Game and Play: Intuition/anti-intuition at Lion and Lamb Gallery
The paintings by Anthony Daley, Caroline List, Laurence Noga, Katie Pratt and Raf Zawistowski on show at Intuition/Anti-intuition at the Lion and Lamb Gallery until 29 September 2012 have something of game and play about them. The word ‘play’ suggests an activity that is free, spontaneous, intuitive whereas ‘game’ connotes something with pre-established rules, and an activity that might resemble work more than play even though a game is quite clearly played, rather than worked.
There is something about abstract painting that is playful. That dialogical approach to painting where the artist does not know what s/he is going to paint before beginning has a lot of play in it. Which is not at all the same as saying there are no rules. Even “anything goes” is a rule, and all behaviour is rule governed, we just might not know what the rules are. Then, there is another approach where the rules are much more explicitly stated and many more of the decisions about the work are made before the painting is executed. The former approach is improvised and the latter is pre-planned. The former seems more intuitive and the latter anti-intuitive.
On visiting the exhibition and reading that its title “refers to a shared approach through process and materiality” and that “a conscious strategy to subvert intuition is developed by an engagement with rules or games, often through self-imposed instructions” I can imagine that much of the approach these artists take is indeed shared. However, the degree of intuition or anti-intuition, play or game, varies from one artist to another. I don’t think that I am seeing anything here that is as pre-planned as say Natalie Dower or Katrina Blannin (whose work I saw when I visited last time). And even within this shared approach that deliberately follows rules, I struggle to work out what the rules are. And this is part of the pleasure of the show for me: I feel a bit like a spectator of a sports competition, the rules of which I do not know but seek to deduce by watching the game play out. Except that I get nearer to deciphering them when I watch the sport than when I see the paintings. It’s probably just me, but however long I study, I doubt I will fathom the rules. (Whilst I got a sense of this when looking at Natalie Dower’s paintings in that, when I was sure I had worked out what was happening I then discovered that there was much more going on than that, or that I was just wrong, at least I thought that I was getting somewhere, and most of the time I probably was.) Here I am less sure I am getting somewhere. Then, I realise that this too is a game. My experience as a viewer is both intuitive and anti-intuitive, I wonder if I would have been puzzling about the rules if I had not read about that strategy to subvert intuition, maybe I would have intuited them.
Anyway, I am enjoying the puzzle as I view the evocative and lyrical paintings of Anthony Daley, Caroline List and Katie Pratt. Each containing allusions to a world outside of the canvas, although what is being celebrated is the painting process. List’s painterly marks, fluid in blues, whites and greys, sometimes a shiny lustre glaze and sometimes a matt white flurry, can’t help but suggest a seascape, possibly being viewed through the porthole of a ship. And I am making tree associations when I view the highly playful lines and gestures in Katie Pratt’s marvelous ‘Jamerera’. Daley’s “like” paintings invite metaphorical landscape readings, not just in their titles.
I am finding landscape imagery in Raf Zawitowski’s ‘West of Eden’ and again I think the title confirms the association, but this time far from a lyrical evocation, I am reminded of the violence and ‘unnaturalness’ of nature. If the others made connections to earth and water now it is fire I am being confronted by. Then, in case I am allowing my intuition to over-indulge in associations the density of the surface (the paint stands about an inch from the canvas) brings me quickly to my senses, the look and texture of the paint as well as the smell, I can definitely smell oil paint, asserts the materiality of the painted object. C.G. Jung opposed “sensing” to “intuition” and I wonder if this distinction is relevant here, at least to the game I am playing of viewing these paintings.
The two paintings by Laurence Noga also bring me back to my senses, specifically the visual. That “colour underpins decisions” is clearest here. Yet the results of those decisions, that suggest control of the process, also lead to a disorienting effect in the viewer, as they must have done in the viewer/artist when the painting was in progress. It is as if the paintings assert the unpredictability of colour, however much you think you know about it.
whilst the process may indeed be anti-intuitive, the colour arouses not just visual excitation but also all kinds of intuitions, thoughts, associations, prompted by the experience of viewing but way out of the control of the artist.