words // Wesley Freeman-Smith

A wayward ARU student and sometime tutor, Ian Rawlinson grew up around Cambridge but moved to London sometime in the 80’s – in fact, this is his first home show since 1982. The flier had become a fixture in my backpack for a few weeks, and having not had a chance to get down to the exhibit I decided a ‘meet the artist’ talk was a brilliant reason to do so – if you get the chance, I’d recommend doing the same.

The works explore the artist’s personal relationship with the Kite area of Cambridge; for those unfamiliar with the geography, the Kite encompasses the area where the Grafton Centre now sits. Before development razed the area in preparation for the city’s once-contemporary retail haven, the Kite housed much of the independent and bohemian elements of Cambridge’s landscape – the same kind of fiercely counterculture spirit more commonly associated with Mill Road these days.


Expressed in an inimitable, free-associative style laden with clouded references (everything from alchemical theories about the moment of creation to early Hubble telescope collages), the works are kept in check by a near-obsessive love of repetition and patterns. Mostly used to 3D working, this series revolves around mixed media variations on a theme. While largely the images are paintings, there are elements which conjure collage work, explore engraving and printing, and show evidence of deliberate physical distress. My words, unfortunately, sound a bit like I’m describing a crime scene – perhaps a visit would give you a better idea.


While the pieces are highly personal to Rawlinson’s own experiences, they do so with reference to a place most here this evening will know well. The importance of environment, early experiences and of course history is something many people can relate to, even if inevitably the specifics alter person-to-person. Perhaps the definition of successful art is when one’s inner experience is expressed sincerely, in a form that allows others to relate it to their inner experience?


The titular piece, ‘Vessel’, crystallizes the omnipresent Kite shape into a receptacle, carrying something – meaning, perhaps. Physical spaces link to memories link to emotion, and it’s this anchoring that gives the series both it’s intensely personal flavour and keeps it’s feet firmly in the physical world. Sometimes this physicality is very literal – etching, printing and gouging are all very visceral techniques. The constant erasing, redrawing and editing that’s evident can be taken very literally, too – like memory and place, the pieces too were subject to change, development and reinterpretation.

Ian Rawlinson, whose show Vessel is based on his memories of the Kite

One gets the feeling the works that emerged from this process were as much a surprise to Rawlinson as anyone else. What came first was an intuition, then creation – intellectualizing, interpreting and attributing meaning came afterward. Any grand design is left open to the viewer to discern, which is exactly how it should be.

‘Vessel’ runs until June 1st at Williams Art, Gwydir Street – more info