The View from Here, 25 October - 19 November 2016
They could be blueprints for a house, or something larger, like a city, or something smaller, like a vase. They could show how the light will fall, how a person might move around a space, how their fingers might trace a curved ledge. These options are all laden with potential, but these paintings could equally be characterised by reflection â�� they could be the gentle compression of lived experiences into and onto canvas.
If Iâ��m being whimsical, itâ��s only because Simon McIntyreâ��s paintings surprised me by being rather whimsical themselves.
Whimsical is a word with an undeserved reputation, apparently unable to shake its unkindly connotations with flakiness and sweet vapidity. Dictionary definitions allow for no such conjecture, explaining that a whimsical being is simply one who is inclined to indulge and act upon a whim â�� they would follow that intriguing sound, they would stop and stare, they would drop everything labelled â��necessaryâ�� in favour of anything they desire. Perhaps I have just described a child, and perhaps a return to the sanctioned selfishness of childhood is the lure of a whimsical life (or at least, a whimsical day) but could also be the reason the word has acquired such baggage, as none of us think that selfishness should be romanticised as a lifestyle. Rather than selfishness, the whimsical feeling evoked by McIntyreâ��s paintings is borne from the peaceful giddiness of revelling in the world as a child might, from taking in the subtle shapes, hues and qualities of light unfolding each moment. It is a kind of affective curiosity which sits below consciousness, inciting one to become wilfully absorbed in their environment, to notice exquisite moments everywhere.
To move whimsically through the city is to move guilelessly towards pleasure. McIntyreâ��s paintings feel borne of such enviable circumambulation. They radiate quietly and comfortably, their edges pushing out, insisting that there is more to see, if only the canvas stretched a little further. Even that which is revealed to us seems to be only the topmost layer of that scene â�� other aspects stay veiled beneath delicate washes of paint. The mustard yellow, for example, which is used frequently throughout these works appears like faded road markings, still richly coloured but beginning to turn sheer, dark tarmac showing through where the yellow has cracked with wear. There are moments, too, where McIntyre has made tiny tears in his own suggestions of space, by allowing some recognisable object â�� a cinder block, a ledge â�� to try and assert the constitution of that space.
These moments feel worldly but not jaded. It is as though the city has been caught unexpectedly: they may think they are not looking their best, that they have been caught at a bad time, but it is in these uncertain candid moments that some other, elusive beauty is found. Rather than showing the city sparkling at night, all sins hidden by darkness and virtues exacerbated by the flattering light of the moon, McIntyreâ��s paintings show the city in the clear white light of an overcast morning, when colours are softened by sun and smog, shapely debris has washed up against the curb and surfaces that have lived to acquire a creamy patina are leaned against, stepped upon and passed by.
In 19th century France, the word flaneur was used to describe the figure who strolled or sauntered through the city, leisurely observing the flurry of everyday life. Many notable thinkers have defended the honour of the flaneur, insisting that to 'flane' is the very opposite of doing nothing, that to move unhurriedly through urban space is in fact a very deliberate and even productive act. There are clear resonances between the concerns of the flaneur and those of the whimsical, both being ruled by their own desires, fuelled by the immediate goings-on of the world around them. McIntyre's paintings hold these resonances too, and are similarly perverse. Like the flaneur, they appear casual and effortless, and yet they are deliberate and meticulously composed, their gentle forms made all the more wonderful by the expert and exquisite inclusion of unlikely blemishes, quavers and moments of disarray. It is these moments â�� which almost slip into the figurative, or at least, the subjective â�� which the eye is most often drawn towards, these moments of intrigue which render our whimsical gazing around the canvas productive because they resonate with our bodies, with our own experiences of having giddily and guilelessly encountered the world and taken deliberate pleasure in ordinary moments.