the quiet, underrated masterpieces of Michael Andrews

ANDREWS-1974-Lights-VII-A-Shadow_Gagosian-e1485440730881Martin Gayford at The Spectator:

Michael Andrews once noted the title of an American song on a scrap of paper: ‘Up is a Nice Place to Be.’ Then he added a comment of his own: ‘The best.’ This jotting was characteristic in more than one way. A splendid exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, Grosvenor Hill, London, makes it clear that Andrews was — among other achievements — a supreme aerial painter. No one else has better caught the sensation of floating, to quote another song from the Sixties, up, up and away.

It was also typical of Andrews that his addition to that title was only two words — but it makes a big difference. His paintings are like that. At first, there may seem not to be much there. ‘Lights VII: A Shadow’ (1974) is almost a painting of nothing at all. Its subject is the silhouette of a balloon, seen from above, drifting over the sand of an empty beach, with bands of blue sea and sky beyond.

The effect is quite close to an abstraction. But for the spot-on verisimilitude of that shadow — with ropes and dangling basket clearly outlined — you might be looking at a Rothko. On the other hand, a glance at a reproduction could suggest that this is a photograph. Indeed, as the curator Richard Calvocoressi explains in the catalogue, the sources for Andrews’s later works were often photographic. As part of his research for the picture, Andrews assembled shots of coastal scenery and images of inflated balloons in flight. The changes he made to his sources might seem a matter of nuance, but they were crucial.

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