Not everything can be reduced to words. Language falters at the extremes of experience, when the self is breached by climax or awe. That sense of abandon can be better approximated by rhythm’s visceral urgency or the siren call of art. Emma Richardson, once the bass player with Band Of Skulls, and throughout that time a practising fine artist, is, in that respect, bilingual.  

Invoking a Blondie single to name her new collection, Richardson’s exhibition at Marple’s Mura Ma gallery draws deeply from the grammar of popular music to illuminate works that transcend the prosody of lyrics to suggest something more akin to the lyrical.  

Image courtesy of Mura Ma

A graduate of the Wimbledon School of Art, Richardson’s previous works have tapped into both the mythologies of psychoanalysis and the practicalities of psychology. Certainly, the totemic symmetries of her sleeve art for Band Of Skulls evoke the darker regularities of the Rorschach blot, and this invitation to see the definite in the abstract is something of a constant throughout her artistic development. Equally, in the most effective of her paintings, there’s an archetypal near-familiarity suggesting that they could have erupted from the collective unconscious that Jung posited belonged to us all.  

If so, Richardson has added something in translation, by her own avowal a more specifically female animus, a desire which shapes the canvas with the flush of its colours. At their best, the works capture something of the peaks of intensity, as well as the plateaux of charged contemplation which are their aftermath.  

In her oils, there’s a little of John Martin at his most apocalyptic in the manner in which she orchestrates her palette, gathering areas of turbulent colours, deeper in hue, and setting them to dramatic effect against a backdrop of quieter shades. Indeed, were it not for the works’ undoubted integrity, the shape of their presiding intelligence, they could almost be details from such works, magnified to a larger scale.  

Image courtesy of Mura Ma

William Blake is perhaps a more exact analogy. There’s a great deal of his “heaven in a wild-flower” in the way that the canvases can be viewed from the most minute of perspectives, as the expression of human interiority, and the very broadest, as the traces of nebulae seen from light years in distance, moments of collapse and creation that far surpass the length of a human life. Sink Your Teeth is one of the best examples of this approach in the collection, evoking at one and the same time a Blake-like act of creation and a big bang of the more vernacular kind.
Potent as her oils can be, for me there’s a more compelling power in her charcoals, a darker matter at its heart. Afforded its own brooding space at one remove from the main gallery, the triptych makes for an almost unholy trinity, the mute surfaces refusing to give up their safe words. There’s a kind of elegance in the fine balance between the blackness and the light between the three, as though the aesthetics of Aubrey Beardsley had succumbed to the derangement of absinthe, but for all that a tension, as though Richardson is both prolonging the tension and anticipating what’s to come. 

Perhaps it’s this nuanced withholding that invites the viewer in to assume their own perspective. In this respect, Richardson’s works repay the time you spend with them. Asking a kind of surrender, they yield more for that imaginative engagement. Balanced finely on scales of opposites, there’s a great deal to be found in abandoning yourself to them.

By Desmond Bullen

All images courtesy of Mura Ma

Image courtesy of Mura Ma

Hang Each Night In Rapture by Emma Richardson is at Mura Ma, Marple until July 15, 2023. For more information, click here.