John Rabling - 'And Still'

Wednesday 22 March - Saturday 15 April 2023

Any half decent text book will tell you that the genre of still life involves the depiction of inanimate objects typically arranged on a flat surface. Through the arrangement of those objects (flowers, fruit, food, household objects, everyday items), an artist creates a unique, imaginative or unexpected interpretation of the subject at hand. The artist’s aim is to evoke an emotional or intellectual response in the viewer. Whether it is the beauty of the objects depicted, the skilful execution of the artwork, or the creativity of the interpretation, a good still life work will capture the imagination and leave a lasting impression.

Blah, blah. Bit dry, isn’t it?

Except that last couple of sentences – the aim. I am fascinated by the way in which objects can be arranged and lit to create a visual composition that can evoke tension and discord, find beauty and provoke a thought or two in the spectator. In this exhibition, my approach has been rooted in a desire to capture the mood and atmosphere of objects, in space, in a comparatively short point in time. Through those actions I hoped to create some sense and meaning. For me, still life is about much more than just the objects themselves. It is about the way in which they interact with one another, the way in which light and shadow play across their surfaces and the emotions and memories they evoke. Like every work of art, the creation is a world where the artist is God – and the result is the record of every interpretation, every decision and every action, good or bad.

Back to the art history book for a moment; in this exhibition, I’ve chosen to walk the well-travelled path of symbology in still life - especially the symbols of transience, beauty and abundance. One of the most common interpretations of cut fruit is that they symbolise the transience of life. Cut fruit are (obviously) no longer whole and are at the point of decay; classically, they serve as a reminder of the impermanence of existence.

Abundance, of course, is all about wealth and fertility. In this exhibition, abundance is a little thin on the ground – perhaps that’s my somewhat dark reflection on the times, regarding abundance, plenty and prosperity. There are others in the suite of symbols - decay, sensuality, religion, politics. They are not consciously in these works – not because they’re unworthy or uninteresting, but you’ve got to draw a line somewhere. Perhaps next time. 

Most of these works were produced comparatively quickly, over a day or two and rarely more than three consecutive days work. That means intense and concentrated efforts in a 48 to 72-hour period for each work. Pastels are the perfect medium for this type of work, they do not need to dry, as paint does; they can be worked quickly, decisions made and executed with rapidity. Pastels allow for a range of mark-making techniques that can be used to create delicate colour fields, subtle variation and bold lines. Let’s not debate whether one paints or draws in pastels – like all art, it is both.

Through my work, I invite you to pause and reflect on the beauty, transience and complexity of the world around us. I’ve strived to show you these qualities through these little worlds that record my emotional responses to our current lives. Pastels were the tool – the meaning is in your response.

John Rabling
February 2023.