Shiver Me Timbers! – Nick Jeffrey Exhibition at Hannah Barry Gallery, London

Comical suggestion or playful interaction? Shiver Me Timbers! – the title of Nick Jeffrey’s solo exhibition at Hannah Barry Gallery, London – presented a matrix of dry existential humour courted by an ambiguous collision of materials. Modified canvases question space and form again and again until all that’s left is traces of the artist’s body and mind. The title, Shiver Me Timbers!, is used frequently in fiction, where, in heavy seas, ships would be lifted up and pounded down so hard as to ‘shiver’ the ship’s timbers and startle the sailors. Thus, the exclamation was meant to convey a feeling of fear and awe. Nick Jeffrey deployed this to evoke his own anxieties regarding his presentation of the results of experimental voyages through space, form and application.

Horizonal Tremors (2012 -13) saw tarpaulin tautly applied over the face of a 6 x 5.5 foot canvas. Over this, layer-upon-layer of acrylic paint, ink and spray-paint scar the canvas. Various objects have clearly, at one point in time, been placed on top of this while the paints and ink were applied, thus outlines and shapes haunt the canvas, origins unknown. Beneath, a series of raised contours convulse across the canvas face stimulating rhythmic tremors manufactured by the artist. However, one was drawn back to the markings’ unknown provenance, which is preyed upon by the artificiality of the arching contours: Are they calculated, or are they based on a physical reaction to emotional instinct?

Nick Jeffrey’s work is not purely two-dimensional. Located at the far left of the gallery, A New Modernist Romanticism (2009 – 11) flaunted an initial vulgarity that was both repulsive and captivating. Various forms appeared in the brash yellow palm tree form: an animal head and naked light bulbs, for example, were entwined in a cacophony of thin material, all drenched in the same lurid and luring yellow paint as the base structure. The title, A New Modernist Romanticism, along with its peculiar visuals suggests a blasé critique and acknowledgement of the evolution of painterly abstraction.

Throughout the exhibition, nuances of identifiable forms cause a rush of excitement within the viewer, none more so than Baaaaare, bear bones (2013 -14), which fossilizes a small delicate crescent moon. This provided the viewer with a visual anchor, as their focal field becomes saturated by the surrounding chaos of bleached and paint-stained linin. The resulting desire to discover a picture of stability – a narrative or meaning from the work – amongst the onslaught of pictorial madness was intense! The paintings of Peter Doig and Hurvin Anderson, whose dream-like landscapes are chained to abstracted fragments of the present day. Yet, Nick Jeffrey’s work does not retain this subdued placelessness formed through bygone memories. Rather, his work crashes down from the crest of one’s imagination. As quickly as hope is born out of the fleeting vision of a skyline it is destroyed and swept up in the surrounding chaos. The viewer becomes a comrade on Nick Jeffrey’s voyage through the abstract.

William Davie

1. Shiver Me Timbers! Hannah Barry gallery 2014, courtesy of Nick Jeffrey