patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘abstract art

The Paintings of Lisa Denyer

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I have missed too many painting shows already this year. One that I would have loved to see, but just couldn’t get my calendar to co-coincide with, was Geode, an exhibition of paintings by Lisa Denyer, at South Square. Often quite ‘formless’, especially compared to her earlier geometric paintings, Denyer’s recent paintings are like gaseous non-substances, diaphanous veils, pure illusion, immaterial yet at the same time exulting in materiality. The contradiction puts me in mind of Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried’s enthusiasm for “flatness and its delineation” being simultaneously an insistence on “opticality”, prompting the distinction between, and the ‘holding in tension’ of, image and object[i].

Lisa Denyer, Cube, acrylic on found plywood. Image by courtesy of the artist

Lisa Denyer, Cube, 2014, acrylic on found plywood, 28 x 31 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

I find this tension in Denyer’s paintings, which is not to suggest that she is committed to the Greenbergian position that was so influential for abstract painters in the latter half of the twentieth century. In fact, working against the visual modality, or opticality, is a clear interest in surface texture, which provokes at least an imagined crossover from visual to kinaesthetic perception. So when she’s working on found plywood, it’s the rough-and-readiness of the surface that is enhanced by the application of thin layers of liquid paint that adheres to the crevices amplifying the texture. There’s also an emphasis on the engagement of the viewer that Fried might have objected to, no doubt labelling it “theatricality”. The subjective participation of the viewer ‘completes’ these paintings in a fashion akin to the action of gazing into a fire and seeing one’s own imagined universe, or if not the universe, certainly the milky way, Denyer’s art so often resembling the night sky.

Lisa Denyer, Moon, acrylic and emulsion on found plywood. Image by courtesy of the artist

Lisa Denyer, Moon, 2014, acrylic and emulsion on found plywood, 28 x 30cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

The two dimensional paintings, usually on plywood, look like they were factured on the horizontal, either on the floor or on a table, and the images, in so far as they are images at all, look less composed than arrived at through operational processes. Leo Steinberg’s “flatbed picture plane” comes to mind. And it seems a natural step from these works to the three dimensional paintings on stone, which I do think of much more as paintings than as sculptures.

Geode, Installation view. Image by courtesy of the artist.

Geode, Installation view. Image by courtesy of the artist.

Like the works on plywood, these paintings also explore surface texture, both affirming and denying it, attempting perhaps to bring out the hidden qualities of the stone, as if the crevices, geode like, are lined with minerals or crystals. That the inherent qualities of the stone are highlighted reminds me of Michelangelo’s prisoners, where figures emerges from rocks “as though surfacing from a pool of water”. But there is nothing figural here, it’s more like space itself is surfaced, having been developed from something latent within the object, as opposed to having been imposed upon the object. In this respect we could make a contrast with Kurt Schwitters’ Painted Stone, where a geometric pattern looks more to have been inscribed onto the rock from without.
Lisa Denyer, Painted Stone. Image by courtesy of the artist

Lisa Denyer, Painted Stone, 2013, 23 x 17 x 13 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Denyer’s stones are rescued from local derelict buildings, ready-mades, years ago having been quarried, dressed and built, only then to become weathered and eventually falling into collapse or demolition, almost returning to their natural state, before she reclaims them, transforming them into giant synthetic gems.

Whether on plywood or stone, Denyer’s paintings have this gemlike quality as if by some alchemy she transforms her materials into precious metals, once liquid now gemstone, that when gazed into appear to contain the night sky.


[i] For an excellent recent discussion see the chapter on Opticality in Modernist Painting and Materiality by Graig Staff

Crossing Lines @ &Model

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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.

Installation shot showing works by, from left to right, Patrick Morrisey, Andrew Harrison, David Riley, Patrick Morrissey

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.

Patrick Morrissey, The Queen is Dead, 2011. Image by courtesy of the artist

Patrick Morrissey, The Queen is Dead, 2011. Image by courtesy of the artist

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.

Clive Hanz Hancock, Tower, 2013. Image by courtesy of the artist

Clive Hanz Hancock, Tower, 2013. Image by courtesy of the artist

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.

David Riley, Code, 2013-14, multiple materials installation, 33 x 180 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

David Riley, Code, 2013-14, multiple materials installation, 33 x 180 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

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?

Daniel Sturgis, Low Down, 2013

Daniel Sturgis, Low Down, 2013

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.

Installation shot, Left to right: Marion Piper, Free Man 3, Marion Piper, Free Man 4, Patrick Morrisey, Indirect Enquiry 2, Front: Mark Frangou, Tome

Installation shot, Left to right: Marion Piper, Free Man 3, Marion Piper, Free Man 4, Patrick Morrissey, Indirect Enquiry 2, Front: Mark Frangou, Tome

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.

Installation shot, Mark Sengsbusch, Right: Comb 15 (Anaemic Shield), 2011, Left Comb 9 (Frozen Reel), 2011

Installation shot, Mark Sengsbusch, Left: Comb 15 (Anaemic Shield), 2011, Right: Comb 9 (Frozen Reel), 2011

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!

This little painting is in Miami

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This painting of mine is included in the “show within a show” at the Art Basel satellite show Art Britannia in Miami Beach from 1 to 21 December 2013…

Andy Parkinson, Cover, 2013, mixed media on wood panel, 14" x 14"

Andy Parkinson, Cover, 2013, mixed media on wood panel, 14″ x 14″

I wish I was going too!

Written by Andy Parkinson

November 29, 2013 at 8:30 am

Aeneas Wilder Unitled # 155 at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

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Aeneas Wilder’s Unitled # 155 is showing at the Longside Gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park until Thursday 3 November 2011. It is an installation, made especially for this space, constructed through the careful placement and balance of uniform lengths of recycled Iroko wood, used for parquet flooring.

There is something architectural about it, temporary and delicate but architectural just the same. You can see it from a (slight) distance, you can see it close-up and then walk around it and you can enter it through a doorway, seeing it from inside and out like a building. But it isn’t held together by anything other than balance and gravity, no glue, no nails, no permanent fixing. So it is also time dependant, like a performance, it will exist for a certain time, and to end the installation the artist will deconstruct it in only a few seconds, the final curtain close taking the form of a kick down.

 

You can reserve a place for the kick down scheduled to take place at 4pm on 3 November.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 19, 2011 at 8:00 am

in the Attic

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A few hundred yards from my hotel in Swansea (see yesterday blog), there is the Attic Gallery, apparently Wales’ longest established private gallery.

Attic attic gallery

The Attic website says that the gallery “was founded in 1962 to highlight the work of contemporary artists working in Wales.” I think the word ‘contemporary’ here refers to ‘living and working today’ as opposed to ‘modern’ or, in more recent usage, ‘more modern than modern’, which may also imply ‘post-modern’ and ‘having “high Art” pretensions’. I wouldn’t describe the work on show at Attic using these other definitions of the word ‘contemporary’.

I saw paintings by Kathryn Le Grice. I liked them. Here’s an image of one the paintings in the show, (on until Saturday 2 July), Central Park NY (Bridge II) . Painted in 2010/11, I understand that is is more typical of her earlier work.

Kathryn Le Grice, Central Park, NY (Bridge II), mixed media, 17.5 x 23 ins,image courtesy of Attic Gallery

And here is another, more typical of later work, Circle of Trees.

Kathryn Le Grice, Circle of Trees, acrylic, 11.5 x 7 ins, image by courtesy of Attic Gallery

Both these paintings, like all her work in this show, are abstract in the sense of ‘abstracted from’. (If my memory is correct Harold Osborne uses the term ‘semantic abstraction’ for this type of abstraction, which is actually a form of representation, as opposed to ‘syntactic’ or ‘non-iconic abstraction’ for work that claims to represent nothing other than itself. In the late 70s, when he was writing about this, I think the distinction might have mattered more than it seems to do today.)

Le Grice abstracts from nature and architecture “the patterns which form part of our everyday world” making paintings in acrylic or mixed media, that are quite modest in size. The forms she paints inhabit a shallow, cubist-like space, if I have the chronology correct many of the later works are larger in size.

Circle of Trees is a later painting, but small at less than 12″ in either direction. It is the stained-glass-like luminosity of the colour that impresses me. Even from a distance it looks bright. It is reminiscent of a Rouault, with the thick black lines adding to both the stained-glass look and to the luminosity of the colours, arranged in complementaries of green/red and blue/orange.  It has a rhythm based on a central diagonal line around which the tree shapes seem to curve, creating a single arabesque shape.

It is supposed to be decorative, and it is! Decorative is a bad word in some circles. It’s not a bad word for me. And not for the circle of trees either!

why systems thinking?

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Someone said that they would like to know more about the link between systems thinking and my abstract paintings.

beer game set up

Set up for The Beer Game, a simulation (devised by Jay Forrester) that helps teach systems thinking in organisations

Berkeley Square 1

Berkeley Square 1, marker pen on post-it notes on board, 122cm x 122cm, by Andy Parkinson

For some, in the late 1960’s, systems art seemed to point beyond the impasse of late modernism.

This impasse was seen to be the result of a reductionist approach where art was divesting itself of all that was unnecessary to its specific characteristics. The art critics Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried were great proponents of this reductionist grand narrative, and their heroes were the Abstract Expressionists (Pollock, Newman, Motherwell, Rothko, Gottleib, Frankenthaler, etc)  and later, so called Post-Painterly Abstraction, and colour field painting (Stella, Louis, Noland, Olitski etc)  that had supposedly shown the way beyond Jackson Pollock’s all-over painting via the staining technique that they claimed to have learned from Helen Frankenthaler’s watercolour Mountains and Sea.  However, where could you go to beyond the (monochromatic) colour field?

Systems thinking outside of the art world had been catching on for some time. Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory (1968) brought together much that he had been working on for years previously, concentrating on how systems are structured. In 1948 Norbert Weiner published Cybernetics, focussing on how a system functions, regardless of what the system is. A group of systems thinkers from different disciplines, including Weiner, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, John Von Neumann and Warren McCulloch had been meeting every year between 1942 and 1951 at the Macy conferences.  In 1961 Jay Forrester applied systems thinking to the economy, urban industry and housing. Donella Meadows and the Club of Rome applied systems thinking to problems of pollution and ecology, resulting in the publication of the influential book The Limits to Growth in 1972. Much later (1990) Peter Senge applied systems thinking to management and organisations in his book The Fifth Discipline. The work of W. Edwards Deming is also an example of systems thinking applied to business and management. I would also argue that Karl Marx was a great systems thinker long before the term was coined.

(I came to systems thinking through my work with people in organisations not primarily as an artist. In relation to painting I had more or less given up on it, after all where else could you go after the monochrome colour field?)

Systems thinking was largely a reaction against reductionism in science and an attempt to unify its various disciplines. It argued that real systems are open to, and interact with, their environments, and that they can acquire qualitatively new properties through emergence, resulting in continual evolution.

Rather than reducing an entity (e.g. the human body) to the properties of its parts or elements (e.g. organs or cells), systems theory focuses on the arrangement of and relations between the parts which connect them into a whole. This particular organisation determines a system, which is independent of the concrete substance of the elements (e.g. particles, cells, transistors, people, etc).

From http://www.istheory.yorku.ca/generalsystemstheory.htm

It was only a matter of time before someone in the visual art world would notice that systems thinking promised an alternative approach to modernist reductionism.  One such ‘someone’ was Jack Burnham.

Jack Burnham’s systems aesthetic took issue with late modernist painting, offering five key insights:

  1. That there has been a transition from an object-oriented to a systems-oriented culture.
  2. That art does not reside in material entities.
  3. That art is not autonomous.
  4. That art is conceptual focus.
  5. That no definition or theory of art can be historically invariant.

For many involved in systems aesthetics this spelled the death of painting (one day I must blog about painting’s many deaths). Burnham and others majored on the context in which art takes place: the system of art production.

For me, these five insights can be appropriate to painting itself. Rather than emphasising objecthood, materiality and autonomy, painting can be systems oriented, serial and conceptual and this is one of the ways in which I think of my paintings as systems. I am interested in the ways that the parts relate to each other in the whole that is the painting, and in the larger whole that is the viewing experience. I am interested in the system: artist/painting/viewer(s) and particularly in the ways in which viewers can have differing perceptions (physically, emotionally and conceptually) of a painting.