LondonLeidy Churchman: The Between is Ringing
Added to list
Leidy Churchman has created a prodigious number of paintings based on images and signs taken from the slipstream of their everyday encounters. These are frequently exhibited alongside abstract works that recall atmospheric and viscous space. Writers have noted that Churchman tends to pluck images from a wide range of sources including screen grabs from internet searches about animals and science, book and magazine covers, other artist’s artworks, embroidered pillows, tarot cards, and reproductions of medieval manuscripts. Churchman has also based their paintings on sculptures, icons, and Lojong slogan cards from the Buddhist tradition. While many of the paintings in this particular show resound with Buddhist teachings, there is only one that is based on a pre-existing photograph—a robust and gleaming image of the sun sunsetting through the trees of a coastal forest in Maine. In this way, The Between is Ringing is a subtle departure for Churchman in that for the first time in a long while, the majority of featured paintings are not based on found images—Buddhist or otherwise.
The old Taoist saying “the between is ringing” speaks to the Buddhist doctrine of non-duality, often translated into English as co-dependent arising, dependent origination, or even interdependent co-arising. It means that all phenomena arise in dependence upon other phenomena. This is to say (borrowing from Lauryn Hill’s 1999 single and Donny Hathaway’s 1970 album before it) that everything is everything. It is also to insist on non-separateness and non-locality. Echoing this emphasis on the interdependent fact of life’s many phenomena, Churchman leaves room in their paintings for the unknown and the unresolved—that which is in-between. In turn the paintings tend to resonate in surprising ways, inflecting meaning into one another and evoking unexpected memories, ideas, and emotions. In leaving room for the unknown, Churchman’s paintings embody a central teaching from Buddhist practice that says conceptual tools can only point towards non-conceptual realisation, they cannot contain or capture it. Concepts (and other framing devices, like words) are always incomplete.
The Between is Ringing (Interdependent Arising) is a small, abstract painting—one of a handful such works in the show. In it, a grassy-green mound rises up from the bottom of the canvas to meet a descending mound of navy blue. Together, these masses extend toward the top left corner of the painting where they meet a triangle of black paint patterned with rows of white dots. If not for their regimentation, the dots would be reminiscent of stars in the night sky. The palette of this painting is similar to that of The Between is Ringing (I Am), a large work depicting an ambivalent and expansive dreamscape. In it, the earth appears as a distant speck enveloped by a crescent of the same black paint and white dots. The representational likeness of the two works points to the condition of their co-emergence. Perhaps they were created from a shared scene, even if their compositional parts don’t align.
There are countless reverberations like these across the twelve paintings in the show. The Between is Ringing (Stare) is one of the more ethereal canvases in the group. In it, a luminous lemon coloured light emerges from behind a swampy field of tangerine and moss-green paint. The Between is Ringing (Great Wound) and The Between is Ringing (Sparkling Bruised) are also abstract works. The latter is covered with small orange and yellow misshapen dots that animate a field of burgundy-red paint, while the former offers us a close-up of one such dot. In this instance, the colours are inverted and the single dot, like a blood-red clot or the close-up of a cell under the microscope, swims in a field of mustard-yellow paint. These are paintings of the places where internal wounds meet the external world.
Another of the four large paintings to anchor the exhibition is The Between is Ringing (Milarepa’s Biggest). It depicts a scene from a Tibetan story in which the yogi Milarepa must confront a demon that has taken up residence in his cave. After trying all sorts of ways to be rid of the demon, Milarepa eventually places his head directly in its mouth (giving new meaning to the phrase ‘face your fears head-on’ and underscoring the likelihood that this demon is not only a material fact, but also a mental affliction), at which point the demon dissolves into space. In Churchman’s painting, we encounter Milarepa on the precipice of this offering, fingering one of the demon’s pointy teeth while his head merges with another tooth into an electrified crown. The yogi ambiguously moves towards the abyss of the demon’s cavernous throat and is presented on the precipice of surrender, which is after all where most of us teeter.
Churchman further explores the relationship between interior and exterior spaces in The Between is Ringing (Diptych). This set of paintings feature a smashed window whose cracked glass sonorously opens an interior world out into the night sky and the galaxies beyond. The diptych speaks most directly to the tension between expansion and constraint, and the often-violent interruptions that make us cognisant of our movements between the two. The resounding message here, whether it is expressed through an idyllic painting of the setting sun or in the pastel wash of an abstract work, is not just that the bell is ringing, but that everything (including the between) rings along with it. It is a message that is accentuated by the rhythmic recurrence of the phrase in each of the paintings’ titles and in their colours, which disappear from one canvas to another only to reappear in unexpected ways. Take, for example, the previously discussed yellow and red contusions that are transformed into a plump fruit and its tiny seeds in The Between is Ringing (Strawberry) (Braiding Sweetgrass). It’s not that our bruises and wounds aren’t also hard-earned and transformative gifts. Indeed, sometimes they are. It’s more the fact of transformation itself, which is never an arrival, rarely comfortable, always in motion, forever changing, and eternally inviting us to dwell in the between.
Text by Alhena Katsof
In an effort to keep the gallery safe and following guidelines, we are limiting the number of visitors at a time. The gallery is also open by appointment, please contact us to make arrangements.
Installation view, Leidy Churchman, The Between is Ringing, Rodeo, London, 2021 Credits photography: Lewis Ronald Courtesy the artist and Rodeo, London / Piraeus