Posts Tagged ‘abstract art’
Aeneas Wilder’s Unitled # 155 is showing at the Longside Gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park until Thursday 3 November 2011. It is an installation, made especially for this space, constructed through the careful placement and balance of uniform lengths of recycled Iroko wood, used for parquet flooring.
There is something architectural about it, temporary and delicate but architectural just the same. You can see it from a (slight) distance, you can see it close-up and then walk around it and you can enter it through a doorway, seeing it from inside and out like a building. But it isn’t held together by anything other than balance and gravity, no glue, no nails, no permanent fixing. So it is also time dependant, like a performance, it will exist for a certain time, and to end the installation the artist will deconstruct it in only a few seconds, the final curtain close taking the form of a kick down.
You can reserve a place for the kick down scheduled to take place at 4pm on 3 November.
Rise Art is both an online gallery for art collectors and a showcase for artists. I submitted photos of my work not realising at first how helpful it could be as a means of gaining feedback. You can see my paintings at
Not only can you see them, you can also vote on them, you just click on a tick for ‘like’ or a cross for ‘don’t like’. (Feel free to give it a go, you don’t have to ‘like’).
There is wisdom in knowing how others judge the work. You might think that I should know that we all make different judgements, taste is highly subjective. And at one level I did know that. I was also quite surprised to learn that viewers tended to vote more for the paintings that I thought were the least successful, and less for the paintings that I liked the most.
And then I was surprised that I was surprised.
I promise to stop going on about this, after today. I recently posted twice about the optical mixing that goes on when you look at this painting.
The other photo I used seemed to emphasise the blue and green that are there only because you put them there optically. Here is a photo that I think shows that the ‘green’ is physically yellow and the ‘blue’ is physically white. You might even find it difficult to see the green and blue in this shot – which is more like the ‘real thing’.
Strictly speaking it’s not optical mixing here, is it? That would suggest that our eye/brain merges two (or more) colours, but what happens, I think, has more to do with after-images. Maybe the green and blue are after-images we project onto the yellow and white. The longer you look at it, the more you see the blue and green.
A few hundred yards from my hotel in Swansea (see yesterday blog), there is the Attic Gallery, apparently Wales’ longest established private gallery.
The Attic website says that the gallery “was founded in 1962 to highlight the work of contemporary artists working in Wales.” I think the word ‘contemporary’ here refers to ‘living and working today’ as opposed to ‘modern’ or, in more recent usage, ‘more modern than modern’, which may also imply ‘post-modern’ and ‘having “high Art” pretensions’. I wouldn’t describe the work on show at Attic using these other definitions of the word ‘contemporary’.
I saw paintings by Kathryn Le Grice. I liked them. Here’s an image of one the paintings in the show, (on until Saturday 2 July), Central Park NY (Bridge II) . Painted in 2010/11, I understand that is is more typical of her earlier work.
And here is another, more typical of later work, Circle of Trees.
Both these paintings, like all her work in this show, are abstract in the sense of ‘abstracted from’. (If my memory is correct Harold Osborne uses the term ‘semantic abstraction’ for this type of abstraction, which is actually a form of representation, as opposed to ‘syntactic’ or ‘non-iconic abstraction’ for work that claims to represent nothing other than itself. In the late 70s, when he was writing about this, I think the distinction might have mattered more than it seems to do today.)
Le Grice abstracts from nature and architecture “the patterns which form part of our everyday world” making paintings in acrylic or mixed media, that are quite modest in size. The forms she paints inhabit a shallow, cubist-like space, if I have the chronology correct many of the later works are larger in size.
Circle of Trees is a later painting, but small at less than 12″ in either direction. It is the stained-glass-like luminosity of the colour that impresses me. Even from a distance it looks bright. It is reminiscent of a Rouault, with the thick black lines adding to both the stained-glass look and to the luminosity of the colours, arranged in complementaries of green/red and blue/orange. It has a rhythm based on a central diagonal line around which the tree shapes seem to curve, creating a single arabesque shape.
It is supposed to be decorative, and it is! Decorative is a bad word in some circles. It’s not a bad word for me. And not for the circle of trees either!
Not everyone sees the blue and green (see earlier blog)
…because they are subjective. Physically, there is no blue or green in this image. They are optically mixed.
I have already found that some people need to be coached to see them. It is a commonplace to say that we all see things in different ways – usually meaning we interpret data differently. It’s not always clear that we actually see things differently. If we distinguish between these three levels:
We often disagree about judgements. We disagree about interpretations. I would argue that we often think that we agree about descriptions – until we test what’s shared, only to discover that we disagree there as well.
Here is one of my recent paintings (just a rough snap, I will ask SLB to do a proper job when I get round to it!)
When you look at this painting in the flesh you can tell, I think, that most of the colour mixing is optical. There are no blues or greens in this painting, you supply them yourself. So my (no doubt dumb) question is: in the snap, has the camera optically mixed them (surely that’s not possible) or are we doing it, and can’t tell, perhaps because it is so much smaller than the original?
Maybe, I have just got used to seeing it. You are seeing the blues and greens aren’t you?
A slideshow of my Berkeley Square series of paintings
Someone said that they would like to know more about the link between systems thinking and my abstract paintings.
This impasse was seen to be the result of a reductionist approach where art was divesting itself of all that was unnecessary to its specific characteristics. The art critics Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried were great proponents of this reductionist grand narrative, and their heroes were the Abstract Expressionists (Pollock, Newman, Motherwell, Rothko, Gottleib, Frankenthaler, etc) and later, so called Post-Painterly Abstraction, and colour field painting (Stella, Louis, Noland, Olitski etc) that had supposedly shown the way beyond Jackson Pollock’s all-over painting via the staining technique that they claimed to have learned from Helen Frankenthaler’s watercolour Mountains and Sea. However, where could you go to beyond the (monochromatic) colour field?
Systems thinking outside of the art world had been catching on for some time. Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory (1968) brought together much that he had been working on for years previously, concentrating on how systems are structured. In 1948 Norbert Weiner published Cybernetics, focussing on how a system functions, regardless of what the system is. A group of systems thinkers from different disciplines, including Weiner, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, John Von Neumann and Warren McCulloch had been meeting every year between 1942 and 1951 at the Macy conferences. In 1961 Jay Forrester applied systems thinking to the economy, urban industry and housing. Donella Meadows and the Club of Rome applied systems thinking to problems of pollution and ecology, resulting in the publication of the influential book The Limits to Growth in 1972. Much later (1990) Peter Senge applied systems thinking to management and organisations in his book The Fifth Discipline. The work of W. Edwards Deming is also an example of systems thinking applied to business and management. I would also argue that Karl Marx was a great systems thinker long before the term was coined.
(I came to systems thinking through my work with people in organisations not primarily as an artist. In relation to painting I had more or less given up on it, after all where else could you go after the monochrome colour field?)
Systems thinking was largely a reaction against reductionism in science and an attempt to unify its various disciplines. It argued that real systems are open to, and interact with, their environments, and that they can acquire qualitatively new properties through emergence, resulting in continual evolution.
Rather than reducing an entity (e.g. the human body) to the properties of its parts or elements (e.g. organs or cells), systems theory focuses on the arrangement of and relations between the parts which connect them into a whole. This particular organisation determines a system, which is independent of the concrete substance of the elements (e.g. particles, cells, transistors, people, etc).
It was only a matter of time before someone in the visual art world would notice that systems thinking promised an alternative approach to modernist reductionism. One such ‘someone’ was Jack Burnham.
Jack Burnham’s systems aesthetic took issue with late modernist painting, offering five key insights:
- That there has been a transition from an object-oriented to a systems-oriented culture.
- That art does not reside in material entities.
- That art is not autonomous.
- That art is conceptual focus.
- That no definition or theory of art can be historically invariant.
For many involved in systems aesthetics this spelled the death of painting (one day I must blog about painting’s many deaths). Burnham and others majored on the context in which art takes place: the system of art production.
For me, these five insights can be appropriate to painting itself. Rather than emphasising objecthood, materiality and autonomy, painting can be systems oriented, serial and conceptual and this is one of the ways in which I think of my paintings as systems. I am interested in the ways that the parts relate to each other in the whole that is the painting, and in the larger whole that is the viewing experience. I am interested in the system: artist/painting/viewer(s) and particularly in the ways in which viewers can have differing perceptions (physically, emotionally and conceptually) of a painting.