WHEN WAS the last time you were completely still? In fact are we ever still? Sleeping, sitting or even meditating, the mind always drifts.
British figurative painter, Nancy Cadogan, explores “the idea of the body being still and the mind being completely free” at the Gillian Jason gallery. Fresh from her residency at the Paris Green week, Cadogan returns to the UK to finally showcase some of her most treasured pieces.
Under The Crescent Moon, 2021 – Nancy Cadogan
Looming at the back of the gallery you’ll find Under The Crescent Moon, a rare departure from Cadogan’s more lively paintings. Instead we find a woman sat pensively with a glass of red wine, glowing under the stark moonlight. “It’s much simpler and much emptier than any of my other paintings. It’s very loosely painted and yet took months to paint.”
Unsurprisingly the majority of the works in this show were created during lockdown, when life was stripped back, when we were forced to live in our own thoughts. In this painting, Cadogan decided her female figure “needs nothing, she just needs to be in her space.” Since this piece has departed, Cadogan’s studio “feels quite empty without her.”
You can’t help but be taken in by the female characters in Cadogan’s work, whether they are reading, writing, sat at the kitchen table or enjoying a drink, you find them lost in their world and finding yourself losing in it too.
Be Yourself – Nancy Cadogan
Cadogan’s figures aren’t yet another rendition of a woman sat prettily “on a chaise lounge, maybe drifting off into a sleep or looking out the window, very romantic” but they are vibrant, and not just in palette. “They’re focussed and they’re strong…Their eyes may be shut, you might fall into their world, but I sense a huge activity within their mind.”
Cadogan experienced a eureka moment when creating the central piece of the show, The Still Point Of The Turning World. Originally the woman was sat a the table reading, but it wasn’t until her son looked at the painting and said, “She’s writing, you just haven’t drawn the pen”, that Cadogan was “really struck, it was this amazing moment, she is totally telling her own story and it changes everything in the picture.”
Time Present – Nancy Cadogan
Cadogan’s first established her fluid approach to painting in 2019 after her Saatchi show. “When it comes to making the paintings, it’s quite responsive and very animated, trying to create whole worlds and by doing that not making too many preliminary drawings, just letting the painting work itself out, answering to its own needs which feels endlessly brave.”
Does Cadogan herself reach a still point when creating? “Sometimes you have academic moments, sometimes you have flow moments, and then sometimes they go together and that’s magical. God forbid anybody talks to you then because you want to hold onto that magical moment, it’s so fleeting.”
The Artichoke and The Egg – Nancy Cadogan
Cadogan knows the painting is finished “when the painting doesn’t irritate you anymore, it isn’t tetchy, it doesn’t make you feel like something isn’t right in it. And when that moment of discomfort has gone, when that jostle isn’t there, then you know it’s ready to tell its own story.” if the painting still isn’t right Cadogan will change the emphasis, her work is an ongoing symbiotic relationship between memory and practice.
With Freedom – Nancy Cadogan
The emphasis is further altered through Cadogan’s use of mirrors where we are faced with variations on reality in the reflections. In The Still Point Of The Turning World we glimpse at Cadogan’s reference to Éduoard Manet’s, A Bar At The Folies-Bergère.
“I love the way Manet uses reflections all the time but they’re always slightly off and a bit weird and I love that because he uses his reflections to bring other characters in and tell another story. They’re like pictorial devices.”
Literature is an integral part of Cadogan’s work. The title of this show refers to T S Eliot’s poem and we also find a book by Oscar Wilde in Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Taken, but it is the female characters that instantly demand our attention.
Where The Wild Things Grow II – Nancy Cadogan
In Where The Wild Things Grow, the woman is “entirely based on Virginia Woolf.” It’s not that Cadogan is disinterested by the male gaze, it’s more that her practice is so honest that she couldn’t even paint her husband because, “they’re paintings about the internal world and I’m just not sure how accurate or how true my story would be.”
Whilst Cadogan argues her work is “actively apolitical”, she is still very much a part of the contemporary conversation, making space and allowing time for ideas and thoughts to blossom and develop, “because none of these things are static.” Time passes and awaits us in the depths of the midnight blues, emerald greens and bubblegum pinks of Cadogan’s palette.
The Still Point reminds the viewer to bask in that moment of pause, whether at home with a cup of coffee or at a bar with a martini. Take your pick but more importantly take your time.
by Charlie Newman
The Still Point will be showing at the Gillian Jason gallery until the 2nd of July.
For more information click here.