If Henri Matisse’s The Red Studio, 1911, is a paragon of artists depicting their own interiors—the contents of his suburban Parisian atelier superbly flattened, floating upon a joyous crimson plane—where is the genre more than a century on? The answer may lie in Mary Ramsden’s latest exhibition, “For newness of the night–,” a selection of small- and large-scale canvases which trace spaces that come from the artist’s memory, though with a darker resonance than the vivid hopefulness of the avant-garde.
Ramsden is known for abstract paintings that wink at the digital world—layering cropped quadrilaterals with shiny slicks, reminiscent of fingers swiping at screens. Recent works, however, speak to a more physical presence, be it the textured surface of paint with a subtly satin finish, or the repeated iterations of furniture items. Take Ajar (all works 2022), with its rich, dappled planes of purple, suggesting rooms illuminated by glowing monitors at midnight, and electric lamps lighting banisters through door cracks. Gegenschein (Receipt) depicts a table and chair—the former laid with a painter’s palette as if it were a dinner plate—hovering in shadowy swathes of lapis. A smaller work, S. G., is a much looser abstract, with messy daubs of dark blue and purple accumulating in the hazy, slight suggestion of a silhouette. Here, Ramsden seemingly grapples to find the light.
Titled after a line from Emily Dickinson’s poem “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” (1862), this show conjures the very same sensation the poet describes: adjusting our eyes in darkness and groping to see, despite uncertainty. In this sense, Ramsden’s paintings, like Matisse’s perhaps, are intimate portraits of an interiority trying to connect with the world beyond. As Dickinson writes: “Those Evenings of the Brain— / When not a Moon disclose a sign— / Or Star—come out—within—”. Ramsden uses the boundlessness of imagination to open a window, letting in, well, if not slivers of moonlight, then the gentle buzz of lamp posts.