abstract art, a systems view

Quarante Huit Quai d’Auteil by Winifred Nicholson at the Hepworth, Wakefield

with 3 comments

When I visited The Hepworth, Wakefield recently I was particularly interested in three paintings in the Hepworth in Context gallery, all painted n 1936. They were Composition C (no.III) with Red, Yellow and Blue, by Piet Mondrian, Forms on a White Ground,by John Piper

and Quarante Huit Quai d’Auteil by Winifred Nicholson

Winifred Nicholson, Quarante Huit Quai d'Auteuil, 1935 Oil on board©Tate, London, 2011,©The Trustees of Winifred Nicholson, Courtesy of Hepworth Wakefield

The title refers to Winifred Nicholson’s address in Paris, where she lived from 1932-8. She went there specifically to learn about abstract art. There she befriended artists such as Piet Mondrian, Constantin Brancusi, Jean Arp and Jean Hélion.  Around this time she wrote in Circle that ‘[t]he nature of abstract colour is utter purity – but colours wish to fly, to merge, to change each other by their juxtapositions, to radiate, to shine, to withdraw deep within themselves.’ She claimed that the painting was about colour and the shapes could take whatever form they wished. This sounds like an approach to abstraction that I learned  from Mali Morris many years ago, where you place the colour and allow it to suggest its own form. This requires a ‘dialogue’ with the painting as it develops.

It seems now to relate to a metaphorical language pattern I have come to know from NLP, as a ‘selectional restriction violation’ where, for example, an inanimate object might be ascribed qualities that it could not logically have, e.g. “my bed is missing me”.  The painting is considered to have a life of its own, it suggests and leads, it converses with the painter. This process of projection, I suggest, induces a natural trance state in the artist as s/he works on the developing painting, and is part of the ‘content’ of the abstract work. The question I have is whether in viewing the painting (so long as we actually look at it rather than just walk by) do we enter a similar trance state?

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 12, 2011 at 7:04 am

3 Responses

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  1. Beautiful abstractions. I don’t know as much of Mondrian’s later work.

    Ross Wolfe

    July 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

  2. Thanks for this, I hadn’t realised the title was her address.
    Personal involvement may invoke a trance like state, however, I think that time taken to engage with the image could allow the development of rapport – but only if we are in an open state.
    Winifreds image is often overlooked in the gallery as being secondary to Ben’s – a more famous name.

    Amanda j. wells

    July 13, 2011 at 4:08 pm

  3. Thanks for this great post, I quoted you and put a link to your post on my blog. I appreciate your thinking and your eye. You are helping me to see and think more deeply. Here is the link to my post:


    July 31, 2011 at 12:13 am

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