Caragh Thuring’s Paintings About Painting

Caragh Thuring, Palm Springs., 2009, oil and gesso on linen, 183 x 244 cm. © Caragh Thuring. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery.

On view at Hastings Contemporary, the artist’s paintings are full of mischievous formal devices that constantly remind you that an image is a magician’s trick, ready to be found out

Caragh Thuring’s paintings are dizzying, layered experiences in which representation is always set up for a fall; paintings about painting, full of mischievous formal devices that constantly remind you that an image is a magician’s trick, ready to be found out. All those overserious, now-archaic modernist preoccupations – the frame of the canvas, the edge, illusion and flatness – get domesticated and deflated. One of the earliest works here, Palm Springs (2009), is a catalogue of motifs that Thuring has pursued with increasing sophistication ever since, a field of unprimed canvas, onto which basic forms flicker into representation: groups of irregularly shaped green patches become the foliage of a tree; a brick pattern becomes a wall; behind it, rectangles of thin white become a building; windows and louvre blinds float about, while towards the top a heavy scribble of dark blue brushwork hangs, almost becoming a raincloud.

Yet Thuring’s self-conscious highlighting of painterly mechanics is never distanced or cynical. These are images increasingly drenched in everyday life and things – fastfood, frankfurter sausages, trees, walls, windowsills, canal drawbridges, shipping cranes, cascades of cryptocurrency coins, tartan patterns, sportswomen, volcanoes, nuclear submarines. All these, however, engage in a kind of comedy about the fragility of their own self-evidence; the dark profile of the submarine that appears in The Silent Service (2016) is little more than a curved wedge of black, whose straight lower edge indicates only where the sea, implied by raw canvas, should be. Such emasculated grandeur is part of Thuring’s gender-tinged humour (of which David Gandy, 2014 – three male models made up of brick pattern, posing ridiculously in their white briefs – is the funniest). In August 1779 (2011), a volcano in eruption (Vesuvius, if you trust the date) is seen as if from behind a low wall of semitransparent hot-red brick shapes, itself inside a window frame; in the adjacent Eruzione del (2019), another volcano puffs smoke dramatically in a grisaille landscape, but an overlaid grid of lines and cracks suggests that the painting really depicts an image itself painted onto a wall of old tiling. A sort of vertiginous collapse of time and place occurs, ‘there’ and ‘here’ further tangled because Thuring’s canvas is woven with a dark version of the image, tapestrylike, in the fabric itself.

August 1779, 2011, oil and matting agent on dyed linen, 183 x 244 cm. Photo: Richard Ive. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London & Naples

This virtuosic technique Thuring has developed – images of previous paintings woven into custom-made canvases, onto which she further paints – is an acute disruption of the old surface–image dichotomy that still haunts contemporary painting. But paradoxically, it makes for a more vivid attention to the kaleidoscope of visible life that eventually appears, vulnerable as it is. Thuring’s painting are objects in which the act of seeing becomes profoundly self-aware, since the life depicted comes into view just at the moment when what depicts it self-destructs.

Caragh Thuring at Hastings Contemporary, through 12 March

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