Regular visitors to the White Moose gallery in Barnstaple would notice one striking change to the venue this week – a vivid splash of deep red has taken hold of one of the walls. A stark contrast to the bare brilliant white that is more typical here, the colour is a welcome addition. Its arrival, however, isn’t as part of interior design changes, nor an attempt to re-brand as a popular coffee chain. Instead it is part of the incumbent exhibition Surface by Geoff Stainthorp.

Geoff’s prior works focused primarily on sculpture, and this current collection is at first glance a side-step into 2-dimensional works with paint. Granted, pieces such as Barrier (above) are essentially acrylic paint on paper. What differs here though is Geoff’s approach towards the relationship that the hues have with one another, alongside the changing structure of the paper itself through the process. Standing close to the framed pieces, one will notice how the paper has been mounted. Speaking with Geoff, he informs me of his difficult search to find a framer who would not insist on pressing the pieces flat beneath mounting board.

To me, this speaks of Geoff’s scuplting past echoing through into these works. Indeed the exhibition title “Surface” is deliberately announcing the exploration of textures in graphite and paint. The promotional literature for the event further explains:

Geoff’s desire for this collection was to develop this process to produce work that may then go on to become the skin of a sculpture.

This is clearly not a departure from sculpture at all, rather a testing method for new creative practices which can be brought back to his typical milieu. By experimenting with the way acrylics interact with one another on paper, as shown in Two Slipping (above), the artist is looking for an understanding of the properties of this medium that he can transfer onto other substrates.

I, however, think that these works are themselves a form of sculpture. Perhaps not in their entirity, and not by intention of the artist. Geoff’s insistance on displaying the pieces mounted this way is, by his own admission, to allow the creases and warps of the paper to be shown. His process of wetting and stretching the paper is followed by removing sections of the binding edge tape as it dries, deliberately distorting the paper. As if he couldn’t resist his urge, he couldn’t just paint – he had to sculpt.

The most eyecatching pieces displayed are the trio of works on glass. Shown alongside one another, I feel they work perfectly as a triptych. The pieces (L-R: Up and Down, A Number of Times and One Over The Other) were unintentional. Geoff was continuing his experiments with acrylics and, using a large palette knife, applied the paint to the glass with the intention of peeling it off. Acrylic paint has a reslience and inherent elasticity when cured that he intended to use as a skin to a sculpture. He worked the texture of the paint to create the surface that he could apply to a 3-dimensional form. Instead, when he lifted the glass it revealed an underside that was far to appealing to remove. The captured interaction between the red and black is dynamic and energetic, not only high contrast in itself, but also contrasting the rest of the works as the glass determines that these are the flattest of the pieces on display. Naturally, Geoff displays these mounted about an inch from the wall, giving them depth. The wall suddenly becomes part of the interaction too, and adds that additional dimension that was missing.

Phases, Growth (version 2) and Seven Days (above L-R) are a bold trio. From a distance, then feel as one piece, but when studied closer they each have their individuality. The same process is applied to each one, with graphite, acrylic paste and acrylic paint added sequentially with deliberate precision. As he tells me of the masking tape and rulers he used to painstakingly mark the target for each dot of red, positioned atop a chaotic field of grey, I remark on how they are not actually dots. Each one of them is a distincly raised bump, mound or peak of red protruding away from the paper. The lighting plays on the dots in a way that flat spots don’t have. Geoff has scuplted the paint. The depth of each layer then become apparent in Phases, as the grey beneath is itself layered, with horizontal lines clearly creating a framework for the dots to align to. These lines seem to form apertures, as though the viewer is peering through toward distant dots, rather than smaller ones. The overlap of the larger dots with the boundary lines seems to confirm this.

The bold exploration of media and substrates is prevalent throughout, as this is what the entire collection is. The room feels all the more joyful for that. It’s an artist’s journey that is entirely relatable, and so the exhibition resonates with many in the room. Inquisitors carefully inspect the works, such as Symphony in Five Parts (above), intrigued by the mixed media of graphite, acrylics, and chalk pastel on canvas and birch plywood. These aren’t paricularly innovative materials to use, but the exploratory applications of them are appealing.

My suspicions that Geoff doesn’t want to be a painter right now are confirmed by one particular piece. Ill Remembered is an exquisitely minimalist work (that in itself is enough to entice me!) which almost opposes the Symphony in Five Parts by its simplicity. Almost at odds with much of the room, there is an absence of colour – in fact an absence of paint entirely – as this work is pure, naked, unadulterated embossing. Achieved by using the same heavyweight watercolour paper as much of the other works, Geoff has omitted any ink, pigment or paint in this piece in lieu of the metallic imprint upon the paper from its direct contact when pressed.

This isn’t a painting, as it isn’t intended to explore paint. Enough of the rest of the collection does that already. I feel that this piece is exploring the subtrate, the paper, to see what properties it has to offer. Geoff is accustomed with working with metal, but how does that play with paper?

Beautifully, it turns out. Of course, taking that flat paper and reshaping it to a subtle relief – one could argue that this is yet another 3-dimensional foray. Not quite as flat as the glass works, in fact.

The design of the embossing is simple and delicate, yet it is clear that the strength and durability of the paper is what is really being tested. It not only holds its own against the press but even accommodates rust within the detailing. I must admit, this was perhaps my personal favourite in the collection tonight, as it showed the same level of inquisitive experimentation but with a degree of restraint that results in an elegantly refined piece.

Away from the walls, there are additional works and sketchbooks on display. In the middle of the room are a few plinths upon which sit some smaller works. This piece, “102, is a layered study of graphite, acrylic gel and paint on canvas on plywood on MDF. Again, we see the layers echoing through the work, a refusal to be flat, instead reaching toward the audience. The fact that these are displayed on plinths suggests to me that they are to be viewed from multiple angles – much like a sculpture.

Leafing through the sketchbook pages gives some interesting insights into the thought processes along the way – something that is not often seen in these exhibitions. For me, this is clearly another indication that the works themselves are extensions of the sketchbooks, that it is all part of the same working process, and that is where the real charm comes. Arguably, each piece is completely justified as a final work in its own right, and they stand their ground as desirable artworks. What ties the collection together, however, is that beautifully shared purpose of experimentation, exploration, and innovation.

“Surface” by Geoff Stainthorp is on display between 6th October and 4th November 2017 at White Moose Art Gallery, Trinity St, Barnstaple EX32 8HX. 

Meet the Artist Days: Saturday 28th October and Saturday 4th November from 2pm until 4pm.

Geoff will be hosting two ‘walk, talk and tea’ afternoons during his White Moose exhibition, discussing his influences and the work processes behind this textural new body of work.

£6 per person to include refreshments. Limited to twelve people per afternoon. Booking essential, please call 01271 379872 or email info@whitemoose.co.uk