When I first visited Caragh Thuring in her east London studio, there was an old man lurking in the corner. He was bearded and curly haired, with orange cheeks, peppery eyes and bright lips that were puckered into a small red beak. He looked surprised, maybe a little embarrassed and, although this won’t mean much to you, a little like my dad, which is how Thuring and I continue to refer to him. ‘I couldn’t tell you where he came from’, she said, looking over his fading features (which I should mention were rendered once on linen, and again to the left on a dog-eared piece of paper). ‘I was going to stick him on top of another painting, but I thought that would be a bit much, so I’m saving him for later.’
This approach is indicative of Thuring’s painterly methodology, one characterised by reclamation and continuation. A healthy disposophobic, Thuring hoards imagery and ideas from all walks of life, and then rolls them out slowly, revisiting certain particularities from linen to linen. Her latest works, on display across Thomas Dane’s twin London spaces until January, are informed by Ardyne Point, a now-derelict development to the southwest of Dunoon in Scotland which, framed by towering oil rigs, once sought permission to manage the nuclear waste from decommissioned submarines (the application was withdrawn following protests from local residents). Contrastingly, her exhibition at London’s Chisenhale Gallery last year involved a number of serene works inspired by the ‘picture windows’ of Dutch suburban homes, their white ledges interrupted by smatterings of leaves and spotty ornamental vases.
In spite of their seemingly unrelated starting points – from the residential to the rigs – the two bodies of work remain visually linked. Brickwork, for instance, a leitmotif that Thuring adopted shortly after leaving college in 1995 as a ‘shortcut’ to signify construction, lurks in the background of both – previously, these bricks have been painted, now they are woven into the very fabric onto which the paintings are built. Silhouettes of figures, too, fade in and out, as do man-made structures, graphic patterns, and expanses of untouched canvas. The immaculately titled He Who Drinks the Juice of the Stone (2016) provides the most compelling case. The large canvas, scrawled with looping red text chronicling every church that stands defiant within London’s financial district, is a near-exact replica of a previous work, Map (2014). The new iteration is dissected by a belt of black text cataloguing the band of comically named skyscrapers (Cheese Grater, Gherkin, Walkie Talkie) that fight against the area’s history.
This desire to reconstitute, reposition and reconsider is integral to Thuring’s wider belief in what painting should do. She is not an artist who aims to faithfully represent, to provide the comfort of readability. Rather, she offers suggestions of suggestions of suggestions; hints, nods and whispers of meaning that encourage you to lean a little closer and think a little more. A volcano, for instance, a familiar feature in many of her earlier works, can be just a volcano. But it can also connote frustration, masculinity, paroxysm, natural power, and anything else that you can come up with. The same goes in the latest works. Submarines, foliage, tartan, shadows: all these forms are referential, to an extent, but what they will signify for each and every viewer is undecided. It’s open. It’s all up for debate.
I didn’t see my dad for a few days after sitting down with Thuring, but then I ran into him twice in quick succession. Firstly, under the guise of Rose Pouchong (2016); secondly, painted onto the two-tone brick wall of Enlisted Wives Club (2016). A week or so has passed since that point, so the memory of him is fading, but knowing Thuring, I’ll see him again. In what form, I don’t know, under what circumstances, I couldn’t tell you, but he’ll be back.