Since its establishment in 1984, the Charles Nodrum Gallery’s exhibition program embraces a diversity of media and styles - from painting, sculpture & works on paper to graphics and photography; from figurative, geometric, gestural, surrealist & social comment to installation & conceptually based work.
— Short Introduction by Charles Nodrum
Looking back over the decades, it’s easy to see the work of Paul Partos evolving in a series of waves.
His first solo show at Gallery A in 1965 achieved widespread acclaim and the opulent impasto of the works placed him as a painterly expressionist. After this, his entire vision underwent a 180-degree turn, and his contribution to The Field exhibition in 1968 were not only minimalist but, in questioning the very nature of art, took a step towards the conceptual approach of the following decade.
However, the 1970s saw a gradual return to painterliness, with smooth monochrome impasto - initially modified by Letraset and thread. They were later transformed by the introduction of ever-expanding vibrant rectangles which steadily grew in complexity to emerge in the 1980s as the Calendar Day paintings. Whilst these remain some of his best-known works, it was clear by late in the decade that the artist felt it was time to move on. I remember well exhibitions at Christine Abrahams Gallery from this period and witnessing and respecting an artist in full control of his medium refusing to rest on his laurels and engaging in fresh exploration.
In this exhibition, we see him taking paint off the canvas, scratching it away using a variety of tools. Sgraffito is a term applied to pottery and painting on glass and walls as well as painting on canvas, which might be a clue to his repeated titling of some of these works as ‘Glass paintings’. The works are ordered chronologically. The first half, from 1988-1991, are all untitled, while the second half are all titled ‘Glass painting’. In the middle, dated 1990, there’s a work titled ‘Now where was I, No. 1’. It’s a diptych, with the right panel reminiscent of the Calendar Day series and the left panel looking more like the untitled and ‘Glass’ paintings which were to follow. A coincidence? Probably not: more likely evidence of the artist taking stock and grasping a thread which he would weave with coherence over the next few years.
Merrilyn Partos, the artist’s widow, writes:
Paul had a masterful touch - not only as a colourist but also with texture, which he achieved with a variety of tools and media from the palette knife, scumbling and dragging brush strokes, feathery pencil drawing and, in this particular body of work, incising into paint with the brush handle and assorted dentist tools.
These paintings may not be familiar to many. They were painted over time on a recurring theme of “negative” drawing - that is, incising into wet paint. The complexity of space on the picture plane was something that he explored all through his career; sometimes the picture plane was a window to space, sometimes it was a barrier to space.
His visual language was always texturally rich and emotionally sensitive and his animation of the picture plane made the works dance with bravura, energy, and wit.