Walking along Long Row East in Nottingham you will find a series of ten decorative tile squares, each square is 20″ x 20″ and is based on a 5 x 5 matrix.
I made this walk in May 2012 and I have been thinking about the tiles as paintings since then. My series of ten ‘scale models’, 20 x 20 cm canvases, will be included in Geometry, Wonky & Otherwise at DEDA from 3 September to 7 November.
FREE launch event on Thursday 10 September from 6.30pm.
Geometry Wonky & Otherwise, Déda, 03 Sep 2015 – 07 Nov 2015
Curated by David Manley
Nine artists show how geometric shapes still inform and delight modern painters, creating vibrant works which suggest that one hundred years on abstraction is alive and kicking.
Whilst some of the paintings are pin sharp and disciplined, others play fast and loose with the shapes. Artists from across the UK join those from Derby and Nottingham in a selection of emerging and established names in a lively survey of what abstract painters are up to nowadays.
Featuring Andrew Bracey, Lucy Cox, Louisa Chambers, Terry Greene, David Manley, Andrew Parkinson, Richard Perry, Marion Piper and Sarah R Key.
FREE launch event on Thursday 10 September from 6.30pm
Summer Mix at Turps Banana Gallery is their first salon-style summer show. I am delighted to be included in such company. The artists are as follows.
Jessie Browne, Rose Davey, Carlos David, Dan Davis, Matthew Draper, Stuart Elliot, Louise Evans, James Fisher, Kirsten Glass, Kate Groobey, Lewis Henderson, Sam Herbert, Günther Herbst, Reece Jones, Richard Kirwan, Hannah Knox. Rachel Levitas, Wendy McLean, Mali Morris, Andy Parkinson, Katie Pratt, Dan Roach, David Ryan, Kate Shepherd, Marianne Shorten, Damian Taylor, Alaena Turner, Joan Waltemath, Simon Willems, Mela Yerka, Neil Zakiewicz
My own little painting comprises two 12″ x 12″ canvases, a duo, or perhaps even better, a double or twins, as one is identical to the other, in terms of the process used for dividing each square. One of the things that interests me when the two are presented side by side, almost adjoined, is that what was edge becomes centre. The yellow line that, as edge, was almost unnoticeable, as centre becomes quite prominent.
At the centre of the exhibition, and quite prominent, is a wonderful Richard Kirwan painting, Frame of Reference. It is as disorienting as it is strident, with flat dayglow colours arranged in bands, supporting white stencilled asterisks that appear to rotate. There’s a strange spatial thing going on but with absolutely no attempt to depict a place where something happens. There’s no picture here, but some of the asterisk shapes are closer to me than others, which seem more to recede, especially when comparing a set of asterisks on a different band of the same colour. I am looking now on the fifth row down in the central black band and comparing the two asterisks there with the two on black in the row above, quite a deep space seems to open up between the two sets. And this keeps happening as I look at other parts of the painting too. So there’s the illusion of movement and the illusion of space yet no illusionary scene within which a narrative might develop.
Crossings (Red), by Mali Morris, a smaller, slower painting, less strident than the Kirwan, has a rich overall red quality to it, even the yellow that acts as a ground for criss-crossing red lines seems to have red beneath it, shining through. If for a moment, we perceive the yellow ground as negative space then the lines that zig-zag, one horizontally, and one vertically, are positive figures, above or in front of it. However, the yellow pushes forward, no longer content to be ground, it seeks to become figure, and my reading of the space becomes more complex. Losing my initial sense of lines traversing a flat ground, I now perceive the yellow rectangle at bottom right to be way in front of the one diagonally opposite, but only long enough for the spatial relationships to shift again, so that the converse is now true. I am also becoming more aware of the fleshy pinky-orangey-red shape on the right hand edge pulling spatially forward of the crossing lines, suggesting that it may be part of another larger shape, which is itself obscured by the canvas edge, similar to the way in which edges sometimes crop figures in snap-shot photography. (There’s a lot more to be said about this delightful painting, which I hope to find time for at a later date.)
Whilst I think it unlikely that Morris is deliberately connecting to photography, there are other works here that may have a more direct link, such as Damian Taylor’s Untitled (in), which reproduces the inside of the metal support he uses to paint on, like a photocopy of the inside of a stretcher. The work takes the form of a white monochrome, very nearly a picture of nothing, a representation of itself in its blank state. Based on information from Taylor’s website, (rather than from sensory evidence I must admit, even though I am looking directly at the work), I think it is a resin cast of the inside of a folded metal tray. I can see smudges and incidental hand prints or dirt marks, and not much else. Is it a painting, a sculpture or a print? And are all paintings all three of these anyway? What, to begin with, looked very slight now becomes complex, first intellectually and then, as a result, visually. I do think it is that way around in this work. Though either way it is a fascinating piece, and I am totally intrigued by it.
There are other monochromes here too: Louise Evans’ Untitled (Russet), and possibly Stuart Elliot’s Untitled, may be best thought of in this category, as may Rose Davey’s Untitled pair of paintings and Dan Roach’s meticulously painted Homebound, which is not a monochrome in the sense of a potentially imageless coloured surface, but rather in the sense that there is one colour, white, on an unprimed canvas support. Here, overlapping layers of natural hexagonal cells, reminiscent of a wasp nest, create a swirling circular movement that becomes a vortex, deepening spatially the more I view it. In Rose Davey’s double painting each panel presents a blue rectangle bounded by a brown band, as if the blue were mounted on the brown. At first appearance the two panels are identical. However, like seeing twins and only gradually perceiving the differences, I start to notice that the two blues are not the same. It is actually Katrina Blannin who points out to me the possible changes in hue, yet it remains unclear to us whether it is simply that the frames are of different browns, one being nearer to yellow the other being nearer to violet, thereby creating different experiences of the “same” blue or whether in fact the two blues are physically different. My money is on the frames alone being different.
David Ryan’s Set 2 (c) also seems to have some doubling going on, this time within the one painting, in the repetition of rectangles that occupy different spaces, one in lime green, one in yellow ochre and one in white, as well as the containing rectangle of the support. The green appears to be an opaque “outer” whereas the ochre houses some internal happening or other, stage like in appearance, almost like a play within a play.
There is contrast in the ways in which different parts are painted: scumbled brushstrokes or gestural rhythms differentiating themselves from areas of flat matt colour. The more clearly delineated rectangles cluster towards the top left quadrant of the painting, almost in conflict with the unformed-ness of the rest of the canvas, “we three against the world”.
James Fisher’s painting may look abstract, with geometric shapes in a non literal pictorial space. However, it contains clear representational elements, a fan, or a stairway, along with architectural cubes, suggestive of a fortress or castle ramparts alongside the natural geometry of plants, or animals, sponges perhaps and what could resemble a sea creature, at first I am thinking coral, then even a brain a heart or some other internal organ. There is imagery, and possibly some narrative that is hinted at, evoked, but only ambiguously described, rather like in a dream, or a song or a poem. The work is named after the traditional Irish folk song Eileen Aroon. Could it be that a painting may evoke in a similar way to a song, and yet also be less fleeting, more fixed, possibly maintaining a beauty that does not fade?
When, like the dawning day
Love sends his early ray
What makes his dawning glow
Changeless through joy and woe
Only the constant know
Were she no longer true
What would her lover do
Fly with a broken chain
Far o’er the bounding main
Never to love again
Youth must in time decay
Beauty must fade away
Castles are sacked in war
Chieftains are scattered far
Truth is a fixed star
Summer Mix is on at Turps Banana Gallery until 15 August, opening times Fridays and Saturdays 12-6pm
On the final day of the Generator exhibition, Duncan Brennan from Kaleidoscope Gallery, posed a few questions for discussion by the artists. Here is an attempt at recovering some of the conversation from notes. I wasn’t actually there. Think of it as an exercise in constructed memory. I have also taken the liberty of adding some thoughts of my own. I think that the questions alone are generative enough to be worth a post.
DB: How would you define the type of work in this exhibition?
HH: It is work that is created by using a mathematical or logical system
CP (from the exhibition introduction): artwork that is by nature ‘generative’, created once an artist cedes control to an external system or set of rules. The artwork thus results not from the wholly instinctive decisions of the artist, but is formed by objective rules or logical instructions that shape its process or material outcome.
DB: Can you talk about some of the defining characteristics of generative work?
AP: In his 2010 paper Program, be Programmed or Fade Away: Computers and the Death of Constructivist Art, Richard Wright summarises Kenneth Martin’s division of systematic work into three types : 1) the completely predefined system which once set in motion can generate work independently of any further input from the artist. 2) a system that may be initially predefined but is then constantly altered through feedback, bringing into contact with other systems, the ‘program’ thereby being written in conjunction with the work itself. 3) the system which builds up from a primary act without any previous planning, like a self propelled aggregation of logical steps. The works in Generator may be closest to the first of these three definitions.
DB: What makes this different to other forms of abstraction, such as constructivism?
AP: I think it is situated within the Constructivist tradition, though that historical moment has passed. British Constructionist and Systems Group artists saw the need to abandon its utopianism and showed how art could be generated by a numerical or mathematical system. It is different from expressionism, which has been another strand within abstraction.
HH: Constructivism was /is a more political form of creation. Generative art has its own roots, the methodology and interpretatons are unique to the individual
DB: Would you agree that rules need to be constructive rather than restrictive?
HH: Everything in the world is generated by rules. Painting a landscape has rules that govern the outcome of what will be a recognisable presentation. Working in the constraints of rules or systems allows the artist to interpret data and input in many ways. I use a system at work which plots the movement of the railways in graphic representation. I use the variations in the programme to generate some of my own work, the patterns vary according to the input in spite of the fact that the system itself is governed or regulated by a computer.
DB Can a computer make art?
HH: A computer can make extremely complex patterns/can create algorithmic sequences , it cannot make emotional decisions as to what looks good. That is down to human preference. I/we make sequences based on numerical systems, something working within the grid. Patrick created several works that generated themselves: a module was sent into rotation within a grid, in a concentric spiral and each module had a graphic relationship or difference to the positioning of the the other. However, because of the repetitive nature of the system, repeating aggregations became apparent, appearing almost at random within the matrix, i.e. the formation of pattern. This could then be sampled and magnified into groups and in turn, work was made from tha , a sort of generative mechanism or device to generate pattern.
JI: Yes, computers can make art but humans make computers. The computer is just a tool. An algorithm, performed by a computer, is just a mirror of a set of processes condensed in time and space. It is in this compression that the art lies.
AP: Your question reminds me of a story told by that great systems thinker Gregory Bateson, of a computer programmer in the days of big mainframe computing, who wanted to know about mind in his private large computer. He asked it, “Do you compute that you will ever think like a human being?” The machine then set to work to analyse its own computational habits. Finally, the machine printed the answer ticker tape style, as such machines used to do. The programmer ran to get the answer and found, neatly typed, the words: THAT REMINDS ME OF A STORY”.
DB: Has the computer changed the focus of generative art? Is the computer to generative art what the camera was to representational art?
JI: Good question and there’s probably the same analogue relationship between the computer and generative work, and the camera’s photographic image. It’s not that simple though. Using the computer is just one way of working generatively. It isn’t definitive of generative art.
HH: Human beings create programs by which the computer will create images, but the camera can only record the image which can then be manipulated both outside of the camera and electronically inside. The human brain has always generated images and pattern forming/art. The computers is a tool not a focus, as is the camera for human imagination.
AP: I have my doubts about that little word “just”, as much as I do also about the idea of the computer as a tool. It seems to me that the computer, and indeed technology more generally, gets characterised as just a tool to make it seem smaller than us and in our control, like a spanner, a hammer or a paint brush, when in fact, as a system it obeys its own rules, and incorporates us into its usage. Nevertheless, in Generator it is the contemporary analogue, rather than digital, ‘programmatic’ that is being explored. The computer programme is often used as a metaphor for the human processes of thinking/doing, so we might wonder what the programme is for activities like walking, or breathing, or even attempt to codify neuro-linguistic programmes for performance excellence in any particularly field. In this exhibition the systems that generates the artwork are thought of as analogue programmes, which have clearly been around a lot longer than have computer programmes, but only now that we have the computer are we able to utilise the metaphor for thinking about thinking. I like the circularity of it.
DB: What characterises good generative art? Is it necessary to be either or both conceptually and aesthetically strong?
AP: I think Natalie Dower and Jeffrey Steele answer this best. Here’s Dower in an interview with Patrick Morrissey: “If the input that has generated the idea does not translate into valid visual terms I do not accept it. I have had intellectually interesting ideas that I have had to abandon for that reason”. And here’s Steele in an interview with Katrina Blannin: “…something has good Gestalt or bad Gestalt — has it got a clear shape to it? I can look at one of my paintings and see whether it has good Gestalt or bad, and this has happened occasionally. A clear process of abstract thinking should lead to a satisfying visual Gestalt. I don’t necessarily “reject” or stop working on a project when this is not happening, but it bothers me, and I want to know what is going wrong”.
DB: Are you looking to formalise the human aesthetic?
JI: A human aesthetic is wide reaching and all encompassing. Defining a human aesthetic as work that shows signs of ‘the hand’if that’s what the question suggests, is too limiting”
AP: Maybe formal logic and formal linguistics, abstract languages, like mathematics, all pertinent to computer programming, have close connections to the formal ‘language’ of abstract painting.
DB: Does any of your work explore any of the hypotheses, the rules and processes of the scientist? Do you think generative art work like this can inform scientific study?
AP: I was going to say that whilst likely to have been informed by scientific study, the relationship is unlikely to be reciprocal, but then I remembered that some of the truly fascinating discoveries made in the last few decades in the science of visual cognition was discovered by map makers in the seventeenth century, so I guess you never know!