Callum Innes is one of Britain’s foremost contemporary painters. Born in Edinburgh in 1962, he studied at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, before completing his studies in Edinburgh College of Art in the mid-1980s. Though his very early style was figurative, soon after graduation he transitioned into the field of abstraction, an area of painting to which he has made a significant, globally recognised contribution.
By as early as 1992, Innes had had two major exhibitions in public galleries; at the ICA, London, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. In 1995 he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize which, went on to be won by Damien Hirst that year. In 1998 Innes won the NatWest Art Prize and in 2002 he won the Jerwood Painting Prize and the Artisti Invitati Al Premio Internazionale. He has had numerous solo shows around the world, and his work features in major museum collections including Tate, London, and the Guggenheim, New York.
Innes work is instantly recognisable. His singular, alchemical approach to painting elevates the deliberate simplicity of his choice of materials; oils, turpentine, shellac. His paintings are often described as both painting and ‘un-painting’, due to the fact his work is concerned with the tenuous balance between the application of paint and its removal.
This work, a beautiful example from his Identified Forms series of the early 1990s, is a perfect illustration of the tension he creates between simplicity and complexity, as well as his ability to capture a moment of flux. Though his canvases are meticulous in their appearance, his work is very much concerned with a sense of physicality. From the broad, sensuous horizontal brushstrokes that smooth across the canvas, to the vertical striations of turpentine which blaze down, falling and fading through the paint’s surface.
Many of Innes’ abstracts are concerned with the vertical form. They have been interpreted as a cipher for the human figure that once occupied his very early work, but now form an anchor which heightens our awareness of the intent of his brushwork and the recession of textures. In Identified Forms, the effect of the turpentine is one of luminosity, and the contrast of tone and surface further clarifies and heightens the intense darkness of the oil backdrop. The forms’ existence also allows the viewer to project on to them. Here they appear to rise like flares in a dark sky, comet tails trailing behind; the oil paint unable to resist the irresistible, molten path of the corrosive turpentine.