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'Alan Wilson's Critique' , Alan Wilson , Head of Art: Hamilton College

As a fellow "brother of the brush" I was delighted to write this short introduction to Lisa Rego's art. Like myself, she trained at the Glasgow School of Art and demonstrates all the qualities of that famous institution, especially its constant emphasis on observational drawing. Despite this, her work does not have any of that existential angst associated with many of the new Glasgow figurative painters. Rather, her pictures are celebratory images that are joyous and positive. They meditate on what is beautiful with a keen awareness of the sensuous aspects of life found in her native Bermuda. But it would be wrong to believe that the life affirming essence of these pictures means they are without depth or seriousness. She is deadly serious in her quest to capture a sense of wonder before nature. So through her stance is positive it is not superficial or shrill. Her pictures are beautiful love songs of praise to her land of birth and she wishes to share this with us all. How much her religious faith informs her artistic outlook is difficult to assess but I believe it is the context in which all her creative activities find their meaning and significance.

Her artistic method has an "eyewitness" point of view as if she has worked impressionistically on-the-spot. But closer scrutiny of her lovely street compositions will reveal her love of classical schemata. There is clarity and harmony of composition that no snap-shot could achieve. The layout of horizontal and verticals created by the edges of streets, walls, doorways and windows achieve a subtle sense of order. The linear perspective lines of the small roads and alleyways complement these straight lines and lead the eye behind the picture plane. Is this her classical method of treating the canvas as a window?

One thing that strikes me about these quiet street scenes was that they were mostly deserted or near deserted. When she does place a lone figure into the composition it looks as if they have been frozen in order to convey a precious moment - a bit like a stilled film frame. This could be the result of her working method, using on-the-spot sketches and carefully considered photographs. (She is a very competent photographer). These lonely figures are not alienated people; they are very much at home in their environment which is almost pastoral with the interplay of rich foliage and colourful houses.

This latter aspect is a good foil to the hard vertical and horizontal lines of the doors, shutters and reflective planes of glass. Lisa wants more than the exact sense of order and relationships of shapes; she wants to capture the vibrancy of Bermuda's light; the magical effect of reality glorified under the warm sun as it plays on the richly hued walls. To achieve this she omits some details while emphasizing others such as the red's brilliance in her composition 'Burnished'. The vermilion is emphasized by the rich green forms of the leaves. Like all her pastel studies the wall area is a densely worked flat surface which makes the red all the more luminous. There is a subtler nuance in the yellow in 'Dismissed' but the overall effect is the illusions of the sparkling light reflecting off the painted wall. Perhaps there is a Fauve influence here: it certainly brings to mind Delacroix's observation that 'one never paints violently enough!' Lisa certainly enjoys complementary colours and because she builds up the texture of her pastels achieving the opacity of oil paint.

One motif I would not like to overlook is the importance of the young, semi-clad figure. Like Hockney she enjoys rich tones and the warmth of the flesh. But there is no hidden theme of the voyeur: these are open and honest meditations on youth and health. In her oil paintings such as 'Surprised' the figure is dominant, the reverse of the pastel compositions. However, like the drawings the human figure is set against open windows and richly coloured villa walls. In 'Surprised' the young boy stands at a slight angle with a hand on his stomach and a beautifully sculpted head looking downward toward an unseen object that has caused the surprise. My gaze has not been directed towards the portrait at first, but to the open green shutter behind the boy: I enjoyed the lovely subtle green shadows on the slats. But eventually my eye was carried back to the head's structure is again wonderfully classical and bound brilliantly to the sculptural drapery of the towel hanging from his shoulder. The vocabulary of marks remind me of Hockney's and even Peter Blake's portraits: they too use photographs without being slaves to them. We can see Lisa using her photographic source in the well recorded contour of the boy's hand, but also editing the detail so that the shape and surface is emphasized in a painterly way. And in the background wall, the pink paint is applied thickly so that the impasto surface works pleasingly with more translucent skin texture of the body: only a painterly mentality can enjoy such aesthetics!

Finally, I am pleased to offer these humble comments in appreciation of a friend's artistic achievements which to me have a true humanism - not that of modern humanism with its apparent optimism which reverts so often to an underlying pessimism, but one that accepts that art and visual beauty is part of our shalom with the potential to enrich our lives. Her vision is to nourish our imagination with gentle but vivid images of Bermuda that have the breath of life. She hunts for beauty and tracks it down - a true humanist.

Alan Wilson (Head of Art : Hamilton College / Writer)



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