What struck me immediately about Peter Mearns' image was the structural similarity to Velazquez’s Las Meninas, painted more than 400 years ago. We have an image divided into three distinct ‘bands’ or ‘grounds’ - foreground, middleground and background.
The back of the white door can be read as the reverse of Velazquez’s canvas and the Royal King and Queen is represented by the portrait of Mao Tse Tung which becomes the authority figure in the image.
In tonal terms Mearns' image has from left to right a graduation from light to dark which gives a flow to the work and a depth and intensity to the detailing in the courtyard in the far background. The middle ‘panel’ with calendar and images hanging up provide the classic visual trick of pictures within pictures and gives a central focus to the image. The viewer’s attention is held by this thoughtful framing and it is like cautiously entering a mysterious room and exploring slowly as we walk through.
It is without the illusions of Las Meninas but contains the truth of an ordinary domestic setting taken by a perceptive eye, while Velazquez made sure we could not be certain about what he was painting with all his trickery. Mearns has framed an image of an interior frozen in time held within a complex pictorial construct.
My first gaze is to look at the abstractness of the work and to glide my eye across the exterior to interior out to far exterior. Then as I understand the formal qualities it is then to look at the content. The edge of the table with the collection of bottles, the barred interior window, the pictures and calender on the wall, the clock and the detritus in the courtyard along the dark passageway.
It is an image that rewards sustained looking.
Stephen Snoddy is Director of The New Art Gallery in Walsall