In an exhibition whose artists all enter into various dialogues with paint, Andrew Mummery shows the work of four painters, Peter Davis, Alexis Harding, Peter Lynch, and Ingo Meller. Not only are all their works abstract, but they are predicated on those negotiations between the painter and the painted surface that override the irrelevance of the old abstraction/figuration dualities. Here the subject is the painting process, the materials become the engine that drives these works. There is a current resurgence of painting in Britain, and particularly of process painting, the fact that the pendulum seems to be swinging in painting's direction at the expense of photography seems to have a lot to do with market forces-painting often sells better than photographs. But of course, this should be seen as no more than arbitrary and temporary background interference, and be dismissed as extraneous to the main criteria for the perception of artistic value.

While this whole show is a celebration of the process of painting, it exemplifies the current diversity of approach to that process. The work of the Cologne-based artist, Ingo Meller, while being the most Minimal here, is also the most complex, the most Conceptually challenging. Having the mien of the experimental, and the look of a series of color tests, these paintings are boldly symptomatic of that decision-making process, which is usually concealed within a finished work; there is a freshness and a spontaneity about them. Meller does not fix his canvas on a stretcher or a frame, but attaches it directly to the wall. He primes it with a colorless medium to stiffen it and then applies paint in slicks of pure color with a broad brush, one brush-load at a time. When adding a second or third color, some of these slicks become partially superimposed over the original color, but never obscure it. There may be some merging of the colors but this is merely fortuitous, and never obscures the evidence for the sequence of events here. This exercise seems to involve the weight, rhythm, and configuration of the paint slicks as much as it does the chromatic relationships between the colors. We can reconstruct here the course of events that culminated in the 'finished' painting. So there is a sort of narrative quality to these paintings, where the raw, unpainted canvas is the setting and the rhythm of the paint slicks-which could be perceived as a primitive calligraphy-creates the story.

The thick monochrome impasto of Peter Lynch's paintings has the appearance, from a distance, of a heavyweight, slightly plasticized, fabric. The thick paint is, obviously, heavily worked, with differentially orientated textures detectable in its surface. There is a complexity about the surfaces of these paintings that tell you they have a history. This history is somewhat obscure, the surface's recent history concealing what went before, but like those crop-marks that archaeologists use as pointers to buried ruins, there are sub-surface undulations and perturbations here which indicate the presence of earlier layers. What is more indicative, however, of human intercession here, are the large bold sweeps of angular lines that Lynch's finger has inscribed into the surfaces of these works. Like signature initials they signal Lynch's presence, they are crude but bold interventions whose spontaneous gestures leave the traces of their originator. We are here not as aesthetes but as witnesses, through these signs, to Lynch's impetuous acts. These acts obviously brought a release, all the tensions created by a tyrannical preciosity, relieved in a few swift finger strokes, moments of crisis management preserved for posterity by their fossilized actions.

Gravity is usually one of the painter's foes, whose action he must guard against. Alexis Harding, however, invites gravity into his paintings playing with its steady but unpredictable pull. He lets it take the paint for a ride, he is a risk-taker. It is the differentially viscous state of the paint that makes this process so unpredictable, given gravity's constancy. He lays onto a support, thick layers of oil paint and then lays on top of this a grid pattern of gloss paint, using a special applicator, then before the paint is dry he tilts the support, allowing gravity to have its way, and its way with this paint is sensuous. The paint, which now has a wrinkled surface due to the differential drying qualities of oil and gloss paint, slumps and slips across the support like great tongues of molten lava, some parts of the flow break away, others rotate in infinitely slow motion. Before the paint evacuates the surface altogether, Harding re-orientates the support so that it slopes in a different direction and the paint adopts a totally new dynamic, this process continues for days and even weeks. The result is a fascinating map, which relays the chronology of this whole cat and mouse process, recorded in the swirls, skeins, slicks and swellings of paint. This on the edge of your seat process-taken at a snails pace-looks as if it might be addictive, Harding has been creating these works for the past four years and the results still fascinate, surprise, and enchant the viewer's eye. Never quite finished, these paintings involve us in their histories, bringing us up to date as we watch paint drip onto the gallery floor from the bulbous oily stalactites whose pregnant glossy fringe hangs from the bottom of the painting.

An infinitely more hi-tech if equally unpredictable strategy is followed by Peter Davies. Working on an aluminum support, he paints the surface with bold, swift applications of acrylic paint leaving coarse vertical striations of paint-the maker's marks-on the aluminum surface. He then enlists the help of an automotive body shop, where the painting is baked in an oven, like car body panels. This endows the work with a pristine high gloss finish with an intriguingly filmic demeanor, which contrasts starkly with the mien of the lo-tech, high-speed paint job. Davies effectively tones down this commercially industrial integument by applying yet more acrylic paint as a finishing statement, which not only re-introduces a raw handmade quality, but creates a disturbing hybridity.

As viewers we can, by looking carefully at all these works, re-live the processes and events that led to their existence, and this seems to be not only the raisson d'être of these works, but also ours for the duration of our stay in the gallery. However, as much as we might be able to deduce from the visual evidence here, we are ultimately excluded from the specifics of the spontaneous decision making that was a part of the painting process, and it is the enigma that this exclusion leaves behind, that draws us to these paintings.

Roy Exley
London, England