abstract art, a systems view

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.


10 Responses

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  1. Thank you Andy for the excellent review of Treatment. As always i really appreciate reading your responses and thoughts on the exhibitions you visit and obviously i have a keen interest in this one!

    Terry Greene

    March 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    • Thanks Terry, I hope it shows that I really enjoyed this show. I liked your paintings when I saw photos of them, and I like them even more in real life. Much of the colour and surface nuance is unphotographable (new word) so when I said here that “sun in my hands” has a colour that is indefinable I notice that in the photo I could say it was towards lilac or purple or violet and it is fairly straightforward. However, in real life it is much more difficult to identify. Just one of the things I liked about it.

      Andy Parkinson

      March 8, 2013 at 10:28 am

      • Thank you Andy, i am really pleased that you enjoyed the show and it makes me very happy that you liked my work. The response has been very positive and just makes me want to get back into the studio and start making some new paintings! Re the colour in the paintings – i work a lot with wet over wet which has the effect of modifying the colour on the surface.

        Terry Greene

        March 11, 2013 at 9:49 am

  2. This looks like a great show. I’m sorry not to see it in person.

    melprest (@mel_prest)

    March 7, 2013 at 3:53 am

    • Hi Mel. Thanks for commenting. Yes I know that feeling well. I often experience it when I am viewing your website!

      Andy Parkinson

      March 8, 2013 at 10:29 am

  3. oh…just wish I’d latched on to this earlier…looks well worth a visit…but now it’s Saturday morning and I’m not going to get to Manchester. I particularly would have loved to have seen some of Terry’s paintings ‘in the flesh’…might he be interested in showing some @ HMS?

    David Manley

    March 9, 2013 at 11:38 am

    • Hi David and thanks for commenting. It was indeed well worth the visit.(I hadn’t realised how easy it was to get to Manchester by train,. I usually drive and I find it a really unpleasant journey.) There is also Paper Gallery more or less next door and from what I learned on my visit it appears that they arrange their PVs to coincide, and it sounds like they have some good shows coming up, so there may be other opportunities. It would be great to see some of Terry’s work at HMS.

      Andy Parkinson

      March 11, 2013 at 8:06 am

  4. Hi Andy and David, Thank you for your the wonderful mentions above! And David i would be keen to discuss any exhibition opportunity you might have in mind. I look forward to hearing from you.


    Terry Greene

    March 11, 2013 at 9:30 am

  5. really enjoyed reading your review. it seemed like a very well put together show. I’m sorry I didn’t see it in person.


    Neill Clements

    March 14, 2013 at 6:38 am

    • Thanks Neill. I enjoyed looking at your card on card paintings a lot. I thought they would look good as a book and then I got to thinking about the differences between artists book, digital and exhibition presentation, these works seem to me to lend themselves to all three, offering different viewing experiences of the “same thing”. Please let me know of any upcoming exhibitions. BTW I just noticed that my link to your blog site wasn’t working so I have updated it.

      Andy Parkinson

      March 14, 2013 at 9:00 am

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