Callum Innes is a painter. His work does not depict the world around him, but he nevertheless maintains that it is not abstract, as it responds to the world in which he lives and the emotions that he experiences. Until 1988 he worked in a figurative manner, but after a stay in Amsterdam, where he was confronted by the uncompromisingly abstract work of such artists as Barnett Newman and Lucio Fontana, he abandoned the mythological themes in his art and aimed at greater honesty, clarity and directness. The breakthrough came when he painted a leaf on a piece of corrugated cardboard From Memory (1989). The painted image sank into the vertical corrugations and became part of the history of the material. It was a revelation and was to lead directly to the way that Innes works to this day.
Instead of trying to depict his inner thoughts and feelings, he developed a painstaking process of applying paint to his prepared surfaces, before removing areas of that paint by the use of turpentine. It is not so much an act of destruction as an act of unveiling. Innes has spoken of a process like alchemy, the ancient belief that ordinary substances can be changed into gold. A surface of dark olive-green, for example, will reveal a golden residue when it is removed. Innes uses this procedure in a number of carefully prescribed types of painting, including what he called exposed paintings, monologues and formed paintings, all of which he established between 1989 and 1992.
The most common are his exposed paintings. In these he began by removing the paint from one vertical half of the canvas. Barely perceptible traces of the paint linger on the exposed canvas, but especially at the slightly ragged edge of the painted surface. Innes went on to use several layers of different colours of paint, so that, after removal, the paint residues were often of a different colour to that of the intact area of paint. For each successive group of exposed paintings he developed new strategies, especially in placing different blocks of colour next to each other. Each of Innes’s painting types has its own basic procedure, but common to them all is a formal and emotional richness within strictly defined limits.