A Delicate Balance – the paintings of Lola Frost

Jeremy Theophilus

Impressed by the vastness of nature, I was trying to express its expansion, rest and unity. At the same time, I was fully aware that the visible expansion of nature is at the same time its limitation; vertical and horizontal lines are the expression of two opposing forces; these exist everywhere and dominate everything; their reciprocal action constitutes ‘life’. I recognised that the equilibrium of any particular aspect of nature rests on the equivalence of its opposites. I felt that the tragic is created by unequivalence. I saw the tragic in a wide horizon or a high cathedral.[1]

How to pin down the moments of stasis in a world that is constantly shifting? How to hold together instants of matter moving in and against itself? How to find a structure that will allow for proportion, perspective and scale to be challenged on a flat plane without denying its inherent desire for movement?

Lola Frost’s paintings are not easy to be with: they draw you in to the detail of their parts whilst at the same time daring you to find a point of rest, a moment of calm. Identifying a place in them where one can assess measurement, or a relationship between inside and outside, is almost impossible. They are at one and the same time an environment that is both micro and macro: the viewer is constantly forced to flip the telescope from one end to the other.

In so doing they betray their origins: they do indeed reflect both landscape and the human form, but in a painted state where neither have been so intimately juxtaposed, nor made so disarmingly confrontational. How can a surface comprising many thousands of carefully layered brushstrokes oscillate with such illusory energy as to deceive the viewer into a state of real anxiety, followed closely by one of joyous relief?

The questions outnumber the answers, and this has to be a good sign for us, and the artist, in confronting such works. Art in all its manifestations is only really doing its stuff when it leaves us wanting to know more, wanting to understand how or why, even just wanting…. These works are very open questions that turn you back into the world with re-awakened senses. They can simultaneously reference deep-sea vents and the internal organs of the body, and in so doing articulate a relationship as well as questioning the borders between these apparently distant elements of our planet’s life.

There is a unity that underpins much of Lola Frost’s work: not just that of the repetitive brushstroke, but one that has its roots in traditional painting. The placement within the canvas, its preparation, the juxtaposition of fiery and fluid form with a neutral, anonymous background: what world do these images inhabit when turned to the studio wall, if not one with which Florentine and Venetian artists would themselves have been familiar? Something too about the colour and tonal ranges this artist employs acknowledges such classical antecedents.

And yet, Lola Frost is an artist working in the 21st century, for whom contemporary issues of gender, ethics and the sublime are all urgent and meaningful, and have their place within these images. Their awe-full pose, their looming immanence, their familiar corporeal references: these all speak to us clearly in a world that is increasingly unsettled, unnatural and unhappy. As quoted above, Mondrian sought to find both a working process and a philosophy that would address and unite the world he contemplated. His solution was a paring down to the very roots of visual perception; but I would argue there is a shared rigour within the works in this exhibition.

Again and again, in looking at these paintings one comes back to the spaces between edges, indeed between skins of various textures. There is an endless Mobian membrane that encloses the articulated surfaces, and there is the background skin, often more like a curtain. Whether it is just that, or the finality of the picture plane, it is never an infinity, much more a further enclosure.

A sensual claustrophobia haunts some of these works, especially when the torso/head/figure excludes all but a glimpse of the background. As a viewer one is often at eye level with the intensity of motion within the form: there is no space to turn away. This is further emphasised by the very controlled colour range: one that is part anatomical textbook, part topographical print. Combined, they accentuate the push and pull of the images, forming a counterpoint to the invitation of the familiar.

To achieve this delicate balance of forces within each painting requires both focus and daring: the artist herself is placed amidst energies that compete for her attention. Her distinctive vocabulary is tested with each new canvas, each an experiment with the familiar, the zone of risk that is implicit in all creative practice.

It’s so dark here where I am searching for a language that makes no noise to whisper what is neither living nor dead. All words are too loud, too rapid, too sure, I’m searching for the names of the shadows between the words.[2]

Jeremy Theophilus

September 2014


  1. Piet Mondrian, Towards the True Vision of Reality, 1941
  2. Helene Cixous, Deluge, 1992

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Taking Risks Copyright © 2014 by Jeremy Theophilus. All Rights Reserved.

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