At every juncture: The art of Patrick Grieve
I have a habit of late, arriving to preview an exhibition just as the works are being unpacked, levelled and hung. Fortunately for me, it tends to be the most insightful of times. I wonder if the seemingly time-pressed hanger is grateful for the interruption or simply being polite as on this occasion he enthusiastically waves me through the door to the centre of the room at Hobart’s Bett Gallery.
“I’m just hanging our next show, Patrick Grieve, but you’re welcome to look around”, Jack Bett offers. Jack seems somewhat grateful I push past any polite small talk, directly asking his view on how he has chosen to display the paintings – at first glance, a confusing and unusual collection of sizes.
“I’ve been doing it for 10 years, and each time has its own challenges”, he wryly admits. But these works group so well, and the paintings well, are so clearly of the same series – from the same point in time. All the horizontal lines come together, and the solid colours work, to form in a way a continuity to the works.”
Patrick Grieve, 'Sassafras, winter evening' (2020) Source: Bett Gallery
Jack is right. Grieve is a wonderful exponent of perspective and colour in abstract landscape painting. Perspective can so easily be lost or muddled in abstraction. But undaunted, Grieve persists with multiple horizontal lines throughout his works; a device he uses to layer and widen the landscape while paradoxically narrowing the viewer’s focus onto the horizon line. That these works each succeed, squeezed within the limits of their frame is extraordinary.
Equally, that Grieve managed to become a full-time artist at all is all the more surprising, given the ambivalence of those around him towards his choice of profession and for some, his ability.
“I have often asked myself why an artist, because it is a hard life and 90% of people think you are wasting your life and energy. I have never found an answer, perhaps it is like believing in God, some people just do and others don’t.”
But this sense of determination appears to have ultimately worked in his favour.
Part of Grieve's success rests in what he worked himself out of, by dint of his artistic ambition. It seems to me that many significant artists today are not so much possessed of remarkable natural ability, yet have gone on to achieve far more. Grieve’s determination to live this artistic life, has forged a style of painting unlike any of his contemporaries and that has justly drawn accolades.
Patrick Grieve, 'Evening drive home from Heather and Rick's, Port Sorell' (2019) Source: Bett Gallery
Patrick Grieve, 'Perfect day, golden summer fields' (2020) Source: Bett Gallery
Grieve’s innovative work mostly consists of undifferentiated fields of flat colour interrupted by sometimes narrow, sometimes broader horizontal lines. But this is not to give the false impression that this innovation in painting is the result of a few trivial formal devices.
Both a lot of thinking and intuitive energy goes into Grieve’s large, striking, pared-down canvases. They are filled with resonances and silences, passages of stillness and sudden bursts of joyfulness. Grieve is no doubt one of those painters to whom the dictate that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts can truly be applied.
If you stand before his paintings, you end up thinking a lot. The entirety of the work, the coming together of its forms, is key to its resolve. And yet what actually obsesses Grieve is the sense of being present, and the encounter the artist has between himself and his paintings. A crucial juncture for him and a powerful metaphor for his work.
Patrick Grieve, 'Christmas Hills, cultivated field, spring' (2019) Source: Bett Gallery
Looking at a Grieve painting, one becomes acutely aware of how it was made, the things that have been done with paint and canvas, the decisions that have been taken. At times the palette challenges, perhaps overwhelms with too much variation (and purple) but on closer examination the artist’s choices appear well made.
Grieve's paintings reveal themselves through our looking closely, skimming their fields of colour, getting up close to their surfaces; through immersion in the surface itself, in the colour and the paint.
Grieve’s modest determination to simply make art, wherever that leads him, is a breath of fresh air. And he has our attention.
Patrick Grieve, 'Early summer, Geale's Road' (2020) Source: Bett Gallery
Patrick Grieve, 'Juncture' runs until 4 April at Bett Gallery, Hobart
Andrew McIlroy is a visual artist and arts writer, living and working in Melbourne, Australia
Main Photo: Patrick Grieve Source: Bett Gallery