patternsthatconnect

abstract art and systems thinking

Posts Tagged ‘abstraction

Louisa Chambers’ Stereoscope at Mrs Rick’s Cupboard

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Mrs Rick’s Cupboard exists in a time warp. Once the teacher’s cupboard in a Nottingham primary school, now somehow out-of-place, functionless, in the corner of artist Craig Fisher‘s studio at Primary, Nottingham. No longer a stock cupboard, it serves as an exhibition space that seems larger on the inside than on the outside. At least that’s how it appears to me as I view paintings by Louisa Chambers in this setting.

And having created that filter for seeing the work, doesn’t the background of Tent resemble the interior of Doctor Who’s TARDIS, depending on whether you are seeing the spray painted circles as positive or negative shapes? When they are negative shapes, I have the impression that an interior space is being described, when positive then it’s a landscape I am seeing.  This perceptual shift allows the painting to be viewed first in this way and then in that way and back again, but can never be seen in both ways simultaneously, though the painting holds both views. Perhaps the artist has something of this in mind, when she envisages the cupboard functioning as a Stereoscope, an optical device in which two separate photographic images that have been taken from slightly different viewpoints corresponding to the spacing of the eye, merge together to become a single three-dimensional scene. The device itself being an object of fascination, two flat photographs becoming three-dimensional only when the binocular viewer is brought into operation.

Louisa Chambers, Tent, 2013, spray paint, acrylic and oil on canvas, 23 x 30 cm

Louisa Chambers, Tent, 2013, spray paint, acrylic and oil on canvas, 23 x 30 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

There are other ambiguities that come into play also in this charming little painting. In one viewing the tent figure itself hovers in space, whether the literal space of the support, or the illusionistic space hinted at by the horizon line. The main figure could seem to hover above the horizon or settle down onto the ground that the low horizon line suggests and/or it protrudes slightly in front of the picture plane, and then readjusts back into the framed space. Another alternating reading also asserts itself: the yellow undersides of the lower row of circles/spheres seem to be attached to the triangular figure almost as if they are its wheels, a reading that can be sustained when focusing on the centre of the base and that falls away when focusing more on the edges. The main figure can be interpreted as a vehicle or as an object like the tent of the title, and then fairground associations are triggered for me, in contrast to the Sci Fi associations when I am reading it is a vehicle: a Robot, a Dalek perhaps or a spaceship. All this is further complicated by the formal(ist) abstract ‘language’ of the painting, warning me not to read content into it at all but to see it only as a formal composition of shape and colour.

Louisa Chambers, Unveil, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Unveil, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Unveil follows almost the same compositional arrangement as Tent, the space being divided more or less centrally by a horizontal, a vertical and by two diagonal lines, resulting in a positive double triangle shape situated in a negative double triangle space, resembling a pyramid topped by an inverted pyramid, the shape of a ‘double tetractys’. The space has more of a sense of different two-dimensional planes than Tent, becoming more of an illusionistic space in the upper triangular area, as if the flat inverted triangle has opened into a portal onto a three-dimensional space in which an impossible figure rotates. Comparing the two paintings the rotating geometrical figure corresponds to the geometrical ‘ring’ figure in Tent. Both add further spacial ambiguity to each whole. In Unveil, flag like shapes might be interpreted as bunting, adding to a celebratory mood suggested by the joyous colours, that could equally be menacing. I am back at the fairground again where the clowns could be both comedic and terrifying. Yet there are no ‘clowns’ here, no human figures, only coloured triangular and circular forms.
There’s something Kandinsky-esque about this painting. Again I want to refer to the formal ‘language’ but I am wondering if the word ‘technology’ might be better, the means employed being derived from the technology of modernist abstraction, and in so far as content is suggested, we have objects and landscapes that are neither natural nor societal but rather technological, which I think I also find in Kandinsky.

Louisa Chambers, Non-Stop Radio, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Non-Stop Radio, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

in Non-Stop Radio and Over the Hill the geometric shapes, like paper cut-outs waving in the air of an unspecified urban park landscape have been anthropomorphised, as if they were dancing figures, with wide shaping at the topline contrasting with the close contact at centre, narrowing down to the feet that look only just strong enough to support the swing and sway above. These constructions could exist only in a painting, whilst looking like they could be fabricated in three dimensions I suspect that an attempt to do so would soon show their impossibility.

Louisa Chambers, Over the Hill, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Over the Hill, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Looking at them, I sense the artist’s enjoyment in imagining them, as well as in painting them, with the lightness of watercolour, the paint handling seems so congruent with these fluid geometries, precise enough, yet never uptight.

Louisa Chambers, Louisa Chambers, Over the Hill, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Timer, 2013, acrylic and oil on linen, 35 x 20 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Timer could be a painting of a real object, something similar to an egg timer, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s an impossible construct, which again I would love to attempt to build. For a start, it looks much too large to be an egg timer, even without paying attention to the differing geometries of the four horizontal intersections. I know I am in danger of coming across like a die-hard Doctor Who fan if I say that it reminds me of the control mechanism of the old style TARDIS, but I just cannot help making that connection. I feel confirmed in my interpretation when I read in the gallery notes that “Chambers’ paintings present alternative universes where impossible science fiction/architectural structures comment on conflicts between our inner dream worlds and the technological robotic control on our everyday lives”. I’d go further and say that our “inner dream worlds” have been technologised, and Doctor Who could serve as an example of that.

 Rotating Shape (Side I and Side II), 2013, acrylic on card, 68 x 66 x 0.5 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers. Rotating Shape (Side I), 2013, acrylic on card, 68 x 66 x 0.5 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Maybe it’s a response to the impossibility of the constructions within the paintings that has led to Chambers’ recent experiments in three-dimensions: Rotating Shape Side I and Side II, Shelter and Monument, all of which are here in the cupboard. Shelter and Monument are like nets in the moment of converting from two to three dimensions and Rotating Shape is literally that, a geometric painting on shaped card that can be both rotated and reversed (hence Side I and Side II). However even these constructible paintings have unconstructability in them, tessalating shapes, bending the space as they shift from one arrangement to another, introducing time as well as space into flat, motionless surfaces.

Louisa Chambers, Rotating Shape (Side I and Side II), 2013, acrylic on card, 68 x 66 x 0.5 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Rotating Shape (Side II), 2013, acrylic on card, 68 x 66 x 0.5 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Although Stereoscope closed on 6 December, other paintings by Louisa Chambers can be seen at The Midlands Open at Tarpey Gallery until 11 January and at Crash Open Salon 2013, at Charlie Dutton Gallery from 11 December to 11 January.

Mapping the Abstract at Beers.Lambert

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Seeing the current exhibition at Beers.Lambert, and feeling at first that the paintings in this show are too ‘figurative’ to be Mapping the Abstract, puts me in mind of the difficulty of talking about abstraction, and particularly the ambiguity of the word “abstract” in relation to painting. In one sense, the further removed our experience is from empirical reality the more “abstract” it is. Thinking in terms of “levels of abstraction”, seeing something in the “real world” is a representation “in our heads”, an image that is one removed from “reality”, already an abstraction even at the point of perception, to use Korzybski’s distinction: a map rather than the territory. When an artist then seeks to represent in paint what s/he sees, that representation is a further abstraction, a higher level abstraction if you will. To then “abstract from” that representation is a higher level of abstraction still. In this sense of the word “abstract”, a representation is a lower level abstraction.

However, the expression “non-representational” has also become synonymous with “abstract” because abstract art seeks to do something different than to represent. Consequently, some have preferred the word “constructive”, or “constructionist” (as did Charles Biederman, for whom Korzybski was an important influence) or “concrete”, which in that other sense is the exact opposite of “abstract”. Rather than being removed from observable reality the abstract painting is itself a sub-set of that reality, an autonomous self-organizing system. Things become further complicated when that autonomy is itself called into question as it has, for example by abstract painters such  Jonathan Lasker, Francis Baudevin, Ingrid Calame or Fiona Rae, to name only a few.

It is against this complex background that the three painters in this show: Blake Daniels, Robert Fry and Benjamin Brett could be said to map the abstract.

Installation shot: far wall - Robert Fry, Related Study E, 2011,oil,acrylic and mixed media on canvas, left: Benjamin Brett, Floorswamp, 2013, oil on linen, and Dancer, 2013, oil on linen. Image by courtesy of Beers. Lambert

Installation shot: far wall – Robert Fry, Related Study E, 2011,oil,acrylic and mixed media on canvas, left – Benjamin Brett, Untitled,  2013, oil on linen, and Dancer, 2013, oil on linen. Image by courtesy of Beers.Lambert

Benjamin Brett‘s Dancer is very clearly a figure, as the title suggests, what the dancer is actually doing is difficult to work out, though s/he seems to be making a gesture not unlike the gestures the painter has made on the canvas. I have no way of knowing whether an observed event was the occasion for an abstraction or whether something resembling a figure was the result of ‘free’ gestural mark making. I recall that Kandinsky, in relation to his own paintings, distinguished between an impression (an abstracted representation) and an improvisation (an image that presents itself from within the mark-making process). I wonder whether Brett’s Dancer might borrow from both these approaches.

His painting Untitled, grabs my attention because of its similarity to a pattern I have been exploring in my own work, a diagonally oriented grid resulting in a rhomboid chequerboard, resembling floor tiles. My interest has been in how when the scale is small this formation becomes a network of scintilla. Brett’s formation is large scale which seems to reduce the optical ‘buzz’ of the image, retaining whilst slowing down, the figure ground oscillation. The contrast between the hard edge, flatly rendered ’tiles’ and the loose gestural graffiti drawn over the top tends to create a ‘background’ of the geometrical pattern, except that the gestures then interact with the shifting of figure/ground so that at times I attempt to situate them spatially somewhere in between the dark and light tiles, in an impossible space, or one that is available only to the sense of sight. I am unsure what to make of the drawings of hands, a cup, a rib cage (?) and I relate to them as if their purpose was to deface the geometry. Then I become aware of a blue mark, roughly central toward the lower left hand quadrant of the painting. When the white rhombus shapes are ‘figures’ it positions itself behind a ‘hole’ in the surface, but when they are ‘ground’ it pushes forwards so that it sits on the surface of the brown tile. It also leads my eye to the lower left hand corner where one of the dark tiles is painted light blue as opposed to the brown of the others and the tile above it is divided more or less in half along the diagonal, with the lower half in blue and the higher half in green, reading at times like these two tile shapes have been cut into the surface and I am peering into quite a deep space through the cut-outs. There is no attempt to create a believable representational space here, yet this two dimensional space is anything but flat, and anything but still.

And in the end, I think it is space that is being explored by all three painters in this mapping of the abstract. Robert Fry‘s paintings are clearly representations of male figures, and they are drawn with a certain degree of illusionistic depth within the figure, for example when the figure is side on, the half of the body that is nearest to the viewer looks nearer than the other half, and the space between the feet is readable as a three dimensional space. However the space behind or in front of the figure is not so readable, the space that the figures inhabit then is shallow, and the negative spaces between the figures also read sometimes as positive figures themselves.  To me, they are tableaus with figures, bearing some similarity to ancient Egyptian  tomb decorations except that whereas there the figures are flat here they are almost naturalistic. But if there is a naturalism it is only a naturalism of sorts, in that body parts, for example, sometimes occupy spaces of their own, or seem to have detached themselves from a body in a way that could never be an observable “real world” event.

Blake Daniels paintings are high level abstractions from the real world, the kind of abstraction that take place in dreams where there may be a narrative but one that makes little rational sense, bringing previously unrelated events together, and parts of different wholes interact in a space and time that makes perfect sense only in the dream.

Mapping the Abstract is on at Beers.Lambert, 1 Baldwin Street, London, until 21 September 2013.

new painting: Screen

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Andy Parkinson, Screen (Yellow Band), 2013, Acrylic on PVA coated paper on board, 24" x 24"

Andy Parkinson, Screen (Yellow Band), 2013, Acrylic on PVA coated paper on board, 24″ x 24″

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 19, 2013 at 7:00 am

Cover (new painting)

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Andy Parkinson, Cover, 2013, mixed media on wood panel, 14" x 14"

Andy Parkinson, Cover, 2013, mixed media on wood panel, 14″ x 14″

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 15, 2013 at 6:23 am

Minor Histories (new painting)

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Andy Parkinson, Minor Histories, 2013, mixed media on board, 7 1/4" x 7 1/4"

Andy Parkinson, Minor Histories, 2013, mixed media on board, 7 1/4″ x 7 1/4″

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 4, 2013 at 6:00 am

Neon-net

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Neon colour-spread figures forming a net…

Andy Parkinson, Neonet, 2013, acrylic and permanent marker on canvas, 24" x 24"

Andy Parkinson, Neonet, 2013, acrylic and permanent marker on canvas, 24″ x 24″

…and there’s also some of the non neon colour-spread effect going on, where the white of the canvas takes on a tinge of colour, mostly from the greens.

Written by Andy Parkinson

June 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Meditations at Pluspace Coventry

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I have, from time to time, complained on this blog about how rare it is to see abstract paintings outside London. Not today! Meditations, a lively show of paintings by eight artists “working within a predominantly non-representational vocabulary”: Karl Bielik, Lisa Denyer, Rachael Macarthur, Matthew Macaulay, Sarah McNulty, Phoebe Mitchell, Joe Packer, Melanie Russell is showing at Pluspace, smack bang in the middle of Coventry city centre.

The exhibition notes quote John Hoyland “Paintings are there to be experienced, they are events. They are also to be meditated on and to be enjoyed by the senses, to be felt through the eye. Paintings are not to be reasoned with, they are not to be understood, they are to be recognized.”

Meditations is a fair title for a show of paintings that are more to be “meditated on” than “reasoned with”, more to be “enjoyed” and “felt with the eye” than “understood”. It could equally have been entitled Experiences or Events as Matthew Macaulay acknowledges in his Collection of Events, a series of oil painting on panels of sometimes slightly differing size or shape and leaned against the wall, mostly in sequence with one panel placed in front of two others partially obscuring them, and one placed partly behind another.

Matthew Macaulay, Collection of Events. 2013, Oil on Panel

Matthew Macaulay, Collection of Events. 2013, oil on panel, image by courtesy of the artist.

I find that I am “reading” the work a panel at a time, from left to right as I would a text, so themes of language and communication come to mind, and then I am recalling that excellent article by Alan Gouk where he disputes the notion (borrowed from Lacan) that painting is “structured like a language”. This particular painting may not be structured like a language, but it is structured very much like a sentence. The syntax could be rearranged and it would have a different “meaning”, the word best defined according to the well known systems dictum: “the meaning of a communication is the response you receive, rather than the intention you had for it”.

There is something urban about Macaulay’s painting. It reminds me of how a shared space like a city centre, whilst being consciously built, because there are multiple players involved also develops unconsciously, in a way that almost resembles organic growth, evolving and changing. In our conversation, Macaulay emphasises the temporary nature of the gallery/studio space. This temporariness seems to be echoed in both city centre and painting. Many of the shops are empty with whited out windows and even the ways in which the whitening is applied seems to carry through to Macaulay’s painting: gesture and movement becoming object, for contemplation.

DSCF3392

installation shot courtesy of Matthew Macaulay

For me, the most meditative of the works here is the tiny diptych by Lisa Denyer, Untitled 2013, (seen far left in the above installation shot), where at normal distance I “feel with my eye”, each panel, as if each one is presented to each of my eyes, such that the negative line of the wall space between them seems to project forward and glow. At least that’s what happens as I view, with a light trance state beginning to develop. The other painting by Denyer (far right in the installation shot) evokes night time sky and constellations, the dark ground at the lower edge suggesting ground as in ‘floor’, with one undefined colour/form anchored to it on the left hand side whilst another towards the top right appears to float. There is more directed accident in these two paintings than in Denyer’s more geometric works, but the landscape associations are a constant.

In the three paintings by Melanie Russell, the associations appear to be more about food, they look edible. Macaulay comments that they have some of the attractiveness of a sweet shop and I agree. We mean it only in a good way, but it could be taken to be a bad thing. I am reminded of my own thoughts towards a painting I was working on recently where the support was a chocolate box lid. We used to use the label “chocolate box”  to mean sweetly decorative, trivial or sickly. Russell seems to be playing with this in making paintings that are structured like a dessert.

Melanie Russell, Massive Meringue Pie, 2013, oil on panel, image by courtesy of Pluspace

Melanie Russell, Massive Meringue Pie, 2013, oil on panel, image by courtesy of Pluspace

Playful they may be, but they are not lacking in seriousness, operating perhaps as visual metaphors for the tension between indulgence and discipline, freedom vs control, unconscious vs conscious, or to use Stephen Gilligan‘s distinction, “essen” (to eat) and “fressen” (to pig out).

I wonder if these connect to a further distinction we could make in regard to abstract painting between the analogue and the digital. I think I have in mind something similar to David Sweet‘s “rough finish of 20th century canvases” vs ” the uninterrupted texture of photography and screen based media”. Whilst much of what is on show here seems to relate more to the former than to the latter I could speculatively suggest that there is at play an attempt to integrate the two. Might the title of one of Phoebe Mitchel’s paintings, Smoke Screen, even allude to this: the uninterrupted texture of the screen, itself a product of gestural ‘smoke’?

smoke screen

Phoebe Mitchell, Smoke Screen, 2013, oil on polyester. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

Her Untitled 2013, is even more nearly a monochrome than Smoke Screen, yet is itself comprised of multiple semi-transparent layers of colour. Sarah McNulty’s Green T, also very nearly moves into the territory of the monochrome yet, far from being unmodulated, is made up of circling gestures, similar to the whiting out of shop windows alluded to earlier.

Her Portrait II, like Joe Packer’s Vorticist. D. Baby, vaguely resembles a portraiture of sorts, taking me back to the quote with which I started, Hoyland saying that paintings, like people, are to be recognized rather than understood.

Rachel Macarthur’s four oil paintings on paper are informal, gestural, arriving-at-form in the process of paint application, and there is gesture and painterly dialogue in the three wonderful paintings by Karl Bielik. Bite has a trio of irregular white triangles that zig zag horizontally across the centre not unlike clothes on a washing line or bunting, their rhythm echoed by other more or less triangular shapes in green above and below, between them creating eccentric negative shapes that push forward, shifting alternately between figure and ground.

Karl Bielik, Spy, 2013, oil on panel. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

Karl Bielik, Spy, 2013, oil on panel. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

Spy looks like the support could once have been the lid of an old school desk, the hinges are still attached and the ground might be the distressed varnish upon which I imagine that Bielik has painted his main motif, a series of lozenge shapes in a net formation. I have the sense that I am looking through it to the picture plane and also looking through it to memories of lifting my school desk to create cover for an illicit conversation with a friend.

Meditating on paintings can elicit this kind of age regression, bringing to mind memories and associations that may have been long forgotten, and in this evocation of youth, amongst these new abstract paintings (all less than than three years old and most of them made in 2013) I get the impression that abstraction could still be in its infancy, as if Bielik’s Curtains that cleverly close the show also, at the same time suggest future openings.

Meditations is showing at Pluspace, The Meter Room, 58 -64 Corporation Street, Coventry, until 7 July 2013. (Open Friday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm or by appointment by emailing matthew@pluspace .com)

System Painting Construction Archive at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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A detour on my way home from a day’s work brings me once again to that wonderful informal space The Lion and Lamb Gallery, in the back room of a London pub, where I get to see System Painting Construction Archive, curated by Andrew Bick.

systems lion & lamb

Pint in hand, I view works by Andrew Bick, Stuart Elliot, Robert Holyhead, Clare Kenny, Maria Lalic, Karim Noureldin, David Rhodes, Cullinan Richards, Brandon Taylor, exhibited alongside a ‘museum’ of printed matter related to British Construction and Systems Art. In the gallery notes Bick explains that the artists were invited to “place their work alongside”, rather than respond directly to the archive.

Bick’s OGV (grid GW), does directly reference a Gillian Wise image shown in one of the vitrines, and acknowledged in the ‘GW’ of the title.

systems vitrine Andrew Bick OGV (grid GW)

Its presentation, straddling the corner of the room, less directly references the Russian Tradition via Malevich’s famous Black Square. That tradition clearly also having resonance for Maria Lalic who has been working with the monochrome for some time. Here in her  Sevres Blue Landscape Painting (Le Chemin de Sevres. Corot. C1855 – 65), she reintroduces the horizon line, but it is made by the joining of two monochromes, a lower one in brown and an upper one in blue. The non-objective is simultaneously posited and negated: two monochromes entirely abstract, yet it is impossible not to make landscape associations.

Clare Kenny’s Snow Blind appears also to toy with the propositions of ‘concrete’ and ‘representational’ . I think it is collaged from photographs of windows with blinds, the abstract lines and colours occupying my attention along with blotches or painterly stains, which could be read as ‘errors’ in the printing process, or possibly photographed (‘real’) snow flakes through a window pane. I am reminded of that old notion of painting as ‘a window on the world’, this particular ‘window’ being also physically blind-like, in that the paper support is folded, creating a material object that could function as a blind, obscuring the window.

The work by Cullinan Richards also has obscured ‘subject matter’. The title Paula Radcliffe in Disappointing 4th Place is taken from a newspaper article just showing towards the bottom edge of the piece. Possibly the newspaper was used to rest the art work on whilst it was being made and, getting stuck to it, it became an integral part by the end of the production process, almost as if the article became accidental content even whilst what was being constructed was rooted in the universal ‘content’ of the geometric.

cullinanrichards clarekenny brandontaylor

Brandon Taylor’s Painting for CB is a construction with coloured wood pieces stuck to a painted grey ground on canvas that reads like a painting.  I have the impression that the composition follows a rational formula but I can’t actually work it out. I find that I am counting the pieces, checking whether they are similar in shape and size and how many times each colour is repeated.

I am in a similar mode when looking at the paintings by David Rhodes and Stuart Elliot, attempting for example to work out in what order the lines in Rhodes’ 2.5.2013 (1) were masked and painted on the raw cotton duck. It’s an impressive painting that could have been executed in three sections, and even if it wasn’t I perceive it as comprising three informal ‘panels’, each with black and off-white lines in alternating directions, resulting in an overall “N” shape. It packs a punch, yet there is softness in the lines as a result of the way the paint has gently bled through the masking tape, and a richness of colour that is hidden by the description “black and white”. Likewise with Stuart Elliot’s Untitled (73), where blackboard paint has been applied to primed canvas before being stretched and the image, in so far as there is an image, looks to have been constructed by scumbling the paint over the bars of a wooden stretcher, creating impressions of the stretcher, not only at the edges but through the centre of the canvas, in numerous directions. Again, to say it is black and white would deny the subtlety and warmth of the colours that are nearer to warm greys on ochre.

In Robert Holyhead’s Untitled (yellow), a variegated yellow ground is interrupted by two, flatly painted, white triangular shapes reading as cut-outs, accompanied by a vertical line of a different yellow, running along the right hand edge branching out at top and bottom into two triangles causing the yellow of the ground to recede, and creating a lively ambiguous space.

The two beautiful drawings by Karim Noureldin, Evo (09-11040) and Evo (07-11009), both pencil on paper, look like a geometric starting point is being empirically explored or unfolded through a series or sequence. One of them has a central mass that could be a sculptural object in a space, whereas the other has a vertical zig zag, more rhythm than object.

noureldin

My attention alternates between wall and vitrine. I read texts on or by Jeffrey Steele, Gillian Wise, Charles Biederman, Anthony Hill, Kenneth Martin etc. and, wanting to turn the pages, I have the sense of a past that is locked, only partially accessible via faded documents, memory and influence, as if the works on the wall are familiarly connected to the archive material or they can be interpreted as having evolved from a “constructive context”, some more consciously connected to the base than others, like the system formula that eludes my attempt to discern it, or like Noureldin’s drawings wending their way through various permutations, continually repeating and changing, awareness of the past leading to an informed openness to an unknown future.

System.Painting. Construction. Archive is showing at Lion and Lamb Gallery until 15 June 2013, and there’s a talk on 8 June at 5pm.

An informal system

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Andy Parkinson, Net, 2013, acrylic and permanent marker on canvas, 24" x 24"

Andy Parkinson, Net, 2013, acrylic and permanent marker on canvas, 24″ x 24″

Written by Andy Parkinson

June 1, 2013 at 8:31 am

William Scott at the Hepworth, Wakefield

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Isn’t  there something about still lives, or nature morte, that corresponds to painting itself? Their near two-dimensionality, the synthetic arrangement and the stillness seems to echo the characteristics of a completed painting. And they are already in a way “abstract”, emptied of narrative and even of nature, in that it is dead. Only in their relationship to the viewer, often as anticipated meal, do they still live.

Perhaps this is what Scott had in mind when he said that they “convey nothing. There is no meaning to them at all but they are a means to making a picture” and that his paintings were abstract “as a still life by Chardin is abstract”.

CR_0151

William Scott, Still Life with Candlestick, 1949-50, Private Collection, Copyright 2013 estate of William Scott, Image by courtesy estate of William Scott and The Hepworth, Wakefield.

Yet, without meaning they are also full of meanings, the table being an ancient metaphor for social life, and in the New Testament, for the kingdom of God. Scott’s paintings, nearly all still lives, on show at the Hepworth Wakefield until 29 September, even at their most abstract evoke other experiences ‘outside of themselves’ often employing straight forward sexual symbolism as in Still Life with Candlestick, 1949-50.

A phallic symbol works by visual pun, it’s a double image, and Scott uses double images in other ways too, a primary reading of a painting often giving way to secondary or tertiary ones.  As well as the purely formal reading, a still life could also easily be interpreted as a landscape or a figure. The magnificent Blue Abstract, 1959, winner of the John Moores Painting Prize that year, is a good example of this, where the still life quickly gives way to the purely formal, and then evokes a landscape. In an earlier painting The Harbour , 1952,  the formal arrangement of lines and colours is primary for me, becoming a representation of a harbour, itself already a symbol of shelter and nurture, and then becoming a reclining figure, recalling the bathing figure in Bonnard’s The Bath, of which Scott painted his own version, entitled White Reclining Nude, in 1956.

The Harbour, 1952

William Scott, The Harbour, 1952, Tate, Copyright 2013 estate of William Scott, Image by courtesy estate of William Scott and The Hepworth Wakefield

At the Hepworth show it is easy to see how the scale and simplification of the image increases through Scott’s career, almost always keeping the referent content of still life, figure or landscape, yet becoming increasingly abstract and universal.

William Scott, White, Sand and Ochre, 1960-1

William Scott, White, Sand and Ochre, 1960-1, Tate, copyright 2013 estate of William Scott, image by courtesy of the estate of William Scott and The Hepworth Wakefield.

Paintings like White, Sand and Ochre, and Still Life with Orange Note, as well as one of Scott’s latest paintings Orange Segments, remind me of the way that ‘pure’ colours refer to the outside world even in the names we give to them, and I experience a moment of confusion: “is orange a colour or a fruit?”

William Scott, Still Life with Orange Note, 1970

William Scott, Still Life with Orange Note, 1970, Collection Ulster Museum, National Museums Northern Ireland, copyright 2013 estate of William Scott, Image by courtesy of the estate of William Scott and The Hepworth Wakefield

I wonder if the more abstract they become the more they invite multiple references, but increasingly ambiguous, subjective ones. Patrick Heron referred to Scott’s work as an “intensely personal amalgam of the figurative and non-figurative” and Herbert Read said that in Scott’s more abstract work he found “a sensuousness and a potency of evocation that I find completely seductive”. Isn’t this what happens with abstraction, and the modernist search for the universal? The more universal the image, the more particulars can be projected onto it. For me, the legacy of modernism that remains urgent is the form or process and content distinction, as well as the recognition of how easily the distinction breaks down, because form is always content at the next higher logical level. The content “an orange”, at  at the next logical level is “a colour contained in a circle” in other words form, but at the next logical level that circular colour becomes content.

The most abstract paintings here are the ones from Scott’s Berlin Blues series, for me the highlight of the show, the blue forms becoming almost pure rhythm especially when each individual painting is seen as part of the larger whole of the series, (effectively achieved in the marvelous space of the Hepworth), blues pulsating against the whites of the ground creating after images that reverberate with the overall rhythm. Here, the associations are with music and dance, despite Scott’s denial that the blues of the title made any reference to “The Blues” explaining that it was named after the blue paint he discovered whilst in Berlin.

In this room and throughout the exhibition, the serial aspect of Scott’s method shows through, too much improvisation and imperfection to be systematic  but certainly series, according to Scott every one of his paintings was related to the one before either as a “continuation of a previous painting or… a reaction against it” and I get a strong sense of that here at the Hepworth. It is a wonderful exhibition and a timely reminder of the brilliance of Scott’s oeuvre.

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