patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

At Lion and Lamb Gallery: Summer Saloon Show 2014

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There are some wonderful paintings (etc.) on show at the Lion and Lamb Summer Saloon 2014. My particular interest is in the “abstract” or “reductive” work.

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Onya McCausland‘s double painting Attachment, two eliptical shapes, mirroring each other, one earth pigment on ply panel and the other earth pigment on aluminium panel, seems to extend the criteria of what we mean by “painting”, as does Simon Callery‘s Red Painting (Soft), an object that resembles a canvas bag more than it does a ‘picture’. Both these are engaging pieces of work, existing in that space between painting and sculpture, and leading me to wonder whether the further away from the traditional definition an artwork becomes, the more important it might be to identify it as a “painting” in the title. The boundaries and settled conventions are challenged, whilst also acknowledging that painting is in fact a thoroughly conventional medium.

Simon Callery, Red Painting (soft), 2014, distemper canvas linen threads screws and aluminium, 22 x 38 x 6cm. My snapshot

Simon Callery, Red Painting (soft), 2014, distemper canvas linen threads screws and aluminium, 22 x 38 x 6cm. My snapshot

What gets challenged in Painting by Telepathy by Biggs and Collings is more the viewer’s perception than the medium, not so much questioning “what is painting?” so much as “what is vision?” The image alters depending on the particular gestalt that is prominent for me at any moment, and if you were standing beside me, then you might be seeing a different painting than the one I am seeing. Multiple views are present in the one object at all times, yet they can only be accessed singularly, one interpretation must give way to another. As a result, I sense movement, and space, “real” movement and “real” space but of a strictly two-dimensional kind.

Biggs and Collings, Painting by Telepathy, 2014, oil on canvas, 38.1 x 38.1cm, my snapshot

Biggs and Collings, Painting by Telepathy, 2014, oil on canvas, 38.1 x 38.1cm, my snapshot

I am impressed by the beauty of it, even though that might seem like a rather old fashioned idea, by which I think I mean the fascinating surface, the particular sensation of colour and structure, as well as this experience of shifting gestalts. I find myself saying “wow” and only then considering what such a response might mean, as well as how specifically it was elicited.

It’s a different kind of beauty that I find in Floyd Varey‘s painting. The perception-altering experience I had when viewing Painting by Telepathy is absent. Instead I see something more object-like, more literal, more able to exist on its own without my participation: objectively present, if that were possible. I am still fascinated by the surface and its extension beyond and wrapping around the support, on the verge of becoming three-dimensional, the simple result of a particular process.

Floyd Varey, Fruit, 2002, oil and wax on canvas, 40 x 30cm. My snapshot

Floyd Varey, Fruit, 2002, oil and wax on canvas, 40 x 30cm. My snapshot

Would it be correct to say that in Painting by Telepathy it is more image than object that I am aware of, whereas with Callery and Varey, it’s the object that is more prominent? If so, perhaps there’s a similar conversation going on in Ralph Anderson‘s Summer Toiler, the literal materiality of the paint runs, suggesting a triple movement, from image to object and back again. At times these material gestures cohere into forms I recognise but that I think are my own projections, like the figure 2 that I keep seeing, above which is a division sign beneath a telephone handset. It may also be a projection when I see visual echoes of Frank Stella’s later paintings, in miniature.

Ralph Anderson, Summer Toiler, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 40 x 30cm, my snapshot

Ralph Anderson, Summer Toiler, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 40 x 30cm, my snapshot

Playing with the process of painting, and of abstraction, David Webb‘s now familiar Parcheesi form becomes star-like against a blue/green ground in one reading, or alternatively, a figure emerges from the negative spaces created by moving objects on different planes, much as on TV, when the Channel 4 ident comes into view.

David Webb, Parcheesi (Green), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 51cm. My snapshot

David Webb, Parcheesi (Green), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 51cm. My snapshot

Tim Renshaw‘s tiny, immaculately executed painting, on aluminium, entitled Notebook Architecture 10, is in one sense the simplest of things, two sets of vertical lines, yet it is also highly complex visually, especially in the altering spatial relationship between the two sets of lines, which are stripes towards the bottom edge but when I attend to the upper half of the image they look more like bars that have volume and depth. Space seems to open up between the two banks of lines or bars, a space that twists as I attempt to make sense of it. The groups of bars starts to read like doors slowly opening, suggesting also a deeper space behind them. Becoming aware of the title I start to think that they could be behaving something like the leaves of a notebook.

Tim Renshaw, Notebook Architecture 10, 2014, oil on aluminium, 14 x 18cm. My snapshot

Tim Renshaw, Notebook Architecture 10, 2014, oil on aluminium, 14 x 18cm. My snapshot

There’s a host of good work here,with tons of variety. If this is an indication of what’s happening in contemporary painting right now, then I think it’s looking healthy.  There are interesting conceptual and figurative pieces along with other abstract works that I cannot do justice to in the space I have. One Two Three, by Julian Wakelin seems to be as much about what isn’t there as what is, Rebecca Meanley‘s abstract impressionist landscape, an alluring riot of colour and gesture, almost coalesces into a pinky-blue monochrome, whilst Louise Hopkins’s Outlast, a sophisticated work on paper, economically follows or counters with pencil and watercolour the geometry of folded paper.

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Julian Wakelin, Matthew Musgrave, Vincent Hawkins and Jessica Wilson all show paintings that are daring in their sparsity, I’d say audacious if they didn’t also appear somewhat vulnerable, their modest size and their informality suggesting an alternative to the polished and the spectacular that sometimes seems to be our dominant cultural expression.

Jessica Wilson, Untitled, 2014, oil on linen, my snapshot

Jessica Wilson, Untitled, 2014, oil on linen, my snapshot

There are two charming process paintings by  Erin Lawlor Slip and Bite, wet on wet, and showing clear enjoyment of what paint does when you simply make a brushstroke. In Catherine Ferguson‘s Angels, a blue brush stroke  traces a curving line horizontally across a vibrant yellow ground, populated by pink swirling shapes, at once gestures and figures, kept in place by a jarring orange frame.

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I think I stay longest with Natalie Dower‘s wonderful little painting Seventeen. It’s just 35 x 35cm, a 17 x 17 square grid (my maths! I’m struggling to work out what the dimensions of each cell must be), in black, white, grey and green, again the simplest yet most complex of things, I’m approaching it a bit like I might a puzzle, attempting to work out the criteria for placing the parts, only five different elements in all: a light green square, a grey square, a blue/green square, a black square and a white rhombus set inside a grey square.

Natalie Dower, Seventeen No. 1, 2013, oil on canvas mounted on board, 35 x 35cm, my snapshot

Natalie Dower, Seventeen No. 1, 2013, oil on canvas mounted on board, 35 x 35cm, my snapshot

Whatever the rules governing their placement, I note that repetition is involved in the whole but that the relationships between the five parts in any one line is never repeated, in any direction. There is nothing random about the arrangement of these elements, even if I can’t actually work out how to state the rule, the formula if you will. And I absolutely don’t need it in order to see that what results is surprising and interesting, in contradistinction to what is meant when works are sometimes labelled “formulaic”. It’s a system, and one of the characteristics of a system is emergence, where “larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties”, so that the space created by the aggregation of single grey squares, or the generation of just one complete grey rhombus, itself not one of the five elements, are emergent properties of this system. The phenomenon of emergence is where surprises come from, that I think is a feature of a systems aesthetic.

There’s also something akin to emergence that takes place whenever you bring an array of disparate works together in an exhibition like this one at the Lion and Lamb Summer Saloon.

The full list of artists included is as follows:

Ralph Anderson, Dominic Beattie, Dan Beard, Kiera Bennett, Biggs & Collings, Michael Boffey, Britta Bogers, Simon Callery, Ad Christodoulou, Graham Cowley, Karen David, Nelson Diplexcito, Kaye Donachie, Natalie Dower, Cath Furguson, Hester Finch, Andrew Grassie, Steve Green, John Greenwood, Vincent Hawkins, Gerard Hemsworth, Sam Herbert, Sigrid Holmwood, Suzanne Holtom, Louise Hopkins, Dan Howard-Birt, Erin Lawlor, George Little, Onya McCausland, Declan McMullan, Damien Meade, Rebecca Meanley, Matthew Musgrave, Selma Parlour, Tim Renshaw, Kevin Smith, Benet Spencer, Neal Tait, Dolly Thompsett, Joel Tomlin, Floyd Varey, Jessica Voorsanger, Julian Wakelin, Richard Wathen, David Webb, Robert Welch, Simon Willems and Jessica Wilson.

The show continues until 30 August. Later it will travel to Aldeburgh Beach South LOOKOUT Project, Aldeburgh, Suffolk hosted by Caroline Wiseman Modern Contemporary, 20 – 21 September 2014.

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