Callum Innes: I'll Close My Eyes: De Pont Museum, Tilburg, The Netherlands

5 October 2016 - 26 February 2017 

The interplay of applying and removing paint, of presence and absence: it constitutes the essence of the oeuvre developed by Scottish artist Callum Innes (Edinburgh, 1962). The exhibition I'll Close My Eyes offers a broad survey with series of paintings, watercolors and works on oil paper dating from the late 1980s until the present. The five wall paintings that Innes produced at De Pont's request are new.


The earliest works in the exhibition came about during the late 1980s. While staying in Amsterdam Innes discovered oil paper as an inexpensive material. The series of works in oil paint on oil paper, in austere brown and black, is sometimes reminiscent of weathered walls or rocks on which drops of water have left irregular blotches and vertical tracks after a downpour. Later the dimensions of the works became larger - well over two meters by one meter  - and the colors stronger: red, orange, dark blue, white and black. This series, whose most recent works date from 2015-16, is titled Cento, which refers to the ancient technique of assembling verse from excerpts of existing verse. In the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, there is a photograph of two assistants holding up a work from the Cento series in front of a white wall in Innes's Edinburgh studio. The work consists of two juxtaposed surfaces of color, which blend very well with the clothing worn by the girl and the boy, as well as with the surroundings. Due to the informal situation in the photograph, the artwork takes on a human scale. And this context might in fact provide points of departure for other ways of looking at abstract art.


Since the start of his career Innes has also been working on watercolors in refined hues that have likewise been applied layer by layer and then partially dissolved. A video recording, shot in his studio, gives us a close look at this developmental process of a watercolor (TateShots, YouTube). The soft, transparent tones have a certain magical quality and are actually difficult to put into words. Only the edges occasionally hint at what colors led to this enchanting result.


The reference to photography in the title, with the word 'exposed', is no coincidence. A brief moment in time has been recorded on the light-sensitive surface at the moment of exposure. Or, as Innes has described the connection between his work and photography: 'With my work in abstraction, I think about it as photography, as photography freezes moments in time, so I work with time more than anything else... There is a moment in time and space when a painting stops in much the same way that a camera's shutter closes on a moment in time. This is not a static thing.'


In order to prepare for the wall paintings, Innes experimented in his studio beforehand. A single color was applied - grey, dark blue, orange, light blue and yellow - to each smoothly polished plaster surface of 195 x 190 centimeters. Sometimes these are a bit off balance, he warns: 'What looks simple is more complex.'


Finally, when asked about the title of the exhibtion, I'll Close My Eyes, Innes refers to a song with this same title by Dinah Washington. It's an invitation to close one's eyes now and then, and to look at things afresh. What seems, on the surface, to be straightforwardly abstract proves to be much more exciting and varied on further consideration.