Light – more than anything, it seems – remains the focus of Brendan Neiland’s art: light shimmering and reflected on sheet-glass windows, shifting and rippling on the surface of water, or, more recently, buzzing in neon signs. It is a fascination that has held him since student days at the Royal College of Art, where he first developed the particular brand of realism for which he has become internationally admired, and which has seen him likened to the great chiaroscurist Vermeer.
Like his hero Léger before him, he found inspiration in the metropolis and its vaulting glass architecture: ‘So much of the city is observed through reflection. In a sense, it is far more real than the buildings themselves…It helps to give the feeling of movement and activity and life of the city.’ Observing the glossy, polished surfaces of the machine-bits and steel structures that caught his eye, he sought a painting method that would replicate their smooth finish, developing a technique using spray-guns and meticulous layers of delicate masks and stencils.
Completed in the early 1970s, Reflections originally hung in the boardroom of Mazda cars. It presents an extraordinary early example of the pioneering work Neiland made in his emerging spray-gun process. Across the bonnet of a sports car, a blue sky with wisps of white cloud bends and refracts, distorting over the curved metal surface. Above, a sandy building melts into a Dali-esque desert; the surrounding sky becomes a Surrealist sea.
Neiland has spoken of his love of reflections, where grid lines and industrial exactness balance the warp of light across their planes in a ‘play between the structured and the free’. Here, brutalist concrete dissolves into dream-land oasis – an example of the strangeness to be found on even the most ordered of urban surfaces.
In a career that now approaches its fiftieth year, Neiland has continued to reveal the dance of light that plays out daily on the glass towers and cars that dominate our landscape. With the city as his canvas, every high-rise offers trick-of-the-light mirages; every dispassionate, corporate space its trompe-l’oeil delights.