Philip Lumai – Sketch Forms & Strange Creatures details

Philip Lumai: Sketch Forms & Strange Creatures.

Presented by a-m-g5 at 20 Albert Road, Glasgow, from 27 April until 25 May, 2024.

A work of art is a measure of space. It is form, and as form it must first make itself known to us.
Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art.1

The generation and suggestion of form, its idea or potential in colour, is my subject.
Philip Lumai, artist’s statement.2

Painting, for Philip Lumai, is an analogical language of relations. It discovers itself and it produces, not reproduces, something. It is a creative action, a collection of movements that share and create together a common space; a bringing about of “something that did not pre-exist in other terms”.

“The elements of a painting, and the collection of energies within it, can coalesce or break apart, maybe even turn against themselves, at different crucial stages in the process of making. Everything must appear out of the material meetings and connections”.

Lumai wants to push a painting further than simply the mark-making on its surface and seeks instead to extract something from the materials; some qualitative thing like an armature which, as well as referring to a cohesive rhythmic structure of a composition is also a quality of painted form that does not refer specifically to its shape. “[I am] searching through the material for this armature, or this inner generative structure, and getting toward the suggestion of what we might call ‘form’. Or equally, I could say the opposite too, breaking down all supportive structure, distrusting and erasing all the coordinates. Somehow it is both. Form – in the process of thinking itself or imagining itself without contours or extrinsic definition, but unfolding from its own intrinsic qualities – is an enduring idea”.

Lumai creates his own colour, manually combining raw pigments with a binding medium. For him the ‘getting hold’ of something in painting is haptic. Some becoming, of sorts, must be tangibly in it and this is something that commences before work begins on a canvas.

“I want to amplify and affirm the life of colour, not isolated or abstracted, but as it appears within the marks, forms and relationships of the unfolding painting. Colours conceal their wild nature. No system, or aesthetic theory, however rigorous or poetic, keeps pace with the unpredictable and unexpected appearance of the life of colour. I see structures within colour and colour itself as pigment structure. The pigment particles of a mixed colour coalesce or conflict. Passages of movement activate the colour and while the ideas or elements of form are being found, the colours must simultaneously establish the very space in which they have to appear. The sense of space in a painting will implode or descend into an artificial depth if the colours don’t find an adequate tension.”

“I give things time and I work with time.”

A painting, Lumai says, has its own time, a time that is unique to each painting and its process of coming about. All the physical elements of a painting are simultaneously present to the viewer, but time is implicit in its spatial organisation. We can speak of visual rhythm and repetition with in a painting, of continuity and discontinuity, movement and change, and these are evoked through the artist’s relational ordering of elements in space. Similarities and differences are grasped sequentially.

A painting, art historian Norman Bryson tells us, unfolds in duration twice, “Once in painting practice, and once again in the activity of viewing” 3 . Philip Lumai’s paintings remind us that an artwork is never just an object out there, but an event that renews itself at each viewing. It is recreated
every time that it is aesthetically experienced.

In the restless interplay and merger of gesture, surface and colour within Lumai’s paintings, each element spontaneously becomes the other. Each picture is, to borrow a term used by artist and writer Joe Fyfe, “a contrapuntal territory” where various characteristics of the mark, of texture and contrasting colour intertwine 4. Every stroke represents a different moment; the paintings visualise time 4 unfolding and the world becoming. Lumai has a perceptive temperament that waits and observes the inherent mystery of his materials. He allows what he is doing to be itself.

1 Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art (New York: Zone Books [1992], pp 32-33)
2 Philip Lumai, this statement, and the quotations reproduced in this text, have been assembled from different writings composed by the artist. Some of these are available on Lumai’s website:
3 Norman Bryson, Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze (London: Macmillan Press [1983], p.120)
4 Joe Fyfe, An Apotheosis in Hans Hartung: The Last Paintings 1989 (New York: Cheim & Read [2010])