The title of British painter Paul Winstanley’s current exhibition, “Art School,” is also the name of paintings on view of art-academy interiors across Great Britain, based on photographs he shot of the spaces. If traditions of landscape art have long informed Winstanley’s work, so too has the genre of the interior. His art typically portrays spaces and furnishings, as well as traces of their use, but almost never includes people: For the artist, a bare setting suffices, creating a focus on absence—an atmosphere in which mirror images of an implicitly lived existence arise out of stillness.
With his latest pieces, Winstanley sharpens this conception of the interior even further. His subjects, here, are places where art is created—seemingly without the intervention of human actors. Winstanley photographed the sites during holidays so that they’d be empty. Glimpses of students’ work and materials are nowhere to be found. The bright, mostly rundown spaces appear to be abstract locations of possibility. At the same time, their representation retains the exactitude of Photorealism. Punctuating the planes of white and gradations of gray (created by perspectival views of the sites’ walls) are identifiable signs of art-school activity: improvised wooden partitions and ceiling liners, drill holes plastered over, a radiator here and there, the occasional dab of paint.
The works’ overall seeming monotony becomes an occasion for heightened painterly nuance: A common characteristic of his work is the subtle but compelling dramatization of light—especially spectacular when contrasted with the sober, even shabby quality of his latest subject. In his matte, multilayered paintings on wood, light appears as if molded and subtly present, such that the empty, tattered rooms seem to make way for luminosity, rather than passively basking in it. A little like the subjects of Johannes Vermeer, perhaps, Winstanley’s depicted spaces are mediated ones, such that, upon closer observation, the so-called reality he captures quickly dissolves into hazy reflections.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.