Toby Paterson

February 2010

Publication: The Times

Modernism - and architectural modernism in particular - has left a controversial legacy. Because of its scale, physicality and utilitarian purpose architecture directly affects the lives of more people than other cultural manifestations of a 'movement' which began at the beginning of the twentieth century and swept existing modes of expression in art, literature and music to one side.


In Eastern Europe, in particular, the post-1945 architectural aspect of this 'revolution' resulted in some particularly challenging forms of 'Brutalist' expression. The cities and towns of Poland, Estonia, Bulgaria and Serbia are replete with the crass, shoddy concrete of the Soviet bloc's modernist apologists.


The Glasgow based artist Toby Paterson, born in 1971, is fascinated by this legacy. Over the years he has explored these architectural forms all over the European mainland - and in Britain - dealing with such structures as Walter Gropius' Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin and Victor Pasmore's Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee, County Durham. The present show, an ambitious retrospective given the artist's relative youth, spanning the last ten years, includes numerous research photographs by Paterson of buildings from diverse locations in Europe - many are far more shabby affairs than anything created by the Bauhaus.


Paterson inhabits a world of visual retro-kitsch based partly on an interest with skateboarding which is less of a sport or pastime and more of an urban identity and a cultural sub-group. Not surprisingly, skateboarders favour just the kind of bleak concrete environments which the modernist architects and town planners were so adept at creating. 


Paterson is a skilled draughtsman and this sense of accuracy, compositional assurance and colour are invaluable assets in delivering his stated objective – to observe and record the world around him. Indeed, it is probably more accurate to describe Paterson primarily as a landscapist rather than, say, an architectural or townscape artist. Paterson rarely, if ever, records the context of the structures which fascinate him. On the whole these are devoid of background or foreground and simply inhabit his designated compositional space unencumbered and isolated.


Here, Paterson has designed two specific viewing experiences and environments. In the lower gallery a series of suspended wooden frames and screens support the work (many are fixed or painted on glass), guiding the viewer through a dense, visually rich and sometimes claustrophobic maze of images and impressions. At times these paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpted reliefs depict buildings themselves but at others selected elements from buildings are used to create abstracted forms and compositions, suggesting that Paterson is mainly interested not in the overall idea of architecture but the rich visual, tonal and colour possibilities it presents.


As if to reinforce this notion the upper gallery is devoted to a more open, spacious and brightly lit environment which is in fact a more-or-less continous single installation. Textured painted wall panels recall the town planners' love of sculpted concrete exterior walls, the like of which can be seen in Cumbernauld, Glenrothes or East Kilbride. 


Paterson elevates and celebrates a built environment which too many condemn as ugly, outmoded and  fit only for the bulldozer.