patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Archive for March 2013

Line & Circle and Edwina Leapman at Annely Juda Fine Art

with 5 comments

Although to speak about silence is to risk obscuring the very experience one might wish to elucidate, to keep silent is to risk it going unappreciated. I feel similarly about the wonderful exhibition(s) currently on show at Annely Juda Fine Art.  I will be careful not to say too much, but I must say something. I will keep quiet about the wonderful space on the fourth floor with a skylight that is perfect for viewing the new paintings by Edwina Leapman, and say nothing about the beauty of the works in the Line and Circle exhibition on floor three. It’s ages since I saw Naum Gabo‘s linear constructions and constructions in space, and I had forgotten just how captivating they are. Was it in the 70s that there was a big show of these somewhere and we spent ages peering at tiny constructions in glass cabinets and glass covered plinths? And whilst looking, really looking (the response that Gabo achieves so consistently, not just for me, everyone seems to be studying so intently) it is silence that accompanies us.

So, I shan’t say a thing about the amazing paintings here by Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart (an artist only recently brought to my attention by Terry Greene in a recent blog post), Composition N. 204, 1944/5, demanding silent contemplative viewing, like the Max Bill painting pura III, modest in size at just over a foot square, and containing almost no detail, the space divided in half down the centre and each half being divided diagonally from upper left to lower right resulting in four triangles, two in a colour approaching indigo and two in green, also resembling a zig-zag or ‘W/M ‘shape.

Max Bill

Max Bill Swiss 1908-1994, pura III 1990, oil on canvas, 33 x 33 cm

Impossible to determine which form is figure and which is ground, it shifts continually, from green figure against blue ground to blue figure with green ground, the colour relationship between them seeming somehow to be just right, as if there was such a thing as “correct”. Motion is arrested as I fix my attention on this object/image. It’s not just that the experience is a silent one, it’s more that the painting is the visual equivalence of silence: shifting, dependent on our perception of it, between presence and absence.

The other, much larger, Max Bill painting on show here, rotation around expanding white, a brightly coloured diagonally oriented canvas, equally interesting, seems a little ‘noisier’.  Perhaps it’s all that visual excitation. Similarly with the marvelous painting by Kenneth Martin from his Chance, Order, Change series: although quietude continues to attend my viewing, it seems slightly ‘noisier’ somehow than pura III; It has a ‘buzz’ about it. Based on preliminary drawings, this series of paintings is highly programmatic and yet incorporates chance, which defines the position of the lines and their sequence. The points of intersection on a grid of squares are numbered and the numbers written on cards which are then picked at random. A line is made between each successive pair of numbers. I am unsure how the colours are determined but I think I am right in saying that where a line has been crossed by another its colour is changed.

Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change 20, Symmetry B, 1981, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 91.4cm, image by courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change 20, Symmetry B, 1981, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 91.4cm, image by courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

It’s a lively painting, and I am enjoying seeing it here in this room along with others that share with Martin an affinity with the tradition of constructivism (some more some less so: Ben Nicholson, Antony Caro, Josef Albers, Laszlo Moholoy- Nagy, Naum Gabo, Kazimir Malevich and Olga Rozanova ). I am also aware that it belongs in a series and I would like to see more of the series to place it within it’s own more specific context. But most of all I am enjoying the dialogue that this painting seems to invite me into. Perhaps that’s why I say its a noisier painting than some of the others: here I am talking to it about the process followed for its own production.

On the fourth floor Edwina Leapman‘s paintings also encourage thoughts about the process of making them, and the series context is also present: 15 paintings all made in 2012, all of two colours with a ground on which is drawn a sequence of horizontal lines. I have the impression that on each line the brush is loaded with paint and the paint deposited along the line until the brush is empty and then re-loaded to recommence on the line below. It looks as if the position of the line has been determined beforehand but the way the painted line looks is determined only by the process of drawing the brush across the coloured canvas.

Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 183 cm, image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art

Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 183 cm, image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art

In some of the paintings the ground and the line colour contrasts in hue and sometimes they match, but they are generally closely matched in tone. Although I feel drawn into that conversation about process, and even more so having seen the Max Bill painting pura III and wanting to compare and contrast them, they do then bid me to become silent again as I view.

Edwina Leapman, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 183 cm, image by courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

Edwina Leapman, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 183 cm, image by courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

They have amazing optical qualities, that must be ‘simply’ the result of the colour and close tonal relationships. That so much sensation can arise from so little intervention I find surprising, also that each painting has a distinct character of its own, vastly different from the others whilst in structure being entirely similar.

It’s true that appreciating these is something more for experience than for words, and also that their visual charge ( I want to say power but that suggests something much more brash and not ambiguous enough for these) is extremely difficult to put into words. So I will cease my speaking and continue to look on in silence.

Edwina Leapman New Paintings is showing until 28 March and Line and Circle until 23 March.

Advertisements

Callum Innes at Whitworth Art Gallery

with 11 comments

The exhibition of recent paintings by Callum Innes  at Whitworth Art Gallery is astounding, quite literally breathtaking.

It includes works from his series of Exposed Paintings, where using turpentine, he removes layers of black oil paint to reveal underlying colours, leaving the evidence of his process on the canvas and around the canvas edges.

Callum Innes, Exposed Painting Green Lake, 2012, Oil on linen. Image by courtesy of Whitworth Art Gallery

Callum Innes, Exposed Painting Green Lake, 2012, Oil on linen.Oil on linen, 205 x 200cm, Courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London

As I am examining the edges of the canvas to attempt to discover which colours were laid down first a man interrupts me to ask

“have you found any?”

“any what?”

“any brushmarks”.

I think there are some, but the removing of paint is more evident and the multiple layers tend to prevent the perception of individual mark-making.

There are paintings here also from the Monologue series, in which washes resembling a waterfall or a mist cover the entire canvas. Innes’s paintings are rarely ever strictly ‘monochromes’, but I do think that they speak from and to that tradition, and I wonder if the title of this series hints at this.

All the paintings here are of a fair size, big but not massive. There are paintings that do not appear to belong to a named series, Untitled no 31 for example. On second thoughts, they do form a series: the Untitled series in which the canvas is divided vertically into two sections, sometimes into roughly equal halves, but not always.

Callum Innes, Untitled no 31, 2012. Image by courtesy of Whitworth Gallery

Callum Innes, Untitled no 31, 2012. Oil on linen, 160 x156cm, Courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London

Sitting down, I look at Untitled no 31 for a long time and it is only the nagging awareness of an upcoming appointment that eventually motivates me to get going. I want to say that there’s something timeless about it except that it also seems to mark the passing of time both of the artist in the making of it and of the viewer who wishes to stay on and gaze. It may be more accurate to say that it induces a time distortion. I get absorbed in the process of seeing, at first accompanied with internal dialogue but less and less so. Time seems to have stopped. It’s not altogether a reverie, nor is it all emotion; whilst there is something emotional about it, there is also “something for the mind to do”. I become fascinated by the line that separates the two ‘halves’ or that joins them, there does seem to be an actual line which can be seen very close up, absent from middle distance but becoming magnified optically after prolonged viewing from where I am seated a few feet away. The surface also takes on a slightly undulating quality. I have the impression that these optical effects are bi-products of the painting process rather than deliberately sought after or designed-in by the artist.

The exhibition also has a selection of works on paper and 20 new watercolours made especially for the Whitworth.The watercolours are displayed laid flat on a long table in a manner that recalls the process of making them. Innes lays the sheets of paper out in sequence and works on them in order, beginning each one by masking off a square in the centre of the paper, blocking it out with a wash of watercolour and leaving it to partially dry before removing the masking and adding further layers allowing them to be slightly larger or smaller than the initial square, so residues of the unmixed colours remain at the edges.

Callum Innes, Cerulean blue / Transparent Orange, 2013. Image by courtesy of Whitworth Gallery

Callum Innes, Cerulean blue / Transparent Orange, 2013, Watercolour, 56 x 77cm, image by courtesy of Frith Street Gallery, London

Each work combines two colours transforming them in the process into a new, indeterminable hue. I am reminded of the dialectical triad: thesis, antithesis, synthesis, which in turn reminds me that no ‘formalist’ painting can ever be only formal, it is always also trans-formal.

Callum Innes, Ivory Black Green / Titanium White, 2013, watercolour on Fabriano Artistico HP 640gsm, 56 x 77 cm. Image by courtesy of Whitworth Gallery

Callum Innes, Ivory Black Green / Titanium White, 2013, Watercolour, 56 x 77cm, image by courtesy of Frith Street Gallery, London

There is something right about seeing them laid horizontally, partly because it maintains the sequence, encouraging me to see each individual work as a part of a larger whole, and partly because I think the colours are slightly intensified when seen in this orientation.

Callum Innes, Red Violet / Gamboge Modern, 2013,  watercolour on Fabriano Artistico HP 640gsm, 56 x 77 cm. Image by courtesy of Whitworth Gallery

Callum Innes, Red Violet / Gamboge Modern, 2013, Watercolour, 56 x 77cm, image by courtesy of Frith Street Gallery, London

These works, whether the large paintings or the watercolours, are only deceptively, simple. All the actions that are documented in the production process are in themselves very simple, and sometimes they result in paintings that at first glance also seem simple. Yet linger only a short while and their complexity becomes more apparent. And it’s paradoxical in that the process of making is never hidden, it is in one sense clearly displayed. However, the moment I try to piece it together it eludes me it all starts to seem too difficult to follow, much of the process now being obscured by the very action of layering and removal of paint. If I might switch sensory systems for a moment I could say that viewing them is akin to the experience of listening to music by Steve Reich, on the one hand simple ( I resist the ‘minimalist’ tag) and on the other, highly complex.

The Callum Innes exhibition, part of the Whitworth Spring Season, opened on 2 March and continues to 16 June 2013.

Quick! Get Treatment at PS Mirabel

with 10 comments

The abstract painting exhibition at PS Mirabel Manchester is a treat, a sight for sore eyes as it were. But hurry, the last day you can see it is Saturday 9 March!

PS Mirabel is a new gallery space on the ground floor of Mirabel Studios and is open on Saturdays from 11am to 5pm or by appointment. So, having seen the write up of  the current show at Abstract Critical I made an appointment to visit.

Curated by Lisa Denyer, Treatment features the work of six contemporary abstract painters from across the UK:

Laura Jane Blake‘s delightful watercolour Fold Abstraction #2 unframed and simply pinned to the wall treats painting as an empirical means of investigating structure that seems to develop organically from a simple geometric starting point, the medium lending, as well as its translucent colour, also a looseness to what might otherwise seem too tightly formed.

Richard Ward‘s digital prints have a quality of light that, like watercolour, seems generated from the inside, similar to the experience of looking at a screen, possibly encouraged in the title Brief Encounter, recalling the 1954 film romance, but whereas that was black and white, set in the era of the steam locomotive, this image is in full colour and set in the digital age. Whilst including other references to the past, in the history of abstraction, particularly the photograms of Man Ray, these digital prints demonstrate what abstraction can be now and suggest what it could become in the future. After all, this is a show about the nature of abstract painting, the digital print being firmly placed in that category, as if painting could become, to quote Lisa Denyer in our conversation here “anything we want it to be”.

Mattise’s cut outs come to mind for me as a treatment of material that we think of as ‘painting’ even though the only painting was in the preparation of the paper prior to being cut. And if the paper being used was industrially coloured it would still read as ‘painting’, like the wonderful card on card works on show here by Neill Clements.

Neill Clements, series of cut-outs, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Neill Clements, series of cut-outs, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

They are individually titled, encouraging us to view each one in its own right and yet, seeing them in series like this, leads us also to treat them as parts of a larger whole, like a frieze or a cartoon strip. And they have some of the humour of a cartoon, almost like visual jokes, the one third from the right for example: Halloween. They also have tongue-in-cheek references to other abstract art e.g. Black Carl Andre…

Neill Clements, Black Carl Andre, 2012, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Neill Clements, Black Carl Andre, 2012, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

…and figural associations e,g, Valley.

Neill Clements, Valley, 2012, card on card. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Neill Clements, Valley, 2012, card on card. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

The unavoidably associative quality of otherwise abstract images means that it’s both the definition of ‘abstract’ as well as the definition of  ‘painting’ that is up for consideration here, in a way that is humorous without becoming ironic.

Terry Greene‘s work contains some humour too, especially when viewed with the titles, as in An ever-expanding, loving, joyful, glorious, and harmonious universe, which might also have some irony in it. Titling abstract paintings is, I think, a better strategy for differentiation than say numbering them and although “Untitled” avoids over-influencing the viewers’ interpretation it makes differentiation impossible. So Greene’s titles are ambiguous and seem free-associative both for artist and viewer, (free association being a psycho-therapeutic treatment all of its own). The image reminds me of a portal, a window on the world, but one that thwarts the attempt to find a world out there. I am particularly impressed by Greene’s use of colour and the variety of the acrylic paint handling. In Cathedral the build up of paint at the edges, overflowing the sides of the support acts as a record of the process and invites the viewer to imagine how that process led to the realization of this particular image/object. The paint in That’s the sun in my hands, man! looks like it was squeegeed in opposite directions forming two impasto waves in the act of separation, revealing a ‘sky’ of almost indeterminable colour.

Terry Greene, That's the sun in my hands, man! 2012, acrylic on canvas. 12" x 16". Image by courtesy of the artist

Terry Greene, That’s the sun in my hands, man! 2012, acrylic on canvas. 12″ x 16″. Image by courtesy of the artist

Mark Kennard  in his treatment of paint employs more of a staining technique, the weave of the canvas showing through most of the time. Untitled is a near monochrome surface where the staining/brushing of paint has been interrupted creating a horizon line where an underpainted ground shows through and appears to glow. The whole surface has something of a glowing quality, and on closer inspection the paint looks thicker than I first thought, and has a gloss sheen to it. I cannot tell whether it is a varnish applied to the paint surface afterwards or whether the thick gloss quality is in the paint itself. I suspect it is the latter. However, the overall impression is of a lightness that may be my own ‘treatment’ in that it may be more optical than material.

Mark Kennard, Untitled, 2012, Oil on Canvas, Image by Courtesy of PS Mirabel

Mark Kennard, Untitled, 2012, Oil on Canvas, Image by Courtesy of PS Mirabel

Matthew Macaulay uses painterly mark-making in a variety of ways on different canvases arranged on a shelf, one canvas slightly smaller than the others and overlapped by those on each side, having the effect that I want to re-arrange them so I can see what is just out of view. But then all painting is like that isn’t it? There are other paintings included in the final version that are hidden forever underneath the final layer. In this arrangement the hiding is temporary, provisional, and the obscured detail could, theoretically at least, still be accessed. Reading the painting is more like looking at books on a shelf than it is like seeing a picture, there is little ‘image making’ going on here. The piece is entitled Coventry Construction, and invites a reading from left to right, where the mark making starts out simple and gets more complex, more layered and dense towards the right hand side, as if building up from scratch. It’s a construction, bringing to mind the constructivist tradition, yet some of the later marks are reminiscent of the more informal gestural abstract/figurative traditions, one canvas with Hodgkinesque marks and the final one more Aurebachian.

Matthew Macaulay, Coventry Construction, 2012, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Matthew Macaulay, Coventry Construction, 2012, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

There’s a world of variety of abstract painting here in this modest sized space and my own malady, a deficiency of access to abstract painting outside London, is amply treated at PS Mirabel today.