Lots going on over at ABCRIT. Paul Behnke writes on Pat Passlof.
Originally posted on Abcrit:
Pat Passlof: Paintings from the 1950’s at the Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York.
The current exhibition at Elizabeth Harris Gallery in New York City presents abstract oil paintings by Pat Passlof from the early 1950’s through the end of the decade. At the time this work was made, Passlof was only in her twenties. Born in Brunswick Georgia in 1928, she sought out and studied with Willem de Kooning at the famous Black Mountain College. Soon after, she took his advice and moved to New York City, embarking upon a painter’s life. In Manhattan, Passlof continued to receive private painting instruction from de Kooning and became close with the painters that populated the 10th Street artists’ community in the early 50’s. Through de Kooning, Passlof met the painter, Milton Resnick, whom she later married. Resnick no doubt introduced the young…
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I have seen paintings by Francesca Simon at two exhibitions recently. The first one was the group show Making Matters, at Platform A Gallery, a great space, quite big with lots of natural light doing justice to the work, whether the three dimensional objects by Kate Terry or the paintings by Andrew Bick, Katrina Blannin, Clem Crosby, David Ryan, and Francesca Simon.
In my reviews of this show, at Constructed Realities and Saturation Point, I attempted to employ some distinctions to describe the work and noted that in applying them they seemed to break down. Taking the following list of binary opposites: Fact/Fiction, Object/Image, Construction/Representation, Faktura/Facture and System/Improvisation, it could be argued that all the artwork at Making Matters shows affinity with the terms on the left hand side of the dividing lines. However, these oppositions also provide a way of distinguishing between the works of the artists within the show. I could, for example, note that Clem Crosby and David Ryan demonstrate more interest in facture (including the handwriting of the artist) than say Katrina Blannin and Francesca Simon whose paintings could be situated more in the “faktura-over-facture” camp. However, the distinction breaks down if, allowing a confusion of logical levels, I consider that the preference for faktura is itself a signature style.
Similarly, whilst Ryan’s and Crosby’s paintings may look improvised whereas Blannin’s and Simon’s look pre-planned, this distinction breaks down, even without a logical level shift, as I discover that the difference is simply one of degrees. Thinking in terms of degrees of improvisation could also provide a way of (speculatively) separating out the six Making Matters artists along a scale for improvisation, perhaps with Blannin at the lowest end, followed by Terry, then Simon, then Bick, then Crosby and with Ryan at the highest end.
Seeing Francesca Simon’s new solo exhibition Site Lines at Beardsmore Gallery, I perceive more improvisation in her paintings than I did at Making Matters. There is evidence, in many of them, of decisions that were not followed through, lines that are marked out but not really used, disturbances on the surface, that subtly contrast with the very clear demarcation lines, edges and shapes that make up the final construct. I am reminded of the process of ‘brainstorming’ whereby a group of people generate new options by calling out, one at a time in strict rotation, whatever idea comes to mind. Although the majority of suggestions get rejected at the evaluation stage, they are absolutely required to trigger the breakthrough that results. Equally, I could think of the tremendous amount of labour involved in a construction site that is sublimated in the final, stable state of the end product, which would be closer to Simon’s abstract subject matter, the paintings shown here being directly influenced by the excavation and construction of London’s Crossrail project. Hence, we have titles like Close Construction and Double Girder Crane.
That the works are serial seems to reflect something of the constantly changing nature of the site, literally just outside Simon’s London studio. The Close Construction paintings present a void around and across which various geometric elements are choreographed, and the Double Girder Crane series could easily have originated from seeing that massive crane every day traversing back and forth over the gigantic chasm. Differences in the crane’s position generate a variety of shapes, echoing the changes in relationship between crane and environment. These shapes, together with the almost aggressive flashes of colour, a yellow triangle here and the blue of the crane there, find their way into the work.
The geometry of this construction site, is documented, even its movement is here, the inherent stillness of painting being set into dynamism by the zig zagging of diagonal lines. Only the assault on the auditory sense is lost, in the silence of viewing. I would be wrong to find part to part isomorphism, the paintings are “abstract” after all, but not entirely autonomous, the outside world entering through a window into the artist’s lived experience, transformed by mental process and projected out again onto the paintings as geometric form.
Employing again the binary distinctions with which I started, I return to the poles of construction/representation and wonder whether there is a double irony in Simon’s geometry: 1) whilst her paintings are not a window on the world, her ‘subject matter’ is a set of events taking place directly outside her studio window, and 2) her work draws on, and is closest to, the tradition of constructivism, yet here we find abstracted ‘representations’ of a construction site, as if to neutralise the opposition between construction and representation that, at one time, for me, was at the crux of the argument for abstraction. Not that Francesca Simon’s paintings are representational or abstract, more that they are both and neither.
Making Matters was on show at Platform A Gallery from 9 Ocotber to 20 November
Site Lines continues at Beardsmore Gallery until 20 December.
The Exhibition Grey at Harrington Mill Studios, curated by David Manley includes work by Chris Wright, Rachael Pinks, Dee Shiels, David Ainley, Kevin Coyne, Patrick Prentice, Steffi Richards, Joe Kelly, Paul Warren, Clay Smith, Sarah R Key, Lisa Denyer, Susan Disley, David Manley, Michael Finn, Louise Garland, Rob Van Beek, Shiela Ravnkilde, Jackie Berridge, Alison Whitmore, Kate Smith, Michelle Keegan, Simon Marchini, Beth Shapeero, Paul Crook, Fi Burke, Hayley Lock, Andy Parkinson, Helen Stevenson, Maggie Milner, Kate Smith, Tracey Eastham, Mik Godley, Flore Gardner and Justine Nettleton, very different kinds of work in different mediums: performance, text, sculpture, drawing and painting.
The theme for the show was inspired by a painting, in Manley’s collection, by Michael Finn, entitled Grey Blue. In the gallery notes Manley writes “it got me thinking…wouldn’t it be nice to ask HMS associated artists…to reflect, in whatever way they choose, on the colour grey?” The exhibition is a result of their responses, shown alongside the Finn.
I am intrigued by the multiple ways that the Finn painting presents itself, due in part to different lighting (physical factors) and in part to the subjective participation of the viewer (psychological factors). The appearance at first sight is of a grey ground upon which a darker grey frame is hastily drawn, echoing the vertical edges of the support. On continued viewing, the nuances of the coloured ground come to awareness. Colours shift and change, violet now uppermost, only to be succeeded by other colours: green, blue, red, ochre etc. This variability is a function of the process of layering one colour over another, resulting in a mixture surely more optical than physical.
It is difficult to photograph, the auto-focus in my camera cannot work out what to do, and though I switch to manual and manipulate the resultant, under-exposed image afterwards in photo-shop, I acknowledge that the snap hardly does justice to what I am actually seeing.
I think it is the case with many of the paintings here, including my own, that they almost defy being photographed, and it is certainly the case with David Ainley‘s Hidden Shafts: Grey, what you see in the reproduction hardly reproduces what can be seen in the work itself, and this is generally my experience of viewing paintings by Ainley compared with seeing photographs of them. Could it be that the paintings are much slower than photography allows? Standing in front of Hidden Shafts I am quite prepared to put in the the time that viewing requires and it is then that some of its hidden properties are revealed, layers of events becoming visible through the very process of being covered, like a stain that cannot be painted over.
The tiny painting/collage here by Rachael Pinks, entitled Tales of Ancient Pain, only just grey, more black, white and blue, lots of blue, prompting, for me, sea and sky associations, includes along the top edge, a scrap of text torn from a book. If I had brought my glasses with me I might be able to determine whether that fragment of text is the source of the title.
The text, the title, and the seascape associations trigger for me a search for narrative, whether found in imagined content, perhaps a storm or a shipwreck, or in the process of assembling an image form torn paper, a narrative of sorts, perhaps a “process narrative”. I am especially interested in this narrative that is embedded in the act of making, and I think I find something of this also in David Ainley’s work as well as in Sarah R Key‘s.
I wrote briefly about Key’s painting An Equivalent Other, at Constructed Realities, wondering whether it might contain “some hidden or mysterious narrative”. The cluster of triangles becomes a depicted object, almost box like, with what could be opening tabs that create hints of a dimensionality, all against a dark ground that refuses to provide a context. The lighter blue/grey triangles at top, bottom and right can also be read as negative spaces, or a window through which two triangles one green, one violet, can be seen, if ‘floating’ in space they are anchored at edge or corner, so they never quite ‘escape’ to any place beyond this configuration. Even in describing the action I am doing so in terms of a narrative, again of sorts.
Whereas for many abstract artists geometry suggests rationality, with Key I almost want to say that her geometry denotes the opposite, though I realise that this is entirely interpretive on my part and it could simply be that I am inventing a link between her abstract work (she would say “for want of a better term”), and some of her more figurative paintings, (and again one could say “for want of a better term”). What I think I find in Key’s work is a challenging of the distinction. Rather than the polar opposites of either/or, black and white, we get both/and: shades of grey.
Grey, continues at Harrington Mill Studios until 28 November