Hurvin Anderson, Double consciousness

Anderson makes wonderfully complex paintings, rich with meaning and symbolism that excavate a range of histories. The painterly beauty of his work, with its arresting manifestations of colour, shape, patterning and collage, act as a foil for the subtlety of the stories he tells and in this respect Hope Gardens is typical. The painting takes as its subject the main entrance to Hope Botanical Gardens, in its heyday a magnificent botanical haven, on the edge of Kingston, Jamaica, modelled to some extent on London's Kew Gardens. It depicts a verdant collage of trees of varying heights and sizes, rising above the brick walls and entrance, against a rich, pale blue sky...

Anderson's work is, above all else, about an intriguing visual interaction between such things as memory, perception, geography, location, history, and identity. This is an interplay that enables him, according to Cameron Irving to "assemble new viewpoints"(i) visualised through his refreshing and singular compositions. Travelling to Jamaica, since he was in his mid-teens, he came to notice the ubiquitous presence of security grilles on windows of residential properties and commercial properties there. For Anderson Jamaica is very different to enjoyed by holidaymakers from the US or Europe, who, with rare exception, effectively barricade themselves into beach resorts. His Jamaica might appear to be very similar, in the ways in which people live, work and socialise, but instead, for Black British people of local heritage, it is loaded with an unsettling ambivalence signified by the security devices used by almost all Jamaican householders. And by noticing them, Anderson came to paint a remarkable series of paintings.

The paintings - known as the Welcome Series - are both a highly-charged visual investigation into the ubiquity of the security grille in countries such as Jamaica, and an exploration of their geometric patterning. In making them, Anderson also triggered considerations of security, exclusion, and what we see, or what we imagine we can see, when we look through other people's grilles, into their homes and lives. Perhaps by beautifying grilles, designed primarily to stop criminals from breaking into private property, manufacturers were creating architectural features that evoked the decorative rather than a need for security, belying a real need. More or less all windows and doors of houses and flats in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean are grilled. Ground floor, first floor, front door, back door. Householders fear that any opening left ungrilled will attract the attention of burglars.

The irony of the Welcome Series arises out of Anderson's superimposition of grilles onto his characteristic investigations into shapes, forms, colours, and other figurative and non-figurative elements. In Some People (Welcome Series), 2004, for example, the intricately welded triangles of steel combine to create a variety of diamond-like formations, punctuated by starbursts, formed at the point at which the triangles converge. Towards the top of the grille – at the top of the painting – Anderson has included the word ‘welcome' which has, doubtless with unintended irony, been welded on to the diamond bars he depicts. The range of attractive geometric configurations are fascinating, but that fascination is intensified by what can be seen, when we look through that which is there to keep us out. Like Anderson's subsequent Peter's Series, this painting involves a somewhat disconcerting depth of field, rendering the viewer uncertain as to what might lie immediately behind the patterned grille. It depicts a kind of indeterminate space in which a range of elements, including what appear to be human figures, occupy a private universe decidedly different from that occupied by the viewer. Again, it is this loaded sense of distance, or otherworldliness, that is pervasive in Anderson's work, where conventional rules of perspective and structure are emphatically challenged. From the 1990s through to the present time, Anderson has infused painting with a new dynamism. Nothing about his work is merely descriptive, or merely illustrative, and yet, paradoxically, it offers a compelling assortment of clues to help us understand his disquiet.


The full version of the above text "Double Consciousness", appears in the catalogue [pp. 71 - 77] to accompany the exhibition Hurvin Anderson: Reporting Back, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, England, 25 September – 10 November 2013