - a very suitable name for Malone's painting, since the spring acts like a siphon and rapidly pours out a tremendous amount of water, then almost dries up for a long while. Although the title is merely suggestive, from Malone's image we get an idea of a river that flooded its banks, perhaps too often and perhaps too violently. 


Nevertheless, reference here mainly serves the purpose of emotional suggestion. The same could be said about his handling of paint and sense of structure. Malone's works are sensuous and tempestuous. A perfect balance is kept between areas of floating vapour, sprays and splashes, and the solid black compositional regulators. The structural integrity is rigourously kept and there does not seem to be anything missing or in surplus. Quite remarkably for an atmospheric landscapist, he feels the need for exposing the hardy underlying structure. The fact that this duality works so successfully, is the proof that the artist can be an absorbed visionary painter whilst remaining a rigourous draftsman.


His materials are a mixture of acrylic paint, plaster, marble dust and iron oxide, applied on canvas and sometimes Fabriano paper. Here is how the artist describes his painting process:


“The actual procedure of making a physical object is important; I use a variety of techniques to build, scrape back and rebuild the picture plane, and out of this, shapes suggest themselves and become resolved in new ideas. Exposed past workings rise like palimpsests, interacting with new layers and glazes of oxides, plasters and pigments.”


As new forms emerge from coats of material, so do the hypotheses for the elucidation of the imagery. The painter seems to encourage his viewers to abandon all rational thought at the gallery door. His works are trips into spheres of truth we did not consider accessible. In this case, the titles are as important as the images, as they may help unlock instinctual channels of understanding. 


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