18 November 2022 – 7 January 2023
Inside the White Cube | White Cube Hong Kong
‘[...] there was a frigid godliness to it that things lit by the sun do not possess.’
– Rachel Cusk, Second Place (Faber, 2021)
Margaux Williamson’s first exhibition in Asia heralds a re-invigorated form of figuration. In paintings characterised by a sense of interiority and intimacy, Williamson explores how the visual markers of daily life can frame and refract experience. Devoid of protagonists, her subjects include domestic interiors, still lifes and nature close to home, which reveal, through an expressive rendering of the things around us, the strange within the familiar and the surreal within the banal.
Produced during the past year, the paintings are predominantly dark in tone, depicting spaces illuminated by strong directional, artificial light or the eerie glow of night. ‘For this series I felt a slight repulsion to daylight and a strong pull to the ground or to the dark and the glow of reflected light,’ Williamson says. ‘There is something about light that’s removed from its source [...] of having your back to the sun or the day but to still hold the glow or some version of its life.’
Qualities of light and degrees of luminosity can often change across the canvas surface, suggesting an indeterminate time or place. By painting one scene in a particular condition of light or time of day and then adding to it with an altogether different mood, Williamson attempts to inscribe time through paint. ‘I had always loved paintings, as they could provide more space, but how great to see that they could also provide more time,’ she has remarked.
Williamson is guided less by the pursuit of representation than by what she calls the ‘forceful logic of a painting’. Suspended between myriad viewpoints, we simultaneously look at, above and over her subject matter. Capturing a fleeting moment, her imagery is perceived atmospherically; objects isolated, almost totemic, within varying times of day and temperatures, or competing perspectives. This elision, between the real and the imagined, is underpinned by painterly effects in which precisely rendered details give way to expressive brushwork. Such changes in textural treatment contribute to an awareness of something in flux or ungrounded, a shifting away from pure figuration and towards a state of near-abstraction.
This is apparent in Garage door (2022), a night-time garden viewed from the vantage point of inside a garage, or Ocean and Living Room (2022), a surreal scene of a carpeted living room, half engulfed by black, rolling waves. Continuing this sense of the illusory, Fire and Bookshelf (2022) depicts a living room wall, lined with books, a fire blazing at its centre. Occupying the same horizontal planes, the elements that make up the composition appear at odds with each other: the books more like blocks, the fire a bonfire with its flames leaping out of the grate, and half the rug empty of pattern. As Williamson states: ‘For me, the most interesting part is to find that framework of painting, to reach some of its corners – to find something that is different from the framework of seeing.’
In several night-time paintings Williamson focuses on outdoor scenes: an unkempt back yard, a small stream, a flowerbed or hiking trail, each one charged with an internal tension. Both Moon (2022) and Park (2022) are set in bright moonlight. In the former, a small black book and a drink appear abandoned on a large garden table, oddly luminescent, while in Park, ghostly flowers shine under an abstracted haze of tiny lights, the remains of the day’s activities – coffee cups, trainers and a piece of clothing – lying scattered about. In each of her paintings, the compositions are built from distinct, constituent parts, the combination of which, however, often resolve in unexpected ways.
The feeling of absence or recent departure also characterises Stream (2022), in which a sapling tree and wooden chair are seen next to a stream flanked by reeds, the whole enveloped in a crepuscular light. Williamson renders the chair from a dizzying perspective as if the viewer is looking down from a window high above, while the discarded beer cans and wine bottles also visible suggest the remains of a gathering, tinging the image with a sense of the forlorn. In each of these works, the potential for narrative is ever present yet excluded from what is seen.