Abroad From Earth - David Surman 2020

The English language is rich in sea-words. I refer here to the signs passed from weary lips to fascinated ears across Britain’s long history of maritime labour. The world lived on water is a world unto itself, but when a place is so defined by its coasts, those words find usage in the interior, blown in with talk of wars and trade. Words like ‘groggy’, ‘chock-a-block’, ‘junk’, and phrases like ‘a square meal’ and ‘under the weather’ — the language of the sea is spat and caroused and leaves an indelible mark on our present speech that survives separation from past seafaring fortunes.


Any experience of the sea teaches foundational lessons in the deeply ordered separations that govern our perception; the ocean is turbid and unrelenting, the land certain and managed. And yet the life of a sailor aboard ship is regimented and ordered, the interaction between vessels governed by a language of flags and manouveurs. Stories of sailors struggling with the confusions of land life who yearn for the deeply ordered chaos of the seas are familiar. In this way life alongside seas abound with many ironies, shifting meanings that were retrieved like pearls by the Romantic poets and painters. The image of a sailboat evokes both clarity and courage but also trepidation and vulnerability.


What then of painting which takes as its subject the sea, and the life that touches it? Does it keep the messy language down in the brig, and show a still ocean seen from a distant shore, or does it allow turbidity to break against it? In his new paintings and drawings on show at Sim Smith the painter Tim Garwood breaks from his previous language of abstract assemblage (his land language?) to direct us along two bearings, into memory and biography, and toward uncertain waters.


The smallest works provide a route into the exhibition, photographs drawn from boating holidays are cropped with coloured oil paint, reducing the image to a play of characteristic shapes and namesake signs. The addition of colour both celebrates and obscures, suggesting the quality of memory itself. This boat then goes through a transformation, interpreted through insouciant drawing and mark making into the cross-cutting marks of a simplified sailboat. Two triangular sails combine to form a broad based pyramid, from which a mast grows down into the irregular shape of a hull. We see it as a boat, but in the sea of the painting it is an anchor, a wayfaring point where the eye is held. Over and over the boat is repeated, the half-dozen or so marks that make it up solving the dilemma of painting, the search for a subject. Painting becomes like writing, the boat like a word.


Garwood paints as someone who is clearly engaged with a history of painting, particularly 20th century painting, and demonstrates a concern with the formal questions of surface, flatness, and the activation of the rectangle. In an array of medium sized works on paper he integrates collage and found materials to create irregular shapes that resemble some kind of cartographic exercise, in which mnemonic images are hooked onto tightly coiling lines like fish. Royal Mail Stamps index the past in their nostalgic imagery while simultaneously suggesting the sending and receiving of messages, speedy gestural marks in oil and graphite hint at some dirty chaotic business in the abstract. Sometimes the boat is accompanied by a box motif, perhaps suggestive of a kite, and elsewhere it is annotated ‘bungalow’. Are these memories, stripped down to shape and line, that steer the expressive life of the work? 


In the largest paintings, a swathe of raw canvas records two kinds of activity. Across the surface the trampling of feet carries paint in every direction, sometimes softened by swabbed spills of liquid colour. This overall effect counterpoints the more conscious language of artistically legible gestures, a delineated form, a mark made with something resembling a mop or brush. The image of a canal lock floats in a cosmos of coloured marks, the words MOON FLEET hovering overhead. Where are we when we look at these paintings? Abroad from earth we find not only the sea, but outer (and inner) space. These paintings navigate through the subject of painting itself, speedily churning and stirring the water as they go. Garwood’s glimmering murk of colour and deconstructed motifs bring to mind the words of Georges Bataille, who noted, “[a]fter a certain point there’s a need for sensibility to call up disturbance. No one is really touched emotionally unless there’s some disturbance involved.”


David Surman, January 2020.

Bad Grammar - Lauren Moya Ford 2018

Bad Grammar 

January 18 – March 16, 2018 

Combustión Espontánea, Madrid 

“Get on with it, do something.”
Tim Garwood 


Tim Garwood keeps his eyes open and his hands moving. His energy for painting is contagious, and it moves across this suite of works in bright colors, gestural brushstrokes, and layered surfaces that capture the pace of his exploratory practice. The artist describes his process as “hunting for a painting.” Whether for survival or recreation, hunting requires a heightened state of awareness; the hunter inhabits a world that has become more alive. In Garwood’s case, the painter registers and responds to new materials and marks quickly and bravely, the way that a hunter reacts to a sudden sound or motion in the grass. 


Hunting happens both inside Garwood’s studio and outside of it. Things he spots on the streets metamorphose into impromptu ingredients for his paintings. These found items “can be like poking the embers of a fire to get things going again,” he explains. They are catalysts for a new set of moves and methods. In some works, Garwood stretches a black and white tablecloth to form a background; the artist distorts the fabric’s uniform perpendiculars while still retaining its anchoring lines. Garwood battles with and not against this grid. Between motion and rigidity, softness and structure, his bold painting style nonetheless always foregrounds the vigor of the artist’s hand. 


Garwood’s hunt is a search for constant surprise. Some are serendipitous, while others are created by the artist himself. Some works feature brass rings that the artist inserts into found pieces of fabric. The brass pieces resemble grommets for boat sails, imbuing the work with a resonance of industrial functionality that exists outside of the realm of painting. Here Garwood’s intervention reflects his concern with object making: he considers his paintings to be objects rather than pictures of things. Somewhere between sculpture and surface, The artist’s preoccupation with the materiality of paint and paintings is reflected in his works’ collaged components, some of which are cut from older works. These clippings recirculate ideas from previous iterations of Garwood’s practice. Their surfaces record a series of strong decisions that contain a history of effort, elimination, and creation. This dynamism continues to cycle on and on in Garwood’s work. 


Lauren Moya Ford, January 2018.

Tablecloths and Mermaid Cheeks - David Surman 2017

Tablecloths and Mermaid Cheeks

David Surman

In the corners of the studio, hanging from the wall, we find salvage. Gleaned from street corners and recycling bins, bits of wood and metal. It takes a magpie’s eye to see why Tim Garwood has selected them. A vibrant blue enamel paint, the kind you’d use for a baby boy, covers a length of timber. ‘Isn’t that fantastic’ he says, each piece of crooked metal or splintered wood caught in his enthusiasm. 

Tim Garwood is a painter of sudden changes. Looking around the studio, the most ordinary materials are colliding with one another in spectacular ways. A piece of cloth appreciated for its delicate pattern is smothered in household emulsion in the next moment. A perfectly pleasing expanse of yellow acrylic is suddenly destabilised with a gloss black smear. In this high wire act, he’s searching for a kind of dynamic between stability and instability. An incongruous mixing of conventional and unconventional art materials yield unpredictable results, from floor stain to artist’s oil to brass rivets. 

I’ve been watching the paintings go through many stages, a series of moves and countermoves. When I think I see stability, I quickly learn that for Garwood these early, easier harmonies are to be disregarded. All the elements must exert pressure but also yield when necessary. 

He’s a performer of sorts, a ring master who makes his materials perform impossible tricks. A decisive gesture in thick paint is made to counterbalance skittering notes in stencilled spray paint. Across a sequence of several paintings a favourite household emulsion is thoroughly tested, a kind of shrimp pink called “Mermaid Cheeks”. Pooling, smearing, blotting, dripping – Garwood works continuously across a series of paintings, exploring all the necessary possibilities of the colour. What he’s looking for is intensity, the point at which the mundane household paint activates in relation to the rest of the painting. Sometimes this is a sensation of colour, elsewhere it is a textural contrast. Who knew that wood stain streaked so severely when poured over matte acrylic? The ambition is to turn lead into gold, to transform the least precious of materials into a unity of colour and form, to capture the activity of painting in the structure of an “activated” object. 

Garwood’s abstract painting is full of contextual allusions and escape routes into figuration. Take for example his passion for the humble Ikea chequered tablecloth. Bought in bulk, he stretches them like canvas, stains them, paints and cuts them. The grid pattern becomes deliberately distorted by his various manipulations, creating an ingenious sense of structure and movement into which he can make painterly gestures. And yet at the same time the material directs us out of the painting, to the everyday, the mass produced, the functional. Of quotidian dinners at home. By incorporating kitchen roll, rivets and table cloth he tests the elevated status of painting. At the same time, it demonstrates his supreme confidence in his painting as a site of transfiguration, where materials are both ordinary and engaged as part of a higher structure.  

Garwood’s recent paintings go further, calling into question the nature of the rectangular support and the conventions of painting presentation. Greater densities of paint and collaged fabric are applied across irregularly shaped supports. These recall biomorphic or geological forms, giant stacked stones, turtle shells or kidney beans, rendered in steamy greens pinks and blues. At times the frame itself receives paint and other material, completely integrated into the work. Rather than demarcating the painting from its surrounding, these experimental frames extend the painting outward while also poking fun at the way radical painterly gestures are often tastefully contained. Lengths of moulding are cut and dipped, becoming suggestive of vestigial legs or supports with which the painting might achieve motion. Looking at each wall filled with fascinating works in progress, we can say that the paintings are concerned with freedom, in the long experimental tradition of abstract painting. Garwood directs us to see mundane materials anew when liberated in his way. He also wants to free us from any creeping sentimentality about painting and its vaunted processes. 

These joyful and kinetic compositions are suggestive of places and things, though these possibilities never get in the way of our appreciation of their abstract unity. This is not an ephemeral art of tuned down sensations; Garwood paints chaotic beauty in a spontaneous yet rigorous way. A new material is tested over several works before being either accepted or rejected, and his regular “palette” for a given period is surprisingly succinct. In this way, he gauges the development of his picturemaking, building a language for each of the varied materials at hand. These are paintings that deliberately resist easy categorisation, and open up abstraction to the vicissitudes of everyday life and the material of the streets.