Bill Sampson

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chance upon nothing

7 March – 7 April 2013

Bill Sampson’s paintings – if we can call them that – are not contrived formal images, cadences of colour carefully orchestrated into iridescent compositions. Rather, they are paper-thin stage sets for liquid acts of ruin and destruction. Using and abusing a technique known as marbling, Sampson pours thin skeins of paint onto the skin-like surface of water then lets the paint take over, spooling in all directions with reckless assertion; little motors of churning colour.

Part-impresario/part-artist, Sampson harnesses the invisible chemical constitution of paint to unleash its kinetic power. Coaxing unpredictable assaults between water, paper and paint, he subjugates artistic will to instead play addictive games of a different kind of chemical warfare. Adding stencils for masking, using bitumen, oil or acrylic, the artist spars with his materials. He flicks tiny balls of water onto the paper before placing it in the bath to create galactic splotches of white, drowns parts of the paper to allow the pigment to seep and curdle.

Who would have thought that colour has actual acceleration? A literal force of propulsion specific to its hue? Indeed it does; the spectrum of paint is a series of individual profiles of mobile chemical agency. The act of marbling reveals the sheer brunt of the paint as it propels itself across the water’s meniscus, hotly fuelling its way until it hits an obstruction – pooling paint of another colour. Pink has the greatest puissance. Yellow is only just subordinate. Black is tractable; a push-over to fulgent colour’s chemical might. Annihilated by the high keys of colorant, black is sequestered into thin perimeters, shadowy residues around more powerful zones of pigment.

The result of this chemical combat? A phantasmagoria of acidic colour and kaleidoscopic collisions. On parts of the paper, paint shrinks into sticky craters, elsewhere it stretches into bubblegum balloons. Paper stencils create white tectonic forms which, subjected to the action of the paint’s pressure, crack and tumble like shattering piano keys. There is fury here as well as torpor; a convergence of energy and inertia, coalescing as the chromatic legions reach their painterly détente, a final accord of visual blaze.

Dr Sophie Knezic