Tom Benson’s new paintings wear their pinstripes lightly. Contained, graphical, printed on painted metal, balanced pieces float on their pins in disco constructivist geometrics. Their rhythmic repetitions of motifs and authorial in-jokes have the easy pace of Robert Ryman, in techno idiom. Some of the pieces are coloured in new rave vibrance, most are half-tone printed, some show images – of other paintings, or of Tom’s book projects. On one, a hand reaches out towards a printed book of his works – like the hand of the viewer reaching into the painting to touch it. Below it one piece is made partially pink in the only painterly gestures – touch made apparent – in an intimate intermixing of viewer’s sight and painter’s touch. Immediately evident is the sense that they could be reassembled in different configurations: the pieces positioned differently, the pins inserted in other of the grid of holes in the main panels, the panels placed differently on the walls. That the pins themselves hold the panels on the wall, nerves you to a precarious, playful tentativeness. The space is reconfigurable, subject to change. Tom calls it ‘peripatetic’ – as in that as one walks through the gallery, taking in the reconfigurability of space as well as the work, there is a philosophical, speculative engagement with them.
Another way of defining this mutability is as ‘variability’, in the sense of mathematical or digital variables, both precise and yet provisional, of which myriad are in fact in play: the particular qualities (proportion, placement, relation, tonality, reflectivity, association) of certain specific materials (aluminium, card, paints, their bases, pins, fixings, wood, finishes, light); colours, their properties, production (both materially and contextually) and effects (and their relationship to monochromatic rendering); detailed quandaries about specifically appropriated production processes (paint production, painting, photography, printing, the specific dynamics of half-tone print processes, book binding, digital image manipulation, light-engineering processes) each with their own professional, artisanal or industrial milieux, more or less well established, and heritages and rules of thumb; definitions and explorations of his own subjectively defined processes (why have something here instead of here, how does this feel?); ‘audience reception’ considerations: phenomenologies of space, of the presence of the work to visitors, of what it is to see, touch, move, under varying contextual conditions, and experience position, relation, material, light; senses of the work in relation to music; in relation to technology and its unclear possibilities; questions of representation versus materiality – expressed both in a generic sense, in relation to concerns about the reduction of a work to a remnant or codification and within specific instances and types of representation; across historic time after the exhibition is ended, as it is received / interpreted / appropriated; in relation to the personal history of his work as a development over years, both as the general frame of his practice, and within explicit palimpsest-like reuses and representations of and references to prior works. Buried in these circuits of investigation, or appearing anecdotally as asides, are older quests for origins – for non-subjective grounds for decisions determined by processes, materials, conventions; lineages within art history, the question of what it is to paint, what painting requires; quests for a fragile sort of purity (geometric, symbolic, silence, nothingness) and its retention or construction or defence (quixotic almost) of its dignity. But these quests have something of the sense of an earlier archeological era of Tom’s work and thought, from which he is being drawn away for other stranger times.
The paintings are a leaf storm, for now pinned. Messy, neat, eccentric, obsessive, refined, procedural, tangential, distracted, minutely oceanic, they interact in multiple densities. Where is the painting? “It is a fog of a million droplets” (or half-toned dots) as Deleuze said of the event, whose mark is made on things and bodies – as in a battle, or in falling in love – but whose occurrence in totality can only be sensed. The intricate cross-wired flux renders all unresolvable, and opens there another space – an imagined disinstallation within the installation – provisional, hovering.