Haunting, evocative and fizzing with hedonism, Andy Stewart’s remarkable new exhibition ‘Time. Truth. Matter’, takes the visitor on a stroll, with Stewart as his amiable guide, to the frontier where the spirituality of man encounters the vast, fearful magnificence of the universe and the laws which govern it.
Above all else, Stewart is an empiricist: selflessly foraging objective reality for artistic possibilities. Since Galileo and Copernicus demolished the notion of the universe as a snug and cosy living room designed, by a benevolent deity, as a place for mankind to live out our existence in comforting ignorance, we have been discovering the beauty, and the terror, of the infinite precipice into which man finds himself staring, his feet precariously balanced half-way over the edge. Stewart’s project is to explore this artistically. There are references here- insights would be a more accurate description– to the spectacular imagery of Hubble: brazenly glittering stellar clusters, towering systems of chromatographic dust, the slow, pitiless violence of Gravity chewing time and matter apart. But Stewart’s achievement is to take bare imagery and bring expressive substance to it. The work does not merely facilitate the observer to appreciate matter, in its most extraordinary manifestations, but to experience it, with all its pauses, silences and crescendos.
For scientists, Truth is an objective reality, something left casually around waiting to be discovered by mankind, like a lost slipper or a dry-cleaning receipt. Stewart knows better: Truth is altogether and everywhere a human affair. His work takes us on a journey of the emotions as well as of the senses. The sheer emotional range of his work is exhausting. ‘Transmission’ is darkly troubling, an evocation of the bogeyman who stalks the measureless cosmos and frightens the child in us all. ‘Pleasure Nebula’ is a joyful carousel of a work, almost hilarious, humming with energy and splashed with vibrancy. ‘Static Limit’ is Stewart at his most playful, mischievous even. ‘The Great Bear’ and ‘The Black beyond the Edge’ are challenging and reflective, potentially intimidating. What unifies them all is the common experience of the observer, which is that the colours, shapes and highly- structured confusion are drawn not from the painter’s palate but from the observer’s own intimate soul. Each painting inspires the observer to an encounter with his private Truth.
How does Stewart achieve this? While most viewers will be content just to savour the art, connoisseurs of the artistic method will find themselves admiring the skill in the accomplishment here: the pours, the drips, the throws and splatters using acrylic, gloss paint, diamond dust and glitter. No true artist leaves reality untouched by his passing and Stewart’s contribution lies in the way he uses matter to portray matter.
So much for ‘Truth and Matter’, but what of ‘Time’? There is a control and discipline in Stewart’s free flowing work which underpins and organises the busy, engaging riot of colour and dimension, exactly as the laws of relativity underpin and organise the chaotic grandeur of the clockwork universe. Time – or the human expression of it, mortality – is everywhere in these paintings: in the profundity of the black gloss which threatens to suck the gravity from your boots, in the ghostly figures who stand judged or in judgement, in the impermanence of shape and colour.
Ultimately though, and notwithstanding the breadth and power of the experience, there is a conviviality about this exhibition. Spending time with Stewart’s work is to spend an evening lingering at a rather excellent hostelry: expect to step out into the warm night emotionally nourished, intellectually stimulated, intoxicated with sensation and colour, and with a pocket full of rather wonderful stories.
Exhibition accompanied by a catalogue.