Richard Wright: The Stairwell Project

Thomas Hamilton. Dean Orphan Hospital, Edinburgh,1933. Photograph from 1850

If there was ever a meditative painter it is Richard Wright, Scottish, who paints directly on walls.  He received the Turner Prize in 2009 exhibiting at that time No Title (05.10.09), a gold leafed baroque pattern blown up the size of a gallery wall, in fact laid onto the gallery wall and necessarily ephemeral.  

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art commissioned Wright to do a permanent work in the public stairwell of gallery, previously the Dean Orphan Hospital built in 1833.  Terry Farrell + Partners did the conversion in 1999, but it remains a classical Georgian building, tilting into the Victorian era, still full of light and space.

The Stairwell Project consists of small black twisting fleur-de-lys each positioned about  4" apart, but in no discernably regular pattern.  As the flowers are directional, it gives the surface of this stairwell a tension and a liveliness that paradoxically isn't actually determined by the architecture, although literally painted on it.  Rather, Wright's painting seems to sit on the surface, but is not of the surface.  

Now, clearly I'm intuiting all this from the photographs, but what strikes me about the project is that in its conceptual simplicity so many things happen: the moire patterns of any semi-regular array of marks, the references to death and the death of children: the flowers are black, the are small, they are faintly disturbing.  The daunting nature of the interior architecture, which has been considered inviolable for the last fifty years: Georgian classicism is considered a near perfect case of mathematical and cultural elegance.  The obvious quiet of the actual painting (small brushes, close work, unvarying marks: not expressionistic, narrative or biographical), just the process of painting each small  figure.  

It is meditative in the way that artisanal craft is meditative: there is a goal, and one's hands get you there, no matter how slowly.