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The Exchange, Penzance 9th February - 6th April
Young children, as they are learning to walk, have a fascination with studying the ground beneath their feet. Michael Porter has retained this childlike wonder. He too is fascinated with changes over time, and with growth and decay and their interdependence in the natural world.
Working from photographs, Porter has depicted both the countryside of Derbyshire and the coastal paths around his present home in Newlyn. The first panel of the diptych, ‘Coastal Path 2007’ in oil and acrylic presents an iridescent and layered quality which alters as you walk around it. Sometimes the reflection from the adamantine surface gives an interesting reversed image - rather like a flat-screened monitor viewed from the side. The right hand panel of the diptych is an intriguing contrast; with gentle opalescent bursts of white.
Such works demand viewing from different angles and distances. Up close, suddenly, the precise form of a single coloured leaf, plucked directly from a photograph, can entrance your perception. Surprise and discovery are revealed in the contrast between these precise details and the apparent random alchemy of the painted ground.
This mysterious territory, inviting investigation and discovery, is illustrated in the second diptych ‘Cornish Stones’ (below right). We are here in an uncultivated landscape of bristling willows and their reflections on one side, whilst on the other the dark green canvas is laced across by twisted tendrils, emphasising the surface, and its verticality. The sheer size of these canvasses – each about 1.8mx 2.5m and reminiscent of Monet - is such that wandering through the exhibition feels like being immersed in countryside.
Some pastoral elements seem partly elided in memory with northern woodland, together influencing the recent Cornish paintings. There is a strong suggestion of the lyrical or visionary here: a hint of childhood poems by Walter de la Mare combined with pre-Raphaelite profusion.
As William Packer has commented, Porter uses ‘a generally cool palette - although none the less rich for that- of blacks and umbers, greys and silvers, blues and greens, with here and there an old leavening of pink and ochre to warm things up.’ Some friends have mentioned how they have been tempted by the layered impasto and collage to run their fingers over the surface. This is true for the fissured bedding planes of the sedimentary geology and the barks of the silver birches. It is even more tempting with the fungus-like shrivelled protrusions in the strange, deep and dark forest of ‘Fallen Tree in the Autumn Rain’ 1988.
‘The Garden, Newlyn’ has just been completed; the red falling leaves under the emerald surface look, from a distance, like tiny goldfish. This contrasts with the single green descending frond in the second panel. It is by presenting with enchantment, tangled roots, mosses, ferns, fruiting bodies and botanical detail of all kinds, that Michael Porter reminds us of the fragility of such habitats.
Finally, the three paintings on the end wall complete the magical effect with what seem like jellyfish forms or evolving galactic clusters in subtle pinks, browns and sepias followed, on the next canvas, by a filigree of leaves and bindweed. The panels are completed by the depiction of five middle sections of birch trunks against a golden yellow background.
George Care 4/4/08