abstract art and systems thinking

Archive for August 2011

Make grey while the sun shines

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At  hyperalergenic, there’s a brief discussion about how grey can achieve optical effects that other colours cannot. And check out the commentary and pictures of work by Julie Shapiro and Stephanie McMahon. In the two paintings shown there, each quite different to the other, they both make use of grey to enliven the other colours.

Thinking of the use of grey in painting, I was reminded of a visit I made to The Hepworth, Wakefield where I saw that wonderful Winifred Nicholson painting.

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

Grey used here, elicits a muted sensation in the viewer. (I continue to be amazed that a painting can alter ones  ’emotional’ state so easily). The grey seems to mediate the contrast of the blue square and the yellow figure-eight shape at the top left, that I tend to read as a sun. In a way it is a very powerful painting. Slowing me down and provoking stillness takes a certain kind of power. And in another sense, it’s the opposite of powerful: unassuming, careful, tentative even.

Then I remembered a grey painting I saw by Mali Morris, entitled Marvell’s Mower,

Mali Morris, Marvell's Mower 1999, Acrylic on Canvas, 46 x 61 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist.

quite different in its character than Nicholson’s Quarante Huit Quai d’Auteuil, though it shares the main circle motif on a grey ground,grey on grey, and something of the blue/yellow contrast. (It’s likely that this ‘grey’ is in fact black and yellow). It is darker, and bolder, and the central circle shape looks as though it is moving, at speed, and then not. There’s more enjoyment of the paint, and the process of painting, in the Morris. It is almost as if Marvell’s Mower has action frozen in reflection, whereas Quarante Huit Quai d’Auteuil is entirely reflective

In both paintings grey is definitely a colour, not the kind of grey you get on a cloudy day, but the luminescent grey that you might see only when the sun is shining.

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 31, 2011 at 7:46 am

A Reflection of the Synthetic – Freddy Chandra (via )

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what is it about this site Visual Discrepancies that I like so much? Well the interviews are great, and the art is wonderful

A Reflection of the Synthetic – Freddy Chandra Brent: I think we live in a funny color world: I mean the hills and trees, they are green, rust, brown, hay, and they are soothing. The bay, well that has every personality under the sun, and the moon… and I think of your work, and I think of the light that is much less in the hills and more in the bay, while also a refection of the synthetic. Freddy: For me the color of things becomes more poignant when its perceptual presence asserts some kind … Read More


but whenever I come across the name Margaret Thatcher, as I did on this post, I shudder. I remember the miners strike, the selling off of supposedly socialised assets to private investors, the poll tax, etc. etc. etc.

Over the pond there’s a Margaret Thatcher I can like a lot more. The Margaret Thatcher Project mentioned in the reblog is a gallery, you can check it out here.

Tarpey Gallery Castle Donington

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Last time I visited Tarpey Gallery, Castle Donington, I saw paintings by David Manley, like this one entitled Castle Donington

David Manley, Castle Donington, Oil on Linen, 30 x 40 cm. Image by courtesy of Tarpey Gallery

they are “abstracted from”. Their starting point is somewhere in the “real world”, though they end up firmly in their own abstract territory.

In the new show at Tarpey Gallery, of abstract paintings by Marek Tobolewski, the work is abstract in a different way to the David Manley pictures. Using terminology I have borrowed from Harold Osborne before, I might say that Tobolewski’s paintings are “non-iconic” or “syntactic” abstractions. They have no starting point in the ‘real world’.

Marek Toboleswski,1LC DipSymR, Ivory Black on Red Deep (2010) & Red Deep on Ivory Black (2009), Oil on paper, 130 x 110 cm, Image by Courtesy of Tarpey Gallery

They are themselves ‘real’.

They are about formal relationships, and they are very beautiful: the exploration of the negative line, the layers of under-painting, that become explicit only at the points where the lines intersect, the mirroring or rotating of a repeated motif (a line, taken for a walk, creating circular patterns and rhythms). They are fascinating and immensely pleasurable to look at.

And they also seem full of associations that I find it almost impossible to resist. I cannot help but also see them as sexual images. Not quite that they contain phallic symbols, (though some of the delineated shapes can certainly be read that way) it’s in some way more subtle than that that they seem erotically charged. I know I am projecting here, and that I may be saying more about me than about the paintings. However, on reading the gallery commentary, I find at least that I am not on my own in making these associations! Well at least I can be wrong in good company!

I mentioned in a previous blog post that Ruth Solomons describes the work as honest (in the sense of revealing their own process) and beautiful and I agree, these adjectives seem entirely appropriate for these wonderful paintings.

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 29, 2011 at 6:05 am

The straight line

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In a recent blog post at ABSTRACTION, Monk asks what the straight line (i.e. made with the aid of a ruler or masking tape as is the practice in ‘hard edge abstraction‘) communicates. The criticism contained in the question becomes clear:

The simplicity is tempting, the lack of personal exposure comforting, the boundaries certain and readable, the invention of form and colour programmable and the overall appearance decorative but the grit is missing.

My own attraction to the line (not really hard edge, but they start out marked with ruler and pencil) is its potential for pattern making, I am particularly keen on the lines that are made up from the edges of other shapes, forming subjective borders, they are only there by the reading. The diagonal line in the image below is an example. I prefer those lines to the  ‘certain and readable’ ones.

I also have a  ‘literary’ attraction to the simple line, or stripe (with absolutely no necessity for it to be ruled or taped), contained in my oft repeated quote from Gregory Bateson

What pattern connects (us)?… lines of symmetry… erupting into pattern after pattern… a million lines of colour… a million lines, never precisely repeating: the pattern which connects.

Nevertheless, Monk makes a good point, especially in the suggestion that the grit is absent in the straight line. Sometimes, hard-edge just isn’t as edgy as soft edge! Here’s a failed project I was working on

failed project                  almost straight

I was attempting to make a pair, the second painting made from the way the paint ran off the first. It’s awful and I abandoned it. But look how much more easily we seem to understand the straight line, as opposed to the more chaotic ones, which are somehow more risky, and more difficult to think of as ever approaching decoration.

And, isn’t there something else that’s questionable about the straight line? Doesn’t it seem to communicate authority, control, or power, whereas the hand-drawn line has something more human, more vulnerable about it?  “Our love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen.

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 28, 2011 at 8:33 am

On being an identical twin (twinniness)

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I have been an identical twin all my life, and so has my twin brother.


My brother and I (not a recent photo), They used to say that my brother is the good looking one, so I must be the one on the left. Mum, is that correct?

As a painter of abstract pictures I used to think the term “non-representational”‘ was an appropriate definition of abstraction.

The great abstract painter, Ad Reinhardt, used to say that you can only define art negatively, as what it is not. I agree with him, and I wonder if, updating my thinking, “non representational” might not be better represented by  “non non representational”. Whilst not seeking to depict the world out there, there is a sense in which you just cannot not represent.

There I was, making strictly “non-representational” paintings, at one stage they were monochromes, each one produced following the same systematic method of rolling paint, primary colours mixed with white, in the same succession: yellow, red, blue, leaving grey monochromes, each one differing only slightly from another. I liked to show them in pairs. And it never once occurred to me that there was some “twinniness” going on. That somehow, though entirely unconsciously, autobiographical content had found its way into my strictly non-representational oeuvre.

I told a friend about this recently and he laughed. It is funny isn’t it that it took me 30 years to notice that those paintings had been, at least in part, about the experience of being an identical twin?

not monochromes, but twins nevertheless

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 27, 2011 at 8:34 am

the painting blogosphere

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Nice to get featured at Painters table, the magazine of the painting blogosphere.

It is a wonderful site, pulling together lots that is going on at painting blogs worldwide, so it can be seen all in one place. It is easy to get lost in that blogosphere, following the links could serve as a full time avocation.

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 26, 2011 at 10:30 pm

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Looking forward to this show

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I am very much looking forward to this show at Tarpey Gallery, Castle Donnington

I read somewhere a comment by Ruth Solomons to the effect that the work reflects a trend in painting towards honesty and beauty as opposed to showmanship, trickery and illusion. I liked those ideas, though I am not sure I know what they mean. I am looking forward to finding out!

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 26, 2011 at 6:45 am


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