Lisa Denyer: Painting and the Digital Collide

Painting and the digital collide – PAPER artist, Lisa Denyer’s current show, at Kir Royal in Madrid, includes works signalling an exciting new set of painterly concerns…

When Lisa Denyer begins a painting, she has little idea how it will turn out. Nor does she know what it will be about, how it will look, or at what point it will be finished. She paints intuitively; her principal concern always belonging to the materiality of the paint and surface, and a careful negotiation of the delicate relationship between form and colour. The result is highly distinctive; her diverse output united by the same bold, playful and inviting spirit throughout.

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Install shot, Sobre fragmentos y materia, Kir Royal. Photo by Michael Thorp, courtesy of the artist

Retrospectively however, Denyer finds that it’s most often the small details of her everyday surroundings that provide the inspiration behind her highly abstract compositions. Initially training as a landscape painter at Coventry University, her subsequent move to Manchester in 2010 prompted a dramatic change in her practice as she became drawn to more spontaneous methods of working (inspired by those she met), and the transient nature of the city around her. The sharp, geometric shapes of the urban architecture juxtaposed against chance elements, such as peeling paint or shifting weather conditions, soon provided the basis for many of the shapes, colours and imagery that surfaced in her work.

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Arcade (2016), acrylic, emulsion and collage on found plywood

A more recent move, this time to Berlin to undertake an artist residency at Galerie Martin Mertens, has impacted upon her practice similarly, though in a somewhat different direction. While Denyer has again detected the influence of the city’s idiosyncrasies, such as its particular style of branding, signs and graffiti, creeping into her canvases; she has also found herself deeply affected by its ideas – or, at least, those circulating amongst its vibrant art scene. “At present, there’s a real emphasis on painting and digital art here, along with a growing interest in how the two mediums can intersect” she explains. “Screens now dominate our lives, and therefore our visual experience of the world. The challenge of representing this experience – the digital aesthetic, the many fragments of pixelated information, and the simultaneous layering and flattening of planes – on a given support, has in many ways revived painting as a medium.”

Certain of Denyer’s recent pieces clearly respond to this new line of thought, such as X (2017) and Placeholder (2016), which both reference the standard ‘X’ icon used in various design software to denote a space where an image will later be added (thus recasting the missing image as the image itself). She’s also grown fascinated by, what she described as, “the contrast between the slow, considered process of painting, and the sensory bombardment of daily life,” asking how contemporary painting can deal with such polarities.

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X (2017), acrylic and collage on panel

The decision to move to move to Berlin came after visiting the city for a week last August, when she became deeply impressed by its renowned art scene. She recalls: “there were just so many exciting exhibitions happening, and brilliant galleries and project spaces to visit, that I quickly realised I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself over such a short time. I began applying for artist residency opportunities as soon as I got back to the UK and was lucky with Galerie Martin Mertens. I’ve now been living here around six months, going on numerous walks, studio visits and seeing all the work I can, but am still only scratching the surface.”

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Placeholder (2016), acrylic, emulsion and collage on panel

Berlin is a city teeming with graphic designers, but painterly interest in programmes such as Photoshop and InDesign is also appearing elsewhere. Several of Denyer’s pieces were shown earlier this year as part of a group exhibition in London, curated by Charley Peters, entitled Merge Visible, after the Photoshop action for compressing several visual layers to make one unified image. An analogue form of ‘Merge Visible’ has in fact long played a part in her practice; each final composition being built-up out of multiple layers of paint – essentially combining several paintings in one.

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Rousseau (2017), acrylic, emulsion and collage on panel

This returns us to the core theme of materiality, which runs consistently throughout Denyer’s work. The heavy saturation caused by such layering is what originally led her to begin using more robust materials like bits of found plywood or boarding on which to paint, simultaneously delighting in the more varied surface textures they provided. Her inclusion in the exhibition Sobre fragmentos y materia (11 April – 26 May) at Kir Royal in Madrid comes partly as result. The show brings together several works by Denyer and another artist, Valeria Maculan from Buenos Aires, exploring questions of transience, the versatility of materials across different forms, and our visual experience of the everyday. What seems most striking, however, is the harmony between Denyer’s digitally-inspired pieces and Maculan’s vibrant textile hangings (pictured), which reference signs and forms of Latin American art. Perhaps this lack of visual disjuncture serves as a reminder that, despite its newness, the virtual realm has still been constructed by human minds and experience, and may reflect more of ourselves than we initially think.

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Install shot featuring work by Valeria Maculan (left) and Lisa Denyer (right), Sobre fragmentos y materia, Kir Royal. Photo by Michael Thorp, courtesy of Lisa Denyer

Indeed, despite the highly abstract nature of Denyer’s work, each of her pieces have a strangely recognisable quality to them; as if we’ve visited the space they represent before. In truth we have, merely by existing within the physical, fluctuating world – which has now extended to include an array of electronic devices and lit-up screens. Is the expansion of painting into this area really such a radical move?

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Install shot featuring work by Lisa Denyer (left) and Valeria Maculan (right), Sobre fragmentos y materia, Kir Royal. Photo by Michael Thorp, courtesy of Lisa Denyer

Sobre fragmentos y materia is part of an ongoing curatorial dialogue between David Hancock at PAPER Gallery and Sara G. Arjona at Kir Royal, which grew out of PAPER, Dialogues, a group show of PAPER artists and Spanish artists which they organised together in 2016. Lisa Denyer’s work will be shown again at Kir Royal Madrid as part of a second presentation of PAPER, Dialogues in December 2017. She will also be represented by PAPER at CAMPBasel 2017 in collaboration with a-space arts.  

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