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.

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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Angel and People and Bedtime

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At the National Museum of Wales, Museum of Art, Melissa Munro kindly met me, to take me into the store room to see a wonderful painting: Angel and People by Mali Morris.

Angel and People 1979, Acrylic on Canvas, 180 x 171 cm, Purchased 2009 by Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, with the assistance of the Derek Williams Trust, Image by courtesy of the artist

Even though I have only seen it before in reproduction its large scale was about as I had imagined it to be. And it was knock-out!

It was painted flat on the floor. That’s how Mali Morris taught me to paint and I can see her now, along with the group in what was the Waverley building at Trent (Now Nottingham Trent University), each of us sitting or kneeling and moving paint around on our respective canvases. Ours were stretched if my memory serves me correctly, whereas in Angel and People Morris was working on unprimed canvas stretched across a solid board, and only later put onto a stretcher.  This allowed her to get right into the painting and at the same time to control the flow of the liquid acrylic.

I also learned from her to spend as much time looking at a painting as physically working on it, and again it is easy to imagine her doing just that when making Angel and People, working flat on the floor and then lifting it upright to study it. So, there is both quick physical action and slow meditative looking somehow preserved in the picture. Would it be too fanciful to suggest that there is a dialectic of doing and thinking that is transformed into the experience of viewing?

In viewing this art work we can identify three main forms accompanied by seven smaller forms, veil like, in Morris’s words they “act in various ways as links,bridges, veils or appendages”.

In my recent blog post about David Manley, I noted that his approach was to “abstract from”, starting out with a place, proceeding to a manipulated digital image of the place, and then to the painting, where the connection to the starting point is transcended. In Angel and People, Mali Morris’s approach is almost the opposite of that. Here there is no “abstracting from”. The picture develops over time into what it is and then a title is found that in some way resonates with the experience of it. In this case a friend visiting Morris’s studio had said that the left hand form had “wings like an angel”.

At the museum, Melissa  had appeared like an angel to transport me to the store where the painting could be revealed.

After viewing it, I looked round the rest of the collection.  This place is really worth visiting. I particularly liked the painting by Howard Hodgkin entitled Bedtime. Like Angel and People it has three main forms, but in the Hodgkin painting they seem constrained by the frame, almost as if they were imprisoned by it. If it weren’t my bedtime now I might say more about the similarities and differences… perhaps another time.

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 21, 2011 at 9:00 am

repetition doesn’t really exist (via earscapes)

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I saw this. I liked it, and I thought it was worth repeating.

“Repetition doesn’t really exist.  As far as your mind is concerned, nothing happens the same twice, even if in every technical sense, the thing is identical. Your perception is constantly shifting. It doesn’t stay in one place.” ~ Brian Eno I find this statement absolutely revelatory!  In the act of listening to a drone or a repeating pattern or chant, or any kind of sound, we can listen not only to the sound, but ourselves and the mental space … Read More

via earscapes

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 20, 2011 at 7:24 am

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Tarpey Gallery, Castle Donington, Earth and Wealth

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What’s to see in Castle Donington as well as motor racing, Download festival and a historic church building?

There’s a lovely show of paintings still on at Tarpey Gallery

but hurry! It ends on 20 August.

And at last, I find abstract paintings on show not 20 miles away from where I live! I don’t know how I could have missed this contemporary art space, it has been open since 2009, and today was the first I knew of it. (Except that as I look through a number of emails I notice that it has been mentioned to me before , yet somehow it must not have registered).

The current show is of paintings by David Manley, entitled From the Earth Wealth.  Lots of modestly sized, landscape related abstracts, derived from and named after the settlements of North West Leicestershire. This one, for example, is Diseworth.

Diseworth, Oil on Linen, 30 x 40 cm. Image by courtesy of Tarpey Gallery

There  may be a sense in which it brings back some experience of Diseworth, there is surely an element of representation. Is it a fence or a gate perhaps, with something propped up against it? And is that a cloud over a field… of sea? If it does represent, what we are seeing is highly generalised and the sense of specific place is lost. Or maybe the representation has dream like qualities, so it’s not so much that particular place as that place half remembered as in a dream. Another option could be that we are dealing here with the very act of representing, and the deletions, generalisations and distortions that naturally take place as part of that process. Or, then again, it could be misleading to think of them as representations at all. They are, in fact abstract. They are so in the sense of “abstracted from”, Leicestershire settlements providing a starting point only. The singularity of each painting has to do with what is happening there on the canvas rather than the singular experience of being in, for example, Hemington.

Hemington, Oil on Linen, 30 x 40cm. Image by courtesy of Tarpey Gallery

Again, thinking representationally, it looks like a wooden structure of some kind. There is figuration, for example there is a consistent light source. Perhaps I could even imagine climbing this structure…until I try to work out how I would actually do it. Where would I start? Which is the front? Am I looking down on it? Is it horizontal or vertical? What size is it? etc

The place names are ‘real’ origins, however. Each painting is based on, “abstracted from”, photographs taken by the artist at that specific location and then digitally manipulated.

For me, it’s an interesting way of beginning, that leads then to a manipulation of painted shape and colour that has a lot more to do with early modernist painting, than it has to do with any of the starting points, and arriving at abstract pictures that are wonderfully rewarding to view. Here at Tarpey Gallery in Castle Donington, abstracted from the earth, are a wealth of  painted forms for our enjoyment, it’s not too late to go and see them, if you hurry!

(Since writing this post I discovered that David Manley has an excellent wordpress blog and photos of the paintings from this exhibition can be seen there, Here’s a link)

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 18, 2011 at 6:03 am

Live out Loud! The paintings of Jane Phillips

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Live out Loud is the title of the exhibition now showing at Mission Gallery in Swansea, celebrating the creativity, life and achievements of Mission Gallery’s first director Jane Philips (1957 – 2011).

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: ‘I am here to live out loud’.

Emile Zola

These wonderful colour-drenched abstract paintings, do seem a lot like celebrations of life. In a previous post I reflected on the idea that the job of the artist is to make painting live. Jane Phillips knew how to do that. She also knew how to study. The exhibition includes a case of sketchbooks, just a few of the many that she kept, with some of their contents displayed. Some, based on Josef Albers’ simultaneous colour contrast exercises that many of us did at art school, are in one sense ordinary, and in another sense extraordinarily beautiful. I couldn’t pull myself away from the 6″ x 6″ colour and black and white studies. Even the “black and white” ones are about colour.

The large canvases are lovely, yet my favourite of the paintings is modest in size and looks a lot like a formal study.

Jane Phillips, Geometric - Green, Acrylic on Canvas, 75 x 73 cm, Image by courtesy of Mission Gallery

The series of vertical bars of colour seem to be overlaid by different coloured horizontal bands thus changing the colours underneath. But when you get up close it is really difficult to tell whether the bands create the colour changes or whether, in fact, the rectangles making up the horizontal bands are actually painted directly with those different colours, giving only the impression of translucent bands.

I studied it long and hard and I couldn’t work out whether the bands caused the colour changes or whether colour changes were the cause of the bands. I liked that the artist’s study had elicited studious behaviour in me the viewer. And it wasn’t just study, it was also enjoyment. The painting is decorative, which I think corresponds to enjoyment, and thoughtful, corresponding to studiousness. This kind of pleasurable studying reminds me that I am alive: I think therefore I am. The painting is a call to study and to enjoy – a call to live out loud.

(Mission gallery have a WordPress blog at

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 15, 2011 at 7:10 am