Grey

Memory And Other Frailties

17 August – 28 August 2021

Whether deliberate or not, much art is inevitably autobiographical.

Even if an artist doesn’t intend it, it's impossible to remove the lens through which they view themselves, others, and the world. Each painting could be seen, then, as an attempt to work something out – some small part of the big questions posed by simply being aware and alive.

Susan Thomas' paintings record interlocking layers of trauma and joy in visual time capsules. The 2019 series Bloodlines was in response to a DNA test Thomas' family undertook for cancer, and earlier works examined shelter, both physical and psychological.

The works in this series were created as Thomas' mother's memory gradually worsened, as it continues to do. Memory is frail, intangible and complex, and the play of vivid colour and painted white mist goes some way to evoke the constantly shifting landscape of memory. Remarkably, though they count among their themes some of the most universally difficult things we as humans endure, these paintings are not bleak. They are quiet; they suggest rather than assert.

Through veils of paint looped lines appear – gestures without resolution – and these scratched lines can be seen as essays in the purest sense of the word. 'Essayer' is to try, and these gestural sighs read as attempts to write, to speak, to translate something: a feeling, a frustration, a question without an answer. Nearly meeting their tails but never quite arriving, these forms speak to a degree of comfort with the unknown.

Thomas' abstraction fits because it is tied to the misunderstandings, miscommunications, and mis-rememberings that characterise the traumatic memory - or perhaps that are just part of being alive. Just like abstraction's move away from the figurative, our memories, prejudices, in short, our experiences - all influence our minds' own radiating journeys away from fact. If there is one thing that we learn, it is that we are all as unreliable as narrators as each other.

@thegreyplace