Heather Horton: Naiad

5 June - 10 August 2024

Heather Horton takes us into a submerged water-world of refracted light through which a young woman swims, floats and glides. Our viewpoint is also underwater; we too inhabit this amniotic space. We are invited to experience and witness the sensory perceptions of this contemporary iteration of a naiad – the water nymph so familiar from classical tales.

The painter sets herself a daunting task in expressing the multiple reflections and modifications of form brought about by immersion. She paints with great subtlety, paying painstaking attention to the optical effects of the medium; describing the variegated shimmer of pattern made by sunlight shining through the rippling surface of the water. Lacy, filigree networks enhance and, in turn, obscure the contour and shape of the suspended figure. Horton depicts the pale and delicate flesh of her subject with a deft and analytical working of cool tones, deliberately evoking a sensuous appeal. Her palette is also necessarily cool, with occasional small flashes of warmer reds and earths deployed as accents amongst the dominant cerulean blues, turquoises and aqueous blue-greens. Horton demonstrates an accomplished mastery of technique in her evocation of saturated, luminous colour and her nuanced response to painting the human body.

The woman is clothed, which sets up some small tension in our reading of the images. Why swim clothed? Why not naked or in a swimsuit? Our heroine wears diaphanous dresses. This anomaly implies a story, something mysterious. There is an implied context outside the water, possibly something dramatic and cinematic. Also, the setting is a swimming pool, not the sea, a river or lake. These pictures can be compared to the narrative of ‘The Swimmer’ the 1968 film starring Burt Lancaster in the eponymous role who is adrift in the sybaritic world of suburban pools and his own existential crisis. Is there something here that Horton’s female protagonist is echoing?