Hayley Tompkins: Digital Light Pools

The Common Guild, Glasgow, 21 June – 2 August

By Sarah Lowndes

October 2014 137 The first thing you notice is a plastic sandwich on the floor: a summer sandwich of white bread and lettuce, unnaturally stiff and bright. The sandwich, along with a fake baguette and some vivid meaty chops, are touches Hayley Tompkins has added for the Glasgow iteration of her exhibition, first presented at the 2013 Venice Biennale and here shown as part of GENERATION, the nationwide showcase of contemporary Scottish art. In the grand Victorian townhouse (owned by Douglas Gordon) where the Common Guild bases its operations, Tompkins’s groupings of painted plastic trays, water bottles, framed stock photographs and artificial foodstuffs are further animated by the summer sunlight that falls through the bay windows and is reflected in silver-backed mirrors.

The summer sunlight that falls through the bay windows

Tompkins, who emerged during the 1990s alongside local peers such as Cathy Wilkes and Tony Swain, has often made paintings on inexpensive paper and directly onto walls, but she also applies her characteristic palette of muted greens, ochre tones and sherbet brights to quotidian objects such as mobile phones, twigs and simple wooden chairs. Her vocabulary of painted forms further includes plastic bottles, either empty or filled with coloured water, and a new body of works she began producing in 2013, called Digital Light Pools, rendered by pouring acrylic paint into shallow clear-plastic trays that are then left to dry. Tompkins, in an interview for the exhibition publication with Studio Voltaire director Joe Scotland, described these recent works as ‘events of colour in a space’ that emerge not through brushwork but through exposure to air. In this exhibition there are trays of single colours: a blue, a fawn and one the exact lemon-yellow of a vintage chiffon dress once worn by Kate Moss. There are also combinations of two or more complementary colours that have settled and dried into shapes like cells viewed through a microscope or slices of agate: orange emerging from sepia, white rising from a surround of taupe, blue out of mauve, a dried pool of cream bordered by grey.

The exact lemon-yellow of a vintage chiffon dress once worn by Kate Moss

Tompkins’s constellations of images and objects recall the work of Wolfgang Tillmans, specifically an exhibition of his painterly photographs staged in this space two years ago, which evidenced (as he recently put it) how ‘pictures are replacing words as messages’. However, the boxframed photographs that form part of Tompkins’s arrangements were ordered from online printon- demand suppliers with names such as ‘Visuals Unlimited’. Her selection of grainy images includes rainbows, a seascape, a stretch of chalky rubble, an aerial view of an unidentified city, a starry sky, slow moving traffic on a misty motorway and a closeup of an American three-pin plug. Her choices throw up associations with all kinds of mediated looking, such as window shopping, scrolling through Instagram or leafing through a magazine. But here we look with renewed concentration, reendowing each image with the quality of a real event.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue