Emma Geliot's picture

Blue Nantyffin (2015), Paul Emmanuel Blue Nantyffin (2015), Paul Emmanuel

Paul Emmanuel's new show Cow Punk injects a vibrant landscape of colour and tactility into Arcadecardiff. Francesca Donovan reviews.

Playful characters of canvas, wool and paint hug the walls of Arcadecardiff. Each of Paul Emmanuel's pieces seem to have a personality of their own, like the imaginary friends that spring from the minds of children; joining in on their games in overgrown summer gardens and holding their hands as they cross busy roads.

The works, somewhat reminiscent of characters from the animation film Monsters Inc., are vibrant and tactile. Emmanuel created this series of new pieces especially for Cow Punk, examining the nature of oil paint and the quality of material from the landscape around him.

Living in theBrecon Beacons and seeing the abundance of natural materials in the rural locality around him, Emmanuel became fascinated by their aesthetics, engaging with these structures and objects on a thoughtful level. He worked the fleeces of sheep onto canvas frames and they burst out from their angular shackles in an explosion of hairy fluidity. Emmanuel - throughout the development of works for Cow Punk - has experimented with the different textures of Blackface, Balwen and Texel fleece, considering how they react to, and are receptive of, thick oil paint, to astonishing effect.

Red Nantyffin (2015), Paul Emmanuel Red Nantyffin (2015), Paul Emmanuel

Black Nantyffin (2015) is a small, sly looking piece that lurks in the corner of the gallery. Black oil paint has been combed into the Blackface fleece in a divisively linear fashion. The comb marks in the tar-like paint violently trawl through the thick material, taming it and dragging it down; it evokes images of birds caught in oil spills in a rather dark and morbid way. It is easy to imagine the creative processin this piece, picturing Emmanuel in his studio, struggling with the wild material.

In Yellow Nantyffin (2015),bright sunshine yellow oil paint douses the Blackface fleece, overpowering it in volume, weight and colour. The spectacle of this piece is absolutely in the properties of material. The paint shines bright like hard lemon sweets, still slightly slick, straight from the studio. Watching viewers struggling to refrain from reaching out and touching the piece illustrates the tctile lure of these works. a

Emmanuel's treatment of the materials is particularly impressive in Red Nantyffin (2015) and Blue Nantyffin (2015), both on Blackface fleece. The smaller of the two,Blue Nantyffin (2015), splattered with royal blue oils, shows a graceful interaction between paint and fleece. The two substances seem to work together in union in this work, to create something as free as the break of a wave. The larger, red-coloured piece uses Emmanuel's technique of combing paint through sections of hair, staining its pores and controlling its movement. However, here, the artist has left sections of hair free from any disruption, masterfully juxtaposing the organic with the man-made.

Green Nantyffin (2015), Paul Emmanuel Green Nantyffin (2015), Paul Emmanuel

Green Nantyffin (2015) is perhaps the work that conjures up the Brecon Beacons most acutely; the origin of the fleeces Emmanuel deconstructs and builds back up with paint so harmoniously. The green oils worked through the Balwen fleece have crusted and stuck to the organic matter to look like the moss that grows on damp bark in a Welsh drizzle. You can almost hear the fresh spring waters trickling down rock faces and smell the fresh, clean air.

On a sculptural side note, Black Narcissus (2015) - which sits quietly on a side wall in Arcadecardiff - is constructed by covering an oriental lily in a vase in sheep marker. As the lily overcomes this dark blanket covering and blooms, the delicate flower breaks through the sheep marker into the light and air. As growth occurs, the power of the plant changes the dynamics of the dark green marker paint, forcing it to bubble and crack. The paint operates as a clue to the process of natural growth, serving as a record of a fleeting moment before transformation inevitably continues. It is a rare opportunity to witness the slow and steady changes in nature in real time; Emmanuel's work hints at that chance.

Cow Punk is a playful show. Enjoyment is found in the celebration of materiality, the aesthetic vibrancy of the works and Emmanuel's enthusiasm and active process of creation. The tensions between the organic and the chemical are not unnerving. In fact, they are comforting in their compatibility and they consequently morph into a beautiful metaphor for all manner of positive symbiotic relationships.

Cow Punk runs from 23 July to 8 August at Arcadecardiff; the artist will be in conversation in the gallery on 8 August at 8pm