These new paintings by Graham Mileson startle with their beauty.
Although employing a language of indirection, paradoxically the appeal
is direct and moving to the senses. Light and colour in flux; the
flicker and glim of successive veils of pigment ravish the eye.
Movement is checked by structure, the result of a dynamic of quietude.
Meaning is suggested, not asserted; our understanding evolves through
enigma. We must prepare ourselves as the artist does before beginning
to paint, and clear the mind.

Graham Mileson paints to his own scale, on the largest canvas that is
easily manoeuvrable for someone of his stature. He works directly onto
the raw canvas, drawing with acrylic gel in great sweeps and combings,
occasionally hurling a gobbet of the gel for textural variation. Using
an ordinary serrated scraper from a hardware store to spread the gel, he
applies it in different thicknesses before further disrupting the
surface by laying thin polythene onto it and rubbing. As the polythene
is removed, the gel is pulled and wrinkled; another form of drawing,
fruitful if aleatory. This corrugation of the surface encourages the
paint to flow, particularly when it is fluidly applied with a squeezee
bottle. When the gel has settled a little, Mileson wets certain areas
with a fine atomizer and starts to stain in the colour. Other passages
of gel might be removed with jets of water; later the gel can be
reapplied and the colour overlaid. The technique is thus richly
flexible and invests the surface with a remarkable translucency. During
painting, the canvas is often turned upside down, though it is always
kept on a vertical axis. The final direction of the painting is
determined very late in the process of resolution and selection.

To say that there are dark paintings and light paintings in this group
may not seem exactly perspicacious or helpful, yet the pictures do
arrange themselves around this division. Mileson himself makes a
further distinction; the darker paintings are essentially passive. Why
should this be so? It would seem to be a response of mood;
intensification as against a lightening of spirits, stillness opposed to
motion. The crisp clear winter light is an active presence in The First
Day of December. Compare this to the green-gold and magenta of Veiled
in May. Cave-like and mysterious, it is a more passive image
altogether, inviting lengthy speculation. This is not to say that the
"active" paintings are superficial in any way, simply that they
challenge rather than collaborate with the viewer. If the passive
paintings are sonorous, the active are exhilarating.

There is a feeling of the sensuality of the real world in these
paintings. Mileson is not trying to make equivalents of nature, but an
image might be triggered by a remembered detail; for instance,
experiencing the texture of bark or leaves in his Woolwich garden.
However, comparisons with the natural world come unerringly to mind.
The striations and whorls of the gel recall snakeskin and the grain of
wood. The complex craquelure of surface is like crow's feet around the
eyes, or the sun-baked mud of a waterhole. The flowing lines of paint
resemble root systems. Some of the paintings evoke the Amazon jungle,
others the irridescent shimmer of peacock plumes. Rockfaces and
waterfalls; Gordale Scar recaptured. These paintings are endlessly
allusive, but while the imagery is essentially organic it is never
specific or representational.

Mileson, from habit as much as exposure, has been more drawn to European
culture than America, though that may be changing. Van Gogh was his
first love - for the emotion the best pictures generate and for the way
the colours are put together. Subsequent influences have been the
cut-paper pictures of Matisse, and late Monet. Inspiration, at
different times to supply different needs, has come from
near-contemporaries John Hoyland, Bert Irvin and more recently Frank
Bowling. It is therefore particularly appropriate that Mileson and
Bowling should now be showing together.

At Coventry College of Art and then the Polytechnic at the end of the
1960s, Graham Mileson became deeply embroiled with Art and Language, and
spent a year mainly reading philosophy. He gave up painting for
sculpture, and it was not until 1977 that he returned to 2-dimensional
work. Since then he has painted in acrylics, initially using stencils
to achieve a hard-edged effect, then moving to a more gestural
technique. Since 1987 Mileson has rejected the evidence of brushstrokes
in order to create an "all-over", unified image rather than a picture
composed of discrete segments related to each other. The old way of
building a picture with one colour abutting another has been exchanged
for a sfumato technique, with the sprayed colours flowing and melding
together. Graham Mileson has used to considerable advantage the three
years of full-time painting he's had since giving up teaching; with
luck, financial pressure will not force him to relinquish an hour of
studio time in the future.

Andrew Lambirth

( Royal Academy , Magazine )

July 1991