Chris Rivers: The Mortal in the Material

9 July - 9 August 2020

Chris Rivers is a painter of sumptuously-coloured, turbulent skyscapes. The expressively- handled paint describes seething clouds, mists and vapours. Cyclones of elemental matter billow through an indeterminate void. On closer inspection however, tiny figures can be seen caught up in the maelstrom. Our perception of the paintings oscillates between the sublime vastness of nature and small-scale incidents of human jeopardy and disaster. This is in an old-master tradition of embedding memento mori, which are not at first apparent.

 

British-born Rivers initially pursued a successful career as a professional rock drummer. He began painting in 2014. In a few short years he has developed a particular vision through a thorough and skilful manipulation of the painting process. He uses the descriptive plasticity of oil paint to achieve a rich and seductive effect. Shards, slicks and clots of vibrant colour contrast with sweeping, shadowy passages of sombre earths, maroons and grey-blacks. Impasto swirls and blotches are set against fields of richly- variegated sky-blues and silvery, tonal greys.

 

As an adjunct to his large-scale pieces, he makes flower studies which showcase an intimate exploration of his technique. These condensed paintings anticipate the expansive drama of his more ambitious scenarios.

 

The work brings to mind other artists who use landscape as a vehicle for transformation, notably the nineteenth-century Romantic painters of 'The Sublime' - Turner, for example, and particularly the apocalyptic imaginings of John Martin, whose evocations of terror, shock and awe strike a chord with the content of Rivers' paintings.

 

These are atmospheric and mysterious pieces that operate on the principle of gradual disclosure. The immediate and seductive thrill of the surface cloaks the images within. Revelation only comes after the pleasure of aesthetic experience. There is something disturbing in the beauty, a worm in the bud, the mortal in the material.