The illusionistic representation of three-dimensional form has, by and large, remained a peripheral concern in the contemporary art of the second half of the twentieth century. In spite of the complex and sustained critique to which Greenbergian formalism has been subjected in the wake of post-modernity, its central tenet - concerning the unequivocal assertion of painting's two-dimensionality or flatness - has proved highly resilient. Most notably, the legacy of the formalist critique of illusionism endures in the guise of the critical imperative for irony or self-reflexivity as essential prerequisites for the production of images in general - a mandate with particularly complex repercussions for figurative production in the traditional media. As a tangential result, the sporadic and critically fraught re-emergence of representation and the image in painting over the past two decades has occurred largely via experiments in style, in conscientious pastiche, strategic ineptitude, overt quotation or through the investigation of photography as a mediating locus.

While neither irony nor self-reflexivity are by any means absent from the work in this exhibition, it seems pertinent to observe nevertheless that each of these artists appears to be operating at a certain conscious remove from the dominant historical trends referred to above. A striking characteristic which is common to much of the work in this exhibition is the lucid and precise depiction of form - these paintings and drawings evidence a concentrated engagement with the possibilities of tonal and chromatic modulation as vehicles for the convincing representation of three-dimensional surface and volume.

While many of these images take photographic sources or other found material as their points of departure, the concern is not primarily with the dialectical relationship to technological reproduction that has informed so much recent painting. Cerveira, Hopton and Woodfine seem to be engaged rather in efforts to re-imagine the subjects of their representations, to achieve pictorial and affective autonomy from the source media they draw upon.

Glauce Cerveira, Georgie Hopton and Sarah Woodfine all claim a kind of strategic unpremeditation in their choices of source material:- the initial criteria may be simple curiosity, fascination with or attraction to a particular form or quality, sensual or associative pleasure, personal sentiment or something altogether more incidental. It may also be said that the manipulations of realist technique to which they subject their source images are both painstaking and charged with the pleasure of erotic control. In Woodfine's meticulous, minutely delineated pencil drawings, the subject and its outline become the vehicle for imaginary, subliminal transformations which emerge millimetre by millimetre as the details of form and surface are mapped out; Cerveira's paintings are complex and visually arresting pictorial constructs in which an obsessive engagement with form and pattern is pursued to a point of extremity, elements layered and juxtaposed in configurations which are perceptually perverse; in her current work Hopton translates the tactile manipulation of figurative sculpture into the tonal modulation of representational painting, using the medium as a means to focus and make present the images of sculptures to which she feels a kind of empathic identification.

There is something both disarming and unsettling in all of this work and, notwithstanding the emphatic sophistication of its execution, it is tempting to identify links by ascribing common qualities which might be thought of in a sense as 'childlike':-a sense of wonder, for example, or sheer pleasure-driven curiosity at the permutations and possibilities of visual language; a simple desire to depict subjects and things one likes; or an overt and unapologetic pursuit of the imaginary or fantastic.

But one should be careful in interpreting terms like 'childlike' and 'wonder' - careful in particular not to over invest them with notions of naivety or innocence. A child's wonder may be conditional upon a kind of innocence - but an innocence of what? Innocence is a purely conditional and relative concept, and we often mistakenly obscure the idea of innocence with idealistic notions of benign intent. Yet a child's wonder is driven by a voracious and insatiable curiosity, a ruthless and monomaniacal urge to sensorily investigate or possess anything and everything that arouses that curiosity.

Perhaps curiosity is the key term here - one senses in this work a certain intensity and exclusivity of focus, the kind of attention that drives one to make a choice in spite of, and even because of, the absurdity of doing so. In the expert and elaborate representational games they enact with the objects of their attention, these artists also lay claim to the perverse and profound pleasures of play to be experienced in the practice of image-making.

1999 Marc Hulson

Glauce Cerveira - Georgie Hopton - Sarah Woodfine