Selected Articles and Reviews
An individual painting is not therefore, a single moment captured – its surface conceals layers of colour and form, subtly altered by the artist's repeated encounter and renewed acquaintance with the landscape. By over-painting, scratching and scraping, or by a nail pushed into a thick trail of paint, Graham creates the most wonderfully physical surfaces.
To enrich our perception, to make us see what is familiar in a new light, lies at the heart of art's intention. That Graham succeeds so well is a mark of his quality as a painter.
Lynne Green, Contemporary Art, Winter 1995/6
An artist with a growing reputation, Graham's recent work explores themes of ancient man and his habitat. His work is painterly and expressive, suggestive of the excavations of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites which continue to fascinate him. The paintings' subtle layers, earthy tones and textured surfaces speak of something half-exposed and intangible – revealed traces of a primitive man and his marks on the landscape hidden beneath thousands of years of dirt.
Art Review, March 2000.
He does not need much to start with; a small charcoal or conté drawing of a simple shape such as a hollow in the ground, or an ancient vessel or tool. Once started, he has something to respond to. Edges of forms recede into vanishing backgrounds, leaving just enough outline to give shape and life to the painting.
For this artist, the less there is, the more it offers his imagination. Graham's paintings are tangible constructs of unrecorded but archaeologically evidenced human events and life. Through a process of re-invention Graham eventually finds a way into his subject. To these paintings there will always cling an air of suggested uncertainty, of un-closed resolution which perhaps mirrors the academic discipline of archaeology itself.
Vivienne Light, 2001, Re-inventing the landscape: contemporary painters and Dorset, Canterton Books.
Vestigial remains are the objective correlative for his dream of truth and beauty. Those two words are necessary to Graham's vocabulary. He is concerned with values and with aesthetic pleasure, which many contemporary artists deny. But there is nothing moralistic or sentimental about his words or his work. He celebrates the banal, exuberant, awesome essentials that make us what we are, that made prehistoric man what he was. However little is left, it is enough that artefacts, the people and the hot-blooded cauldron of their culture were once there. They existed in an ice-scoured landscape, since overlaid and abraded by time and weather. Cooking fire and cremation, hearth and grave, yield charcoal. With charcoal you can draw.
Paul Hyland, 2003. Catalogue essay for Brian Graham exhibition: Ochre and Ice. See also http://artoftheimpossible.com/books/
This Dorset based artist need only gaze out of his studio window for inspiration, and his mixed media abstracts make free and metaphoric use of the region's fabled natural beauty. In a vivid palette, he captures a landscape washed by passing seasons and speckled with traces of ancient civilisations.
Hephzibah Anderson, Evening Standard Metrolife, 2003.
He seeks out the inherent mystery of a place and sets it in historical context. For the past 20 years Graham has painted in a studio in Swanage located close to the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites around Hengistbury Head and the Purbeck hills. But though these ancient sites are a constant inspiration to him, Graham is no archaeological illustrator. His pictures are abstracted and suggest great rock faces or chasms.
Andrew Lambirth, The Week, 2003.
Brian Graham draws inspiration from the ancient landscape. Not that his paintings are recognisable landscapes nor are they abstract. Graham plays with perspective and scale, layers paint upon paint, and excavates into it with palette knife and brush.
Elspeth Moncrieff, The Art Newspaper, 2003.
Brian may not be an archaeologist by training but his compositions chime with my experiences. Applying pigment provides many references to the accretion of time and his canvases are themselves active landscapes, never still, always changing. Familiar elements appear, such as stone handaxes or sea cliffs. These are then scraped down, obliterated only to be built up again. The paintings are tied both by a range of fine through to coarse textural applications and a palette drawn from varying terrain to the physical presence of soil and a stratigraphy that forms their inspiration. Like a well corroded object they could be X-rayed to reveal the same and other places. Time never stands still and these places are constantly evolving until the archaeologist comes and strips back the turf to reveal layer by layer the contents of the site. As a result there is a sense of experience being laid down and continually being up-dated, rather as personality and a sense of self, who we are, are described as a process of sedimentation during life. And in those sediments memory is also contained.
Clive Gamble, catalogue essay for exhibition 'Layer by Layer' by Brian Graham, 2006.
It is his ability as a painter, as a handler of paint, that marks him out among his peers. Using a reduced palette and working over many months, he controls the paint on the surface of each work even when he allows it to lead him towards the final subject. By seeming to relinquish control over its application he in fact allows the essence of his subject to appear almost magically on the canvas or paper and trusts his intuition to tell him when the painting is finished.
In the end it is Graham's unrelenting dedication to his subject matter, his innate understanding of the land on which he walks every day, his imagination and his ability as a painter that enables him to create works that offer a lasting tribute to our ancestors' survival, and raise metaphysical questions about our own that will keep us pondering for many years to come.
Charlotte Mullins, Monograph 'Flint and Flame', 2008.
In paintings which are about life, time and place, he continues to explore the metaphysical and transitory character of people, of their inter-connectedness, a connectedness which has endured over centuries. In doing so, he helps us to recognise the rich vein of humanity immanent in the most ancient landscapes
Vivienne Light, Circles and Tangents, Art in the Shadow of Cranborne Chase, Canterton Books.
This set of paintings by Brian show something of this complex history of [early mankind's] comings and goings. They highlight the uniqueness of each site, of what is preserved and how we interpret those remains, fossil and/or lithic. He has juxtaposed the archaeological evidence from each site with a sense of what exists there today, which places the ordinariness of the human activities that took place in that space in the past with the ordinariness of our activities in that space today, and by doing so links us together through time.
Peter Andrews and Chris Stringer, catalogue essay from solo touring exhibition 'Starting from Scratch', National Museum, Cardiff and Colchester Castle Museum, 2011/12.
The earlier works are almost abstract, striking evocations of storm and cold. As we now see in his touring exhibition 'Starting from Scratch', first at the National Museum, Cardiff, and then Colchester Museum, his recent acrylics have a new power, showing a remote past that bursts with menace through the veneer of modern site-specific details like fences, walls or the new station of Ebbsfleet International – and perhaps even with a nod to John Martin.
Mike Pitts, British Archaeology, 2011, Editorial Review.
His paintings have attracted the attention of some of Britain's leading archaeologists and geologists – the intellectual elite, who work at the rock-face of our country's prehistoric digs. In Brian Graham they have found someone who not only intuitively understands the fundamentals of their discipline but also has a way to tell a greater truth about the distant past.
Jeremy Miles, Dorset Magazine, 2011.
Hidden Ceremony 1, for solo piano, is part of Sadie's dialogue with the painter Brian Graham, a very rare example of a reciprocal dialogue between artist and composer. Sadie's pieces were inspired by Grahams paintings, her notations reflecting his mysterious markings in various degrees. He then responded with paintings laid onto the canvas on what are clearly musical 'systems' (the pairs of staves for piano music), which clearly reflect the layout of Sadie's pieces. Roderick Chadwick who plays the work here, notes “In Sadie's and Brian's creations art feeds music, which in turn becomes a template for art; a pianist working in this open-ended process has, if anything, more of a sense of place”.
The real ritual here, shared between composer and artist, is that of time. The paintings which Sadie reflects date from 1999 to 2006. They are presented in chronological order. The piece itself enacts this eight-year stretch, offering a world, a time, captured, returning with each performance. Roderick Chadwick sums up the colloquy of artist and composer.
Brian's extraordinary pictures suggest many different scales and aspects: aerial, interior, archaeological, imaginary, cosmic. Sadie's responses are immense miniatures.
Peter Sheppard-Skærved 2015. Taken from notes that accompany composer Sadie Harrison's CD, Hidden Ceremonies 1:9. Fragments after Paintings by Brian Graham for solo piano 2013. Available on Toccata Classics. http://www.toccataclassics.com/cddetail.php?CN=TOCC0304