Published: 29 February 2020
As any child growing up will know, or any child that knew where the sweet drawer was, households would inevitably keep from view the sugary treats only to be reserved for special occasions. For a child, these sweeter things were a treasure trove of foil-wrapped goodness and sparkling sugar-coated joy—things that as adults we kid ourselves we no longer need in the same way, that our urges are under control (who hasn't found themselves engorging on chocolate when nobody is looking?).
For many British children, there were certain confectionaries that seem committed to the annals of our youth. I'm struck when looking at Paul Wright's latest exhibition of paintings to see a slice of Battenberg cake sitting proudly amongst the other oils and portraits. There, amongst his body of work, a reminder of a childhood cake that I'd almost forgotten. Then again, how could one forget the riches of colour—glamourous and attention-grabbing pink and yellow sponge. Even Paul has hinted that this new body of work shows "strong yellows" , as a reminder of how he used to paint. It's no coincidence then that the Battenberg asks us to recall the past.
I've known Paul for many years, having the pleasure of working with him when I was at Thompson's Gallery in New Cavendish Street. He's a sucker for these sentimental subjects—I can't imagine he ever threw away a pair of shoes without painting them. His paintings simultaneously invite us into the past whilst throwing us into the present with their arresting brushwork and immediacy. His revisiting of the past also asks important questions of his own painting; there's a lot of reflection going on in Paul's world, you only have to look at the video to get that.
An artist friend once described seeing the paintings they had worked on years before as either reuniting with an old friend or coming into contact with an old enemy. This exhibition by Paul looks back with fresh perspective, much like his chequered relationship with the pink and yellow quadrants of a Battenberg. 'Every Saturday for Ten Years' as the title humorously alludes, was a union too far, though as he goes on to describe in the video "we've always got an odd fondness now [my family] for every time we see it... we smile". Indeed, Paul's paintings keep us smiling.
There's also much more to this work than the simplicity of childhood memories. As is so often the case with Paul's paintings, the superficial world of his images is only part of the story. The Battenberg is a symbol of simplicity and economy at the dinner table—no matter how much the uncut sugary marzipan log sparkles like gold bullion (the opulence here isn't incidental as the Battenberg was said to have been named in honour of the marriage of Queen Victoria's granddaughter. The famous image of Queen Vic' was once a subject for one of Paul's paintings. Just like him to use Battenberg to describe lineage!). Then there's also the squares of the cake itself—how can one not find the art historical reference to geometric abstraction? Through the economy of this cake, Paul playfully references the motifs of abstraction that have been present in art since ancient times and brings them to the dinner table, for us all to digest.
Paul's forthcoming solo exhibition, With Time, opens on 19th March at Thompson's Gallery London. Contact the gallery at 0207 935 3595 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.