abstract art, a systems view

Nothing Plain at Plane Space

with 12 comments

There’s nothing plain about Plane Space, an exhibition of abstract paintings, at Worcester Cathedral Crypt, 8 – 15 September 2012, curated by Dan Roach, artist in residence there. The show includes paintings by Karl Bielik, Katrina Blannin, Sarah McNulty, Dan Roach, Paul Rosenbloom and Gwennan Thomas, scattered throughout the crypt, rather than ‘hung’,  I guess partially because of the limitations of using such a poetic space (I would be amazed if you were allowed to drive screws into the ancient wall). I had no idea when I visited that as well  as negotiating the planar space of the abstract paintings on show, those paintings themselves would also be influencing me to explore the anything but plain space of the Cathedral Crypt, in a manner not unlike ‘hunt the thimble’.


Nearly every church building I  have seen today has an ‘Open’ sign outside it. Worcester Cathedral is no exception, and there are numerous visitors to the crypt who had no expectation of seeing paintings here. On entering, they look slightly confused, as if to ask (without actually asking anyone) “what are these people looking at?” Their experience may have been in the opposite direction to my own. I came to view paintings and they seemed to lead me to the space, they came for the space and it presented them with the paintings. Like the tiny Dan Roach situated at the foot of a statue.

When I posted previously about a Dan Roach painting, Zak Braiterman made the observation that my write-up sounded to him like a description of religion, something to do with clearing away of layers and gestural marks on the ritual surface . I am not sure I quite get it, yet it’s strange now to be seeing Roach paintings in this religious setting. And there is something of a ritual quality to his production, repeating his now familiar hexagonal motif, as if attempting to understand it rather than just to ‘use’ it, or as if the act of painting is a process of learning, of coming to know something that may already be known by others but for the learner is known for the first time, a revelation.

Dan Roach, New Unit, 2012, Oil and wax on oak, 20 x 34cm

In this painting the hexagonal motifs float in a space that I cannot help but see as deeper than the two-dimensional flat plane that I know it is and that the painting itself keeps reminding me it is, by the refusal to open up a window on the world of recognizable objects, almost as if I find myself at the moment where perception attempts to become cognition and the attempt is continually thwarted. Maybe that moment (which, following John Grinder and Judith DeLozier, I think of as similar to the state that Carlos Castaneda referred to as “stopping the world”) holds information for us, and abstract painting allows us to remain there for longer than we usually do. Those organic hexagons could settle, they could join in network-like formation, yet they remain perpetually frozen in that space-time moment of being just about to form.

Katrina Blannin’s marvelous paintings here look fully formed, yet in each one there is also a shifting, just when you think you’ve ‘got it’ the forms or gestalts shift and you notice a different reading, and then another, and another.

Even the fact that we so clearly have a series: diptychs exploring the same arrangement of triangles and rectangles in different colours, that change things remarkably, reminds me of the unfixedness of fixed things, or that within a rational order is infinite variety. I like seeing two of them here, and I hope for an occasion to see the whole series together. On seeing the first one, even in this small space, separated far enough from the other as to be unaware of its presence, my reaction is to wonder if it is the same one I had seen recently at the Double Vision exhibition at the Lion and Lamb Gallery. Even though I know it is not the same, the colours are different, I consider it possible that I am mis-remembering it. On seeing the second diptych here, I realise that both these two are different to the one I saw a few weeks previously. I am an identical twin and when my brother and I are apart we often get mistaken for one another, which could not happen when we are together. I think these paintings are like that.

In a similar way to the series reminding me that this one work is also a part of a larger whole, a system, this particular ‘hang’ sets up clear connections with the surroundings so that it is not just each painting that I am viewing but its relationship to a wider context. It would be difficult not to notice the beauty in the contrast between the copper colours in the wall and the blues in Blannin’s Hexad painting.

Similarly, the Sarah McNulty painting M (II), cannot not be connected to the environment when it is already placed on concrete before then being placed here in this space. Other paintings here sometimes have a pebble or a piece of wood perhaps, discretely placed beneath them to keep them straight, but these are not part of the painting whereas in the McNulty the medium is “Gouache on Linen on  Concrete”. The relationship between art work and plinth sounds like a concern more associated with sculpture. The object-ness of an abstract painting also brings this consideration to mind in painting and being in this space seems to emphasise that.

The painting Apostrophe by Karl Beilik seems to assert that abstract painting can evoke places and events, and that a motif might be borrowed from everyday text, yet in such a way that is ambiguous, are they “really” apostrophes or do they just look a bit like them?

Gwennan Thomas’s paintings are similarly ambiguous: forms that don’t quite form, bringing my attention to the way objects are formed or coded, before ever considering what they might mean.

The Paul Rosenblooms resemble cave paintings, marks etched into painted grounds, gestures and ritual again maybe, invoking a past much older even than Worcester Cathedral’s Norman origins, or of abstraction’s barely 100-year-old history.

On viewing these abstract paintings at Plane Space, I could easily begin to speculate on the status of abstract painting in contemporary art, for some already consigned to the crypt, painting being dead and abstract painting especially so, quite possibly in danger of becoming a mere footnote in its ancient history. Here in this crypt however, it seems very much alive, demonstrating its power to evoke and reveal, not so much the visual world outside it as the very coding of the visual.


12 Responses

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  1. Wow! Love this post Andy, and I find the use of space for the exhibition inspired. Looks like a very good show.


    September 10, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    • Thanks Stephen, yes it was a great show, very unusual setting, and I look forward to seeing more by these artists in the future. (BTW, I eventually got that parcel in the post to you last week, no idea how long to expect it will take to get to you).

      Andy Parkinson

      September 16, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      • Hi Andy the box has arrived safe and sound. I was very happy looking through it, and can’t wait to get to work on it. Thank you very much for taking part in the project. Can you let me know how much I owe you for postage and I’ll send you a money order.


        September 27, 2012 at 4:17 pm

  2. Enjoyed the article and images


    September 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm

  3. […] Nothing Plain at Plane Space.  Another great blog from Andy Parkinson! Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInStumbleUponEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Art, Contemporary Art, Modern Art, Uncategorized and tagged Andy Parkinson, Art Gifts, ARTprojectA, Contemporary Art, fine art prints, illustration. Bookmark the permalink. ← The Intimate World of Street Photography! […]

  4. Great idea for a show. Looks really interesting.

    Richard Guest

    September 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm

  5. Your writing about this show is brilliant and thoughtful as always. I’ve had to read it a few times to get to the essence. The crypt environment for this exhibition is challenging for the artists yet they have come through with a kind of surreal answer. Perhaps the juxtaposition of ancient and modern evokes the magic. The paintings shown are evocative of timelessness – there is nowhere that one can hang one’s hat. As a Castaneda reader I understand about “stopping the world” and I see these paintings as doing this…


    September 16, 2012 at 10:12 am

    • Thanks for your comments, John. Theres is some surrealism in there I think (though only now that you bring it to my attention), I was slightly worried about the Casteneda reference (too new agey perhaps) so especially pleased to hear your positive response to it.

      Andy Parkinson

      September 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm

  6. Morning Andy, I recently visited the John Moores (2012) and saw one of Katrina Blannin’s diptychs (similar in colour and style to the one in your photograph). i really enjoyed the beauty of its subdued colour and the subtlety of it’s painted surface. Great post!

    Terry Greene

    October 5, 2012 at 7:44 am

    • Thank you Terry. I have yet to visit this year’s John Moores but that’s a good reason to plan my visit soon. If I am not mistaken Katrina Blannin’s painting is entitled ‘Pink’ and there was a tiny reproduction of it in the recent Turps Banana, following her interview with Jeffrey Steele. I am with you 100% on the subtlety of the painted surface, I love her paintings.

      Andy Parkinson

      October 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm

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