August 17, 2007 3:50 pm

All rubbed out

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Callum Innes is a painter’s painter. Anyone of an artistic bent who is in need of a jolt of inspiration should head straight to Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge to see “From Memory”, a display of the artist’s work over the past 18 years.

Innes has become known for his series of large paintings which exhibit a controlled similarity in tone and design. From afar, they are meditatively beautiful. But from close up (a vantage point no painter can resist), the brush and paint marks appear more tentative, as if they have been reworked or rubbed out. At other times they seem joyously free-spirited, as if the artist had stood back to see which way the paint would run.

It is this scrutiny, this intense investigation into the process of putting paint on to canvas, that the exhibition draws our attention to. Innes was quick to recognise the potential of the material he was about to make marks on. It was during his 1989-90 “Cento” series, when Innes could not afford canvases, that he realised the beautiful organic effects of oil paper; here, paint trickles freely and thinly down the surface, creating an almost skein-like finish that pulses with life. Later it comes to resemble bark, as in the textured monochrome “Resonance Seventeen” (2004), a canvas covered with stripes of white impasto.

In his “Exposed” series, Innes shows that painting need not be restricted to making marks – subtracting them is a valid exercise too. At first, these works, with their organised, coloured squares, seem Mondrian-esque, but while Mondrian was concerned with the journey away from figuration, Innes is concerned with the journey from his blank canvas. One square is painted a dense black; the paint on another is stripped away to reveal the fibres of the canvas below; a third is finished with a purple oil wash, silk-like and shimmering. In “Three Unidentified Forms” (1993), he creates illuminated jellyfish-like shapes suspended in blackness, as if someone had shone a torch into the sea at night.

Rubbing out is frowned upon in art classes but this show should make tutors think twice about that. And turpentine sales might get a little boost too.

‘From Memory’ is at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, until September 23, tel: +44 (0)1223-352 124

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