How Long We Look at Things

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Late afternoon, mid-December, it’s already dark. I come up from underground and wind my way around to Herald Street in Bethnal Green. Mostly garages in this little alley; I like this place, out of the way, like I’m the only person who’s been here all day. I’ve come to see Kaye Donachie’s paintings at Maureen Paley.

Inside: Small canvases with paint applied in thin washy layers, and slight ink drawings on folded paper. Normally this is the kind of exhibition I would blast through in under a minute. But I’m surprised how long I can look at these paintings without getting bored. They work like daydreams, if you can give them the time to sit and stare and wonder about each mark. Or like poems, rearranging words on a page until the desired atmosphere is achieved: each mark is there, nothing hidden no mystery about their making to be solved, there’s nothing to get here – if there is, I’ve missed it, but it doesn’t matter to me. I think of something I read recently in a magazine, that, ‘art, today, means never having to say a thing’.†



Kaye Donachie. Sleep. 2013. Courtesy Maureen Paley Gallery.



Kaye Donachie. Together Inseperable. 2013. Courtesy Maureen Paley Gallery.


The kind of exhibition I would blast through in under a minute.

Earlier this year, I spent ten minutes in the Gary Hume exhibition at the Tate. Literally ten minutes; I arrived ten minutes before the museum closed. There were two rooms and about two dozen paintings which means I spent, on average, less than thirty seconds with each painting. But this was enough, I didn’t feel rushed, I had time to look at each painting, ‘solve’ it to an extent which is always what one must do at first with a Gary Hume painting because his motifs are often so far reduced (abstracted) from their original photographic (?) source that I catch myself with a slight lean of the head to the right, as if this subtle change in vantage will reveal what is not at first apparent. ‘A bird!’ It’s the form of a bird, and then I step forward to scrutinize the surface and wonder how he has built up these layers of enamel, has he taped them off and built up layers of paint to get these hard raised edges; a kind of working man’s cloisonné (Hume uses Dulux gloss paint). I move on, I glance around the room and I leave.

Don’t read this as dissatisfaction. I would happily hang one of these in my home for the rest of my days. Looking occasionally, briefly while waiting for the coffee to steep, or rushing out the door; a slow glance on a Sunday morning; a quick glance over dinner; a comment from a guest; a photograph to remember someone by where a turquoise or pink edge of the painting gets caught in the frame. I would like to own one of these paintings. They’re very expensive I’m sure so this isn’t likely to happen in the near future. But I’m begging the question here about how long we look at things, and what we achieve in that time. If I’m satisfied in the museum after only a matter of seconds, but can, in theory, commit in that amount of time to living with it forever, this leaves me wondering about different registers of time, and how visual things can operate at different time signatures.

Gary Hume. Anxiety and the Horse: Angela Merkell. 2011.

Gary Hume. Anxiety and the Horse: Angela Merkell. 2011.


Kaye Doanchie’s paintings or on at Maureen Paley until 26 January 2014.

Gary Hume’s paintings and a sculpture closed at the Tate Britain on 1 September 2013.


† “Michael Williams”. “Going on About Town”, The New Yorker, December 16, 2013.


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