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Visual arts: Rocks Near Banff by Nick Sargent

03 December 2021

Susan Gray previews an artist’s exhibition

Nick Sargent

One of a pair of works in “Rocks at Banff”

One of a pair of works in “Rocks at Banff”

AFTER a 20-year career as a theatre designer, Nick Sargent, verger at St Magnus the Martyr, in the City of London, returned to art college to study fine art. After exhibitions at London Diocesan House and the Sacred Space gallery, “Rocks Near Banff”, his latest show at Lyon & Turnbull, showcases paintings made over lockdown.

Inspired by a series of early-19th-century prints of the coastline, especially one of an arched rock stack where perspective is impossible to fathom, the series meditates on concepts of geological time and the individual experience of time passing, our proximity to the natural world, and the horizon’s effect on perceptions of space.

Sargent trained as an artist in Jordanstone and lived in Edinburgh, and so Scotland’s associations as a place of creativity and personal renewal are embedded in the works. And a thematic rather than chronological hanging of the works underscores the sense of landscape out of time, or out of time as humans can perceive it.

Influenced by the 1970s minimalists Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, and Tess Jarray, who emphasised the appreciation of artwork purely for itself, not what it represents, one of the series incorporates Jarray-style vertical, deckchair stripes in ice-cream colours. Jarray was on the judging panel when two of Sargent’s paintings were selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

Other work reflects the Banff rock mass in horizontal lines of rust-coloured wool on a cream background. A pair of larger works confronts the viewer with the arched rock in close-up, rendered in black and grey on woven strips of canvas. The effect of this uneven but controlled surface, is to present the rock simultaneously as a looming mass, but also as facets of individual dazzling fragments making up the whole.

Nick SargentOne of a pair of works in “Rocks at Banff”

Sargent considers himself as a maker rather than a painter. “Facility and dexterity with a paintbrush to produce pleasing, mimetic images of the world is something I got over in childhood. What interests me is the process of making the painting. I find the rhythm and repetition of weaving canvas and stitching, and manipulating natural materials such as wool, prayer-like.”

Sargent is known for his restrained, monochromatic palette. “Rocks Near Banff” introduces a new boldness of colour into his work, while maintaining a craftsman’s approach to materials.

A triptych of large canvases reveals the landscape through or beyond the rocks. Large squares of canvas present an ominous, glowering grey sky, while at the base the sea is captured in dark blue shiny, narrow canvas strips. The contrast between sea’s reflective, vivid fine detailing, and the sky’s heavy opacity, emphasised through the monumental square planes, shows how the landscape elements of sky, sea, and weather can be seen anew.

“Rocks at Banff” is at Lyon & Turnbull, 22 Connaught Street, London W2, from 7 to 11 December. www.lyonandturnbull.com

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