Katherine Hamilton and the Classical Response
Katherine Hamilton’s latest work has a new authority, especially in her treatment of light, and she paints with enhanced sophistication the dialogue between abstraction and depiction. For example, the witty Mondrianesque Table and Chairs, in which a high viewpoint on an ordinary interior affords the painter the opportunity to organise her canvas in a semblance of High Modernist abstraction, while still describing what she has seen. Neighbourhood, Chania offers similar pleasures, proposing a kind of folk cubism of boxy facets which is oddly pleasurable. In Mountain House, Uchiko, the empty interiors we have seen before in Hamilton’s work reach a new level of serene geometry. Its companion piece, Interior, Uchiko, is altogether less severe, gentled with a prospect of greenery and a pinkish balustrade, allowing in an element of the organic and idiosyncratic. Beehives, Crete is another highly enjoyable simplification of colour and form in Hamilton’s architectonic mode.
She is equally effective out of doors. The yellow surface pattern of the flowers in Wild Parsnip, slightly resembling a molecular model of some chemical compound, doubles as concise painterly design and accurate observation of structure. Here we see science in nature: the science of explaining natural history and the science of painting. There is even something macrocosmic hinted at, and we are reminded of William Blake’s dictum about seeing the whole world in a grain of sand. Sea Holly and Spear Thistle are equally memorable examples of a small group of botanic paintings, which are nothing like botanical illustration, but take the character of the plant and interpret it in formal ways that explore further Hamilton’s aims as a painter. Aegean Thistle is perhaps the most beautiful of this set of flower paintings, a virtuoso performance in its delicate needling.
This new assurance in the handling of dynamic rhythm and pattern can be seen especially in Thorn, in which the brilliant berries on their arabesque of stem bring an extra touch of menace as a blood-red necklace to the deadly stilettos of the thorn bush. Here decoration and structure work hand-in-hand to a most eloquent end. Crocus and Stones is even more ambitious, embracing a sculptural impulse in the arrangement of the stones, though the way they are painted does not emphasise their mass so much as their flat shape. Again colour pattern is the dominant aesthetic, the yellow and green working succinctly against the blocks of white.
Seashore is a kind of memento mori which takes the flotsam and jetsam of the beach, including dried tendrils of seaweed, cockle, mussel and slipper limpet shells and the shattered remains of a crab, and assembles them into a pleasing composition, a dexterous exercise in colour and tone. Here is the beauty to be found even in death, a ready acceptance of the natural order that seems possible with molluscs, but that we humans find increasingly difficult to apply to ourselves. Fallen Leaves is another, even gentler, exploration of the same theme, its innate melancholy counteracted by a rich autumnal colouration that paradoxically raises the spirits with its verve and movement.
There is no room to mention here all the paintings to have impressed me, but I must not neglect the landscapes in my enjoyment of the still-life paintings, flowers and interiors. Particularly, the bold palette and broad sweeps of Winter, Coigach, in which colour and shape knit effortlessly to form a powerful design, and descriptive line is less important than colour-patch and pattern. In these new paintings, Katherine Hamilton shows herself to be increasingly adept at the kind of nuanced classical statement that offers solace in troubled times.