Gary Wragg - Still Soaring at 70
Reflecting the broad sweep of 50 years of artistic endeavour, the paintings in Still Soaring at 70 reveal Wragg's eclectic inspirations. From Mayan temples to Football Pools coupons, Tai Chi to the very public grief following Princess Diana's death, he offers a vivid, colourful and kaleidoscopic response to these intriguing starting points.
Grouped into four distinct sections, Still Soaring at 70 begins with Composure & Calm: 1966-75 . Here Wragg's deep love of Henri Matisse is immediately evident, Still Life With Black Curtain (1968) riffing on the French artist's late domestic paintings and using similarly vibrant, contrasting colours. The prize-winning Salmon Pink Interior from the same year combines these ideas with the bold rectangular forms of Rothko, and is in many ways the embodiment of 1960s abstract expressionism. Meanwhile, the Football Pools motifs in Green And Black Rectangle (1974) and White Green Pinks X's (1974) hint at a more playful approach.
By the mid-1970s, Wragg had become fascinated by gesture, touch paint and movement, reflected in the second part of the exhibition, Energy & Spiral Movement, 1976-1988. He would, in turn, paint on the floor, vertically and rotate the canvas, a process which he says deeply connected him with the work, "emphasising things that were simultaneously physical and internally felt in ways that for me, only the painting could possibly realise".
So it's no surprise that the nuanced Vertical, Horizontal and Concentric (1981) and the ethereal Disc (1982) are directly informed by his interest in Tai Chi Chuan, a martial art which he describes as matching the sensations of hardness and softness he appreciates in painting.
And these triggers from Tai Chi Chuan and the immediate world around Wragg continue in his paintings from 1990-2005, grouped together under the title Chi, Internal/External. Palace Light (1997) sums up this perceptive artist's sensitive approach; Wragg had paid a visit to Kensington Palace after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and was struck by the spread of flowers wrapped in polythene.
"They shimmered in the evening sunlight: it was visually an amazing, awe-inspiring atmosphere and sight," he remembers. The painting followed soon after, the dance of the brushwork vibrant and celebratory rather than literal or maudlin.
Wragg's interest in the interaction between mood and colour continues in Web Structures Loops & Circuits: 2006-2009, which forms the final part of the show. Webzone x Three Into One (2005-6) is a perfect distillation of his broad and current interests, with nods to the fragmentation of data on the Internet, sensations of time and space, and even paving stones in Normandy.
"Painting and drawing is like a magnet that pulls me onto the surface, lock, stock and barrel," says Wragg. Still Soaring at 70 confirms his work has a magnetic pull all of its own.