Using the evocative imagery of the woven fabric pattern of tartan, Alison Berry’s paintings explore the unstable relationship between two opposing states of mind; the sublime and the ridiculous.
The sublime encounter occurs when the human mind grasps, albeit fleetingly, concepts that overwhelm the senses and the imagination. Traditionally considered a transcendental experience triggered by events occurring in the natural world, the preferred contemporary expression of the sublime experience is one of immanence arising from within the man made world. However, regardless of the form taken, the ironic connection between these exalted sublime experiences and the ridiculous and the everyday has long been recognised. The sublime has metaphysical ambitions when all the time it is drawing us closer to our material limits and our earthly bounds.
Tartan cloth with all its visual and symbolic baggage reflects the complex and interchangeable relationship between the sublime and the ridiculous. It is a textile of contradiction; simultaneously traditional and rebellious it has been adopted by various groups to reinforce loyalty and belonging or worn in a transgressive way, expressive of anti-establishment opinions. From Scottish Highland clans, contemporary school uniforms and the workman’s shirt through to the punk movement, the somewhat stereotypical tartan clad gay man and the adoption of the Burberry check by “chavs”, tartan has been used in a cyclical manner to strengthen ties and to undermine old ones,which perversely results in the creation of new allegiances.
Keeping these intensely human associations in mind Alison’s paintings push the tartan imagery to the point where fabric pattern is transcended. The cumulative effect of the simple repeated bands of colour in warp and weft thread in woven tartan, results in patterns of great complexity with illusions of perspective and depth. Through scale and painting technique these qualities are exploited by Alison, drawing out connections with the grid and modernity, science and religion, containment or release, order or overwhelming potential.
With its preoccupation with the sublime and the abstract nature of her paintings, Alison’s work inevitably references such movements as Abstract Expressionism and Russian Suprematism. However, true to the persistent theme of instability and contradiction, Alison’s paintings are also very much images of tartan and far from being abstract are full of the human narrative that accompanies this cloth. Connections with the neo-Dada movement and a focus on the concrete become apparent. Alison's hope is that neither one nor other of these conflicting positions is championed; it matters not whether the sublime is considered ridiculous or the ridiculous considered sublime. Instead tartan's ambiguous character invites the observer to travel between these two states of mind, to acknowledge this innately human experience and above all to embrace it.