Gill Hedleyback

Curator & Contemporary Art Consultant

Maya Ramsay

Gill Hedley speaking at Site Gallery, Sheffield, in 2006

Maya Ramsay - MAstar

Awarded by AXISweb in . Selected by Gill Hedley. 


Maya Ramsay’s work has a quiet presence, the initial impact of which is aesthetic. Each work is seductive and a careful use of scale draws the viewer in close. There is an apparent reference to modernist abstract expressionist painting, more modest though no less intense.

However, the surfaces are evasive and the method of making is far from painting. Closer inspection reveals an unspecific material and a sense of surface archaeology. The marks are in fact the paint and detritus from other people’s studio floors, lifted by scalpel exactly as found. They create the kind of imaginative landscape of the mind that a damp wall or flames in a fire induce. Leonardo recommended that his pupils “study a stain on a wall. Imagination can discover a landscape with mountains, ruins, woods, battles, figures in action, expressions, and faces.” (Codex Ashburnham 144)

Her references are to politics and history so that the marks, splashes and stains invite or indeed compel us to infer the accretions of violence and the cost to civilians of war and global inequality. What appears at first to be seductive becomes disturbing, in part because it is not clear (indeed, it is deliberately mysterious) how the works are created. In part, too, because the staining and surfaces seem so familiar and ordinary, the sort of thing found underfoot each day. Then they begin to trace moments or materials which might contain a threat or at least repugnance.

The material and the references suggest peripheries: what we might ignore underfoot or take as read in the news because it’s always there. Maya Ramsay uses a technique of careful preservation and gentle insistence to bringing the marks and the implications home to us with a sophistication that derives from how much she holds back.