Articles and Reviews

25 June 2023
‘The Innocence of Trees’
‘... when I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees ... and then this grid came into my mind and I thought it represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied.’
Agnes Martin [1]
Grids and trees. They co-exist in the work of Andrew Carter and Helen Ireland. At first, the practice of these two artists seems somehow disparate and not immediately connected. Amongst others, Helen is influenced by Agnes Martin and Prunella Clough, those masters of emotional restraint and deep intensity. Her paintings such as Grid Landscape 2023, and Orchard 2023 present as abstract: shimmering squares, bright yellows, pulsing pinks and iridescent blues. These paintings with their elaborate surfaces start life by being carefully mapped out by Helen using a series of precise geometric grids. Through the painstaking process of gridding and measuring, of working and reworking, nature is mapped into something precise and often geometric. Helen speaks of trying to create a ‘logo of a memory’, turning an impression into a formal composition. Through her work, the wildness and unpredictably of the natural world is tamed. The external influences fade away and the painting becomes a stand-alone piece with a life of its own. Here is ‘colour through nature’.
Helen grew up in North Yorkshire and takes her inspiration from its landscape. Atmosphere is important to her. Climate, weather, and light – open space, sunsets. Through a process of magic (as well as industry), these works become patchwork quilts of squares or tiles, based on the green fields of the countryside, but blazing with a life of their own. They may be inspired by nature but by weaving them into something non-figurative, almost ephemeral, they become nature rendered abstract, like Agnes Martin’s stripes or Prunella Clough’s biomorphic shapes. The 2018 work, Grid Series – Colbat Turquoise / Cadmium Scarlet shimmers like an Anni Albers tapestry.
Andrew’s work is also deeply influenced by the natural world. Primarily a printmaker, Andrew uses colour, shape and line to render nature in meticulous detail through his lino cuts. He works on location; drawing, taking photos, documenting his environment. Puddles, water, trees, plants, weeds, gardens, allotments are all sources of inspiration. Ripples and leaves become abstract repeated patterns and motifs such as in the print Iona 2022. Another series of prints explores fragments of places seen in London and elsewhere; blue olive trees in Assisi, red English ash trees, yellow trees from Île Saint Louis, all rendered scrupulously in these primary colours: reds, yellows, blues. Images of these trees observed in different countries and cities start life as gridded-up drawings, such as Kew Palm [date?]. Andrew’s process also requires immense patience and precision – taking him about forty hours to carve a detailed lino block.
Instead of the rolling hills and green fields of North Yorkshire, it is South East London that occupies Andrew in his recent work: the parks, the woods, the hidden corners of green space. Andrew is drawn to the art history of the local area. He has recently discovered that

Camille Pissarro settled in Norwood in the 1870s and painted in and around Dulwich and Lordship Lane. In Pissarro’s beautiful painting of Dulwich College from 1871, he uses yellow trees to offset and complement the famous red brick of this iconic building. The colour palette of Pisarro’s South London paintings has inspired one of Andrew’s most ambitious works to date. In his large-scale print of thirty-two linden leaf blocks – made from leaves found in Peckham Rye Park, Andrew uses colour in a playful way, subverting natural, verdant colours to produce vivid pinks, reds, yellows. These bright tones echo those in some of Helen’s recent paintings, such as Opera Rose and Cadmium Orange Landscape 2022– 23. In Andrew’s prints, ‘colour through nature’ becomes ‘colour of nature’.
Though their practices, and use of colour may be different, there is a real synergy between these artists and their work, as evidenced by the pairings in this exhibition. They are suffused with warmth and light, and born of the fundamental sanctity of the grid as integral to all else.
[1] Agnes Martin, interview conducted 15 May 1989 by Suzan Campbell. Quoted in ‘Happiness is the Goal’ by Tiffany Bell, in Frances Morris and Tiffany Bell, ed., Agnes Martin
Alice Chasey 2023