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Soft Like Something - Bryony Bodimeade 

In Sophie Birch’s recent paintings, images come in waves. Flickering dreamlike, etched, watery, burning. They echo and falter, never disappearing entirely. Leaving floating traces, lingering heat. Shimmering moments of simultaneous residual presence.


Like ground dust or worn velvet, these granular surfaces, eroded by excessive and delicate touch, glow with different kinds of light. Incandescent – electric – oceanic – dank. Indeterminate pictures emerge from deep within like stains or bruises. A stitched pocket, a bow and arrow, a stretched batwing. Imagery and the substance of paint continually corrode and ignite one another. They charge each other with power whilst mutually eating and depleting each other, producing an entwined ghostly aura, a melancholic trace of attachment. 


In her enigmatic compositions, human and non-human bodies and natural systems appear suspended between translucent papery layers of paint like tissue. The bodily productions of living beings – their nurturing protective jellies, silks and secretions – become entwined with the development of the image-surface. Birch returns repeatedly to caging and softness: spider webs, soundwaves, frog spawn, clothing. Lenient yielding forms and supple structures that cradle and engulf.


Tactile, intimately applied paint is manipulated with fingers, like make-up, scrubbed in, bathed and wiped away. Layers are compressed into one another, forcing sequence into a cohesive and co-determinate simultaneity. Dry oil rubbed into the surface excavates impressions of previously placed forms and marks. The porosity and transparency of the overly touched paint produces vibrating sensations of weightless submersion. A flatness that can be entered.


In Side Splitting, golden and bruised folds ripple beneath two webs strung together, connecting the edges of the rectangle. Fine and precise threads dissect the surface with an overlaid grid that, in places, burns and fades like bleach. Trapped behind this collaged web, there is movement. Obstructed by the shifting optical effects of the spiralling architecture, something bulges and billows below, struggling to take form.


The paintings hover on cusps of transformation, skirting thresholds of expression and recognition. Drawings overlap and combine on the canvas, circling their subject, focussing and changing it, becoming intuitively generative and associative. The states of metamorphic change suggested in their imagery are sometimes extended into an exploration of the digestive processes of language and meaning. In places, instructive, script-like or diagrammatic forms are incorporated. In Press a series of notations showing the positions of a toad’s tongue are stacked like a tower of hieroglyphs, enacting a kind of forlorn desire to describe the elusive croak of the dead toad.


By reaching out to different types of language as a way to appeal to different sensitivities, the painting’s hone in on this desire to distil and express. In Active Listening, drawings from models of the inner ear combine with stages of the progression of a winged creature from resting to flight. Minute marks glance across the surface in silvery streaks, rebounding against the edges of the rectangle as if mapping out the space. Deeper reverberating forms create a lapsing sense of time as they unfurl and propel across dimensions. The minimal range of colours, that continuously pick up and muddy one another, create a pulsating blending and separating of hue. Through the deep-sea blue, a slightly illogical glimmer feels heavenly, bodily and watery; spatial, temporal and illusory. This low glow, which comes from the luminosity of the painting’s ground, appears across the works – rendering their worlds inexplicit and undefined and indivisible.

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