patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Francesca Simon at Making Matters and Site Lines

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I have seen paintings by Francesca Simon at two exhibitions recently. The first one was the group show Making Matters, at Platform A Gallery, a great space, quite big with lots of natural light doing justice to the work, whether the three dimensional objects by  Kate Terry or the paintings by Andrew BickKatrina BlanninClem CrosbyDavid Ryan, and Francesca Simon.

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Making Matters, installation shot, courtesy of Platform A Gallery

In my reviews of this show, at Constructed Realities and Saturation Point, I attempted to employ some distinctions to describe the work and noted that in applying them they seemed to break down. Taking the following list of binary opposites: Fact/Fiction, Object/Image, Construction/Representation, Faktura/Facture and System/Improvisation, it could be argued that all the artwork at Making Matters shows affinity with the terms on the left hand side of the dividing lines. However, these oppositions also provide a way of distinguishing between the works of the artists within the show. I could, for example, note that Clem Crosby and David Ryan demonstrate more interest in facture (including the handwriting of the artist) than say Katrina Blannin and Francesca Simon whose paintings could be situated more in the “faktura-over-facture” camp. However, the distinction breaks down if, allowing a confusion of logical levels, I consider that the preference for faktura is itself a signature style.

Left, Francesca Simon, In Construction, 2014, acrylic on linen on wood, diptych, each panel 122 x 93 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery, London. Right, Andrew Bick, OGVDS-GW #5, 2014, acrylic, marker pen, pencil, watercolour, oil paint and wax on linen on wood, 76 x 64 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London

Left, Francesca Simon, In Construction, 2014, acrylic on linen on wood, diptych, each panel 122 x 93 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery, London. Right, Andrew Bick, OGVDS-GW #5, 2014, acrylic, marker pen, pencil, watercolour, oil paint and wax on linen on wood, 76 x 64 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London

Similarly, whilst Ryan’s and Crosby’s paintings may look improvised whereas Blannin’s and Simon’s look pre-planned, this distinction breaks down, even without a logical level shift, as I discover that the difference is simply one of degrees. Thinking in terms of degrees of improvisation could also provide a way of (speculatively) separating out the six Making Matters artists along a scale for improvisation, perhaps with Blannin at the lowest end, followed by Terry, then Simon, then Bick, then Crosby and with Ryan at the highest end.

Francesca Simon, False Construct 1, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 110x144cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Francesca Simon, False Construct 1, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 110 x 144cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Seeing Francesca Simon’s new solo exhibition Site Lines at Beardsmore Gallery, I perceive more improvisation in her paintings than I did at Making Matters. There is evidence, in many of them, of decisions that were not followed through, lines that are marked out but not really used, disturbances on the surface, that subtly contrast with the very clear demarcation lines, edges and shapes that make up the final construct. I am reminded of the process of ‘brainstorming’ whereby a group of people generate new options by calling out, one at a time in strict rotation, whatever idea comes to mind. Although the majority of suggestions get rejected at the evaluation stage, they are absolutely required to trigger the breakthrough that results. Equally, I could think of the tremendous amount of labour involved in a construction site that is sublimated in the final, stable state of the end product, which would be closer to Simon’s abstract subject matter, the paintings shown here being directly influenced by the excavation and construction of London’s Crossrail project. Hence, we have titles like Close Construction and Double Girder Crane.

That the works are serial seems to reflect something of the constantly changing nature of the site, literally just outside Simon’s London studio. The Close Construction paintings present a void around and across which various geometric elements are choreographed, and the Double Girder Crane series could easily have originated from seeing that massive crane every day traversing back and forth over the gigantic chasm. Differences in the crane’s position generate a variety of shapes, echoing the changes in relationship between crane and environment. These shapes, together with the almost aggressive flashes of colour, a yellow triangle here and the blue of the crane there, find their way into the work.

Francesca Simon, Double Girder Crane 3, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm

Francesca Simon, Double Girder Crane 3, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm

The geometry of this construction site, is documented, even its movement is here, the inherent stillness of painting being set into dynamism by the zig zagging of diagonal lines. Only the assault on the auditory sense is lost, in the silence of viewing. I would be wrong to find part to part isomorphism, the paintings are “abstract” after all, but not entirely autonomous, the outside world entering through a  window into the artist’s lived experience, transformed by mental process and projected out again onto the paintings as geometric form.

Francesca Simon, Close Construction 2, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Francesca Simon, Close Construction 2, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Employing again the binary distinctions with which I started, I return to the poles of construction/representation and wonder whether there is a double irony in Simon’s geometry: 1) whilst her paintings are not a window on the world, her ‘subject matter’ is a set of events taking place directly outside her studio window, and 2) her work draws on, and is closest to, the tradition of constructivism, yet here we find abstracted ‘representations’ of a construction site, as if to neutralise the opposition between construction and representation that, at one time, for me, was at the crux of the argument for abstraction. Not that Francesca Simon’s paintings are representational or abstract, more that they are both and neither.

 

Making Matters was on show at Platform A Gallery from 9 Ocotber to 20 November

Site Lines continues at Beardsmore Gallery until 20 December.

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4 Responses

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  1. Thanks Andy for giving my work such close attention. I am slightly bemused by your last sentence! If my work is both representational and abstract, and neither at the same time, what is it? I would say abstract, as in resulting from inner process though drawn or taken in part from the exterior world. Some sort of inner process is surely universal in all fields of painting, in making art of any sort. But perhaps we need to distinguish abstraction which literally unearths something from something else, the physical world or another field of activity, such as photography or architecture, from work which apparently operates from an internal point of reference. Or is this too simplistic, the potential categories of abstraction too numerous, for any useful distinctions to be made?

    Francesca Simon

    December 2, 2014 at 9:50 am

    • Hi Francesca, thank you for commenting, and for your kind words. I admit that my last sentence makes little sense! It was an attempt to suspend the binary oppositions that seemed so useful when I started out but that also seemed to dissolve once applied. I think I may be borrowing from a Zen tradition that posits a ‘truth’ as ‘this and not that’, and also ‘neither this nor that’, as well as ‘both this and that’ all simultaneously.
      I like the distinction you make between abstraction that unearths something from something else (abstracting from some other external world event), and abstraction as operating from an internal point of reference. (Do you mean internal to the work or internal to the artist i.e. the mind/imagination of the artist?)
      Would abstraction based on mathematical systems fit into the second category? And what about your own work – is there a case for it fitting into both of your categories? and neither?
      Oops I think I may be back where we started!

      Andy Parkinson

      December 2, 2014 at 10:45 pm

      • Francesca’s work is quite clearly ‘abstraction’, since that is what she does, abstract (the verb) from a subject matter. In a stricter sense, her work is not properly abstract at all, since in this definition (which I do think can be useful) abstract art starts with no source material at all and discovers its content via other means, usually just working with the material under the sway of an imaginative response to what is happening.

        Robin Greenwood

        December 3, 2014 at 9:55 am

  2. Thanks Robin for commenting, and for your clarity on the two meanings. I am working on a new piece on this show and I think that both yours and Francesca’s comments have helped me to be clearer about my own meaning! (possibly!)

    Andy Parkinson

    December 8, 2014 at 10:38 pm


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