abstract art, a systems view

Archive for September 2011

Take me out to the ball-room!

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Is it that I am attracted to marginal activities? I usually blog about abstract painting, a marginal activity if ever there was one. What was that article I was reading recently where the author was concerned that contemporary art might go the same way as Jazz: it will always have an audience but it is no longer a motive force for change? But then, how influential are  ‘mainstream’ activities anyway?

Going to Derby train station late on Saturday afternoon we got stuck in the traffic leaving Pride Park football stadium (for American readers that’s soccer – a very mainstream activity here in the UK). There we were, inching our way from one traffic island to another, and for a few moments I could more easily believe that we would be stuck there forever than that the system had within it the seeds of its own transformation. Needless to say, we missed the train. But for all those supporters having been taken to (or having taken themselves to) the ball game, for them half an hour stuck in traffic may have seemed a small price to pay, especially when you win 3 nil.

Later that evening, being taken to the ballroom, a marginal activity if ever there was one, less than £15 for the two of us was a very small price to pay for 3 hours of unalloyed pleasure. As we entered the Regency Ballroom in Sutton in Ashfield, the Terry Peters Big Band were playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”.

The band play here on a regular basis, about once a month on a Saturday night. As usual, they played three 45 minute sets: big band jazz and dance band music, great just to listen to, and even better to dance to. In fact, I can think of nothing more enjoyable than dancing to a 16 piece big band!

They played tunes such as “Just the Thought of You”, “Fascination”, “Fly Me to the Moon”, “Take the ‘A’ Train”, “All That Jazz”, “It Can’t Be Love” and “My Favourite Things”, many of them featuring singer Suzanne, my own favourite being her “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” to jive to and the Jive that immediately followed it: “Clementine” sung by the Band Leader Dennis Halfpenny (complete with dodgy lyrics).

There were modern ballroom Waltzes, Quicksteps and Foxtrots as well as Latin: Cha Cha Cha and Rumba. And where can you go these days to hear the Veleta played live, and dance to it (social version as showed on the link), along with other old-time favourites like St Bernard’s Waltz, Square Tango and the Barn Dance? And where else do you get all ages (more older than younger I admit) enjoying themselves together? And though there is a good licensed bar there’s too much fun to be had dancing than to be getting drunk (a very mainstream activity). I don’t understand why there aren’t queues all the way round the block just to get in!

Michelle and Nathan from M&N Photography were there taking a few photos and they kindly supplied these images and gave me permission to post them here. Their event website is and here’s a link to their facebook page.


Industrialism and the Genesis of Modern Architecture (via The Charnel-House)

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Another brilliant post from Ross Wolfe and a continuation of the guest blog post at my site a week or so ago. Here he emphasises the link between modernism and industrialisation, and especially the influence of the machine and the techniques of Taylorism.

Industrialism and the Genesis of Modern Architecture MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE — POSITIVE BASES (CONTINUED) The spatiotemporal properties of architecture that were developed by experiments in abstract art reached their highest expression in the work of Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy.  Stepping back from our analysis of this development, however, we may witness a crucial conjuncture between the realm of abstract art and the other major positive basis for the existence of modernist architecture — industriali … Read More

via The Charnel-House

…much of which seems to confirm the Ellulian stance I blogged about a short while ago: according to Jacques Ellul, modernist art is either an imitation of technology or a compensation for technology.

Whilst Kandinsky’s treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art could be seen as a compensation for technology (along with the appreciation of the Theosophy of both Kandinsky and Mondrian), the paintings often turn out to be an imitation of technology.

Ellul suggested that Kandinsky painted like a computer. I think that was unfair, but it is also a point that is difficult to argue against! I think that the same criticism (it was meant as a criticism) could be levelled at a lot of the painters I admire, and the practice I have adopted.

Aeneas Wilder Unitled # 155 at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

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Aeneas Wilder’s Unitled # 155 is showing at the Longside Gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park until Thursday 3 November 2011. It is an installation, made especially for this space, constructed through the careful placement and balance of uniform lengths of recycled Iroko wood, used for parquet flooring.

There is something architectural about it, temporary and delicate but architectural just the same. You can see it from a (slight) distance, you can see it close-up and then walk around it and you can enter it through a doorway, seeing it from inside and out like a building. But it isn’t held together by anything other than balance and gravity, no glue, no nails, no permanent fixing. So it is also time dependant, like a performance, it will exist for a certain time, and to end the installation the artist will deconstruct it in only a few seconds, the final curtain close taking the form of a kick down.


You can reserve a place for the kick down scheduled to take place at 4pm on 3 November.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 19, 2011 at 8:00 am

God and the art of seeing

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My brother Robert being a Baptist minister, I ought not to be too surprised to find on his bookshelf  God and the Art of Seeing by Richard Kidd and Graham Sparkes.

It caught my eye first of all because it sounds so much like another book I have enjoyed a lot: The Art of Seeing, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Rick E. Robinson. Well, it is nothing like that book! Kidd and Sparkes’ book is subtitled Visual Resources for a Journey of Faith. As you can imagine, it isn’t really an art book. And, as I am reading it, that’s one of the things I am enjoying: it is about the uses that people (can) make of art. And I do think there are also some very productive insights about the art.

There’s a chapter each on Edvard Munch, Marc Chagall, Stanley Spencer, Georgia O’Keefe, Jacob Lawrence and Vincent van Gogh.

In the chapter on Edvard Munch, discussing the painting The Sick Child, 1885-1886, the authors suggests that the many layers of over-painting contained in the twenty revisions, some layers invisible to the naked eye and conscious mind, expresses the passing of time as the dimension in which suffering takes place. Here form and content unite to express the same theme of suffering. I suggest that it could also be the case that whenever an abstract painting ‘records’ time through over-painted layers then suffering, is present metaphorically, suffering that is, in the sense of ‘struggle’.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 17, 2011 at 9:00 am

seventies decor?

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Some of the paintings I am interested in were a lot more fashionable in the seventies than they are now.

but maybe that’s no excuse for this one looking like retro seventies decor’.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 16, 2011 at 7:05 pm

More Pinks

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Yesterday I wrote about Rachael Pinks‘ painted collage works on paper  at Wirksworth Festival. I said that the shapes of each piece seemed to grow out of their own making, resulting in more or less rectangular pictures, with irregular edges.

Rachael Pinks, Curled up, Acrylic and Collage on Paper, 14 x 19cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

There was also a painting that didn’t have these collage and sculptural qualities. Slightly larger than the other works, acrylic painted on canvas, mounted on board, it has fewer of the landscape associations for me.

Rachael Pinks, A Thimble Full of Red, Acrylic on canvas on board, 33.5 x 27cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

In a way, more abstract, more clearly a composition of rectangular shapes of various sizes and colour, it still looks like it was arrived at rather than pre-planned. If I wanted to read it as landscape I could wonder if the larger shape is a building with other buildings around and possibly a flag or two, the blue ground possibly has some sea or quay side associations like yesterday’s collages. But this reading is, for me, less insistent. It might be more about how the little red squares assert themselves and how the larger red-ish rectangle behind the white attempts to push forward, to gain our attention. Maybe I am reading in content of a different sort if I suggest that it may be about struggle and resolution.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 16, 2011 at 8:00 am

Rachael Pinks at Wirksworth Festival

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Some lovely abstract paintings by artist and fellow art blogger Rachael Pinks were on show in the old Grammar School at Wirksworth Festival last weekend.

I say paintings because that’s largely how I experienced them. It may be more accurate to say collages. There is something sculptural about them too, though they are tiny, nearly all works on paper less than 12″ tall, mounted in frames in such a way that you can see the whole object, including the edges. The shape of each piece looks arrived at by the very process of collaging small pieces of painted paper rather than by staying within the confines of a predetermined shape and size. They seem constructed or modelled, so the completed object is never an exact rectangle, it is irregular, handmade.

Rachael Pinks, My Hill, Acrylic and collage on paper, 13 x 12.5cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Bits of writing show through where collage elements are painted on printed word, I thought newsprint but Rachael tells me they are books.

I find myself reading them as landscapes or seascapes, and some of the titles encourage this, though the images usually find themselves in the process of being painted, rather than in a resemblance of an actual place. ‘Real world’ starting points are more in the artist’s kinaesthetic system than the visual.

The bits of text, in an indirect way, refer to place, and to the artist’s personal history, in that they are taken from three very small poetry books, printed in 1820, seen on the way home one night when walking past in a well-known book shop in Cromford. “These old books just appealed to me when I saw them: the battered covers made me think they had been used and loved”.

Rachael Pinks, Sat Below an Almost Cloudless Sky, Acrylic and Collage on Canvas, 14cm x 19cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

I don’t know why I like it, that in Sat Below an Almost Cloudless Sky I can just make out the word “Rebellion” in capitals near the bottom right of the picture. My wife is sure that it is a picture of a boat, and I can see why. Though it has no such referential specificity, it is difficult not to see the sea in the left hand blue, with the hull of a blue boat at bottom centre, green hills higher up, along with pale sky in which is just one small cloud. I think the title refers to this reading-in, rather than to any ‘a priori’ content.

My favourite is Curled Up

Rachael Pinks, Curled up, Acrylic and Collage on Paper, 14 x 19cm. Image by courtesy the artist

A tiny edge of printed word curls away from the picture plane, whilst beneath the line it creates, a yellow triangle floats in an abstract landscape with figures, that are clearly not figures or landscape but painted, torn and cut paper arranged intuitively to form a charming miniature, intriguing and beautiful.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 15, 2011 at 8:01 am

Generative Collaboration

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I borrowed the term ‘generative collaboration’ from Robert Dilts, who is using it a lot just now. One of the best workshops I ever attended was one of his in 2006 at PPD Learning, London, entitled The Artistry of Change. The many activities we did included one where, working in pairs, taking turns, one person would make a physical gesture or movement, and then the other person would repeat it and add some more, the first person would then copy what had been created so far and then add more, to and fro, the sequence of gestures quickly becoming a complex pattern or dance. It was great fun, over 100 people doing weird things all over the place … and laughing…lots! During that exercise I learned what an effective collaboration could be like.

A few weeks ago Joshua Sellers and I met via the medium of WordPress blogs, and he suggested that we collaborate on a video, featuring his music and my art work. I was already a fan of his music and had previously suggested that what he was doing in sound was what I had been wanting to achieve visually. It hadn’t occurred to me that we could put the two together (though it seems obvious now).

you can see the result of our collaboration at earscapes.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 14, 2011 at 7:33 am

Mondrian and Nicholson

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At The Painting Space I found out about a very exciting exhibition planned for next year ( February to May 2012) at the Courtauld Gallery, London, exploring the relationship between two important early modernist, abstract painters  Piet Mondrian and Ben Nicholson.

The Painting Space post reminds us that in the 1930s they were leading forces of avant-garde art in Europe. Maybe a re-view of their work and the patterns that connect them will help us to think again about abstraction, its tradition and its continued relevance. In my opinion, the project that they started (non) represents a rich vein for current and future artists to tap.

One of the aspects of Ross Wolfe‘s recent guest post that I particularly appreciated was his celebration of the work of Mondrian, Malevich, Rodchenko and other early avant-garde artists. Ben Nicholson was clearly influenced by these artists and he contributed massively to a broadening of awareness of abstract art in the UK.  Earlier this year, seeing one of his paintings, as well as a Winifred Nicholson, a John Piper, and Barbara Hepworth‘s sculptures  alongside a magnificent Mondrian at the Hepworth in Context  display at the Hepworth, Wakefield, highlighted for me just how wonderful some of the abstract art of the 1930s could be.

The Hepworth Wakefield Installation shot, image by courtesy Hepworth, Wakefield

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 13, 2011 at 8:00 am

decorative Intention

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I know what’s wrong with the ‘merely decorative’ in art. Yet there is something about decoration that is not merely ‘mere’. For a start, it isn’t easy. Well, I don’t find it easy anyway. I do intend to decorate, but sometimes my question goes “Is it decorative enough?”


“Decorative enough for what?” you might ask.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 12, 2011 at 8:01 am