Crossing Lines @ &Model
I arrive very late in the day (both literally and metaphorically) for the amazing exhibition Crossing Lines, at &Model in Leeds, and being my first visit to this venue I am immediately impressed both by its central Leeds location, opposite the Art Gallery and Town Hall, and by the space itself, occupying all three floors of a 19th century building. Just looking through the window the work looks great and I am relieved that someone has waited for me so I can see the whole show.
I learn from the gallery notes that “The sixteen artists presented by Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hanz Hancock … all share reductive, formal, or non-objective approaches to image making”. It occurs to me that what we mean by labels like abstraction is as difficult to situate now as ever, and perhaps more so now because contemporary practitioners may well be doing something quite different than its early proponents. I usually hesitate to use the word “reductive”connoting, for me, a paring down to essentials, or a search for essence as well as a lessening, and I find myself unwilling to think of the concentration on process or form as in any way a lack. Seeing the work on show here, if ever I needed proof of the vitality of contemporary abstract/reductive/formal etc, approaches it is here in abundance.
I am even tempted to propose the word additive, wondering if, contrary to a “paring down” we get instead a “building up”, adding new objects/images to the world, objects and images that continue to be as challenging and interesting as the abstraction of 100 years ago.
Drawing on the constructivist tradition, Morrisey and Hancock pursue a systems approach, as do others here like David Riley and possibly Giulia Ricci and Andrew Harrison. Because I know that Morrisey’s paintings and videos (the video Four States, shown here is mesmerizing), are based on numerical systems, I attempt to work them out and fairly quickly reach the limit of my ability to do so without an external prompt. It’s one of the things that fascinates me about number in relation to images: attempting to “break the code”, is a specific mode of viewing, or state, that seems different to the one I engage in when I give up the attempt and simply look. And simply looking I appreciate the beauty of the image: I “get” the beauty of the abstract relations even without being able to translate them (back) into the numerical code. I think what’s going on here is akin to the pleasure I get from listening to Bach.
Looking at Tower, by Clive Hanz Hancock, I become unclear about what is image and what is object, I know it’s a relief, constructed from plastic tubing arranged in a vertical grid, yet it seems flat, I even begin to wonder whether the plastic tubing is a trompe l’oeil effect. What’s coming into question for me here is what I know, and how I know it: “how much of this construction is “out there” and how much of it is “in here” and realizing that it’s the interplay, that constitutes the art work. Here aesthetics and epistemology meet.
David Riley’s Code, is a series of digital images printed on sheets of paper, presented like brochures, and held together with plastic binding combs, the combs becoming part of the overall image. I read it as a painting, whilst simultaneously seeing printed digital material, and again I believe that the image is based on a numerical or alphabetical code that I struggle to decode. It’s the very act of looking that I think is being deconstructed in the process of viewing this piece.
There’s something architectural about Riley’s image, as there is in the works of Andrew Harrison (entitled Construction Project 3 and Construction Project 4) and Clive Hanz Hancock. In these pieces it’s the boundary or extension of abstraction, that comes to mind, as it does in many of the paintings here that almost approach figuration as in Mary Yacoob‘s Doodle Drawings, and the painting Low Down by Daniel Sturgis from his Boulders series, where changes of scale seem to create vast spaces and where abstract image becomes slightly humorous, perhaps referencing the cartoon, a kind of abstract pop art?
Vincent Hawkins’ paintings and works on paper are probably the most provisional of the works on show here and possibly Tom McGlynn’s Signal the most minimal, if such labels are not too misleading. Likening Hancock’s and Morrissey’s sculptural pieces, colour intervals on wood strips leaned against the wall, to John McCraken‘s minimalist work is I am sure also misleading but a connection I find difficult not to make. There are sculptural pieces here also by Mick Frangou, Phill Hopkins and Andy Wicks, all that seem to at least quote minimalism whilst also expanding it, Hopkins ans Wicks exploring the border between the two and three dimensional as well the border between art and everyday objects and Frangou continuing his personal process of repeating a T shape symbol.
Marion Piper paintings here from her Free Man series are marvelous. I have the impression that her process in these paintings involves a dialectical pairing of opposing forces that are held together by overlaying one upon the other, as if something suggestive of the organic (wavy lines or soft free-flowing motifs) is overlaid with ‘harder’ geometric designs, resulting in a synthesis which is both and neither the other two, “transcending them” sounds too metaphysical, and “combining them” sounds too prosaic, but in viewing the paintings I enter a state in which these opposing positions seem to be held in stasis, not just visually, but also psychologically.
I think something similar takes place in relation to Giulia Ricci’s beautifully executed drawings where a carefully ordered design begins to break down, or a pattern is systematically interrupted, the tracing of which, by eye and mind, seems to create a shift of state. This mildly “calming” experience is repeated for me in many different ways in this show, Frixos Papantoniou appearing to suspend geometric (mostly triangular) shapes in a contemplative space, David Leapman getting close to psychedelia, and Mark Sengsbusch presenting dualisms that are entirely matter of fact, (he describes them as “two-color painting(s) where there is no background or foreground. No layering. All of the paint is equa-distant to your eye”), yet the viewing of them is psychologically complex.
And perhaps that’s what I want to say most about this exhibition of contemporary reductive art: there is nothing “reduced” in the action of seeing these works, I experience more of an “addition”, a “fulness”, an “abundance”.
Crossing Lines was on show at &Model from 23 January to 22 February 2014. I just wish I’d got there sooner!