Having studied at the University of Reading, where her distinguished tutors included Terry Frost and Mali Morris, Rowena Comrie creates vividly dynamic paintings through abstract expressionism. With such modern masters of the genre as her mentors, no wonder this was how her artistic journey would map out. Sir Terry Frost depicted the light and colours of Cornish landscape to pioneer the development of British Abstract art. Mali Morris RA is renowned for her paintings of pure abstraction to explore the lyrical language of painting.
With a lifelong love of the seaside, Rowena is inspired by coastlines, the distant horizon and wide skies, and the theme of this show is Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. ‘These paintings show aspects of the lake symbolically… a personal response with aesthetic consideration for the sublime. An unbroken horizon contradicts the idea of a lake. The lack of tides and the fresh water defy the notion of a sea’. – Rowena Comrie
The balanced composition of rectangular blocks and linear patterning in Surface Tension with a cool, colour palette features a ribbon of bright yellow-gold, shimmering with luminosity. The thick oils seem to have been pared down, scraped, streaked and re-applied with a layered technique to create such delicate, decorative texture.
Illustrating a brilliant red sky at dusk, purple waves flow with jazzy rhythm in The Sun always sets over the Lake. The overlaid series of curving oblong shapes in tangerine, soft pink, aqua blue, lime green, with a couple of random dots, seem to reflect the fiery glow of sunset with exaggerated imagination.
Kandinsky saw the dot, or small circle, as the most basic element of painting: ‘Everything starts from a dot.’ The circle is all about order, the symbol of perfection. Comrie uses an interplay of a bold colour field to express the illusion of the waterfront city through a minimalist medley of geometric shape, marks, motifs and symbols. Distilling and reframing the environment to its basic spatial outline, the tranquil borderland where land meets water is depicted in The Lake; fluid blending of dissected ovals in translucent greens and blues against a sandy-earth backdrop appear to illustrate the urban skyline and trees along the shore.
A vivid, painterly perspective of the city itself in Chicagoan Tensity – a dark, shadowy silhouette of skyscrapers with a bright neon strip in contrast to soft moonlight, juxtaposing architectural concrete and steel against parkland and lakeside.
‘There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. That is what invention is about. Let the picture lead you where it must go.’ – Helen Frankenthaler, Abstract Expressionist painter.
Rowena was fascinated by the lake’s reservoir tunnels and pipes supplying fresh water to Chicago and its suburbs. With an inventive, haphazard jigsaw of semi-circles and criss-crossing contours, Pipework suggests the meandering flow of water like an energetic dance of swirling shapes and shifting light from day to night.
The artist’s observations of The Lake of Images had a profound emotional effect on her: ‘The beautiful colours… an edgeless mass of subtle movement and force contained within unseen boundaries’. The dreamlike experience of this surreal, sublime lakescape is now poetically translated by Rowena Comrie through the artistic vocabulary and colourful vision of abstract expressionism.
Detail Framing opened in 2016, moving into larger premises in August 2022. As well as framing, there’s a gallery space for a programme of exhibitions. Further development and rebranding are due to be announced in 2023.
With grateful thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review.