Peter Westwood’s new work presents the world as we think we know it. But, like reality itself, the images are mysterious – simultaneously ‘formed’ yet unformed.
Their painted spaces are ambiguous; their ‘facts’ are unreliable and mutable; their psychology is erratic. Forms, once-recognised, are filtered through the ‘laws’ of abstraction so that imagery sometimes becomes non-imagery, half-imagined. Elsewhere, suggestive images emerge, barely formed, which become something else, even as we think we have located them. The paintings have a variety of possible readings and the images both ‘are’ and ‘are not’ - like the hypnogogic images we experience on the verge of dreaming, which endlessly change and switch as we regard them.
In a sense, the paintings can be viewed as a kind of social document – but a social document which is not assertive. On one level, the subject matter is about society and our place within it. But these are no mere illustrative, figurative narratives. The ‘stories’ they tell are about how things play out, perpetually, in endless permutations. There are no solutions, only manifestations of events and situations. The paintings are also about the history of themselves and their making, in the artist’s studio.
Westwood works from found images, but, apart from image-choice and selection, he does not plan the paintings before embarking on them. The paintings evolve through their making. They are allowed to grow and coalesce through chance placement and a kind of psychological, stream-of-consciousness process that allows suggestive connections to flourish between figuration and abstraction.
The pictorial spaces in the paintings are also ambiguous - sometimes deep space is suggested around the forms, and sometimes shallower space flattens into abstraction. Westwood states: “The body of the painting is as important as the image. Everything is unstable. There is only a perpetual question.”
The foreground of the painting, New Order, shows the aftermath of some kind of a crash, now fragmented into an abstract arrangement of painterly swipes and dabs. People mill about in the background, also dissolving into gobbets of abstract painted marks. We ‘know’ the scene, but also don’t know. The ‘real’ moment has been transmuted into an imagined abstract invention whose ‘authenticity’ is as valid as a photograph.
In an enigmatic, nighttime painting, Bags of Light, the glowing forms sit under what is possibly an overpass. The image triggers a host of potential ‘narratives’ – all of which are ‘true’, all of which are ‘false’.
Birdshead World, depicts an iconic figure of ambiguous intention: does it perhaps convey a religious moral imperative, even though it is now faceless? The bird skull beside it suggests an atavistic or even pantheistic overview, which predates modern religious proscriptions. A multitude of readings is possible.
Caught Up, presents a figure who seems to be shoring up some material that’s tumbling out of an open doorway – or perhaps the figure is dismantling the structure. Or perhaps the figure is the artist himself, in the studio, grappling with the multitude of possibilities as they open up during the creation of his imagery. The suggested pictorial possibilities – as for all of the works in the exhibition - are unending.
Steve Cox, 2017.