Posts Tagged ‘aesthetics’
My twin brother Robert is a Baptist minister and he writes a church blog on WordPress. Recently he reviewed the Jonathan Sacks book The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning. No prizes for guessing it is about Science and Religion.
In it Sacks argues that science and religion need each other. Like the left and right sides of the brain, science and religion provide different modes of engagement with the world. They are separate but complementary. ‘Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.’
I haven’t read the book myself, and I don’t know if I agree with the point being made. What interested me was the idea of ‘searching for meaning’. I have the impression that searching for meaning, or attempting to make sense of the world, is a what makes looking at abstract paintings pleasurable, and I think this was one of the points that Jane Raymond made at her talk From Seeing to Feeling: What does the Human Brain Do When it Looks at Paintings? that I attended at Mostyn Gallery in May. Is it a ‘lower level’ of searching for meaning I have in mind perhaps, along the lines of Pattern detection?
I think I am correct to distinguish between levels of search, similar to the levels of abstraction implied in the distinction between two meanings of the verb ‘to feel’ 1) physical feel, touch and 2) emotional feeling (possibly Virginia Satir would identify that as ‘a feeling about a feeling’) or like John Grinder‘s distinction between f1 and f2 filters, where f1 filters are pre-linguistic, the filtering that takes place at the point of perception and f2 filters are linguistic, taking place after the percept has been apprehended.
I love it when that Turps Banana hits my door mat. I know that I am in for a treat of looking at good reproductions of interesting paintings, reading thought-provoking articles and interviews and then pondering on it all for ages afterwards. Sorry, if I am sounding like an advert. I just can’t help being a big fan.
In issue 11 there are two interviews, or conversations, that I am particularly enjoying, with two very different abstract painters: Katharina Grosse and Jeffrey Steele, the interviewers being Peter Dickinson and Katrina Blannin respectively. Dickinson opens with a statement about abstraction, which leads to a discussion about different definitions, Grosse saying ” I am not an abstract painter any more” where abstraction is understood to be “abstracting from or generating a residue of something seen”. Dickinson proposes a contemporary definition, where it is “the process of thinking and action” the resultant product being a record of that process. Clearly, the paintings/installations of Katarina Grosse come into this category, and so do the paintings of Jeffrey Steele, though the products of these two artists seem poles apart. There is something at least apparently subjective and random in the Grosse paintings in contrast to the mathematical and systems orientation of the Steele paintings, and Blannin does a great job of teasing out the origins, rationale and methods of his approach.
Neither interview is “easy” and both provoke as many questions as they answer (in a twitter exchange with painter Dean Melbourne on the morning we opened our copies of the Turps we acknowledged that our initial response was to feel a bit thick) which I think is what a good journal is meant to do.
Two paintings I want to see again are Natalie Dower‘s Fast Track Through 44 Points and Metan by Chris Baker. Both paintings seem to position themselves in a continuing relation to Modernism, as opposed to a break with it, and I guess this may be true of all of the paintings on show here. Maybe this is to state the obvious, it’s abstract art after all. But Modernism breaks down into a number of traditions even when we are within the general term ‘abstraction’.
Chris Baker seems to draw from many of those traditions, and I am not always entirely sure that they are ‘abstract’ as figurative elements sometimes find their way in, though not so with Metan. Is the title Old English? Others of his titles are similar. Could it be that the paintings reference an outmoded language, one that has lost its original meaning and can be plundered now for new ones?
It “draws from” quite literally, the lines seem excavated from a less than unified ground, or alternatively it is created by filling in the negative spaces allowing the linear structure to emerge. It is double in that it presents a strong figure/ground contrast, the light lattice like structure being figure against the dark ‘background’ that is actually ‘foreground’. It is also double in terms of the divided space, the structure bisecting the canvas down and across the middle (more or less) as well as in numerous other ways. The structure looks arrived at through trial and error, like a form trying to get out of the otherwise monochrome surface, and in getting out it bends the space, so that the bottom half recedes, giving the appearance of horizontality, whereas the top half extends upwards giving a vertical appearance. The bottom half of the structure could be the shadow of the top half if the lines corresponded, which they don’t so that interpretation is discarded, but then it reasserts itself, only to be discarded, it’s a cycle, a system, in a way.
I situate Natalie Dower’s paintings within the tradition of Constructivism and more specifically Systems art. One of the many things I appreciate about that approach is the unpredictable and un-work-out-able results that can be generated by logical means, or a pre-determined path. The great systems thinker Gregory Bateson’s question: “What pattern connects the crab to the oyster and the orchid to the primrose and all the four of them to me, and me to you?” seems to resonate with Dower’s aesthetic investigations, based as they are on the abstract pattern that connects all things. Mel Gooding recently said of her: “Like her ‘Systems’ comrades, Dower has worked in the knowledge that all nature – from the spiralling mechanics of the galaxies to the growth of a snail’s shell and the branching of a plum-tree – is governed by mathematical rules”. So when I look at the wonderful Fast track Through 44 points, I know that it is ordered by mathematical rules, I just don’t quite know what they are.
I approach it a bit like I might a puzzle, attempting to work out what is going on, except that I don’t care much for puzzles whereas I do care a lot for this painting and paintings of this kind. Possibly the title helps to solve it, though it could be a diversion. I am sure that the organisation of the line and points through which it passes as it journeys about the surface is not random, but I am unable to determine the rules for it. As I study the construction I feel sure that the ordering principle is staring me in the face but I just can’t see it. I realise that this may be saying a lot more about me and my slowness to catch on, than about the painting! Again the ‘figures’ (the bars and lines) look like they are the consequence of filling in the spaces with black, so that it is difficult to decide which are the positive and which the negative shape, though I think we would agree that we read the black as space and the lighter tones as structure, until we don’t. The support is shaped, therefore some of the bars are ‘real’ rather than drawn. I like the difference between the constructed edges and the drawn edges, and that the image extends beyond the confines of the square, confounding its identity as image and asserting its constructed-ness.
These are wonderful things to view, and I am looking forward to making another visit soon.
The other artists in this exhibition are: Dominic Beattie / Isha Bøhling / Ian Bottle / Katrina Blannin/ Alice Browne / Simon Callery / Keith Coventry / Tom Hackney / Jumpei Kinoshita / Hannah Knox / John McLean/ Sarah McNulty / Neil Mendock / Mali Morris/ Jost Münster / Selma Parlour / Geoffrey Rigden / Dan Roach / Danny Rolph / David Ryan / Estelle Thompson / Julian Wakelin.
Today’s drawing is better than yesterday’s. Each line more accurately intersects the previous intersection than did yesterday’s. Also I maintained control of what I was doing, whereas yesterday I ‘lost the plot’ (using a rule makes a big difference). Today the drawing was finished only when I seemed to run out of spaces to divide: a natural conclusion.
Yet the doesn’t the worse drawing seem to have more energy? I like it more than the better one, which seems worse for being better. I guess it all depends on what criteria I am applying.
Apparently Tomma Abts consider her paintings to be finished when they are congruent with themselves.
Here’s something I am working on. I think it is a heightened incongruence I am looking for.
If I have a favourite artist it is Sean Scully. I remember once visiting Tate Modern with a friend, and in the time it took him to see everything in there I had viewed only the three Scullys that were on show. I was literally mesmerised by them. For me, the type of naturally occurring trance state, or reverie, that Franz Anton Mesmer (re)discovered is just the kind of experience provoked by many of Scully’s paintings. Whilst in some ways all aesthetic experience comes into the category of naturally occurring trance, (or if you prefer ‘flow’ state), the work by Sean Scully seems particularly to put me there.
You could imagine that a gallery might be a good place to find time for contemplation. .. unless it is such a gigantic space that walking past the art becomes the norm.
Surely he is right about abstraction, it does require contemplation and time, and isn’t it also the case that it rewards the time and contemplation given to it. That is certainly my experience with Scully’s paintings, even the early, minimalist-leaning work.
In Turps Banana, the interview is supplemented by some excellent reproductions, all of early work. I have come to like the more recent Wall of Light series (like the one in my photograph above, taken at Centre Pompidou) so much that I had forgotten how powerful some of the early works are. Soft Ending 1969, for example, seems to have an opticality that is understated or resisted in the later work. The development of Scully’s oeuvre could be read as an increasing emphasis on the physicality and objecthood of painting. Of course that physicality includes the optical much as it could also be seen as a container for the spiritual. Scully talks a lot about the spiritual in art, but I don’t remember him defining what he means by it. What he says in Turps Banana about contemplation and time possibly hints at a way of viewing that approaches spirituality in the sense of meditation.
The new issue of Turps Banana also includes interviews with, or articles about painters such as, Tomma Abts, Christopher P. Wood, Che Lovelace, Gavin Lockheart, René Daniëls and Rose Wylie.
Check out this post at Abstraction Blog with some good photos of three new Scully paintings at his current show at Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, and a link to itunes where you can download Turps Banana.
There is something awkward about the paintings of Rose Wylie, and it’s part of what is so appealing about them. In Issue Ten of Turps Banana, Jeff McMillan interviews the artist (actually, it’s more like a conversation than an interview). He says to her “…your work has a kind of awkwardness” and she answers “Well, I am awkward really”. The awkwardness of the work comes from the artist’s own awkwardness, and I think I respond favourably to it as a viewer because I am also awkward really. Is it just me, or do we often find ourselves in situations where we don’t quite know how to act or what to say? In those moments we find that we lack grace, or ease of movement. Of course, we learn to overcome it, we become comfortable and the ease of movement returns, we no longer feel awkward in that situation. One of the things I like about Rose Wylie’s paintings is that they seem to keep you in that slightly uncomfortable experience.
I am not quite sure what to make of the painting. It isn’t beautiful, or sublime is it? It is slightly ugly, and that’s equally in the subject matter and in the paint handling. I think that’s a way of saying that it is well observed. The form is congruently related to the content. In the Turps Banana interview she says “I hate elegance… I like ducks”.
(The new issue of Turps Banana also carries, among other things, articles about Sean Scully, René Daniëls, Christopher P. Wood, Che Lovelace, Gavin Lockheart and Tomma Abts.)