Katherine Spindler's early work – her light installations - showed a preoccupation with impermanence, light and shadow; this stemming from her time spent on a hospital ship off the coast of West Africa. The shifting light of these installations could be seen as reimaginings of light coming in through a window, moving as a result of the instability of a ship floating on water. This preoccupation with shadow as imperceptible shifts in tones translated into Spindler’s paintings, transitioning between light and dark, or what Dario Gamboni might have termed “potential images,” oscillating between being almost present and yet not quite there.
It is curious to see an artist so sensitive to subtle or almost imperceptible variations of tone move into the use of complementary colours, as Spindler does in Paintings for Disappearing. In theory, complementary colours sit directly opposite each other on the colour wheel and provide high contrast to one another. The underpainting in Spindler’s works is often the colour most distinguished from the later layers, such as the pinkish underpainting that pries through the misty green blues of Conversational Essence I and II. However, in trying to describe the colour, it is evident that in Spindler’s handling, colour might not be fixed and so is difficult to name. It is colour transformed by its relationships to the colour that surrounds it, such as the browns scumbled into the halo of Green Bouquet that optically read as orange when surrounded by grey greens.
The intangible presence of Spindler’s colour is seen behind her works on paper. She has painted the backs of these works in warm oranges and pinks, and this colour reflects onto the white backing of the frames to create a glow or a shimmering light behind the paintings. The grey-green hues of These Times I are illuminated by pink afterglows reflecting behind the painting, causing colour to become as intangible as light. This is colour read as light, like the orange-pink glow of Claude Monet’s Haystacks. In Monet’s handling, the haystacks are not rough-hewn, tangible objects, but dissolve beneath the mark and disintegrate into light.
It is not only the light and form of Monet’s work that offers a useful heuristic to examine Spindler’s painting, but also in thinking through the subject matter. While we might consider Impressionism as landscapes, meadows and sunrises - (in the same way we might see flowers and hugs in Spindler’s work), it is important to remember that Impressionist paintings were created at a time of major disruption. Linda Nochlin draws our attention to the fragmented and partial figures of Impressionist cityscapes as indicators of dislocation as a result of industrialisation. It was a time of major change; a different world in which the figures were no longer secure. People’s lives had been uprooted and their sense of self experienced as fugitive and fleeting.
Similarly, works created by an artist with Spindler’s empathy in the time of Covid-19 have to be seen in their context. She confirms this, saying “One’s life is woven into the things we make whether conscious or unconscious.”
The paintings operate as a search for connection in times of isolation and apartness. Her flowers are comforting. They recur throughout the show and are notable in the two largest paintings in the exhibition, Pink Bouquet and Green Bouquet. Derived from the same image, they show a bouquet of flowers in the centre, laid out on cloth, perhaps at the moment of trimming the stems. They suggest a gift that is sent to a friend or loved one to signal connection and care, but in Spindler’s handling they are intangible; they’re not entirely there. The flowers in the paintings are seen from a distance, but as you get up close to the surface, they disintegrate into scumbled marks and thoroughly worked surfaces. They signal hope, yet a hope that is transient. They touch on how fleeting moments of solace may be. We want intimacy and to hold, but we have to afford some distance to these longings. The notion of ‘disappearing’ in this exhibition may denote retreating in times of shelter. It may signal how we shut out the public as we withdraw into the personal, the close and that which is safe. And yet, with all this said, the paintings glow; they are filled with halos of colour and shimmering light. They reach out to us. They resist being experienced as one emotion or read with a single interpretation. They are light and shadow, interconnected and contingent like breathing in and exhaling. They are a search for wonder in times of hardship and offer us a way to wrestle with their co-existence.
Gamboni, D. 2002. Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art
London: Reaktion Books.
Nochlin, L. 1994. The Body in Pieces. The Fragment as a Metaphor of Modernity. London:
Thames and Hudson.