Posts Tagged ‘constructivism’
Although to speak about silence is to risk obscuring the very experience one might wish to elucidate, to keep silent is to risk it going unappreciated. I feel similarly about the wonderful exhibition(s) currently on show at Annely Juda Fine Art. I will be careful not to say too much, but I must say something. I will keep quiet about the wonderful space on the fourth floor with a skylight that is perfect for viewing the new paintings by Edwina Leapman, and say nothing about the beauty of the works in the Line and Circle exhibition on floor three. It’s ages since I saw Naum Gabo‘s linear constructions and constructions in space, and I had forgotten just how captivating they are. Was it in the 70s that there was a big show of these somewhere and we spent ages peering at tiny constructions in glass cabinets and glass covered plinths? And whilst looking, really looking (the response that Gabo achieves so consistently, not just for me, everyone seems to be studying so intently) it is silence that accompanies us.
So, I shan’t say a thing about the amazing paintings here by Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart (an artist only recently brought to my attention by Terry Greene in a recent blog post), Composition N. 204, 1944/5, demanding silent contemplative viewing, like the Max Bill painting pura III, modest in size at just over a foot square, and containing almost no detail, the space divided in half down the centre and each half being divided diagonally from upper left to lower right resulting in four triangles, two in a colour approaching indigo and two in green, also resembling a zig-zag or ‘W/M ‘shape.
Impossible to determine which form is figure and which is ground, it shifts continually, from green figure against blue ground to blue figure with green ground, the colour relationship between them seeming somehow to be just right, as if there was such a thing as “correct”. Motion is arrested as I fix my attention on this object/image. It’s not just that the experience is a silent one, it’s more that the painting is the visual equivalence of silence: shifting, dependent on our perception of it, between presence and absence.
The other, much larger, Max Bill painting on show here, rotation around expanding white, a brightly coloured diagonally oriented canvas, equally interesting, seems a little ‘noisier’. Perhaps it’s all that visual excitation. Similarly with the marvelous painting by Kenneth Martin from his Chance, Order, Change series: although quietude continues to attend my viewing, it seems slightly ‘noisier’ somehow than pura III; It has a ‘buzz’ about it. Based on preliminary drawings, this series of paintings is highly programmatic and yet incorporates chance, which defines the position of the lines and their sequence. The points of intersection on a grid of squares are numbered and the numbers written on cards which are then picked at random. A line is made between each successive pair of numbers. I am unsure how the colours are determined but I think I am right in saying that where a line has been crossed by another its colour is changed.
It’s a lively painting, and I am enjoying seeing it here in this room along with others that share with Martin an affinity with the tradition of constructivism (some more some less so: Ben Nicholson, Antony Caro, Josef Albers, Laszlo Moholoy- Nagy, Naum Gabo, Kazimir Malevich and Olga Rozanova ). I am also aware that it belongs in a series and I would like to see more of the series to place it within it’s own more specific context. But most of all I am enjoying the dialogue that this painting seems to invite me into. Perhaps that’s why I say its a noisier painting than some of the others: here I am talking to it about the process followed for its own production.
On the fourth floor Edwina Leapman‘s paintings also encourage thoughts about the process of making them, and the series context is also present: 15 paintings all made in 2012, all of two colours with a ground on which is drawn a sequence of horizontal lines. I have the impression that on each line the brush is loaded with paint and the paint deposited along the line until the brush is empty and then re-loaded to recommence on the line below. It looks as if the position of the line has been determined beforehand but the way the painted line looks is determined only by the process of drawing the brush across the coloured canvas.
In some of the paintings the ground and the line colour contrasts in hue and sometimes they match, but they are generally closely matched in tone. Although I feel drawn into that conversation about process, and even more so having seen the Max Bill painting pura III and wanting to compare and contrast them, they do then bid me to become silent again as I view.
They have amazing optical qualities, that must be ‘simply’ the result of the colour and close tonal relationships. That so much sensation can arise from so little intervention I find surprising, also that each painting has a distinct character of its own, vastly different from the others whilst in structure being entirely similar.
It’s true that appreciating these is something more for experience than for words, and also that their visual charge ( I want to say power but that suggests something much more brash and not ambiguous enough for these) is extremely difficult to put into words. So I will cease my speaking and continue to look on in silence.
Edwina Leapman New Paintings is showing until 28 March and Line and Circle until 23 March.
I had the idea for this tetractys when I was working at Wallacespace on Duke Street, St Pancras
I was clearing away the marker pens after the day’s work when I noted this sequence of colours: yellow + blue = green, complementary = red, adjacent to orange made by adding yellow, complementary = purple. I made a sketch that same day and then during the next few days completed a version in acrylic and marker pen on acrylic paper, currently on display at First Come First Served at The Lion and Lamb Gallery. More recently I painted the version shown above, on board using narrower lines (possibly too narrow).
(The photo has a slight red cast due to the direct sunlight. My fairly good camera has a limitation of having automatic white balance only.)
In numerous train journeys over the last few weeks I have enjoyed reading that collection of texts edited by Stephen Bann entitled The Tradition of Constructivism. The final chapter: The Constructivist Idea in the Postwar World 1948 -65, in many ways already seems ‘old’, perhaps because it just pre-dates the onslaught of postmodernism. Reading Charles Biederman reminds me of reading Alfred Korzybski, (I hadn’t realised until reading Bann’s collection that Biederman was so influenced by Korzybski): even though the texts are relatively recent (1940s) they seem somehow outdated both in the writing style, and to some degree in the content. I found the text by Victor Vasarely from 1965 only slightly less so. Could anyone writing today confidently assert that “the art-idea is abandoning its centuries old mists to flourish in the sunlight in the immense modern network that is being woven around the globe”?
In spite of its obvious outdatedness I did enjoy reading it, and a couple of passages keep coming back to me:
In 1955 I defined the principle of the identity of two concepts which until then had been separated: that of form and that of color. Henceforth form-color: 1 = 2, 2 = 1, constitutes the plastic unity. The unity is composed of two constants: the kernel “form” and its complement that surrounds it: the square “background”. Apart from its “biform” aspect, the Unity necessarily possesses a “bicolor” aspect which is harmonious or contrasting at the same time as positive-negative. Being thus contradictory, the resolved unity is a pure dialectical synthesis.
Why did I choose the square plastic unit? Because the square is the pre-eminent element in architecture. If I say square, I also say tiling or prefabricated wall…
I have written before about two approaches to making an abstract painting. We could call one of them ‘dialogical’: the artist enters a conversation with the materials in a state of ‘not knowing’ or with only a vague idea of what s/he is going to paint. The process becomes one of responding to previous ‘moves’, most of the decisions about the work being made during its production. The other strategy is pre-planned, with decisions being made before any paint is applied to a support. If the first is in danger of becoming ‘automatic writing’ the second may suffer from being too predictable. Perhaps they correspond to what Michael Kidner referred to as “the gestural approach”, which to him seemed “foreign to Western tradition” and lacked the possibility to develop, as opposed to the “preconceived image” which he thought “seems contrived”. Instead of either he proposed an empiricism of “imagery through optics” stating that “whereas a painting conceived in two colours can fairly easily be predicated in the mind’s eye, the addition of a third colour makes this impossible. The work necessarily becomes empirical.”
At Michael Kidner, Dreams of the World Order – Early Paintings at Flowers Gallery until 20 October 2012, this empiricism is evidenced in the relationship between paintings shown in the downstairs galleries and between those paintings and the wonderful (preparatory?) works on paper that are shown upstairs.
The exhibition explores four of Kidner’s sub-themes: After Image, Stripe, Moirè and Wave, described in the catalogue as “progressive experiments with optical effects and rational procedures, inspired by his preoccupation with how space, pattern and form function” and explaining that “a year after Kidner’s death in 2009, a number of rolled up paintings were discovered in his Hampstead Hill Gardens studio. These have now been re-united with this iconic body of work”. Many of the works on view in this exhibition are being shown for the first time.
It is a real treat being able to see them together, and to discover that some of the works on paper are double-sided (thank you to the show’s curator Amie Conway for demonstrating this).
One of the paintings I am particularly impressed by today is Circle after Image, 1959-60. Seeing an after image presented simultaneously below the image is a strange contradiction, the equivalent of an oxymoron like “objectively subjective”, and caught in this contradiction I am made aware of the temporal dimension of viewing a painting, and of vision in general. The after image is there represented by the artist yet as I view it, after about 20 seconds, I cannot help but project my own after image of the upper half of the canvas into the lower half.
I feel sure that Slavoj Zizek had something different in mind when he said that the ethical duty of the modern artist is to confront us with “not objective reality but the objectively subjective” though it does seem to apply. It is almost as if there is a double constructivism at play here, the paintings themselves being situated within that tradition, that also produce a keen awareness in the viewer of the part s/he plays in constructing visual reality.
Seeing the smaller after image paintings on paper in the upstairs gallery gives an insight into Kidner’s empirical working method, yet I hesitate to label them ‘preparatory’ because they provide specific experiences that are similar but different to the larger painting, and highly interesting and enjoyable in their own right.
A painting for which I find no preparatory works, unless perhaps it should be grouped in the “towards moire” category is Raindrops, 1960, a wonderfully chaotic yet finely ordered painting.
The clear circular motif seems to break down on prolonged viewing, and then as I notice the complementary coloured squares I realise that this too is based on after images, and indeed the ‘figures’ becoming unstable is in part due to my own after images that the painting provokes. There is also a small painting on paper entitled Moving Green from this same period that explores a similar theme. The after images do seem to pulsate and to move and there is also something ‘moving’ (in the emotional sense) about seeing them. I note my involuntary sigh that signals a change of state as I look at these beautiful paintings, yet my cognitive mind is an equal partner in the experience.
To my mind the work in this exhibition is proof, if proof were needed, that a rational, systematic (empirical rather than pre-conceived) approach to abstraction can result in works that are both emotionally charged and intellectually interesting. It could even be said that Kidner combines the opposing traditions of expressionism and constructivism. Although he criticised abstract expressionism for its “assault on the unconscious” there is something of Rothko’s feeling for colour in these paintings. Yet there is no mysticism or ‘spirituality’ here, even though there is Grace in the sense of the term that (following Aldous Huxley) systems thinker Gregory Bateson used of “integrating conscious and unconscious minds”.
(All images by courtesy of Flowers Gallery. My Zizek quote is taken from How to Read Lacan, chapter 4, my Bateson quote is taken from Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Part II and all my Kidner quotes are taken from the exhibition catalogue.)
I wish I had seen the Natalie Dower exhibition Line of Enquiry at the Eagle Gallery in May. I became interested in her work after seeing the wonderful Fast track Through 44 points, at Lion & Lamb Gallery in June.
Well, I did the next best thing and bought a copy of the book that accompanied the show, published by EMH Arts London, 2012, with a preface by Mel Gooding and a text by Alan Fowler. I am enjoying it a lot.
Here’s a link to a summary with images at Abstract Critical, where in comments Alan Fowler says:
I find it fascinating that Dower – together with, among others, Jeffrey Steele, Peter Lowe and Gillian Wise – continue to carry into the 21st century an approach to abstraction which was prefigured 100 years ago by Kandinsky when he wrote in 1912 that he foresaw a time when the relationship between elements in a painting could “be expressed in mathematical form”, and concluded that “the time was approaching “when the painter would be proud to declare his work constructive
I also found this interesting podcast of an interview with Dower in relation to her paintings/constructions in the Government Art Collection. She comments on her artistic background, the notion of systems art, the Fibonacci sequence and the Dudeney Dissection. (It becomes clear that the interviewer is herself an artist, but I don’t know who it is.)
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.
I couldn’t resist painting eight ‘identical’ diptychs (twins) and joining them together, because each new aggregation seemed to supply new information, even though all that was happening was a process of repetition. Sixteen 6″ x 6″ stretchers painted and joined together (it is physically rather heavy). It reminds me of Engels‘ (I think it was him) assertion that quantitive change, at some point, becomes qualitative change.
It requires some attention, and (in my opinion) rewards prolonged viewing. As I look at it new forms seem to suggest themselves as previous ones fall away, shifting and oscillating. As viewers, we will be constructing different forms at different times, though we are likely to agree on the various permutations that are ‘out there’ or rather ‘in here’. It is a construction in more ways than one.
Is it just me, or is there something thoroughly optimistic about the pattern I have been working with, once it is constructed in these colours?
“One of the most intriguing things about models is that once a valid correspondence has been set up between the subject and its image, the model may reveal aspects of the subject not obvious to direct consideration…A diagram may be used as an empirical tool for discovering new properties in some conceptual structure”.
Far from mechanically repeating a pre-existent concept or structure, constructivism can be in a real sense a technique of discovery – a source of new knowledge through aesthetic response to the material object.
Thank you Artista for bringing my attention to the Lygia Pape exhibition Magnetized Space currently showing at the Serpentine Gallery, until 19 February 2012. Although you don’t seem to much like the show you say that the work Livro do Tempo (or the Book of Time) is the highlight for you. What a highlight! I must admit to being new to this work and now really keen to go and see it.
Here’s a short video of Adrian Searle discussing Pape’s work in general, and Livro do Tempo in particular.