patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Archive for June 2011

in the Attic

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A few hundred yards from my hotel in Swansea (see yesterday blog), there is the Attic Gallery, apparently Wales’ longest established private gallery.

Attic attic 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.

Kathryn Le Grice, Central Park, NY (Bridge II), mixed media, 17.5 x 23 ins,image courtesy of Attic Gallery

And here is another, more typical of later work, Circle of Trees.

Kathryn Le Grice, Circle of Trees, acrylic, 11.5 x 7 ins, image by courtesy of Attic Gallery

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!

Icons and Salt at Ikon Birmingham

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The photo-realist paintings of John Salt have something approaching the miraculous about them. Could they really be paintings? Pictures of photographs of cars, made with airbrush, they look untouched by human hands.

Tree 2001

Tree 2001, Casin on linen, 109 x 166 cm, Tellenbach Collection, Switzerland, Image courtesy of Ikon gallery

In the Greek Orthodox tradition isn’t acheiropoieta the name given to icons not made by human hands? They were allegedly painted by saints, or they appeared miraculously like Veronica’s Veil or the Turin shroud. Maybe the images were made of the salt from Jesus’ sweat.

But these are no icons, though my eye was conned from time to time into thinking that I was looking at very large photographs rather than paintings. In some senses they are not even images, the matter of fact way in which they are produced and presented, renders them artless, real, objects, to be viewed but not worshipped. And in that they are also images, they are images of images, the subject matter of which is artless, found, material as opposed to image in the sense of advertisement, shiny gleaming mirror. Other photo-realists seem more interested in images of this kind.

Ikon Gallery Birmingham is showing work by John Salt until 17 July 2011. I wandered through the two rooms of paintings, 18 in all, spanning 42 years of Salt’s artistic output. Not wishing to be impressed (my mission, you may remember, is to view abstract paintings outside of London), I found myself confronted by a body of work that I was hugely impressed by.

I lingered longest on the 2001 painting Tree, a solitary vehicle, parked outside a disused store, next to a weedy self-seeded tree, the long shadows suggesting evening or morning.

Tree 2001

Tree 2001, Casin on linen, 109 x 166 cm, Tellenbach Collection, Switzerland, Image courtesy of Ikon gallery

I feel it should be evening symbolically, but seeing how the windscreen is condensed it looks like it may be morning. The shadows emphasise the whereabouts of the cables running up the side of the building and bring attention to the puny tree, projecting  a larger than life image of it onto the façade of the building, rather like the projected image of a photograph onto a large canvas, the standard technique for drawing in photo-realist art. The car and the store are a similar colour, terracotta, or rust. Knowing even a little about this kind of work I think it highly unlikely that Salt is interested in the symbolic or metaphoric elements in the piece, and maybe these also are projections, but I find it difficult not to see in the terracotta, a symbol of rust and decay, also hinted at in the parked or abandoned car.  And I find it difficult not to see in the tree at least a gesture of hope, however futile. I feel sure that this is not the content of the picture as far as the artist is concerned. However, I think the NLP mantra ‘the meaning of a communication is the response you receive rather than the intention you had for it’ applies here.

I found I could also interpret the painting in abstract ‘colour-field‘ terms, enjoying the large expanse of orange, framed above by the light blue band of sky, and below by the darker blue/grey of the tarmac. Then becoming aware of the lemon yellow rectangle on the right hand edge, echoed by the adjacent dark grey or black rectangle of the door, within which is a cut-out of white. At the opposite side, there are similar rectangles in almost complementary colours of blue and lilac. In this reading of the painting the car plays almost no role at all. I realise that here I may have been compensating for the abstract paintings I did not find!

Another reading might concentrate more on the signs. I have already mentioned the index sign of the rust colour and the long shadows: signs of decay and death, the icon sign: the painting of the photograph, and there are also the symbol signs represented in the photograph itself: “No Parking Any Time” and “Store for Rent”.

Well, I had parked myself in front of it for long enough and there were other paintings to see, and work to do.  So I left, hoping I would get chance for another viewing before 17 July.

The Myth Of Tomorrow – Taro Okamoto (via Tokyobling’s Blog) and public art and Henry Moore

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This wonderful blog seems to have provoked a lot of interest.

The Myth Of Tomorrow - Taro Okamoto Sometimes the thing about art in public places is that you just don’t think about it. Even though art has long since been stripped of it’s moral-building and society-building status (Duchamp and his art-antics took care of that back in 1917) public officials still feel it necessary to enrichen our public spaces with what they consider to be worthwhile art. Here’s one I have managed to miss for a very long time indeed: Taro Okamoto’s “The Myth of … Read More

via Tokyobling’s Blog

Public art gets walked by seems to be one of the themes (it doesn’t have to be very public for that to happen. In a workplace near me there is a lot of good art on the walls by important UK artists – largely ignored, see previous blog).
In the comments section of the Myth Of Tomorrow blog there is a piece by Visartstudio including a good story about a Henry Moore sculpture in Toronto

…works that have become significant have done so by digging into our psychological reality and insinuating itself by a process of educating the imagination. Case in point The Archer by Henry Moore in Toronto Nathan Phillips square was supported by the extensive collection of Moore donation to the AGO… More significantly a pop song
Down By The Henry Moore – Murray McLauchlan (1974) summed up Toronto’s relationship to this now significant piece of art. So much so when it alleged removal was used in the first day with out art protest, the controversy drew near 100,000 people into Nathan Phillips square. Digging a bit deeper the art fit the square and became a cultural anchor that suited the site and the Toronto’s city Hall building and has become a bench mark of how Torontonians felt about there city, there future and themselves…

I was in Castleford UK other weekend, at a dance competition in the Civic Hall, and in front of the building is a piece of public art, a Henry Moore sculpture. It is unmistakably Henry Moore so in the pouring rain I wandered across the grass to get a better view.

Henry Moore Draped Reclining Figure 1952-53 © Copyright David Pickersgill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright David Pickersgill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I knew that Moore was born in the Wakefield area, but not that it was actually Castleford. The piece also serves as a memorial.

Written by Andy Parkinson

June 24, 2011 at 7:19 am

OneThing20: how mind and nature might connect (via itsallonething)

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I keep connecting to others connecting with Gregory Bateson and the pattern which connects. The pattern which connects is itself a pattern, a meta pattern, a pattern of patterns.

It was my teacher,colleague and friend Judith Lowe, who first introduced me to the writing of Gregory Bateson and, if I remember rightly, she suggested that we read it as if it were poetry and let it wash over us, at first, as a way into it. Well, it does have that kind of poetic appeal. Although, strictly speaking, it is science writing it has this amazing aesthetic dimension. I think the film that is embedded in this reblog as well as the writing in the blog itself (just click on ‘read more’), brings out something of his poetic style. The film is a trailer for a one- hour film by Nora Bateson.

OneThing20: how mind and nature might connect Gregory Bateson tells us that we ought always look for the “pattern which connects.” I first stumbled upon Gregory Bateson while a college student and working at a local book distributorship. Our customers were college and university libraries, and one of them had purchased a beautiful hardbound copy of Mind and Nature – a Necessary Unity.  I stood the … Read More

via itsallonething

Here’s a different blog with a slideshow that also reveals the aesthetic style. In relation to content, Bateson insisted that the question “what connects?”  was an aesthetic question. ( I have used this slideshow before, quite recently but it’s so good that I thought it deserves another look ….or two.)

Bateson slideshow at the Rhizome Network

What is a system?

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A system definition taken from Redesigning Society by Russell Ackoff and Sheldon Rovin

A system is a whole that has one or more defining functions and consists of two or more essential parts that satisfy three conditions

1) the system cannot do without the part to perform its defining function

2) no essential part can affect the system independently,

how it affects the system as a whole depends on its interaction with at least one other essential part of the system

3) no subsystem of a system has an independent effect on the whole

Written by Andy Parkinson

June 16, 2011 at 8:43 am

The Blog as system: a little Statistical Process Control

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Here’s a run chart showing the visits to my blog in May (I know, it would be nice to have more visits).

It shows at a glance just how much variation there is in the system visits per day to my site: although the average (mean) number of visits per day for May was 58, the highest number of visits was 144, and the least was 17.

Plotting the data in a control chart or capability chart (invented by Walter Shewhart and used by W. Edwards Deming) shows that the system is out of statistical control, in that there is special cause variation on day 29,

and the run of twelve days below the mean may also suggest special causes of variation (a run of six or more might be an indication of a special cause).

With special causes it could be meaningful to ask “what happened, specifically?”

Answers: 1) On day 29, I used a poll for the first time, and as it was researching a suggestion made by my son (that some people need help to see optical effects), both my sons were happy to encourage their Facebook friends to visit my site and complete the poll. As a result I got more visitors than usual that day. 2) On days 10 to 21, I may have been less active than usual in looking at other blogs as I was away for some of those days.

All the other data points show common cause variation: the variation that can be expected by the normal behaviour of the system. The chart shows that I could expect to get anywhere between 0 visits (the Lower Control Limit, LCL) and 112 visits (the Upper Control Limit, UCL) on any one day. To be surprised by data points within these limits, to get concerned for example at the 17 visits, would be foolish. To improve performance when the system shows common cause variation one must focus on the common causes rather than on individual data points. I could ask myself “what happens predictably every day, that causes this variation?” I would answer that I post something including a visual image, and that I take a few minutes to look at other blogs, mostly by tag surfing. To get more visits I would have to change this system.

Written by Andy Parkinson

June 9, 2011 at 7:10 am

The art of seeing

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Rick E. Robinson wrote a book called The Art of Seeing, An Interpretation of the Aesthetic Encounter. It was published in 1990.

I was reminded of it when I was thinking about the day before yesterday’s blog, because the final chapter is precisely about helping others to see, or facilitating the aesthetic experience.

Before they get there, Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson establish the idea that the aesthetic experience has similar characteristics to the flow experience: an activity having few or no external rewards.

People play chess, climb mountains, compose music, and do a hundred other non-productive activities not because they expect a result or reward after the activity is concluded, but because they enjoy what they are doing to the extent that experiencing the activity becomes its own reward…called flow because respondents (who were interviewed) used the that term frequently to describe the deep involvement in and effortless progression of the activity.

After exploring the similarities through a qualitative and a quantitative study they go on to reflect on how we might help to facilitate the aesthetic experience. They place the responsibility with the system of artist-art-viewer-curator-context.

the aesthetic experience as a system

Written by Andy Parkinson

June 8, 2011 at 8:24 am