Callum Innes is among the most significant abstract painters of his generation. His paintings are highly disciplined but also uncertain spaces, combining the controlled authority of monochrome geometric forms with ever-present traces of fluidity and an always-apparent tendency towards formal dissolution. Central to his distinctive artistic process is a dual activity of painting and ‘unpainting’. Innes begins by applying densely mixed dark pigment onto a prepared canvas before then brushing the wet surface with turpentine: strategically stripping away sections of the painted space before it has entirely settled and solidified. In an ongoing series such as his Exposed Paintings, solid square blocks of deep, complex black are accompanied by lighter zones of varying, more transparent colour – from dioxazine violet to cobalt blue to Veronese green – each separated section being the contingent outcome of Innes’s methodical erasure of the painting’s primary material substance.
The applied turpentine makes visible the plural content of apparently monochromatic colour and introduces moments of visual loosesness and liquidity into the otherwise taut compositional order. The results (across the many related series that Innes repeatedly and simultaneously has sought to develop in his thirty year career, such as, alongside his Exposed Paintings, the numerous Monologues and Isolated Forms) are abstract compositions characterized by combinations of absorbing tonal intensity and atmospheric openness. His paintings are at once formally strict and compellingly ‘fragile’, drawing intelligently on long traditions of abstraction just as they also emerge from a very singular – and yet constantly evolving – creative process.
Innes has exhibited widely since the mid-1980s. Recent solo exhibitions include I'll Close My Eyes, De Pont Museum, Tilburg (2016–17); Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (2013); From Memory, a major touring exhibition visiting Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Modern Art Oxford, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge and Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2007–2008); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Kunsthalle Bern (both 1999); ICA, London and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (both 1992).
Innes won the Jerwood Painting in 2002, the prestigious NatWest Prize for Painting in 1998, and in 1995, was shortlisted for both the Turner and Jerwood Prizes in 1995. In 2012, Innes created a permanent commission for the Edinburgh Art Festival, entitled The Regent Bridge. His work is represented in numerous collections, both private and public including Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC; the Centre George Pompidou, France; The Irish Museum of Modern Art; TATE, London; the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Kunstmuseum, Bern; the Museum of Modern Art, Forth Worth, Texas; and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo and Deutsche Bank.