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Review: “The Myth of Sisyphus in Paint” at Assembly House

By Fran Graham

Nicholas Greenhall Exhibition: “The Myth of Sisyphus in Paint”, Assembly House, 44 Canal Road, Armley.

Assembly House in Armley is hosting an exhibition of paintings by Nicholas Greenhall, a Bramley-based artist. If you have an hour to spare today, take the family and go for a stroll through his abstract landscapes, for a good view, and to experience the new and familiar. 

Assembly House is my kind of exhibition space, and I think it might be yours too. You’ll find it up two short flights of stone stairs in a Victorian textiles mill on Canal Road, next to Slate’s Feel Good Furniture shop. It’s not always a public exhibition space.

Most days it’s a working studio, currently supporting 32 early-stage artists to take risks and be creative.

Assembly House artists are often involved in local good stuff too; in street art that helps us to love where we live, in Armley’s sculpture trail, in creating a colourful contemporary park on Gelder Road, and more. They’re part of Armley’s ecology in more ways than one. 

If I’m going to experience some art indoors, then Assembly House is the perfect environment. There’s room to lose yourself in Nicholas’s paintings against a gentle background hum of banter. It’s quiet enough to think, but I’m not alone in my thoughts. Plus the artist is there, amiably answering questions about his work, while his dog attaches himself to my boots and gnaws them happily from the floor. I feel at home. 

Having read the artist’s exhibition statement in advance, I already knew that he wasn’t telling me to look for a particular meaning in his paintings, just to look at the view and see what happens. Like sitting on the brow of a hill looking at the horizon, Nick’s exhibition invites you to gaze, let go, and allow your mind to wander. 

I’m no art critic, so what I will say next is purely what I felt. Nick’s landscapes were moments in time I could relate to. His horizons are not literal views, they’re abstracted and painted in a way that allows you space to see what you want, and to find what matters to you. I saw places that revealed themselves to me through the layers of abstraction. I saw age-defying and beautiful trees, clouds preparing to shed their water, and wind turbines standing elegantly on the horizon. I saw landscapes I thought I recognised, glimpses of the beautiful Bramley Falls Wood for example. And as I walked from painting to painting, the trees on the skyline bloomed into wind turbines, as the world evolves to protect nature and our future on the planet. 

I loved finding those wind turbines in Nicholas’s paintings, because to me they are delightful to watch, and to be celebrated; in art terms part of the new bucolic, as Constable’s Hay-Wain landscape reinvents itself. They are practical and beautiful; humanity playing its hand in the poker game of life. ‘They’re so graceful’ Nicholas says, of wind turbines. I agree. To me they are enriching in every way, and as soothing and joyful to watch as my socks gliding around in the launderette tumble drier (an ironic metaphor given that tumble-drying is another reason we need wind turbines in the first place). I see Nick’s turbines as symbols of hope, as humanity tries to survive the threat of extinction and thrive despite it, pushing back against the absurdity of life.

The absurdity of life is where the title of the exhibition comes into play. Sisyfus worked relentlessly; repeatedly pushing a bolder up a hill for it to roll back down again. He wondered what it was all about, this life. Albert Camus, French philosopher-dude writing in 1942 about the Myth of Sisyfus, explained it as the absurdity of life; nihilism.

Nicholas says: “Painting is a way for me to transcend what Camus called the absurd, a way to find meaning in an indifferent universe. I invite you to attach any meaning to the paintings, you may even, as I do, prefer the mystery. I’m sure that memory, experience & thoughts act as a sub conscious catalyst. I’m equally sure they are escapist, existential & much more besides.”

You can go down the nihilism wormhole if you want to – and it is interesting – but for me, in the context of Nicholas’s paintings, I found a beauty and comfort in knowing that our instinct is to survive, and to thrive. I saw individual trees that are never really alone, connected to hundreds of others, co-existing, communities in nature. I saw reasons to get up every day, not pointlessness. 

So go find your horizon, your tree, your wind turbine and see how yours is part of the bigger picture. Go find your skyline on a wall in Armley. 

Go lose yourself and find yourself in one of Nicholas’s paintings.  

Artist – Nicholas Greenhall

Title – The Myth of Sisyphus in Paint

Opening times – Saturday 13th May, 11am – 3pm

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