Up Against the Wall


Although Saul Fletcher’s current show includes seven barren landscapes taken in the rutted fields of the northeastern English countryside where he once harvested potatoes as a boy, all the other photographs were made on and around one much abused, formerly white wall on the second floor of his London home. The photographer himself—handsome, hyper-alert, a bit feral—appears in two of these pictures, and his young son, doll-like and barefoot in a long black dress, pops up in another. But the rest are still-life arrangements photographed in the dim, stormy light that Fletcher waits for.

Some of these arrangements are simple: a square of white lace, a group of blackened leaves, an empty picture frame, or a long withered vine pinned to the wall. But the wall itself—cracked, pitted, discolored, and embedded with bits of paper and cloth—is so gorgeously ruined that it’s far from a neutral backdrop. And Fletcher, whose work incorporates lovely passages of abstraction, treats it as a canvas, painting and repainting the wall but always retaining the history of its use. This broad stretch of plaster becomes the ideal staging ground for Fletcher’s inanimate dramas involving furniture, fabric, and scraps of history, both personal and universal.

In one photograph, several old family photos—all too small to make out—are hung alongside a piece of lace, a larger drape of white cloth, a leafy branch, and a drawing of a hawk. Surrounded by the wall’s busy constellation of torn bits and dark, brushy paint marks, this composition combines the invigorating mess of an early Rauschenberg with the intriguing hermeticism of Joseph Cornell. But if Fletcher’s work resists interpretation, it never feels cold or calculated. Even at its gloomiest, it’s rich and strange and fraught with barely contained emotion. Despair has rarely felt so cathartic.

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