abstract art, a systems view

Archive for January 2016

Now Has Already Gone! (How Soon is Now, Abstract painting in Nottingham)

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Still on the theme of shows I cannot get to, there’s even this one in Nottingham for the next few days, and although I live there I am just not around enough to actually get there. This is especially annoying as I am the one often complaining that it’s difficult to see abstract art on show around here.

That it is a pop up show means it’s here and gone in no time so aptly titled “How Soon is Now?” (27 Jan to 3 Feb only, with an opening night on Saturday 30 January from 6.30pm till 8.30)

Claudia Bose, Make Words Flow, 30 x 30cm

Claudia Bose, Make Words Flow, 30 x 30cm

So a very hurried post this one to highlight what’s happening and maybe to say more about it another day.

The venue is the Nottingham Society of Artists gallery, 71 Friar Lane, Nottingham NG1 6DH

Twelve artists work are featured in the show, spanning a range of disciplines; painting, mixed media, screen-printing, photo montage and sculpture. Showing fifty artworks highlighting the inter-connectivity of the featured artists’ work, in particular; adroit handling of colour and imaginative reworking of everyday materials.

lenoela Counterflow-Khaki

Noela Bewery, Counterflow-Khaki

Many of the artists are primarily painters, Noela Bewery, Lois Sabet, Claudia Boese for example, make paintings that are full of colour: acid yellows, warm pinks and vibrant greens. Jai Llewellyn, David Manley and Terry Greene all have a careful eye for colour, form and geometrical arrangements, mapping out elegant, sophisticated paintings.

The work of Rachael Pinks, Lauri Hopkins, John Stockton and Laine Tomkinson transform discarded book covers, cardboard, waste materials or rejected screen prints, re- imagined as vibrant digital collages or stunning mixed media works.

LOIS Eclipse

Lois Sabet, Eclipse

Clay Smith and John Stockton make beguiling photo montages that have an immediate and disruping political connection; featuring aircraft, sheep/cars in surreal displacement, or views of the landscape as if from an intrusive reconnaissance flight.

John StocktonUntitled-254 small

John StocktonUntitled-254 small

That’s it…more another day!



Reflections on the Paintings and Constructions of Natalie Dower

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A recent show I wish I had been able to visit, unfortunately I never managed to get there, was Reflections, Natalie Dower, at Eagle Gallery. There’s a good review of it at Saturation Point in which James Campion discusses the selection of works, reflecting on some individual pieces, specifically the Spiral Track works (1984), Colour Spiral Track no.2 (19) and Jungle Sphere, (1988), and briefly considers Dower’s relationship to the tradition of Constructivist and Systems art.

The exhibition, drawing from Dower’s career of over 40 years, and presenting recent paintings hung in counterpoint to selected historic works, including a selection of intricate reliefs that have not been exhibited since exhibitions at the Curwen Gallery, would have been an invitation to reflect on the connections between works from the eighties up to the present day. Even without a visit, in surveying material available online (the Saturation Point review, an Eagle Gallery website summary, the catalogue with images of the work and an essay by Laurence Noga), I am immediately impressed by Dower’s constancy of purpose along with the way that the relatively simple numerical systems she employs have the power to generate their own forms, almost even without the input of an artist. However, there is an artist here, constantly making choices, experimenting, offering feedback, thus contributing to that larger system, of which each work is a part, a meta-system if you will.


Natalie Dower, Travelling Star, 1996, oil on panel, 21.2 x 21.2 cm. Dudeney Circle, 1989, avonite, 31 x 31 x 4.5 cm. Images copyright of the artist, by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

Not actually visiting, I can imagine seeing the work, and I can also remember other works by Dower that I have seen before, like the one I saw here once at the Eagle Gallery, and where, in a conversation with the gallery owner Emma Hill, she noted the beautiful, subtly “faulted” quality of the painted surface. It wasn’t the charming oil on wood Hybrid from this show, but it so easily could have been. I now know enough about Dower’s paintings to guess that they share similar qualities. To really experience them however, does mean getting up close and seeing them first-hand.

Natalie Dower, Hybrid No. 2, 2007, oil on wood, 28.4 x 26 cm. Image copyright of the artist, by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

Natalie Dower, Hybrid No. 2, 2007, oil on wood, 28.4 x 26 cm. Image copyright of the artist, by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

In the excellent publication Natalie Dower Line of Enquiry Alan Fowler summarizes the distinctive features of Dower’s work, in comparison with other systems artists, as displaying “a greater lyricism, a more varied use of colour” as well as “a freedom from the strictly orthogonal imagery that characterized the work of many earlier constructivist artists”. I think the “faulted-ness”, specifically in the paintings, is part of what might be included in the idea of the lyricism of Dower’s style.

Some think of the slippage between concept and execution, especially when very slight, as in Dower’s paintings, as a particularly human trait (see comments by Richard Guest on a previous blog post, though referring to quite different content). I think they are right. However, isn’t pure abstract thought also entirely human? (Cogito ergo sum).

For too much of my life I considered “mental arithmetic” as an enemy, a bully to be avoided, because I knew I couldn’t subdue it in open conflict. I put it down to the method of rote learning that disagreed with me as a child, and to the threat of punishment for getting my multiplication tables wrong. That beauty could reside here was unthinkable. That was until I started to notice the pleasurable rhythm of “seven sevens are forty nine” or “six sixes are thirty six” (I may never know why “six fours are twenty four” and in fact most of the other lines of the poem, didn’t have quite the same swing and therefore weren’t as memorable). Then one day one of the clever girls in my class showed me a real table (I mean a matrix not furniture) that she had drawn and coloured-in rather attractively, numbering 1 to 12 along the top and down the side and displaying plain as day the multiplication tables, even making it possible to follow a line say from 4 along the top and 6 along the side and find in the cell where they joined the number 24. It was magic, and it was beautiful: epistemology and aesthetics combined!

I am in no way comparing this visual table with the look of Dower’s paintings, nor suggesting that her work is a demonstration of numerical or arithmetic processes, simply that the sudden discovery of the beauty of number, via the visible chart has some resonance with my experience of beauty in Dower’s art.


Natalie-Dower, Spin Off, 2015, oil on board, 13.25 x 18.9 cm; Three Triangle Series: Five Colours 2015, oil on canvas, 43.5 x 43.5 cm. Copyright of the artist image by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

Is there in each painting and construction a physical manifestation of thought: logic apprehended by the senses, not so much “word made flesh” as perhaps number made material? I have written before about the highly pleasurable experience of attempting to recover the numerical system that spawned a particular painting or relief, and only sometimes thinking I may have succeeded. I do think this is an important aspect of viewing work of this kind, though it is by no means the only thing.

It’s Dower’s work that has me reflecting on the beauty of say a root 2 rectangle, or even a double square, and that’s when I am viewing a specific piece, and also when I am thinking about a work that I once viewed. The numerical system, now communicated, becomes available to my thought independently of the artwork, as if there were such a thing as a “realm of pure thought”. Now what had become material becomes immaterial, non physical, abstract thought.

Dower has said “I want the image to be able to attract and hold the attention of the viewer” her objects/images long since attracted my attention, and continue to hold it beyond the physical viewing of artworks. Nevertheless I do wish I had actually seen the show!

Written by Andy Parkinson

January 28, 2016 at 8:58 pm

Richard Devereux, Continuous Now at Tarpey Gallery

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It already seems like an age since I bumped into a few friends at the PV of the Richard Devereux exhibition Continuous Now, at Tarpey Gallery, though it was only November. There is much debate about the work on show, mostly a fascination with the “how” rather than the more contemplative mode that I had expected. They’re enchanting paintings that probably aren’t paintings at all, and that’s part of what gets us into conversation before each work: “what is it?” not in the sense of “what does it represent?” but “what is this thing that I am looking at and how was it made?” They didn’t drop out of the sky that’s for sure but were they actually touched by human hands? They almost approach the acheiropoiesis of certain byzantine icons, that were supposedly made “not with human hands”. Their method of production, though it is clear that they were brought about by some process of making, is unfathomable, at least to me, and to those gathered at the PV, each of us offering our speculations, maybe they are printed, or possibly the process is close to photography. I get up really close to see if there is texture and if the smaller marks are really marks at all, much as one might check whether an image is a reproduction. I am searching for clues as to how the work is made. I take my glasses off and put them back on again. I look from the side and from the front, at different distances, and I am still unsure. Even when I decide one thing I later change my mind.

Richard Devereux, One Morning We'll Slip Into A Harbour We Have Never Known, (After Olav H. Hauge), 2015, aqueous polyester and pigment dispersal on panel, 121.0 x 162.5 x 5.0 cm. Image © Richard Devereux 2015

Richard Devereux, One Morning We’ll Slip Into A Harbour We Have Never Known, (After Olav H. Hauge), 2015, aqueous polyester and pigment dispersal on panel, 121.0 x 162.5 x 5.0 cm. Image © Richard Devereux 2015

In a recent article at Abcrit Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe argues that “we see paintings as beings rather than things. To share a space with them is more like being with a person than with a table or a rug”. Being with these artworks is not at all like being with a table or a rug. Maybe that’s why I think they are paintings, whether strictly speaking they are or not. After all, what is “aqueous polyester and pigment dispersal”? None of us here can explain it even though at first we thought we knew what it meant. Reading in the gallery notes that

the work is made by using a high-density pigment which is applied to a 100% cotton fibre membrane. By employing conventional masking methods and a variety of ‘pressure dispersal techniques’ – which have evolved over extensive periods of experimentation – the unique surface evolves as the dispersal flow is disturbed and randomised by a form of ‘particle interference’. The finished membrane is then mounted and then coated with several applications of archival, water-clear, acid-free, matt varnish,

helps me a bit, and I have to say that it does sound like painting, if not quite as we know it.

Other Places ()29.1 x 40.2 x 4.0 cm

Richard Devereux, Other Places (series two) II, 2015, pigment dispersal on panel, 29.1 x 40.2 x 4.0 cm. Image © Richard Devereux 2015

Once I get over that I don’t know how they’re made and I get on with just looking at them. I am captivated, enthralled even, but not quieted. My state is more one of excitation, and it only very slowly gives way to something calmer.

The paintings (?) are quite similar, monochromatic or almost so, always blue or turquoise, the parts entirely determined by the whole, yet themselves making up that whole, and only subtly differentiating themselves as ‘parts’. The differences between one painting and another becomes interesting. I have favourites, but it’s not easy to say why. I like the ones that don’t have a border more than the ones that do, and I attempt to rationalize why that might be. Is it that the border appears to display the work more conventionally, emphasizing the image more than the object, whereas in those that have no border the image/object relation is more ambiguous? I am enjoying all of them, each individual work having something at times only slightly different to offer. In One Morning We’ll Slip Into A Harbour We Have Never Known and Other Places (series two) II, I sense that I am looking at a landscape but only long enough to be brought back to the surface by the homogeneity of incident and lack of representational markers. But the surface is difficult to discern, I know it is flat yet it contains a strange kind of illusionistic quality, as if it also contains the illusion of another surface, lunar or aquatic. Then again, maybe it is a kind of weaved fabric I am studying.

OTHER PLACES (I), 2015, aqueous polyester and pigment dispersal on panel, 25.5 x 17.0 x 3.8 cm,

OTHER PLACES (I), 2015, aqueous polyester and pigment dispersal on panel, 25.5 x 17.0 x 3.8 cm. Image © Richard Devereux 2015

Other Places (I) and Other Places (II), both small paintings, have obvious similarities as well as noticeable differences. Other Places (I) has more the appearance of movement, as if the image was fixed in mid flow, whereas Other Places (II) is static both in the sense of “still”and in the sense of an electrical buzz that is almost auditory, and it seems to hold more surface detail. It’s this second one that I like the most. I really like it and spend ages looking at it. Yet, I find it almost impossible to verbalize what it is that I am enjoying so much. I like the other one, but I like this one more, why? I am reminded of a time I was viewing a painting by Clem Crosby in a London gallery not so long ago. A critic who joined me pronounced an immediate judgment, something along the lines of “the colour is awful”. I made the mistake of asking him what he thought was “awful” about it, only to find that If I didn’t already know he certainly wasn’t going to explain it to me, it was so obviously self-evident. My own view was that the colour was rather good, but I would have been equally unable to justify my position. I am not at all sure that the words I have learned to say to myself are anything like an accurate report of my experience. Is this the whole point of looking? Almost that the more difficult it is to say in words what’s happening, the more interesting is the work, but that’s no reason to give up on the attempt! Nevertheless, for now, I just look.

OTHER PLACES (I), 2015, aqueous polyester and pigment dispersal on panel, 25.5 x 17.0 x 3.8 cm

OTHER PLACES (II), 2015, aqueous polyester and pigment dispersal on panel, 25.5 x 17.0 x 3.8 cm. Image © Richard Devereux 2015

Continuing to look, it’s the constructed-ness of the work that regains my attention, and I imagine once again the method of its making and what relationship the artist has to each finished piece. How much control does he exert, versus the paintings almost making themselves? Could it be that the notion of self-organization, or autopoiesis is helpful in thinking about this artist’s production, a development from the acheiropoiesis I started out with? As Devereux says

The work continually evolves, the work carries me – it knows far more than I do – I’m simply a facilitator.

It is no longer idols or icons I have in mind, more the way that (living) systems invent themselves. I am thinking metaphorically, clearly paintings are not alive, yet we do tend to relate to them “as beings rather than things”. Is a painting akin to a self-organizing system, and perhaps specifically so in Devereux’s method, (though indeed I have little understanding, if any, of what that method might actually be)?

Written by Andy Parkinson

January 14, 2016 at 11:50 am