Paula MacArthur

Hermione Allsopp, Clare Chapman, Paula MacArthur, Perdita Sinclair


20th September–2nd November 2023

Blyth Gallery

Level 5, Sherfield Building, Imperial College London, Exhibition Road, SW7 2AZ

Gallery open: Monday–Friday, 10am–5pm  





Of Lightness, eponymously titled after the late Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, brings together four artists whose work probes the binary relationship between heaviness and lightness inherent in the narrative of the novel. On divergent yet syntonic paths the paintings of Perdita Sinclair, Paula MacArthur, Clare Chapman and the sculpture of Hermione Allsopp encapsulate the image and object in all its transient formlessness and solidifying mass. 


Kundera’s novel explores the unbearable lightness that is a necessary condition of our transience and mortality; with no hope of return, our lives are ephemeral. In the novel this fleetingness of human existence is posited in the phrase ‘Einmal ist keinmal’ (once is never); the existential irrelevance to our existence being both immensely freeing and overwhelmingly weighty. The paintings and sculptures in this show respond to this proposition, intuiting imagery and form that might contain and bear the paradoxical nature of this state. The heavy made light and the light made heavy with all the inherent slippage these terms evoke is given a materiality in these works that is dream-like, sensual and effervescent.


The suggestive mounds of calorific foods in Perdita Sinclair’s irreverently playful paintings ebb and flow, balanced evocatively in their precarious rafts and vessels on rippling waters. The excessive loads depicted in these works carry the heaviness of a pleasure that is too much and could sink them at any moment into the amniotic depths they float on. The soft orality of these paintings is contrast to the hardness of the crystals that Paula MacArthur paints, though the minerals these works depict are no less penetrable in their alien cavities and formations than Sinclair’s oozing and melting cargos.


MacArthur’s otherworldly and glimmering jewels capture both the lightness on the surface and that imprisoned within them. Tightly bound masses, they contain the thrust of their formation deep within them, but in contrast bear their vulnerability on the surface in titles such as In her own mad mind. The softness and movement of emotional life is rendered into a geological bejewellment in these seductively expulsive yet solidified forms.


Hermione Allsopp’s sculptures also bear their interiority in the substance of their material mass. These works constructed from the residues of daily life appear transfigured into soft bodily objects, that despite their pastel hues emit a gravitational bulk and solidity. Allsopp’s sculptures seem held together in an attempt to define the boundaries of the body; potentially shapeless mass is folded, pulled and buttressed, creating rims and apertures that filled or left open might capture or circumvent our desire. 


Gaps and openings are also the leitmotif in Clare Chapman’s paintings. Sometimes blurred or filled with swollen protrusions her paintings offer a surface that sits on the perpetual cusp of disintegration or growth. In this inchoate landscape the ephemeral fullness of the imagery might be held to the ground or unraveling across the canvas, a form that could float or sink, implode or burst.


All four artists in Of Lightness present work that merges the familiar with the strange, these are objects and images imbued with the atmosphere of the uncanny. Situated in this liminal realm they frustrate the ability to distinguish between the light and the heavy, pleasure and dis-pleasure, the bearable and unbearable.


Hermione Allsopp (b.1971) studied MA Fine Art at UCA Canterbury (2010-2012 ) She is an artist who primarily works in sculpture, installation and collage. She has exhibited in the UK  and internationally. Recent exhibitions include: A Body A Part, APT Gallery, London, 2023, the soft and elastic bone, VSOP Projects, Greenport, New York,  2021, Organic Matters, residency presentation for Magic Carpet Landed exhibition, Kaunas Biennial, Lithuania 2021-22. She was shortlisted for the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award in 2023 and 2016. She lives and works in East Sussex. 


Clare Chapman (b.1974) studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL (1999-2001) and Falmouth College of Arts (1993-1996). She has exhibited in group and solo shows in the U.K and internationally. Recent shows include ‘Things Will Continue to Change’, Koppel Project Hive, London, (2022); ‘20 Years of Artists at the British School in Athens’, 12 Star Gallery, London (2021) and ‘Thing Worlds’, Art Spot Korin, Kyoto, Japan, (2021). She lives and works in London.


Paula MacArthur (b.1967) studied painting at the Royal Academy Schools, London (1990-93) She has exhibited extensively both at home and abroad with recent solo exhibitions including ‘Still Light’ at Rye Art Gallery (2022) ‘Verse’ at Kaleidoscope Gallery, Sevenoaks (2018) and ‘Infinitely Precious Things’ at VJB Arts, London. She was a prizewinner at John Moores Painting Prize in 1993 and her work is held in private and public collections around the world. She lives and works in Rye, East Sussex.


Perdita Sinclair (b. 1978) studied painting at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, (1998-2001) She has exhibited widely internationally and in the UK including at The Royal Academy of Art and The National Portrait Gallery. Her residencies include on a boat trawling for microplastics, in human dissection labs, and most recently in New York at Mana Contemporary making work including ice-cream-like forms as a metaphor for shifting states of existence. She lives and works in Brighton, East Sussex.


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