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Darren Almond, Mason's Yard (2024)

Darren Almond

Life Line

20 March – 4 May 2024


20 March – 4 May 2024


White Cube Mason’s Yard

25 – 26 Mason's Yard
London SW1Y 6BU

‘Life Line’ derives its impetus foremost from the artist’s childhood memory of fishing next to a willow tree, in a flooded mining-pit on the edge of Wigan – a resonant intertwining of industrial labour and leisurely tranquillity.

White Cube Mason’s Yard presents ‘Life Line’, a solo exhibition of new work by Darren Almond, in which the artist’s new paintings embrace the instability of time, memory and place. Considering time as continuous and variable, real and abstract, Almond has consistently examined how our relationship to the natural world undergoes inexorable change. Attuned to layers of temporality – whether mechanical, physical or cosmological – Almond’s meditative abstraction ushers an intensified experience of time.

‘Life Line’ derives its impetus foremost from the artist’s childhood memory of fishing next to a willow tree, in a flooded mining-pit on the edge of Wigan – a resonant intertwining of industrial labour and leisurely tranquillity. Fascinated by the reflection of light upon this body of water, ‘Life Line’ introduces this early memory with an opening sequence of diptychs, presented on the ground floor gallery. Comprising a luminescent frieze, the paintings create a horizon line across four walls. As studies in duration, these window-like landscape paintings provide a view of the changing seasons. Each panel is overlaid with varying metal leaf: gold, copper or palladium, which in turn is then arrayed with slim silhouettes of the willow tree, at various stages of leaf bud. Ranging from the viridescent freshness of spring leaves on gold, to bare, pendulous winter branches on palladium, a seasonal rhythm unfolds across the exhibition space.

Arriving at painting through what Almond describes as photography’s ‘failings’, it is the mutability of light and its multiplicity of sources that serves as a point of departure for the artist. In this new body of work, Almond incorporates the diversity of metals to activate the dynamic qualities of light, occasioning a new means to visualise both space and time. As he explains: ‘I realised I was still somehow trying to find another space, another landscape – trying to maintain the practice of the “Fullmoons” without actually making them. So, I thought about working with harvested material, combining these metals, rather than mixing colour and pigment. Because of their natural properties, the metals go searching for light; they bring it in, physically reflect and alter and shift under it.’ Almond’s ‘Fullmoon’ (1998–ongoing) photographs are each taken under moonlight using long exposures, through which previously imperceptible details become visible. For Almond, the moon marks both an end and a beginning: a marvelled, faraway object through which we chart time.

While these paintings excavate memory to offer a reflection on place, subject to seasonal change, their continuity is established by the repeated outline of a zero. At the centre of each diptych, this debossed outline of the faintly visible shape bridges the paintings’ parts. This digit’s impression affects spatial and optical difference within the otherwise flat plane of the painting. Suggesting a portal or lens, each zero implies a point of focussed reflectivity. Less an anonymous integer than the representation of an idea, Almond’s zero encapsulates associative chronologies: born late into the numerical system, coinciding with the birth of Buddhism and the re-addressing of a human connection to spiritual and natural worlds. For Almond, zero is ‘the nothing that holds everything together’.

Though conceived from memory, these panels also reference traditional Japanese artforms, from the 17th-century Rinpa School of painting and the landscapes and ink drawings of master draftsman Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539-1610). Almond’s tonal use of gold echoes the techniques of the Rinpa School, where the hue was used to depict areas of water, creating arresting pools of light. Gold, as an indicator of space and harmoniser of light, was elaborated by Junichiro Tanizaki, in his 1933 essay In Praise of Shadows. In this essay, Tanizaki describes how a single candle could provide enough light to illuminate an entire room due to the flecks of gold in the lacquer of furniture and objects present in the space, collectively distributing the candle’s glow.

In the lower ground-floor gallery, two groups of paintings – each comprised of six vertical panels – are installed on facing walls. Here, the willow branches lilt in graceful lines upon the surface of ambient, warming metals. The gridded surface of the supporting panels, meanwhile, are formed by sampling the standard manufacturing dimensions of a leaf foil square, each leaf delicately applied and almost blended by the artist. These works reference Hasegawa’s renowned, enigmatic byōbu (‘wind wall’) – folding screens that depict natural atmospheres resplendent with sensation, across panels as though unfolding in time. Evoking these traditional artforms, Almond’s screen-like paintings attend to form and scale – the geometric pattern of leaf foil and the sequencing of individual panels – to create a representation of nature that appears both narrative and systematised.

The use of metals in Almond’s painting can be read alongside his engagement with histories of industry, in particular the city of Norilsk, a mining area in Siberia located at the edge of the Arctic Circle. While Almond’s investigatory practice offers portraits of place that trace its legacies and narratives of human experience, these paintings offer an atmospheric and mercurial counter-image to the locations of Almond’s interest, evoking an open, extraterritorial space. ‘I was trying to find in the paintings the same kind of space I’d experienced up in Siberia’, Almond says, ‘I was attempting to create these planes that would open and be seemingly endless. And I was, relatedly, wanting them to be ever-changing, in terms of the light in the space, the time of day, but also in terms of the value, or emphasis, given to the way that a viewer would read a composition. You’d almost play it; it would indicate a rhythm that could continue off the picture plane. The actual subject matter, if you like, is this kind of ongoing space.’

On the far wall of the gallery, six eight-panel paintings, each titled Inari Chimera (2024), are installed to form a single, extended composition. This installation comprises a matrix of digits in Helvetica font, each symbol and number fragmented as though a cascade of glitching, digitised time. Running horizontally across its centre, six zeros appear as faint, waning moons, each formed of thin strips of gold. These recurring zeroes emblematise infinitude, echoing the titular ‘chimera’ that remains unknowable and unresolved. As six works installed together, the Inari Chimera collectively manifest a dating system, registering the index of seconds, minutes and hours that make-up duration. While drawing from the myriad hues of autumn, the paintings are equally inspired by the Fushimi Inari Taisha temple in Kyoto, where a sequence of vermillion torii gates offers a framework of colour and light through which the landscape beyond is visible. Almond’s expansive installation summons this moment of transition where one’s surroundings are witnessed as a series of flickers, or as the works’ title suggests, an ungraspable illusion.

The interplay of colour, light and shape continues in the two centrally suspended paintings, though here the palette assimilates the spectrum of autumnal landscapes. In one of the paintings, Hatsuyuki (2024), a Japanese word for ‘first snow’, fragmented numbers interlock with rectangular shafts of white upon an aluminium background, their intervening forms evoking the very transitory state of snowfall. Murasame (2024), which translates to ‘village rain’, is a painting of rich indigo which recalls the impenetrable darkness of night, its glimmers of silver and gold suggesting a diaphanous moon-lit rain or the astral trails of a meteor shower.

Forming a poetic endnote to the exhibition’s meditation on nature, Fullmoon@Wall (In Memoriam) (2024) is installed in the lower-ground floor lobby. The photograph depicts the iconic Sycamore Gap tree at Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, UK, cut down in 2023 in an act of vandalism. Transformed into an unexpected paean to a now destroyed landscape, Fullmoon@Wall (In Memoriam) tethers the historic to the present, in a haunting image created under the brilliance of the full moon.

Installation Views

Featured Works

Darren Almond

Senryū (late winter), 2023

Darren Almond

Senryū (spring), 2023

Darren Almond

Aki–Willow, 2024

Darren Almond

Fuyu–Willow, 2024

Darren Almond

Senryū (summer), 2024

Darren Almond

Senryū (autumn), 2023

Darren Almond

Murasame, 2024

Darren Almond

Haru-Willow, 2024

Darren Almond

Inari Chimera I, 2024

Exhibition Walkthrough

Darren Almond

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