Following the success of Ann Christopher's first solo show at the gallery in 2010, Pangolin London once again exhibits works by the acclaimed Royal Academician. Renowned for their intimate attention to detail and meticulous treatment of surface texture, Christopher's works are both subtle and elegant, whilst retaining great presence and power. The exhibition includes an exquisite selection of new works in a variety of mediums, including sculpture, jewellery and works on paper, displaying the breadth of her talent.
What a wonderfully enigmatic title for an exhibition, and how intriguing. It suggests
a dream-like quality where a memory is snatched back as it hovers on the edge of
consciousness before fading forever. Ann Christopher collects phrases in long lists
until suddenly a single form of words will detach itself and float invitingly free.
This was how the exhibition title was born, a mysteriously beautiful phrase which
seems to encapsulate the spirit of her present body of work.
Christopher usually works on a larger scale than in the present exhibition but, due
to a recent shoulder injury, all the pieces displayed here are on the small side, easily
handled, with one remarkable exception.
From the wide variety of shapes in the exhibition
The Edge of Memory
(p.34) is a
seminal piece, its axe-head shape spreading like the wings of a bird. Christopher has
long been fascinated by knives and blades, and in particular an Eskimo seal skinning
knife belonging to a friend which she eventually acquired. The lovely shape of this
lethally sharp object can be linked to several of her small sculptures. There are other
associations such as regal ceremonial headgear, which Christopher acknowledges may
come from her visits to Uganda, and her interest in other so-called ‘primitive’ cultures.
Perhaps there are also distant memories of Mexican sculpture and its sacrificial rites.
The Edge of Memory
began its existence as a piece of hardboard which Christopher
cut out to its present shape. Building up layer upon layer of resin paste, a material
with which a beautifully even surface can be achieved, she smoothed the paste
manipulating and teasing it into craggy, pitted shapes like the surface of the moon.
Repeating this process until she was satisfied with the depth and shapes of the
applied surface, the piece was then cast in bronze and patinated in a rich, rusty red,
with touches of black intervening along the sharp, black edge.
Christopher has worked in France, Menorca, Uganda and Ireland, and is profoundly
influenced by the landscape and particularly the seascape of those places. The coast
in particular is an ever-present influence: the sea at dawn, rocks and seaweed all creep
into her work. Striations of cliffs and escarpments, the sense of countless geological
strata, are vividly present, although often veiled.
Contrasting with the relatively low sight-line of
The Edge of Memory
is the tall
From the Edges of Silence
(p.17), a bronze piece patinated in a soft pinky-red,
quietly self-contained, a gentle presence, monumental despite its small size. The pitted
and bitten surface of the arrow-head-shaped piece has a very precise cut line in it,
made by a milling machine, which contrasts with the marks made by the hand of
the artist, creating a tension between the machine-made and the hand-made.
(p.33)Christopher adds an extra dimension using a positive
as well as a negative line by means of an external neoprene band contrasting with
an incised cut. Shaped like a fat arrow, broad and earthy, one side is markedly more
worked upon than the other, and Christopher leaves it to the viewer to decide which
is back and which is front.
(p.9), in stainless steel, is a prime example of Christopher’s
unique sensibility to material. Irresistibly tactile, its surfaces are reminiscent of fissures
in a craggy surface, of deeps and hollows, promontories and valleys. The material has a
coolness about it which makes one think of a fish darting through the depths. It is made
so that it can be displayed on its small base or lying down, which immediately offers the
temptation to pick it up and handle it, hence the title.
Christopher’s use of cords, strings and bands as embellishments to her
sculpture is a new development in her work.
(p.25) is a larger, curved piece
of bronze held in gentle tension by two cords and
(p.33) also incorporate their use. Here there is a clear crossover between the
sculpture and the drawings. The title of the drawing series, made in Ireland,
(p.14) sees Christopher drawing lines with string as well as physically drawing lines
in charcoal and graphite. The starting point for
Drawing Lines -6
was a white line of
light on the horizon with a cloudy sky above, the setting sun shining on the very edge
of a dark sea. Christopher’s interpretation finds form in a drawing of dense charcoal,
the white line left as a negative space and a piece of mylar (a thick opaque paper) hung
over the charcoaled paper with metal clips, like little half-moons peeping over the top.
The drawing also incorporates shredded nylon string which Christopher found on
the beach and rubbed and pressed hard over the mylar, biting into the surface
leaving marks that recall the ghosts of the seaweed she saw on morning walks.
The cotton string, dyed black, which zig-zags across the surface are reminiscent
of the telephone wires that divided the big grey skies seen from her Irish studio.
The largest sculpture:
(p.11), is a grand and magisterial piece which
leans nonchalantly against the wall, its gentle curve just touching at the top. It started
life with two pieces of wood which Christopher leant against the wall and spent many
months simply looking at. She moved them around, eventually into a larger space
where the sunlight caught them, the shadows following the sun, softly or sharply,
depending on the intensity of the season. Then by electric light they looked different
again. The tall tapering forms fabricated in corten steel are drawn together towards the
top by a small intricate locking piece, and rounded off smoothly. Christopher confesses
that she herself felt restless during its long gestation, to which the moving shadow is
a living testament.
to the smallest of the sculptures, inspired by such
disparate and mundane objects as a magnetic soap-holder and a tiny bobbin, there
is an unmistakeable thread of shape-consciousness in Christopher’s work. It runs
from the tall aspiring cone, perhaps inspired by skyscrapers or missiles, to the
axe-head, with its ceremonial suggestions. Behind it all stands the landscape, with
its wind-bent trees and grasses, caves and hollows, and above all the rocky coast,
with its seaweed-draped boulders and the eternal roar of the sea, contrasting with
the absolute precision of the machine-made line. Thus the natural world and the
man-made world come, not into collision, but into a seamless harmony. Ann Christopher’s
work combines antiquity and modernity, her voice is calm and serene, qualities urgently
necessary in our increasingly frantic world.
Mary Rose Beaumont