Phoebe Unwin: A Short Walk from a Shout to a Whisper


22 September - 4 November 2007

Milton Keynes Gallery presented the first major exhibition in a public gallery by the British painter Phoebe Unwin. Unwin’s paintings shift between figuration and abstraction, capturing chance observations of reality, constructs of memory and indirect references to particular places and events.

Throughout her practice, Phoebe Unwin works incessantly in an A3 drawing book, creating a personal register of images and marks. Individual pages are worked up simultaneously creating visual dialogues, some obvious, some obscure as Unwin teases and collages images, shapes and forms from the format of the page and materials at hand in pastel, pencil and acrylic.

The entire contents of each drawing book, as in The Grand and the Commonplace, 2006, are sometimes displayed collectively as an individual work. On the one hand Unwin’s practice appears highly conventional; the drawing book providing impressions for future paintings, often larger in scale and rendered in oil and acrylic. On the other, her approach seems more akin to a literary tradition of composition making or a musical fugue – fuelled with visual echoes and counterpoint.

Unwin’s paintings each have their own autonomy yet possess a clear genetic and familial link such that the entire breadth of her output has no specific hierarchical order. There are recurring motifs that suggest an autobiographical thread; sunglasses, modernist geometrical forms and portraits – one of the images depicts a person blushing in the dark, a glowing face with black impasto eyelids. Throughout her work the artist creates a counterpoint between explosive abstracted paintings and a darker, often sinister psychological interior space.

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