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An Abstract Spareness That Demands A Leap of Imagination

"There's nothing to say. They say it all," wrote American art dealer Betty Parsons about artists in the Orient. Her paradox might equally apply to the work of occidental (English, but Scotland-based) artist Philip Reeves. His collage "Japanese Allotment" is an all-and-nothing image.

Even though radically "abstract" art is no longer considered the contemporary mainstream, it still demands a leap of trust and imagination by the viewer. Particularly so in perceiving the significance of images as seemingly simple as Reeves's.

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His two dark, freely formed squares, placed with scrupulously judged asymmetry on a background of two rectangles in closely related, quietly warm earth-colors concentrate on bare essentials. This is not a work that allows distraction. It suggests no narrative, no pictorial likeness - and no decorative effect.

Reeves's work today is the result of a long-developing vision. It is as crucial in its "rightness" as the engineering of a bridge. There is something innately satisfactory about the final decisions his images evidence. Yet it is hard to say why such apparent spareness does not appear empty. Or why it rewards long, hard looking with an increasing sense of richness and meaning.

As if to acknowledge such difficulties, Reeves (who makes paintings, collages, and prints) talks intriguingly about the genesis of each work.

They have specific origins and associations. "Japanese Allotment" came about because of an invitation by Glasgow's Compass Gallery to take part in an exhibition with municipal (allotment) gardens as its theme. Reeves took a look at some local allotments he knew, but their picturesque qualities hardly appealed. Then one day, touring the city's museums and galleries with some friends, he saw for the first time a "Zen Garden" attached to one of them. It made him think there might be a way to arrive at a work that was true to the allotment theme and - more important - to his art.

His collage speaks surprisingly of basic earth - of the allotment "plot" that, in its essence, is a rectangle, or two, of black soil. Ground, simple and primordial.

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