Elements

Back in the 1970s the Boyle family launched their "Journey to the surface of the earth" project. Their "paintings" (actually moulded fibreglass) looked like a rectangle of roadway hung on the gallery wall. Astonishingly realistic, they were complete with fag ends and yellow 'No Parking' signs. As well as jettisoning perspectival space, they operated as ready made abstracts in urban nature.

The first group of paintings with which Maureen Stephenson announced her talent was of a similarly made abstraction in nature: water. This was not the element favoured by Courbet and Turner though, a lethal force which might annihilate you. It was of gentler rhythms eddying, swirling and shimmering. Furthermore, even when she dispensed with a horizon, the very scale of the waves hinted at space. These elements had shape-shifting identities, sometimes appearing as biomorphic cells each with its own energy, and sometimes offering hypnotic light-imbued depths. One of the current media fallacies is that of an artist's 'signature'. Once found, the 'signature' or brand is all you need to know about an artist, they imply. Like many of her predecessors, Maureen Stephenson ranges widely, a shrewd vignette of teenage girls here, and a keenly registered facet of landscape there. Her work is highly disciplined and is in an age of cheap novelty, a vindication of Leonardo's view that "Art breathes from containment and suffocates from freedom."

It may seem paradoxical given her discipline, that Stephenson's paintings are restless with energy, but Elizabeth Talbot's are preternaturally calm. They appear to have come into existence without human intervention. Like distinguished contemporaries such as Peter Doig or Gerhard Richter, however, she deals in pre-processed imagery, phenomena that have already been photographed, printed or downloaded. Experience for her, by and large, has already been mediated, but unlike Doig, who introduces into his visual conceits unsettling references to popular culture, or Richter whose oeuvre is fraught with ambivalent political events, Talbot's affinities are much more with the work of the early 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. Her paintings are purposeful: they are not landscapes of the "I was there and it looked like this" school. Invariably they pose questions. Temperamentally she would be reluctant to make any over weening claims but for those who are prepared to engage with them in their still mystery, they hint at the metaphysical - and the sublime. Even so, she too, when circumstances demand it, works from direct experience.

Bill Varley, art critic, 2014