'Fast Medium Slow' by Jonathan Griffin 

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The speed of thought is usually about 200 milliseconds. That is to say, the time it takes for the brain to click, realise what it has to do and send a surge of electrical impulses towards the appropriate part of the body is about a fifth of a second. In that time, a housefly (buzzing, watching) would have flapped its wings approximately 67 times, and a seven-inch record would have rotated about a seventh of its way around a turntable.

That’s a lot of time. We humans are slow, ponderous beasts, and if the moment is to be seized we need to summon all our strength and focus. The Ramones knew this (average song length on their first album: 2 minutes, 5 seconds), as did Jack Kerouac, jabbering into rolls of typewriter paper. Gillian Ayres still knows it. No time can be wasted. Speak before you think.

Then think long and hard. The irony, of course, is that the fallout of our words and actions lasts much longer than the initial explosions of energy that brought them into existence. Longer by far than the time it takes the human brain to recognise an image (300 milliseconds) and put a name to it (a further 250 to 450). The line scrawled, the paper ripped or the paint splashed – the abruptness of such gestures often seems to be in inverse proportion to the time it takes us to get used to them, to understand them and absorb their ramifications. The Surrealist technique of automatic drawing, for instance, is a classic example: the attempt to channel an unconscious inner voice that is uniquely one’s own, that is devoid of pretension, and which invites (and survives) examination and reflection far in excess of the amount of time it took to bring forth.

Such an approach reveals a belief in mystery – in the ineffable subtleties of intuition, of the subconscious, of ‘naturalness’. However, ever since Willem de Kooning managed to create such precisely controlled presentations of chaos, we’ve been aware of the time it takes to make something look effortless. It’s a lesson we relearnt through punk, with its manufactured bands and careful displays of carelessness. How long did it take to make music that seemed so spontaneous, hair look so unkept, or clothes so dishevelled? Once we understood the longevity of the 200-millisecond gesture’s echo, it seemed well worthwhile spending time on getting it right.

In different ways, many of the artists in ‘Blitzkrieg Pop’ dance around these intersecting timescales and tenses. The drip, the painterly device that has historically signified both a fast form of wildness and wilderness, crops up in many of the exhibition’s works. However, ‘The Drip’ is these days so weighed down with art-historical associations, with stories of car crashes and alcoholism, with cliché and pastiche, that it seems to move far slower than it did in 1948, at the peak of its form. Artist-curator Clare Price creates rivulets of paint that seem to embody an agonizing torpidity; a sense that is only compounded by the pixellated lines that seem to flash across the surfaces of her paintings like digital lightning (I’d guess at around 200 milliseconds, even on my old iMac). Many of the drips emerge from areas of aerosol spray paint (hitting the canvas almost instantly). However she has folded added slowness into the mix: what at first appear to be computer-generated marks quickly reveal themselves to be carefully hand-painted. Suddenly the work’s trundling (but genuine) drips of paint seem positively volatile – and the whole painting a noisy barrage of causes and effects, in which accident and intention cannot be prised apart for a closer look.

It seems a curious anachronism that Price has chosen Peter Lanyon, the Cornish painter who died at a tragically young age following a gliding accident in 1964, to provide a point around which the thematic stellar system of the exhibition spins. In ‘Blitzkrieg Pop’ Lanyon stands for a kind of disinterested, still coolness – cool in the way he articulated his quietly unforced, intuitive painterly language, drawing on the sights and sounds and history of his native Cornwall. He saw in his own swift brushmarks and agile drawing style a continuation of the physical form and cultural traditions of the ancient landscape in which he lived – insisting on the importance of the inherent and the unlearnt, even if it was channelled through the influence of international Modernism. Perhaps the opposite of De Kooning, who wanted his most careful paintings to look effortless and fast, Lanyon’s nimble compositions look somehow like they have been there forever.

Slow-motion explosions and freeze-framed slices of insight: the ways in which many of ‘Blitzkrieg Pop’s artists make their work instructs us in the way we absorb it. Take, for instance, Clem Crosby’s Dare (2008), in which a thick line seems to erratically but determinedly stagger over the canvas’ hot orange ground. The viewer’s eye (reluctantly following) is suddenly arrested by the intrusion of round glass beads, seemingly flung down onto the painting’s surface. In Melanie Carvalho’s creeping wet in wet technique, however, as with Ian Davenport’s controlled pours, the evident slowness of the paint’s movement (now frozen in suspended animation) sets the rate at which the paintings unfold – for the work to thaw, and come back to life. At the other end of the scale, our instantaneous apprehension of Rich Littler’s band of drips, or Scott King’s world map colonised by The Fall’s live tours, comes in a flash – a flash that, it’s easy to imagine, reflects the speed at which the ideas for the works arrived. In other cases it is the subject matter that aids or impedes the viewer’s assessment of the work: Howard Dyke’s punchy images of headscarfed women force us into an embarrassed, awkward shuffle, hinting that behind the brisk brushwork there is a calculated and precise provocation.

However fast the beat that these works step to, there is still remains the unavoidable phenomenon of the post-performance fallout, the persistent ringing in our ears that reminds us that so much can be packed into a two minute pop song, or a one liner, or a daub of coloured pigment. Lightning can be mysteriously enduring. What’s complicated, and sometimes scary, is conjuring the storm in the first place.

Jonathan Griffin