Ruth Barker

Whose Gravity They Can't Escape




“When we pulled off the road to sleep in the back of the truck with our feet sticking out, we’d play an Improve Your Vocabulary tape, learn words like eclectic, and satyr.”                           


                                                                                                                                                            Tom Franklin; Poachers



These new works by Glasgow-based artists Jim Ramsey and Niall Macdonald suffuse the gallery with a resonance, the combined timbre of which has a quietly uncomfortable, seductively harmonic, quality. Two visual songs with quite different words of content meander past each another, each entirely self-contained but voiced in such close proximity that their tones are overlaid. Ramsey’s enigmatic, distilled painting gives way to the restrained materiality of Macdonald’s stark sculptural and text work; the haunting filmic images of Ramsey’s projected installation provide a final overlay of understated tension.


Ramsey’s new collection of painting groups together a significant body of recent works with a few pre-exhibited pieces, adding weight to this complex train of thought. Modest in scale, the paint retains an intimacy of presence which suggests the disconcerting quality found at the edges of rooms, the markers of space infused with both stillness and the uncanny liminality of perception. The pieces remain both composed and quiet while their painted surfaces are highly worked, mutely conveying nothing so much as the effacing last lines of a forgotten short story. As matt and gloss planes are softly aligned, as graphite forms sink palpably into the fleshy white squares of lino, we know that their communication is complete. There is nothing else to say although nothing is revealed, and we cannot recall the beginning.


In Macdonald’s work, we see a combination of sculpture and texts which reveal a measured yet inescapable process leading to an endgame which remains likewise mutely unknowable. The low-key texts, manually typewritten and flicked with delicate pigment-spots, are read as short, violent, morally inscrutable fables. There is no clarity here, no parable for the teaching of our times, just a murky set of significances which flag a broken, undisclosed, ideology. Before them lie a vulnerable collection of dull forms twisted into gnarled arabesques, matt grey against the pitted grey floor beneath them. Squatting to examine them we find bubbled fists of lead recalling the garbled possibility of arbitrary divination – chaos theory used to tell one’s fortune. The burnt wooden tower has similar overtones of trial, labour, and brutality, materially stark yet utterly seductive in its ergonomic scale and glittering carbon geometry.


The work presented here suggests something epic in the scope of its reference, something human in the modesty of its scale. As mirrors of comparable concerns, Ramsey and Macdonald reveal with great economy both the intimacy of understatement, and the gravity of suggestion.