Review: Michael Porter
By Bo Hilton. Published in Cornwall Today, Summer 2011
At the Stoneman Gallery, Chapel Street, Penzance, June 11 to July 2. Also at Newlyn Gallery from July 16 to September 10
Michael Porter’s paintings are about he landscape. As a man who is constantly outside, walking, climbing or fly fishing, it seemed natural for him to paint what he loved. In the 1980s, then, Porter produced a lovely series of abstracted wood scenes which, like his current work, were very much about finding painting techniques that would produce an equivalent of the sensation he experiences when looking at trees. Working with the canvas on the floor, oil paint was poured, then mixed with water colour and ova, the resulting soup manipulated into an image inspired by the subject matter.
With his current work Newlyn-based Porter has turned his gaze downwards and created a large body of work inspired by what we see at our feet, whether walking along the seashore, through woods or across the cliffs.
Porter has evolved an elaborate technique which simultaneously expresses the textures of rocks, wood and grasses and produces paintings that feel very object-like and contemporary. In Seashore series 13-06-10 (illustrated), paint and pigment are mixed in with pva. Layers are built up in this way resulting in surfaces that have a glossy-relief feel. This, combined with the fact that the painting carries on around the edges, reinforces the painting’s objectness and a sense that the painting has been made rather than painted. It is an incredibly time-consuming process that requires a lot of patience and skill but for Porter the effort is worth it because it is the best way he can recreate the complex textures on finds in nature.
In this picture, as in many of this series, there are very realistically painted seashells. This realism creates a tension with the splattered marbled forms of the rocks and I really like the way the different styles offset each other.
Porter’s paintings belong in the Romantic tradition of painting. Think of Turner tying himself to a mast to capture the raging storm and contemporary artists like Len Tabner. However, although Porter makes you acutely aware of the beauty that is all around us, he does so in a completely unsentimental, non-illustrative way and produces paintings that are startlingly original and of the moment. For me they work in a realistic and abstract way in that as a whole the picture seems quite unreal in its sense of embossed glossiness but at the same time the rocks and the painted limpets are uber-realistic. This dichotomy between the real and the artificial makes for fascinating paintings which very much reflect that feeling we’ve all had as a child when staring into a rock pool; that of looking into another world.