Artists and art audiences are generally considered to be open-minded. Although artists are constantly making certain choices in their work, these decisions are often not on display. What if you were to be closed-minded, and celebrate that process? What if you restricted yourself to a set of rules and guidelines that still let subject matter shine through? What if you made very considered decisions and choices about your relationship to things around you? Your immediate liberal thoughts now are saying that this is a very negative attitude.

However, I would argue that being aware of, and using, a very restricted set of choices, is in fact a positive way of looking at looking. Whilst not immediately obvious, the artists in ‘Orphan’ are connected by a series of related processes in their approach to looking. Their work may appear to be an open book full of overflowing subject matter, but it is the distinctive choices and considered editing that make the work so direct and engaging. This closed-minded approach to producing art is all the more powerful for having a limited palette of decision making.

Like the other artists in the show, Ruth Claxton spends an inordinate amount of time looking, in so much that her work is whittled down to being about this process. There is no place for randomness or cheap laughs in her selection and presentations. Her objects are chosen with a considered set of guidelines; such as having an engagement with each other – an uncanny suggestion of the romantic, that fluctuates between cheap imitations and objects of desire. The choosing of the many objects that result in a ‘finished’ piece takes place over an elongated time frame, a process that is mirrored by the time she lets these objects gestate in the studio. The lucky chosen ones are subjected to minor adjustments or enhancements to their individual characters. The objects are not transformed in a grand sense; they are still cheap, approximations of something grander. They are just trying a bit harder to fit in with each other, and with the realisation they are being viewed as art. What unites this dysfunctional community is that they have all been subjected to a process of mutation.

This process continues in Claxton’s editing and exhibition in a series of presentations under the heading ‘I thought I was the Audience and then I looked at You’. Here, the objects are again scrutinised by Claxton, and reconfigured and presented on the floor, mirrored tables, hand crafted plinths and pedestals that have also been altered by her. With each subsequent presentation the display of the objects is refined by adhering to strict formal rules whilst still allowing an element of incoherency to be visible. Objects are included, then removed; small histories between them are created and then unpicked; decisions are made and remade, reconfigured and rejected, until a final ‘solution’ to a set of formal problems is settled upon. Initially the effect was of wonderment and of being overpowered by imagery. Now, as this editing process gets tighter and more refined, it presents the viewer (and the artist) with a choice. Could this possibly look any other way than it does? Are the objects and modes of presentation inherently right or wrong?

There initially seems something inherently wrong with the work of Paul Becker. His scruffy little paintings and scratchy drawings seem unfinished, and contain their fair share of explicit and dubious sexual content involving animals, children and, more recently, pointy-eared pixies. Whilst much is (rightly) made of the perverse in Becker’s paintings, it is hard to imagine anything here being any other way, that this is anything other than perfectly normal. The paintings are so acute that you accept that you are looking at three winged fairies masturbating a young boy.

Becker is fully conscious of the decisions he makes when painting. There is always a set of brave leaps when portraying such content. The process leads from selecting a starting point from thousands of drawings to painting wet-on-wet to try and draw out an image. This is then scraped back and repainting begins until an image that inhabits its own space emerges. Becker also adheres to a set of rules (even if they are there to be broken). Anything that makes the image difficult to read is removed, as is anything too obvious. No overly descriptive background details or a distracting narrative (it’s rare to see a tree or a hill in his work – you’re lucky if you get a shadowy corner or dimly lit cave).

This act of simplification is usually anathema to today’s slavishly modish contemporary art climate. Whilst all of the artists here appear keen to avoid the latest trends, Becker perhaps more than most has an intimate knowledge and willingness to engage with art history. The aforementioned wanking pixies reference Henry Fuesli, with paintings given to expanding details by Nicolas Poussin and images of Arcadia. Bear and Hand (2005) has direct links with Francisco de Goya and Paw (2005) comes from the Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta paintings in the National Gallery, where a wolf delicately puts his paw into the hand of St Francis. Becker shows you directly what is going on, that it can be no other way. Here are death, beauty, sex and violence laid bare.

Laura Lancaster’s paintings seem to pose many more questions than answers. Displayed as a group or as single paintings they are an odd collection of what could be considered boring images. Her painting process and strategy begin in the selection of images borrowed from discarded photographs, randomly taken snapshots and people’s unwanted memories. Her method of choosing images is instinctive, where she can now look at a whole or a section of a found image and know instantly that it will transform into paint. This continuous process relieves the image of the pressure of having to say everything.

Her paintings can be read as the process of translation itself, the push and pull between the paint as a tangible substance and the illusion that the paint creates. Lancaster manipulates this tension to varying degrees, aiming to reduce the process to using minimum means for maximum impact, leaving out as much as possible until there is just enough there to be read directly.

A banal photograph of a Yorkshire terrier would hold no viewer’s eye for too long; yet, transformed by Lancaster’s quick and wristy brushstrokes, you are easily convinced that in real life there is a lonesome dog that is made out of oily impasto. Again, like Becker and Claxton, Lancaster’s choices and selection process hit the mark, as if it could be no other way. All of her images look perfectly right, from a bleached-out pig to a sloppily painted tree, she freezes lost moments in paint.

Through her choice, constant reassessment and editing of photographs Lancaster is looking for that perfect painted moment, the one that hits the mark like no other. It is minimal reconfiguration turned into painterly expression. Lancaster may make strict decisions, but they are not there to replace the unknown, chance or intuition. They are there to emphasise those moments.

Claxton, Becker and Lancaster all share this ability to be acute, where only a perfect hit will do. Their continual push-pull method of producing complex images actively reduces ‘wrong’ reading and intensifies the impact. They are saying: “You see this? This is this. This isn't something else. This is this!”

Gordon Dalton is an artist, curator and writer based in Cardiff