Review

A distinction has often been made in the discussion of Chris Summerfield’s painting and sculptural practice. In painting, his colourful and abstracted shapes exist as ’liberated’ organic spaces. His sculpture, conversely, is commonly discussed as an industrial ordering of this raw expressionism. However, the distinction between the organic and the engineered is less defined than is immediately apparent. The unwieldily organic forms of Summerfield’s painting generate the basis of his bronze statuettes and remain as far more than a repressed energy. The twisting sculptures are organics deliberately imitating the forms of industrial and mechanical objects. A reversal of the trajectory of human engineering, these organic creatures present a confident and playful ownership of such forms.
 
The curved hull and dynamics of a ship are reminiscent if not inspired directly by the natural navigator of the ocean - the whale. In Summerfield’s bronzes, metal blades and propellor forms fold around themselves as the keel and flukes of cast mammals. The visual conclusion of the form is mechanical, emphasised by the stark metal trays and steel podiums they are presented upon. Yet, the dominating animation of the bronzes stems from purely biological origins and seeks to undermine the recognition of engineered shape.
 
Distinctions of real/illusionary space in the two mediums also provide licence to exaggerate the formal differences in Summerfield’s work. The psychological exploration of the paintings sits comfortably with the imagined space of a flat plane canvas. The artist speaks candidly of these works as a mediative exercise.
 
Within his sculpture, Summerfield has discussed the influence of other painters. He references the work of Francis Bacon as an aid in describing the relationship of the organic form and compositional regulation within his work. Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) holds the disfigured sitter within an equally disrupted cube framework. Similarly the amorphous body of the sitter in Triptych - August 1972 (1972) is held by the rigorously cut and blocked composition of its environment. In each, an order is superimposed upon a mass, recognisable to varying degrees as something we would call human. The linear steel podiums and the ‘imitation’ of highly considered and formalist shapes in Summerfield’s bronzes apply a similar curb to the fully abstracted forms he employs in his painterly practice. The sculptural interoperation of his painterly composition, to share the real space of our contemporary environment, has absorbed some part of engineered aesthetics which we recognise and can place within our post-indsutrial era . The concessions made by this disorder are not lasting - the dominant form remains the wilder organic origin. The pure state of Summerfield’s compositions are written within the paintings downstairs.