Artist

John
Doherty

The Totems of the Highway

An obvious fascination of the old petrol pumps that are the subject of this exhibition is the way in which they exemplify a period style.

It is easy to recognise in them the same stylistic choices as preoccupied the designers of say, the cars of the same era. One could find many correspondences in the '40s and '50s. But in John Doherty's paintings we are subtly led beyond this first appeal to appreciate the much deeper associations which haunt these objects. Doherty has been highly responsive to the poetry of his bowsers, and has been able to evoke this for us.

Because of their human scale and humanoid appearance, petrol pumps can seem the manservants of our adventures on the road, the doormen of our chances. Our almost unconscious sense of them as presences, as personalities, has been suggested here. Which is one of the reasons, beyond their nostalgic aura, why the paintings have a subtle melancholy. These watercolours, with a light touch, produce a faint resonance of loneliness, remorse, and solitariness, which delicately heighten the strange pleasure of nostalgia.

But being humanoid, the subjects of these pictures can also slip for us on some occasions, into a slight sense of menace, of danger. Their stoicism becomes inhuman, and they can take on the air of threatening robots. Such feelings are as elusive as those in music. They appear, and re-appear, and again vanish within us.

Doherty's paintings are also about something else public and yet ungraspable, which is light. Because they are finally about light, their more blatant subject matter that provides the perfect setting for them – that peculiarly matt, opaque blackness of sump oil stains, of oil slops, so characteristic of garages, is a perfect foil.

All things are best evoked against their opposites.
Robert Gray.

Click an image to enlarge
The Totems of the Highway 1
The Totems of the Highway 1
31 x 32cm
The Totems of the Highway 2
The Totems of the Highway 2
31 x 32cm
The Totems of the Highway 3
The Totems of the Highway 3
31 x 44cm
The Totems of the Highway 4
The Totems of the Highway 4
31 x 32cm
The Totems of the Highway 5
The Totems of the Highway 5
31 x 45cm
The Totems of the Highway 6
The Totems of the Highway 6
31 x 45cm
The Totems of the Highway 7
The Totems of the Highway 7
31 x 33cm
The Totems of the Highway 8
The Totems of the Highway 8
31 x 44cm
The Totems of the Highway 9
The Totems of the Highway 9
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