abstract art and systems thinking

About “About Painting”

with 8 comments

The exhibitions Working Against the System and Fade Away that were held at Transition Gallery and Gallery North were the occasion for a small publication (158 pages with nice photos) about contemporary painting called About Painting.

The book has essays by Barry Schwarbsky and the curators of the respective shows – Helen Baker and Alli Sharma, information and images from all the artists who participated in the two shows, in-depth texts by the Working Against the System artists, transcripts from the Working Against the System symposium and studio interviews with Fade Away artists Phillip Allen, Paul Housley, Jo Wilmot, Claire Undy and Phoebe Unwin.

I got my copy this week and I am enjoying it lots. The images are small but study-able, and seeing them here I want to see them for real.

I like the short essay by Barry Shwarbsky about the reconfiguring of the distinction between abstraction and representation (or, as he prefers it, between abstraction and images) and find a lot of resonance with it. In Alli Sharma’s interview with Phoebe Unwin she asks about abstraction and image, working methods and materials as well as about the painting Sponge Pallette that was shown in the Fade Away exhibition. And there is a fascinating piece by Paul Goodfellow about systems thinking and painting, suggesting that painting is the perfect laboratory for thinking about the issue of what happens in the border area between a well-defined system and its transgression. He argues that it is the responsibility of the artist to embrace systems thinking in order to highlight its own limitations. The description of Sly Lost Games (and the system outputs exhibited) gives just enough information to imagine what was there, and whet my appetite for more. Again, wanting to see it ‘for real’

The book is a joy for having no list of contents and being rather haphazardly arranged. Finding my way round it is a bit like negotiating a path through an exhibition, or rather two exhibitions, both that I would have liked to have seen.

About Painting is priced at £6 and is available from
Transition Gallery and Gallery North.

Written by Andy Parkinson

February 19, 2012 at 9:45 am

8 Responses

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  1. thanks for the tip Andy…my copy is on order…

    David Manley

    February 19, 2012 at 11:16 am

  2. Thanks for this! WOW, I’ve missed my visits to your blog!! I took a massive break, but I’m back (I morphed from alissasart to morphodidius at


    February 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm

  3. Thanks for the blog. I discover an old friend-Noel Forster. We said goodbye to each other in Newcastle 1962-he going to the States, I going to East Africa. We knew we would not see each other again. I am sorry to learn that he has now died but I loved visiting images of his work and studio on-line.


    February 20, 2012 at 3:27 am

  4. Thank you David, Alissa and Godricfinchale for commenting and I am pleased to hear that you connected with About Painting. I noticed that Transition Gallery do a regular publication Garageland the current issue specifically on painting. I liked their advert for it that said

    “Lots of artists still choose to paint. In many ways, this is quite remarkable given the multitude of reactionary ‘artists’ who give painting a bad name. But despite this and the prevailing agenda at most art schools to dissuade students from using paint as their medium of choice there is a continuing flow of newcomers who actually use paint in innovative and exciting ways. Maybe because of the lack of institutional support, there appears to be a thirst for painting knowledge. About Painting, which accompanied two shows at Transition Gallery and Gallery North, continues to be our most popular publication long after the shows finished and the Painting and Translating issue of Garageland, edited by Emma Talbot, is also a best seller. Thus the idea for the Paint issue of Garageland evolved so that we could continue to develop the dialogue about, by and for artists who use the gloopy stuff”.

    I was interested in the pages in About Painting by Noel Forster and the two images (I was not familiar with his work previously) I was also amused by his (possibly unintentional) joke that for subtlety of tone, you can’t beat egg tempera. Sad to see he died in 2007.

    Andy Parkinson

    February 20, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    • Glad you’re enjoying About Painting. Transition have a painting exhibition on at the moment and I have a feeling you might like Louisa Chambers’ work with systems and patterns. The new Paint issue of Garageland has a piece about her work by the curator, Ruth Solomons and is packed with other stuff, available online at Oh, and there is an interview with Chambers, as well as extended interviews from About Painting on Thanks, Alli

      Alli Sharma

      February 22, 2012 at 9:08 am

      • Hi Alli,
        thanks for bringing my attention to the new show at Transition.I was planning a trip to London at the end of March, but as that would be too late to see it I had better make one earlier as well! And I will also be ordering my copy of Garageland.
        Thanks also for the interesting links.

        Andy Parkinson

        February 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm

  5. […] these last few days, but my eagerly awaited book ‘About Painting’  as recommended on this post by Mr. Parkinson was delivered yesterday. It looks to be as promising as Andy promised and I’ve never received […]

  6. […] sleep, so…I’ve been up reading my wonderful little book “About Painting”  (see post by patternsthatconnect about it here) by candlelight (because its more fun that way) and I found this excerpt of an interview with Jo […]

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