In Alan Ibell’s new exhibition, the exterior world of landscape and built environment suggests a correlation with the interior worlds of the figures that inhabit it. The looming mountains of the Landscape with Ascendants works invoke a sense of agoraphobia while the brick walls of the Home paintings impose contrasting claustrophobia, sensations in which the viewer is invited to share as they occupy the space of the gallery itself. The Landscape with Ascendants painting is hung on the gallery walls slightly higher than is conventional, forcing the viewer to share the figures’ diminished position, while the skewed perspective of the Home paintings unsettles the voyeuristic stance of the gallery visitor. The viewer’s sense of self-positioning is deliberately unsettled – are they looking at the figures, or being looked back at?
The fracturing of the self is a recurring theme in Ibell’s work. It can be seen explicitly in his new painting The Return: the figure, isolated beneath a looming mountain pass, is doubled and the line of its long single shadow is broken as if to suggest a glitch or quantum disruption. The paradoxical spatial and temporal positioning of selves is also invoked by the title of the exhibition, which suggests that those who have come before us are also those who advance ahead. In locating his figures within the sparse landscapes of dreams and memory, Ibell gives them the opportunity to play multiple roles simultaneously: ghosts of past selves, imagined characters, and literal ancestors.