Dan Coombs reflects on a retrospective of paintings by Gary Wragg on view at Clifford Chance, London, through May 2, 2014. A catalogue raisonné of Wragg's paintings, Constant Within Change: Gary Wragg: Five Decades of Painting: A Comprehensive Catalogue (John Sansom & Company) has also just been published.
Coombs writes: "The problem, the crisis, the urgency of Wragg’s work emanate directly from his drawing. The importance of drawing to him is inaugurated by a 1976 charcoal on canvas Pirate. In it, various figurative and landscape motifs are hinted at but never resolved. Like early Pollock, the drawing points out of representation toward oceanic all-overness. The difficult negotiation between the general and the specific here is not necessarily resolved. It sets the tone for the rest of the show, where we can never be sure what it is we are looking at. Though it is clear that the paintings are meant to be apprehended literally as tableaux of marks, shapes and colours, we still can’t help imagining contexts, motifs, encounters and relationships within the compositions and can’t help looking for answers as to how the paintings have come about. Sometimes place names are referenced in the titles. At other times the paintings seem like a mixture of both internal and external architecture, as in Abandonment and Doubt (2006-9). Though we may look for clues as to how the paintings are configured, we’re unable to pull away and attach particular meanings to any of the components. The paintings are sticky: once you’re absorbed, its hard to extract yourself."