Exposed Painting Paynes Grey/Yellow Oxide/Red Oxide on White is a large oil painting by the Scottish artist Callum Innes, measuring over two metres in both height and width. The canvas is divided into five sections: two squares of pale red on the left, one black and one white square stacked vertically on the right and a slim band of grey running all the way across the top of the painting. The joining lines between the white, black and grey sections are crisp and defined, whereas those around the red areas are less distinct, seeming to overlap with the other sections and creating a sense of depth on the otherwise flat-looking canvas. The black square sets up a striking contrast to the white shape below it, while the stark tones of both create further contrast with the paler, more diffuse hues of the red and grey forms in the rest of the work.
Innes made this painting in Edinburgh in 1999. An off-white acrylic priming layer covers the surface of the canvas and extends to the inside edge of the tacking margin, and the priming looks as though it has been applied with a roller. Before painting over the primer, Innes used tape to mask off each of the separate regions that would contain the different colours. The paint comprising the black area is thick and opaque with a semi-gloss surface, and the layers appear to have been applied with a brush, as is evinced by bristle marks visible in the paint. Despite having a similar surface to the parts where the priming alone is visible, the areas of white appear to have been coated with a thin layer of white oil paint. Innes used the pigment known as Paynes Grey – referenced in the title – to create the horizontal panel that runs across the top of the work, a blue-grey colour that is often used instead of black as a mixer. To make the two red areas, the artist is likely to have coated these parts of the canvas with layers of paint and then used a diluting agent to remove the majority of the medium from the surface. While doing so, the artist tipped the canvas to encourage the agent to bring the paint away from the surface and as such there are three separate waves of diluted paint visible. Innes uses this process to create all the works in the ongoing series of Exposed Paintings, begun in 1992.
As well as indicating that the work is part of the Exposed Paintings series, the painting’s title reveals the specific pigments used in its creation. Through the visible effects of the addition and subtraction of these colours, as well as their interaction, paintings such as Exposed Painting Paynes Grey/Yellow Oxide/Red Oxide on White could be seen as unfinished works that offer a ‘snapshot of work in continual progress’ (Ikon Gallery 1998, unpaginated). In particular, as the curator Fiona Bradley has observed, the work challenges the notion that ‘while making something takes a long time, unmaking it is most often the work of a moment. In doing this [Innes] introduces into his paintings a new kind of time’ (Bradley in Fruitmarket Gallery 2006, p.17). This theme runs through the Exposed Paintings, and Bradley has compared the process of making them to that of developing a photograph – a parallel that is also indicated by their titles: ‘the use of the word “exposed”, a word whose primary visual reference is to photography, connects the exposure of painted colour to turpentine with the photographic exposure of coated paper to light’ (Bradley in Fruitmarket Gallery 2006, p.17).
In the catalogue to an exhibition of Innes’s paintings of this type held in 1998 at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, the artist’s work was compared to abstract expressionism, specifically the large-scale colour field paintings of Barnett Newman (1905–1970), Mark Rothko (1903–1970) and Clyfford Still (1904–1980), as well as minimalist art (see Ikon Gallery 1998, unpaginated). After making many works on the Exposed Paintings theme in the 1990s, Innes returned to them in the late 2000s, with some variations. Untitled No 39 2010 (Tate T13305), for example, employs the same vertical format and grid-like construction as Exposed Painting Paynes Grey/Yellow Oxide/Red Oxide on White, but is executed using heavier brushstrokes, a brighter palette of colours and a simpler composition.
Callum Innes, exhibition catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 1998.
Elizabeth Brown, ‘WOW: The Work of the Artist and the Art of the Work’, Curator, vol.49, no.3, July 2006, pp.287–94.
Callum Innes from Memory, exhibition catalogue, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 2006, p.185.
Supported by Christie’s.