In conversation with… Salford artist Keith Ashcroft

Venture down King Street in Salford and you’ll come across OA Studios, home to the Oceans Apart gallery and to painter-turned-curator Keith Ashcroft.

The studios and exhibition space occupy an industrial-type building where exposed beams and worn tiles contrast with pristine white walls designed to display paintings without distractions.

It’s the kind of space that serves a new purpose but one where the history is very much visible.

It’s a place where Keith is exploring a concept in his painting that is not too dissimilar to what this building represents: the two-fold process by which we view a painting.

This concept proposes the following questions: do we see how the painting is made, such as the application of paint, the colours used, the textures created, just as we see the beams and floorboards of the gallery?

Or do we see what the painting shows, be it a dress, a tent, a woodland scene, in the same way that we just see the gallery itself?

These questions are still being answered by Keith in both his painting practice and the recent show he curated, named ‘TWO-FOLD’.

The concept itself originates from Richard Wollheim, a philosopher who was interested in how we experience a painting in terms of what it portrays and the means by which it is being depicted.

The exhibition took place from September 6-29 and featured the work of 20 artists from the UK, Europe and Canada, including Keith himself.

All the paintings stemmed from this idea of combining two aspects to create one experience, explored in different ways by the respective artists.

Each placement was carefully devised to achieve the maximum impact, something Keith reveals when discussing Jake Clark’s work ‘Legs Umbrella’.

“It was always going to be here, to pull you into the space,” he says.

And it truly is effective as the vivid greens and purples draw your eye in from the moment you enter the exhibition.

When a series of paintings are shown together without sharing a subject or style, good curation is key to allow connections to be made and a conversation to take place between the paintings.

Elsewhere four paintings are hung together, depicting “two internal spaces and two external spaces” Keith adds.

Each one encouraged the viewer to look at both what they show and how they show it.

Sam Douglas’ ‘East Coast Trail’ is a moody and traditional depiction of tree tops in the moonlight: it feels aged with a limited colour palette, but a closer inspection reveals how the artist has scratched into the paint. This encourages the viewer to see both the subject of the painting and the techniques involved in creating it.

Positioned next to this is Keith’s own painting ‘Untitled’, a mysterious “inside and outside space” inspired by Queensgate Market in Huddersfield.

The forms of the wooden beams and a muted pink curtain contained within the work are recognisable to us, yet the way in which they are portrayed makes us question what the painting is intending to show.

As Keith explains, the painting depicts “parts of different spaces brought together… [it’s a] space that doesn’t actually exist in the real world.”

Visually ‘Untitled’ shows both the subject and the techniques used: in areas the brown underpainting is visible, referencing an earlier form of the painting, while a faint grid stretches out from the bottom right corner, which Keith describes as “acting like visual scaffolding.”

These forms weren’t there in real life, but have now become part of the painting, a manifestation of the two-fold process.

The exhibition may have ended, but ‘TWO-FOLD’ leaves behind a legacy that is itself two-sided.

First, these works encourage viewers to see painting in a new way, allowing both the subject and techniques to be appreciated both separately and together.

Second, ‘TWO-FOLD’ serves to highlight the importance of discussions between the artists themselves, something that has helped Keith with his own painting.

“A studio is like an echo chamber, group shows are good for pointing out what your work is not doing and what makes it different,” he says.

The Oceans Apart gallery is planning more shows in the coming months. Keith will be exhibiting in Huddersfield later next year.

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