Archive for September 2013
Traveling this weekend from the Black Country, that beloved place in the Midlands, famous for its industrial heritage and the regional dialect, where I really did hear someone say “how am ya?” and see a children’s colouring book on sale for £2.99 entitled Colouring the Black Country (Lets See How Colourful We Can Make It), to the Lion and Lamb Gallery exhibition Black Country, curated by Nancy Cogswell, seems an odd enough co-incidence to mention it. In the exhibition the term has a more psychological meaning to do with memory, uncertainty, the dark unconscious, the buried and the hidden.
Two paintings by Gillian Lawler seem to reference dystopian science-fiction terrains where one might imagine that mining has resulted in not just subsidence but actual fissures in the earth’s surface. It’s just conceivable that they could depict real landscapes, the naturalistic style suggests as much, rather in the manner of certain Surrealist painters. And something approaching an updated Surrealism is the effect that the paintings have. They elicit a sense of unease, they disconcert, but only slightly, which somehow makes them doubly disconcerting. In relation to anxiety I have the impression that “less is more” especially seems to apply. There is something unsettling in attempting to work out whether the scene portrayed is “real” or fictional, whether to relate to the image as something abstract or representational and then the difference between the two becomes conflated.
Then I discover that the title of one of these paintings Centralia is named after a mining town in the USA that the artist plans to visit in November. The town has been burning underground since the 70s, built over coal mining deposits, sinkholes have appeared, creating fissures with thick dark smoke. All the inhabitants were urged to leave and only a few people still live there.
Nancy Cogswell’s wonderful painting Dopellganger II is similarly “both abstract and figurative”. I know that’s true of any painting (the famous Maurice Denis quote immediately springs to mind: “It should be remembered that a picture—before being a warhorse, a nude, or an anecdote of some sort—is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order”) but I have a heightened sense of it here. The horizontal bands of bright colour makes it highly reminiscent of an abstract painting somewhere between colour field painting and hard edge abstraction, and the precision of the representational drawing is close to being undermined by the paint drips and runs that become visible on close inspection. This uncertainty at the formal level is mirrored in the content. Is it just me, or is there something eerie about a partially opened drawer, especially when you can’t see into it? C S Lewis seemed to be onto this in the children’s classic story The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Narnia could be accessed only if the wardrobe door was left ajar. As a child I remember finding this truly frightening. But what to make of two drawers open in mirror opposition? Some form of communication seems to be taking place, but thwarted if ever it had been possible in the first place. I get the sense of hidden content that remains hidden even in the attempt to communicate it to another.
Julia Hamilton’s paintings here also have an eerie quality. Both are black and white pictures of objects, one is a jar with a lid, a ginger jar perhaps, and the other is a jug or a chamber pot that has the blurred look a photographed object would have if it was shaken on exposure. And there is an analogue-photographic feel to them, one showing more evidence of paintwork, drips etc than the other. I am particular impressed by the way the image seems to form out of nothing or nowhere, as if it had been latent, in the canvas, and somehow ‘developed’ using paint.
And that development could be seen as almost magical, a revealing of whats beneath, much as the surrealists attempted with automatic writing, painting as communication with the unconscious.
Chris Hanlon’s paintings are enigmatic, engendering a sense of something lost or forgotten, or covered over. Untitled, a picture of a curtain drawn around an object, looks funereal, like it might be hiding a coffin, or maybe only a theatre stage. It is familiar enough to be recognised as a curtain, yet unfamiliar, mysterious because we cannot access what might be covered. But then that’s what curtains do, they obscure. Here we have painting as a window on an obscured reality. We wait for it to draw back to enlighten, but it remains closed.
Cave, is a beautifully precise rendering of a fragment of cloth or paper, a crumpled surface that may once have ‘housed’ something else, a gift perhaps, but the thing it covered has now gone, so peering beneath it reveals nothing.
Richard Hoey’s Rent covers and reveals at the same time. Behind a slit in glitter encrusted fabric, is a photo of a crucifix, a combination of sexual and religious symbolism, opposing the sacred to the profane as well as questioning that opposition, whereas Reece Jones’ process driven, dark drawings of places reminiscent of cinematic locations carry an intense and absorbing psychological charge.
Rob Brown examines the way virtual reality penetrates the ‘real’. In Aldeburgh Arch and Chrome Limbo high colour abstract forms are combined with the hyper-real to create places that look plausible as illusionistic spaces, but that could only exist in painting, imagination or in digital media. They are artificial environments built on a sub structure of the natural, that for me act like metaphors for what in Chomsky’s terminology we might call “surface structure” and “deep structure”, abstractions in the sense of (continuing with the Chomskian language) generalisations, deletions and distortions, that serve to conceal the “deep structure” of directly sensed information. For Brown this is “akin to our relationship with dreams and the slippage that occurs when rationalising the unattainable and uninhabitable”.
What’s beneath the surface might be unpalatable “truth”, what’s on the surface is glossy and artificial. Painting here reveals its own propensity to decorate, to gloss over, to construct falsehoods. Indeed the children’s colouring book title may be apposite after all: in colouring the black country, let’s see how colourful we can make it!
Black Country, is showing at The Lion and Lamb Gallery, Fanshaw Street, London until 5 October 2013.
When the awards are handed out for services to abstraction, Lisa Denyer and Matthew Macaulay should get big shiny ones for continuing to bring interesting contemporary abstract paintings to engaging city centre venues outside of London. At Form/Function they bring together work from ten artists in a difficult space, an unoccupied office block at Piccadilly Place, Manchester, that works many times more than perhaps it should do, and the sense of it working, against all the odds, increases as I pay attention to each piece. Perhaps it’s the fact that the artists were asked to respond to the space, and its subverted functionality, that makes the show so successful.
The rich greys in Karl Bielik‘s “Arrow” seem to echo the greys of the walls, without blending into them, and there is enough natural light to see the subtle rhythms in the image as spatial passages between roughly painted figures opens up. A luminous yellow/green area underneath a layer of grey shines through to the surface. Above it a white painted area has a hardness about it and the spaces within it start to resemble the kind of space you get in a rock or mountain formation. It’s just enough to evoke landscape without attempting to represent a landscape, in the same way that a poem or a song might evoke an experience without actually describing it. Then the shapes seem more to connote a stage, the kind that children might make from furniture draped with a white sheet. That a grey/brown shape towards the right hand edge could be read as having an edge like the edge of a sheet of paper adds to my “home made stage” fantasy. But studying the rest of the painting ultimately denies these associations and I become aware of my active participation as an interpreter, that what I “observe” turns out to be a projection. And this engagement of my own epistemological processes is, for me, one of the attractions of abstract art.
The two paintings by Terry Greene feature painted lines on canvas, with accompanying events. They are nearer to ‘geometrical’ than other paintings of his I have seen, whilst in continuation with other of his work, he employs a method of making multiple iterations, arriving at a final form as if by thinking aloud, previous versions, becoming a part, even if as shadows, of the completed whole.
Paintings by Brendan Lancaster appear almost to grow out of the wall, mortar and other markings in the environment could be tracks or drips of paint from one of Lancaster’s canvases. However, the pictorial space in the paintings contrasts with the flatness of the grey breeze blocks. In Snag, a portal almost gives view of a world beyond the canvas but also continually brings my eye back to the painting’s surface. Long brush strokes produce curving bands, recalling a morbius strip, tracing a route that creates a shallow cubist space at the right hand edge, but leads into something approaching illusionistic three dimensions just above the centre. My attempts to make sense of what might be “out there” are frustrated by the reappearance of the wall-like surface toward the left hand side.
There are wonderful little paintings on paper here by Rachael Macarthur, one posted to a concrete pillar functions as a marker, alerting me to the possibility that the pillar could itself be a painting of sorts, having circles inscribed into its surface along with an accidental smear of paint. I suspect that it is the minimalism (I mean it in an informal sense) of the art work that leads me to notice what’s around it, and to include it in my experience of looking at the art. However, it is also the art works difference to the environment that becomes heightened. The stark utility of the surroundings contrasts with the uncertain functionality of the paintings.
Sarah McNulty‘s paintings share with the others here an interest in minimal form as well as an experimental approach to image making. I get the feeling that her paintings invent themselves under the general tutelage of the artist. I wonder if the choice to place the painting ‘Foil’ on a concrete brick was influenced by the Plane Space exhibition at Worcester Cathedral in 2012, where one of her paintings was similarly situated. Having seen that show I cannot help but make the connection, and to note both similarities and huge differences in the type of space being inhabited.
Lisa Denyer‘s paintings, once much more geometrical, these days approach diaphanous veils of carefully mixed colours, bursting into arrays of amorphous shapes, evoking landscape, and more often sky or space-scape, like miniature milky ways, . And the process of seeing them has similarities to the act of looking into the night sky and constructing images from constellations and clouds.
By now, I am used to seeing paintings by Matthew Macaulay propped up against a wall (at Meditations) or on a shelf (at Treatment) so it should be no surprise to see them here placed directly on the floor where there situation has to be taken into account when looking at them. In fact there is something vaguely humorous about their placing, so that although I shouldn’t be surprised I am, and I smile. That I get taken aback slightly seems right to me. In other arrangements of paintings by Macaulay interesting relationships between small paintings are set up, such that a novel way of organising separate images, becomes the art work. Arranging the paintings becomes drawing. Here the relationship with the immediate context rather than with other paintings could be seen as part of the work.
By far the most difficult wall to deal with in this exhibition is the one with the shiny insulating material and Macaulay dares to place a tiny painting of his against it, as if to challenge us to notice it. Next to it is probably the largest painting in the show that just about competes with that wall, a marvelous oil on canvas by Joe Packer entitled LizardDays, a tree-like image with barely anything happening in the ‘leaves’ and lots of painterly events crammed into the ‘trunk’ space. Daubs of contrasting colours appear to float in mid air, sometimes serenely and at other times frantically, beneath a vast green canopy.
In front are three raised platforms, displaying over 20 small images on paper by Phoebe Mitchell. They form a delightful collection that functions as an artist’s book (I might have said ‘sketchbook’, except that they are much more refined than sketches), each individual piece worthy of prolonged viewing whilst also looking good as an arrangement.
Melanie Russell‘s attractive new paintings are characteristically high in colour, with a synthetic quality, abstracted from “real life” observation (apparently, these have a relationship to power lines) they have become explorations of the kinds of spaces that hard edge bands of colour distributed over flat expanses of colour create.
Lisa Denyer’s three dimensional painting on a piece of stone salvaged from a soon to be demolished building is perhaps the biggest surprise for me in this show. It is clearly painted from the outside, yet with little if any evidence of brush work, the colours look like they are pushed or stained into the surface. Enhancing the undulations of the existing form, I could imagine that the colours, rather than being applied, are drawn out from within. Its an old discarded stone, transformed, made precious, but also in another sense quite unchanged.
In a domestic environment this and other of the forms in the exhibition, might function as decoration, (in my view a more worthy function than is often allowed), but not here. These forms don’t really adorn the space and make it more beautiful, they are too small for that, and the space too imposing, but they do make it more interesting, and seem to highlight aspects of the environment that I would quite literally have overlooked. The exhibition also poses questions about the what, the how and the why of painting, in other words about how abstract painting functions as well as what its function might be.
Form/Function, curated by Lisa Denyer and Matthew Macaulay, continues at Piccadilly Place Manchester until Sunday 22 September
Exhibition open: Saturdays and Sundays 12 – 6pm, or by appointment. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Seeing the current exhibition at Beers.Lambert, and feeling at first that the paintings in this show are too ‘figurative’ to be Mapping the Abstract, puts me in mind of the difficulty of talking about abstraction, and particularly the ambiguity of the word “abstract” in relation to painting. In one sense, the further removed our experience is from empirical reality the more “abstract” it is. Thinking in terms of “levels of abstraction”, seeing something in the “real world” is a representation “in our heads”, an image that is one removed from “reality”, already an abstraction even at the point of perception, to use Korzybski’s distinction: a map rather than the territory. When an artist then seeks to represent in paint what s/he sees, that representation is a further abstraction, a higher level abstraction if you will. To then “abstract from” that representation is a higher level of abstraction still. In this sense of the word “abstract”, a representation is a lower level abstraction.
However, the expression “non-representational” has also become synonymous with “abstract” because abstract art seeks to do something different than to represent. Consequently, some have preferred the word “constructive”, or “constructionist” (as did Charles Biederman, for whom Korzybski was an important influence) or “concrete”, which in that other sense is the exact opposite of “abstract”. Rather than being removed from observable reality the abstract painting is itself a sub-set of that reality, an autonomous self-organizing system. Things become further complicated when that autonomy is itself called into question as it has, for example by abstract painters such Jonathan Lasker, Francis Baudevin, Ingrid Calame or Fiona Rae, to name only a few.
It is against this complex background that the three painters in this show: Blake Daniels, Robert Fry and Benjamin Brett could be said to map the abstract.
Benjamin Brett‘s Dancer is very clearly a figure, as the title suggests, what the dancer is actually doing is difficult to work out, though s/he seems to be making a gesture not unlike the gestures the painter has made on the canvas. I have no way of knowing whether an observed event was the occasion for an abstraction or whether something resembling a figure was the result of ‘free’ gestural mark making. I recall that Kandinsky, in relation to his own paintings, distinguished between an impression (an abstracted representation) and an improvisation (an image that presents itself from within the mark-making process). I wonder whether Brett’s Dancer might borrow from both these approaches.
His painting Untitled, grabs my attention because of its similarity to a pattern I have been exploring in my own work, a diagonally oriented grid resulting in a rhomboid chequerboard, resembling floor tiles. My interest has been in how when the scale is small this formation becomes a network of scintilla. Brett’s formation is large scale which seems to reduce the optical ‘buzz’ of the image, retaining whilst slowing down, the figure ground oscillation. The contrast between the hard edge, flatly rendered ’tiles’ and the loose gestural graffiti drawn over the top tends to create a ‘background’ of the geometrical pattern, except that the gestures then interact with the shifting of figure/ground so that at times I attempt to situate them spatially somewhere in between the dark and light tiles, in an impossible space, or one that is available only to the sense of sight. I am unsure what to make of the drawings of hands, a cup, a rib cage (?) and I relate to them as if their purpose was to deface the geometry. Then I become aware of a blue mark, roughly central toward the lower left hand quadrant of the painting. When the white rhombus shapes are ‘figures’ it positions itself behind a ‘hole’ in the surface, but when they are ‘ground’ it pushes forwards so that it sits on the surface of the brown tile. It also leads my eye to the lower left hand corner where one of the dark tiles is painted light blue as opposed to the brown of the others and the tile above it is divided more or less in half along the diagonal, with the lower half in blue and the higher half in green, reading at times like these two tile shapes have been cut into the surface and I am peering into quite a deep space through the cut-outs. There is no attempt to create a believable representational space here, yet this two dimensional space is anything but flat, and anything but still.
And in the end, I think it is space that is being explored by all three painters in this mapping of the abstract. Robert Fry‘s paintings are clearly representations of male figures, and they are drawn with a certain degree of illusionistic depth within the figure, for example when the figure is side on, the half of the body that is nearest to the viewer looks nearer than the other half, and the space between the feet is readable as a three dimensional space. However the space behind or in front of the figure is not so readable, the space that the figures inhabit then is shallow, and the negative spaces between the figures also read sometimes as positive figures themselves. To me, they are tableaus with figures, bearing some similarity to ancient Egyptian tomb decorations except that whereas there the figures are flat here they are almost naturalistic. But if there is a naturalism it is only a naturalism of sorts, in that body parts, for example, sometimes occupy spaces of their own, or seem to have detached themselves from a body in a way that could never be an observable “real world” event.
Blake Daniels paintings are high level abstractions from the real world, the kind of abstraction that take place in dreams where there may be a narrative but one that makes little rational sense, bringing previously unrelated events together, and parts of different wholes interact in a space and time that makes perfect sense only in the dream.
Mapping the Abstract is on at Beers.Lambert, 1 Baldwin Street, London, until 21 September 2013.
Now You See It Now You Don’t, the 8th Terrace annual, is a one day only event, curated by Karl Bielik, it’s as whacky as they come, and amazing. On a warm sunny afternoon/evening in late August, 4-17 Frederick Terrace, London, becomes this delightful space for looking at art, socialising and listening to music.
Over the last six years 162 different artists have shown over 300 pieces of work in this now transformed, former wasteland. Exposed to the elements the works have shifted, faded, broken, rotted, remained and in some cases, disappeared. This year 64 artists have added new work.
In Lisa Denyer‘s painting, I feel sure that the watery stains, complementing harder straight lines, were in the finished piece before it was exposed to the elements. However, the possibility that they could be the result of weathering seems so right.
Similarly, in a 12″ x 12″ painting by Stephen Macinnis a red paint run that was likely there already, could conceivably have happened as a result of this unique hang.
There are works old and new by Karl Bielik
…a new one from Terry Greene
…and an Andrew Seto painting that has been here at least a year continues to look good. Painted in oils, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that it holds up against the outdoors, but what’s disconcerting is that such a lovely a painting is is so mercilessly delivered up to the elements.
From the slight damage to the canvas along the lower edge, I suspect that Valerie Brennan‘s painting has been here a while, but the image itself, the glossy quality of the paint and the brightness of colour looks undiminished.
…and the Paul Behnke looks vibrant and even on paper or card seems quite robust.
The wonderful, thickly-painted feast of colour by Susan Carr must surely be just as vivid now as it when it was hung, and long may it continue to look this good. An old friend of mine used to judge paintings by how much he wanted to eat them. I suspect that Carr’s painting here would have matched his criteria amply.
The delightful metal collage by Michigan artist Tom Duimistra weathers particularly well
Charlie Bonallack‘s framed image of a caravan parked outside the Duke of Cambridge pub is a continuing work. Each year a photo of the previous year’s entry is added. It is first dusted in a material resembling sugar or salt. The oldest is the clearest of the three, the newest being almost all white. It could be that as the salt decomposes the image becomes clearer, almost the reverse of the natural weathering process, and if that’s not actually what’s going on, it’s a good enough myth to want to perpetuate it.
I ask Leslie Greene about her intriguing vertical diptych (centre in the photo below) and discover that she has prepared her painting for a dialogue with the rain. The top half of the diptych features written lines of poetry about rain, its surface being punctuated by vertical strips of sellotape, which will decompose, whilst directing rainwater downwards in straight lines. The image on the lower panel is a photograph of a larger painting/collage that incorporates a broken umbrella into the canvas.
my own piece is canvas stuck to board…
and though it’s new to the exhibition, it already shows signs of wearing, along the top edge in the centre, two pieces of canvas seem to be pulling apart. How could I have ever thought that PVA glue would be tough in these conditions? Over time perhaps the canvas will come away from the support completely, leaving just the mount, something I really hadn’t envisaged until now!
There’s something mildly perverse or morbid about this show. I think part of the motivation for making art is the desire for “immortality” or at the least, in Alfred Korzybski’s parlance “time binding”, yet here the art decomposes (not quite) in front of our own eyes. Didn’t the Futurists think of museums as graveyards? Here, as autumn approaches, modern and contemporary works take their place in a graveyard that resembles a museum, and whether they like it or not, they all become memento mori.
The full list of artists:
Julie Alexander, Sara Aisha Amido, Karen Ay, Uta Baldauf, Paul Behnke, Beard and Ferguson, Eleanor Bennett, Maxine Beuret, Diane Bielik, Karl Bielik, James Blackburn, Kiera Blakey, Anka Bogacz, Brigitte Boldy, Charlie Bonallack, Alex Booker, Ronan Bowes, Boyle&Shaw, Nina Branhauser, Valerie Brennan, Anna Bruinsma, Rebecca Byrne, Matt Cahill, Eve Campbell, Susan Carr, Lucy Mink Covello, Bimba Champion, Alicia Clarke, Oliver Crowther, Roberta Cucuzza, Annabelle Dalby, Lawrence Daley, Annie Davey, Rosie De Borman, Julia Defferary, Lisa Denyer, Ludovic Dervillez, Pravin Dewdhory, Maria Doohan, Tom Duimstra, Brian Edmonds, Liz Elton, Robert Otto Epstein, Anne-Marie Fairbrother, Rob Flowers, Adrian Galpin, Patrick Galway, Yifat Gat, Sanna-Lisa Gesang-Gottowt, Matthew Neil Gehring, Mira Gerard, Max Gimson, Matthew Golden, Leslie Greene, Terry Greene, Philip Hall-Patch, Robert Hall, Julia Hamilton, Ross Hansen, Rupert Hartley, Michele Hemsoth, Aimie Herbert, Alex Hermon, Russell Heron, Gabriele Herzog, Dan Holliday, Jan Holtoff, Rebecca Hooper, George Horner, Christopher Hudson, Zarah Hunt, Jessica Jang, Helen Jarvis, Elina Jokipii, Nica Junker, Eemyun Kang, Ralph Kietwitz, Susannah King, Yoonjung Kim, Josh Knowles, James Lambert, Lindsey Landfried, David Leapman, Ron Levin, Caterina Lewis, Meg Lipke, Andrea Lippet, Susan Lizotte, Heidi Locher, Vibeke Luther, Stephen B. Maciniss, Nerys Mathias, Julia Maddison, Andrew Maughan, Tony Mcateer, Fay Mccloskey, Andrea Medjesi-Jones, Julie Miranda, Lorna Milburn, David T Miller, Nicola Morrison, Andrea Muendelein, Ryan Muldowney, Hannah Murgatroyd, Danka Nisevic, Emer O’Brien, Martin O’Neil, Susan Overell, Natalie Papageorgiadis, Melanie Parke, Andrew Parkinson, Cathleen Parra, Christopher Peabody, Joanna Peace, Grant Petrey, Caroline Piccioni, Velvet Zoe Ramos, Shirome Ratne, George Riley, Jon Riley, Dan Roach, Andy Robertson, Matthew Robinson, Will Robson-Scott, Anne Rusinoff, Rachel Russell, Cheryl Saunders, Matthew Saunders, Julie Schwartz, Gert Scheerlinck, Frances Scott, Andrew Seto, Ariane Severin, Jennifer Sheperd, Jason Shulman, Emma-Jane Spain, Lili Spain, Marianne Spurr, Richard Stone, Madeleine Strindberg, Martha Thorn, Sabine Tress, Sophie Tomlinson, Emily Trotter, Lee Tusman, Claire Undy, Marijke Vasey, Georgina Vinsun, Maxwell Wade, Julian Wakelin, Tobias Wenzel, Ian White Williams, James White, Emma-Jane Whitton, Tarn Willers, Phil Wise, Retts Wood, Katherine Worthington, Elizabeth Wright, Stephen Wright and Blair Zaye