abstract art and systems thinking

Posts Tagged ‘abstraction

Generator Discussion

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On the final day of the Generator exhibition, Duncan Brennan from Kaleidoscope Gallery, posed a few questions for discussion by the artists. Here is an attempt at recovering some of the conversation from notes. I wasn’t actually there. Think of it as an exercise in constructed memory. I have also taken the liberty of adding some thoughts of my own. I think that the questions alone are generative enough to be worth a post.

DB: How would you define the type of work in this exhibition?

HH: It is work that is created by using a mathematical or logical system

CP (from the exhibition introduction): artwork that is by nature ‘generative’, created once an artist cedes control to an external system or set of rules. The artwork thus results not from the wholly instinctive decisions of the artist, but is formed by objective rules or logical instructions that shape its process or material outcome.

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, acrylic on six canvases, total 77 x 79 cm

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, 2015, acrylic on six canvases, total 77 x 79 cm

DB: Can you talk about some of the defining characteristics of generative work?

AP: In his 2010 paper Program, be Programmed or Fade Away: Computers and the Death of Constructivist Art, Richard Wright summarises Kenneth Martin’s division of systematic work into three types : 1) the completely predefined system which once set in motion can generate work independently of any further input from the artist. 2) a system that may be initially predefined but is then constantly altered through feedback, bringing into contact with other systems, the ‘program’ thereby being written in conjunction with the work itself. 3) the system which builds up from a primary act without any previous planning, like a self propelled aggregation of logical steps. The works in Generator may be closest to the first of these three definitions.

Charley Peters, Configuration #30,

Charley Peters, Configuration #30, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 25 x 50 x 3 cm

DB: What makes this different to other forms of abstraction, such as constructivism?

AP: I think it is situated within the Constructivist tradition, though that historical moment has passed. British Constructionist and Systems Group artists saw the need to abandon its utopianism and showed how art could be generated by a numerical or mathematical system. It is different from expressionism, which has been another strand within abstraction.

HH: Constructivism was /is a more political form of creation. Generative art has its own roots, the methodology and interpretatons are unique to the individual

Patrick Morrissey, Indeterminant

Patrick Morrissey, Indeterminant, 2011, Acrylic on linen, 6’ x 4’

DB: Would you agree that rules need to be constructive rather than restrictive?

HH: Everything in the world is generated by rules. Painting a landscape has rules that govern the outcome of what will be a recognisable presentation. Working in the constraints of rules or systems allows the artist to interpret data and input  in many ways. I use a system at work which plots the movement of the railways in graphic representation. I use the variations in the programme to generate  some of my own work, the patterns vary according to the input in spite of the fact that the system itself is governed or regulated by a computer.

Left Christina France, Right Hanz Hancock

Left Christina France, Equilibrium 1 and 2, pigment, archival digital print on German etching paper, 80 x 60 cm. Right Hanz Hancock, Untitled, 2015, mixed media, 51 x 51 cm

DB Can a computer make art?

HH: A computer can make extremely complex patterns/can create algorithmic sequences , it cannot make emotional decisions as to what looks good. That is down to human preference. I/we make sequences based on numerical systems, something working within the grid. Patrick created several works that generated themselves: a module was sent into rotation within a grid, in a concentric spiral and each module had a graphic relationship or difference to the positioning of the the other. However, because of the repetitive nature of the system, repeating aggregations became apparent, appearing almost at random within the matrix, i.e. the formation of pattern. This could then be sampled and magnified into groups and in turn, work was made from tha , a sort of generative mechanism or device to generate pattern.

JI: Yes, computers can make art but humans make computers. The computer is just a tool. An algorithm, performed by a computer, is just a mirror of a set of processes condensed in time and space. It is in this compression that the art lies.

AP: Your question reminds me of a story told by that great systems thinker Gregory Bateson, of a computer programmer in the days of big mainframe computing, who wanted to know about mind in his private large computer. He asked it, “Do you compute that you will ever think like a human being?” The machine then set to work to analyse its own computational habits. Finally, the machine printed the answer ticker tape style, as such machines used to do. The programmer ran to get the answer and found, neatly typed, the words: THAT REMINDS ME OF A STORY”.

James Irwin, Silicon Binary Progression (ii), 2014, HD video, monitor, media player, dexuob speed frame, MDF, 4 mins 15 secs

James Irwin, Silicon Binary Progression (ii), 2014, HD video, monitor, media player, dexuob speed frame, MDF, 4 mins 15 secs

DB: Has the computer changed the focus of generative art? Is the computer to generative art what the camera was to representational art?

JI: Good question and there’s probably the same analogue relationship between the computer and generative work, and the camera’s photographic image. It’s not that simple though. Using the computer is just one way of working generatively. It isn’t definitive of generative art.

HH: Human beings create programs by which the computer will create images, but the camera can only record the image which can then be manipulated both outside of the camera and electronically inside. The human brain has always generated images and pattern forming/art. The computers is a tool not a focus, as is the camera for human imagination.

AP: I have my doubts about that little word  “just”, as much as I do also about the idea of the computer as a tool. It seems to me that the computer, and indeed technology more generally, gets characterised as just a tool to make it seem smaller than us and in our control, like a spanner, a hammer or a paint brush, when in fact, as a system it obeys its own rules, and incorporates us into its usage. Nevertheless, in Generator it is the contemporary analogue, rather than digital, ‘programmatic’ that is being explored. The computer programme is often used as a metaphor for the human processes of thinking/doing, so we might wonder what the programme is for activities like walking, or breathing, or even attempt to codify neuro-linguistic programmes for performance excellence in any particularly field. In this exhibition the systems that generates the artwork are thought of as analogue programmes, which have clearly been around a lot longer than have computer programmes, but only now that we have the computer are we able to utilise the metaphor for thinking about thinking. I like the circularity of it.

Left, Mary Yacoob, Right Katrina Blannin

Left, Mary Yacoob, Modular Hakka House, 2014, ink and graphite on paper, 50.8 x 40.6 cm, Right, Katrina Blannin, blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50, 2015, acrylic on linen, 70 x 70 cm

DB: What characterises good generative art? Is it necessary to be either or both conceptually and aesthetically strong?

AP: I think Natalie Dower and Jeffrey Steele answer this best. Here’s Dower in an interview with Patrick Morrissey: “If the input that has generated the idea does not translate into valid visual terms I do not accept it.  I have had intellectually interesting ideas that I have had to abandon for that reason”. And here’s Steele in an interview with Katrina Blannin: “…something has good Gestalt or bad Gestalt — has it got a clear shape to it? I can look at one of my paintings and see whether it has good Gestalt or bad, and this has happened occasionally. A clear process of abstract thinking should lead to a satisfying visual Gestalt. I don’t necessarily “reject” or stop working on a project when this is not happening, but it bothers me, and I want to know what is going wrong”.

DB: Are you looking to formalise the human aesthetic?

JI: A human aesthetic is wide reaching and all encompassing. Defining a human aesthetic as work that shows signs of ‘the hand’if that’s what the question suggests, is too limiting”

AP: Maybe formal logic and formal linguistics, abstract languages, like mathematics, all pertinent to computer programming, have close connections to the formal ‘language’ of abstract painting.

DB: Does any of your work explore any of the hypotheses, the rules and processes of the scientist? Do you think generative art work like this can inform scientific study?

AP: I was going to say that whilst likely to have been informed by scientific study, the relationship is unlikely to be reciprocal, but then I remembered that some of the truly fascinating discoveries made in the last few decades in the science of visual cognition was discovered by map makers in the seventeenth century, so I guess you never know!

Generator print by MuirMcNeil (2015), edition of 400

Generator print by MuirMcNeil (2015), edition of 400

Generator: Systems Logic and the Analogue Art of Programming, at Kaleidoscope Gallery from 11 June to 11 July 2015, included work by Katrina Blannin, Christina France, Hanz Hancock, James Irwin, Patrick Morrissey,  Andy Parkinson, Charley Peters and Mary Yacoob.

Ninety-Two Division Square Duo 2

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Andy Parkinson, Ninety-Two Division Square Duo 2, acrylic on canvas, each one 30" x 30"

Andy Parkinson, Ninety-Two Division Square Duo 2, acrylic on canvas, each one 30″ x 30″

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 14, 2015 at 7:30 am

Generator: Systems Logic and the Analogue Art of Programming

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Generator, curated by Saturation Point Projects, on show at Kaleidoscope Gallery presents a selection of artworks that are automatically generated, in that control of the artistic process and/or outcome is transferred from the artist to a system or set of rules. However, the programmatic here is decidedly analogue as opposed to the digital programming associated with “computer art”. 

Charley Paters, Configuration #33, 2015, acylic on plywood, 40cm x 50cm x 5cm

Charley Paters, Configuration #33, 2015, acylic on plywood, 40cm x 50cm x 5cm. My photo

Charley Peters Configuration #33 is unmistakeably a painting, even though there is only trace evidence of facture in terms of brush strokes or painterly gesture. It is a new kind of materiality, one that is informed by the experience of looking at screens or monitors, abstraction in HD perhaps. A gridded pattern of repeated triangles in blue green and pink, the subtle changes are to colour and tone but not to structure, leading to my reading it as a tilted spatial plane over which light falls. Yet I am finding no representational object, other than what might appear to be a wall, or more accurately simply this painting, a representation of itself in three dimensions, slanting backwards from the right hand edge. I am tempted to suggest that there is information here but that it is information about information.

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, 2015, acrylic on six canvases, 77cm x 79cm

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, 2015, acrylic on six canvases, 77cm x 79cm

My own painting here is a sequence of six identical hexagonal canvases. Each one is divided into two triangles and two parallelograms described by opposing sets of coloured stripes, more or less tonally matched. The stripes are themselves arranged sequentially, a light blue stripe, for example always meeting a yellow ochre one, dark blue always meeting black etc. and ordered according to the pattern ABACADAEBCBDBECDCEDEABCDE.

Christina France, Equilibrium 1, pigment, archival digital print on German etching paper, 80 x60cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Christina France, Equilibrium 1, pigment, archival digital print on German etching paper, 80 x 60cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Christina France’s Equilibrium is an ongoing series of screen prints and etchings, and here pigment rich,digital prints, developed from initial works on paper, made in response to notions of balance and counterbalance within a quadrilateral form. In the artists words: “Determined by size and colour, the 50:50 ratio of the square is altered and reconstructed within the initial format and without, employing chance operations to assign colours and placement within the square”.

Hanz Hancock, Untitled, 2015, mixed media, 51cm x 51cm

Hanz Hancock, Untitled, 2015, mixed media, 51cm x 51cm. My photo

In Hanz Hancock’s Untitled, rows of till-rolls in blue white and black are pressed into a square frame, and organised according to a specific procedural system, or analogue programme, in which certain rolls are pushed upwards in the framework in a particular order. I think that the puzzling out of the structure is an essential experience in relation to this piece, as indeed with the other works on show here. It might even be the case that this is a mode of viewing unique to the systems aesthetic. Other artistic traditions have contained elements of puzzle, think for example of a history painting, a biblical narrative or a mythical allegory. Identifying the actors and figuring out what’s being enacted is part of the enjoyment. Counting twelve people, for example, might cue recognition of the twelve disciples, or three female figures might indicate the three graces. However, in such instances interpretation, and number even, is about content, whereas here it is entirely at the level of process. Just as in mathematics, twelve, or three, are of interest in their own right, the language being abstract, tautological, rather than representational. There’s also something happening here to do with foundness and materiality, the till-roles being ready made and having more physicality than paint. The work is abstract in the sense of the word that is opposite to its usual meaning: it is concrete. But the system is abstract in the more usual sense of “removed from reality”. However, though abstract in the second sense used here, a system or procedure also has something of a ready-made quality.

Patrick Morrissey, Goodbye Ploy 2, 2015, video

Patrick Morrissey, Goodbye Ploy 2, 2015, video. My photo

Patrick Morrissey’s video Goodbye Ploy is an animation of a painting, the materially existent becomes material for video. Here we have a process of abstraction in a number of self reflexive moves: the abstract analogue programme is realised in a physical painting, which is then transformed into information, into animated image, not quite immaterial, but certainly more abstract than the painted object. James Irwin’s video based work Silicon Binary Progression (ii) seems to explore similar terrain, alternating between abstract code and perceptual image, and all contained within work station hardware. In Mary Yacoob’s intricate ink and graphite drawing, resembling an architectural plan, Modular Hakka House, abstract map, lacking any referent, has become abstract territory.

Katrina Blannin, blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50, 2015, acrylic on linen, 70cm x 70cm

Katrina Blannin, blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50, 2015, acrylic on linen, 70cm x 70cm. My photo

I love the literal matter of fact-ness of Katrina Blannin’s title blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50. We would be right to say that the painting does exactly what the title says it does, at least in terms of the programmatic order of rotated tone/colours within a set of tessellating mostly triangular forms on a lozenge shaped canvas. And we would also be wrong, because in viewing the painting, fact seems to give way to nuance, flat tiles become shifting spatial relationships. Perception is never simple, however reductive a work may be . Hence my attempt to describe it in a precise sentence fails. “The map is not the territory and the thing is not the thing named”. I think it is this slippage between map and territory, information and material, idea and object, procedure and outcome, generator and generated, that I am enjoying in Blannin and others’ work on show here.

Generator: Systems Logic and the Analogue Art of Programming, including work by Katrina Blannin, Christina France, Hanz Hancock, James Irwin, Patrick Morrissey,  Andy Parkinson, Charley Peters and Mary Yacoob is on show at Kaleidoscope Gallery until 11 July .

A limited edition print by MuirMcNeill with an essay by Laura Davidson accompanies the exhibition.

Other Rooms at Basement Arts Project

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Basement Arts Project, a non-traditional exhibition space in the cellar of a domestic house just outside Leeds, recently hosted Other Rooms, curated by Saturation Point, (Patrick Morrissey, Clive Hanz Hancock and Charley Peters), a show featuring works by the following artists: Giulia Ricci, Sarah Sparkes, Andy Wicks, Ben Woodeson, John Workman, Clive Hanz Hancock, Patrick Morrissey, Charley Peters, and Walker Hill, each containing its own light source, and each artist responding, whether in film, sculpture or installation, to this darkened alternative space, or other room.

Ben Woodeson, Super Sexy Sculpture.. Oh Yes! (my Photo)

Ben Woodeson, Super Sexy Sculpture.. Oh Yes! 2014, brass, cord, neon, books. My snapshot

I don’t know if I would be entirely correct to describe the works as “site specific”. I could imagine the animated films of Morrissey or Peters and the Ben Woodeson sculpture for example, having independent and portable existences. But I could also argue that appearing here they take on a character that is at least partially determined by the space itself, Woodeson’s Super Sexy Sculpture… Oh Yes reflecting its surroundings not outwards, as one might normally find in a mirror, but rather by way of its concave stainless steel surface, enfolding the external project space into itself, surrounding its own surroundings, as it were.

Patrick Morrissey, Goodbye Ploy 2. (my photo)

Patrick Morrissey, Goodbye Ploy 2, 2014, Animated Film, (my photo)

Patrick Morrisey’s film Goodbye Ploy 2, a system of flickering red and orange triangles and rectangles in grid formation, shown against the stone wall, will look like this only here, incorporating the particularities of this uneven surface into the moving image, such that the boundary between system and environment becomes ambiguous. Shown elsewhere, the image would assume some of the specific characteristics of another place. In this work the neutrality of the screen that normally allows film to transcend the limitations of geography is contradicted.

Hanz Hancock, Inside/Outside, 2014, mixed media, (my photo)

Hanz Hancock, Inside/Outside, mixed media, my photo

Clive Hanz Hancock’s installation constructed of circular pieces of PVC tubing stacked in a narrow vertical wood container alongside a fluorescent strip light is situated in a slim alcove. The light rather than illuminating the rest of the construction, tends to dazzle, distracting the viewer, bringing more attention to itself than to the subject we might have wished it would throw light upon. It is almost as if the light subverts its own purpose. Also, similarly to Goodbye Ploy, whilst the work could conceivably be sited in another place, at another time, making it a stand-alone sculptural piece, it will look the way it looks here only as long as it is positioned in this one space, so could be said to exist only here, affirming the particularity of the here and now whilst also contradicting the mobility of the stand-alone art object, or commodity.

Sarah Sparkes’ Flue is inherently tied to the site it inhabits and enlivens. An LED infinity mirror is located inside a hole in the chimney breast that may once have conveyed exhaust gases from a stove to the outside of the building. Am I to see in it a metaphor for the relationship of an artwork or exhibition venue to the external world? Not so much the world in the artwork, as the artwork in the world, in which it appears as a vapour which soon disperses and is forgotten. It may also be that, appearing to recede infinitely into space without ever representing objects in a ‘real space’ this art object presents us with illusion for its own sake. Rather than holding up a mirror to the world, this work is a mirror that provides access to the immateriality of illusion as illusion. Not a window on the world but a portal, or perhaps even a means of transportation, into infinity. Equally I sense being enticed to look into the flickering light as one might look into a fire and see images, the work, in this interpretation, now relating more to the inner world of the viewers’ imagination.

Sarah Sparkes, Flue, (My Photo)

Sarah Sparkes, Flue, 2014, Mixed Media. (My Photo)

Imaginary worlds, from a distant or mythical past seem to feature in John Workman’s Box of Clouds, a metal light-box salvaged from disused darkroom, containing a painting on glass of a figure in a landscape, the light inside glowing through the painted clouds and trees like the dying light of a Claude Lorrain painting and creating a dreamlike quality.

Andy Wicks’ installation, on the other hand, directs my attention to the world immediately in and around the artwork, to the here and now of the project space itself, rather than to immaterial, infinite or imaginary worlds. Making use of LEDs arranged around an empty plane, like a frame around a blank canvas, it’s as if he transposes the tradition of monochrome painting into another key. I am reminded of David Batchelor’s extensive series of photographs of naturally occurring monochromes, except that in Wick’s installation the monochrome occurs by artifice, constructed, but by different means than paint on canvas.

Andy Wicks, Untitled installation, 2014, (my photo)

Andy Wicks, Untitled, 2014, installation, (my photo)

I’m struggling to work out what’s happening in collaborative duo Michael Walker and Martyn Hill’s golden, glowing, internally-lit drawing, struggling that is, to work out how it is constructed and from what materials, is it card? It has the appearance of something more hi-tech than that. This engaging piece, featuring serial repetition of geometric units in a grid, likely employs a mathematical system that I am attempting to grasp, and again, not quite getting perhaps because of the back-light fatigue I am experiencing. There is a point at which a regularly repeated sequence starts to dissolve into a unified monochrome expanse and that’s happening for me now, so that what I am most aware of is the golden light emanating from this rectangular box-like object that is not painting, or sculpture or drawing but perhaps a merging of all three. And this not quite getting it is, I think, part of the attraction. I am required to put in an effort with a work that gives up its secrets slowly.

Walker Hill, Prototype, Illuminated pared Drawing# 1 . 2015, (my photo)

I’m now engrossed in Charley Peters’ animations, 99 Drawings and 99 Drawings #2(RGB) ≤ (∆ ̇3) totally fascinated by these line drawings that become a cube that seems to construct and deconstruct in the process of rotation. In a way it’s a study in object formation, or how we construct three dimensions when our eyes actually see only in two. It is equally a demonstration of how we perceive movement when a series of drawings are presented to our eyes one after another in quick succession, that systems quality of emergence when two events are combined and something new and unexpected is generated, resulting here in a piece of work that is endlessly fascinating.

Charley Peters, 99 Drawings ...(my photo)

Charley Peters,Still: 99 Drawings #2(RGB)≤(∆ ̇3), 2015, animated pixel drawings. (my photo)

Giulia Ricci’s beautifully slow moving animation entitled Order and Disruption is beguiling, a pattern in blue on white is interrupted as parts become slightly out of sync’ with the rest, and then realign as other sections become slightly out, creating a sense of morphing and bending of space with worm-like figures appearing here and there, but so slowly that it’s difficult to differentiate between my own shifting perception of changing gestalts (that would be there in a still image) and that which is a result of the animation, almost as if that ‘other room’ of my own neuro-logical processing, perhaps not such a ‘black box’ after all, is here coming into awareness.

Giulia Ricci, Order and Disruption, animated film, image by courtesy of the artist and Saturation Point

Giulia Ricci, Order and Disruption, animated film, image by courtesy of the artist and Saturation Point

Thank you Basement Arts Project for your warm welcome, especially as my visit is made out of normal gallery hours. This is a great space for showing and seeing new art, and I am sure I will be back another day.

Other Rooms was on view at Basement Arts Project from 16 Jan to 25 Jan 2015.

Making Grey

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The Exhibition Grey at Harrington Mill Studios, curated by David Manley includes work by Chris Wright, Rachael Pinks, Dee Shiels, David Ainley, Kevin Coyne, Patrick Prentice, Steffi Richards, Joe Kelly, Paul Warren, Clay Smith, Sarah R Key, Lisa Denyer, Susan Disley, David Manley, Michael Finn, Louise Garland, Rob Van Beek, Shiela Ravnkilde, Jackie Berridge, Alison Whitmore, Kate Smith, Michelle Keegan, Simon Marchini, Beth Shapeero, Paul Crook, Fi Burke, Hayley Lock, Andy Parkinson, Helen Stevenson, Maggie Milner, Kate Smith, Tracey Eastham, Mik Godley, Flore Gardner and Justine Nettleton, very different kinds  of work in different mediums: performance, text, sculpture, drawing and painting.

Andy Parkinson, Grey, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 14" x 17"

Andy Parkinson, Grey, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 14″ x 17″

The theme for the show was inspired by a painting, in Manley’s collection, by Michael Finn, entitled Grey Blue. In the gallery notes Manley writes “it got me thinking…wouldn’t it be nice to ask HMS associated artists…to reflect, in whatever way they choose, on the colour grey?” The exhibition is a result of their responses, shown alongside the Finn.

I am intrigued by the multiple ways that the Finn painting presents itself, due in part to different lighting (physical factors) and in part to the subjective participation of the viewer (psychological factors). The appearance at first sight is of a grey ground upon which a darker grey frame is hastily drawn, echoing the vertical edges of the support. On continued viewing, the nuances of the coloured ground come to awareness. Colours shift and change, violet now uppermost, only to be succeeded by other colours: green, blue, red, ochre etc. This variability is a function of the process of layering one colour over another, resulting in a mixture surely more optical than physical.

Michael Finn, Grey Blue, 2000, acrylic on canvas, my photo

Michael Finn, Grey Blue, 2000, acrylic on canvas, my photo

It is difficult to photograph, the auto-focus in my camera cannot work out what to do, and though I switch to manual and manipulate the resultant, under-exposed image afterwards in photo-shop, I acknowledge that the snap hardly does justice to what I am actually seeing.

I think it is the case with many of the paintings here, including my own, that they almost defy being photographed, and it is certainly the case with David Ainley‘s Hidden Shafts: Grey, what you see in the reproduction hardly reproduces what can be seen in the work itself, and this is generally my experience of viewing paintings by Ainley compared with seeing photographs of them. Could it be that the paintings are much slower than photography allows? Standing in front of Hidden Shafts I am quite prepared to put in the the time that viewing requires and it is then that some of its hidden properties are revealed, layers of events becoming visible through the very process of being covered, like a stain that cannot be painted over.

David Ainley, Hidden Shafts: Grey, 2014, image by courtesy of the artist

David Ainley, Hidden Shafts: Grey, 2014, acrylic on drilled panel, 32 x 28 x 5cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

The tiny painting/collage  here by Rachael Pinks, entitled Tales of Ancient Pain, only just grey, more black, white and blue, lots of blue, prompting, for me, sea and sky associations, includes along the top edge, a scrap of text torn from a book. If I had brought my glasses with me I might be able to determine whether that fragment of text is the source of the title.

Rachael Pinks, Tales of Ancient Pain, Image by David Manley, courtesy of the artist

Rachael Pinks, Tales of Ancient Pain, 2014, acrylic and collage on paper. Image by David Manley, courtesy of the artist

The text, the title, and the seascape associations trigger for me a search for narrative, whether found in imagined content, perhaps a storm or a shipwreck, or in the process of assembling an image form torn paper, a narrative of sorts, perhaps a “process narrative”. I am especially interested in this narrative that is embedded in the act of making, and I think I find something of this also in David Ainley’s work as well as in Sarah R Key‘s.

I wrote briefly about Key’s painting An Equivalent Other, at Constructed Realities, wondering whether it might contain “some hidden or mysterious narrative”. The cluster of triangles becomes a depicted object, almost box like, with what could be opening tabs that create hints of a dimensionality, all against a dark ground that refuses to provide a context. The lighter blue/grey triangles at top, bottom and right can also be read as negative spaces, or a window through which two triangles one green, one violet, can be seen, if ‘floating’ in space they are anchored at edge or corner, so they never quite ‘escape’ to any place beyond this configuration. Even in describing the action I am doing so in terms of a narrative, again of sorts.

Sarah. R. Key, An Equivalent Other, 2014, my snapshot.

Sarah. R. Key, An Equivalent Other, 2014, my snapshot.

Whereas for many abstract artists geometry suggests rationality, with Key I almost want to say that her geometry denotes the opposite, though I realise that this is entirely interpretive on my part and it could simply be that I am inventing a link between her abstract work (she would say “for want of a better term”), and some of her more figurative paintings, (and again one could say “for want of a better term”). What I think I find in Key’s work is a challenging of the distinction. Rather than the polar opposites of either/or, black and white, we get both/and: shades of grey.

Grey, continues at Harrington Mill Studios until 28 November


Written by Andy Parkinson

November 17, 2014 at 9:18 am

Dystopia at HMS: Interview with Clay Smith

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Viewing images by photomontage artist Clay Smith in the exhibition Dystopia at Harrington Mill Studios, I am reminded of the constructedness of our present and that we do not necessarily live in the best of all possible worlds. All is not what it seems, just beneath the surface of civilisation is flesh and the ‘civilising’ itself may not be a good thing. There’s a series of images here that runs in a sequence revealing the process of social and technological development as beginning with control and ending in cannibalism. Yet all the images have beauty, whether in the soft magenta and tan colours or in the subtle blemishes that are as near to painterly that a photo can get. They pose questions for me about beauty, meaning and process. Rather than attempting to think through these questions on my own, I asked the artist for an interview. My questions are shown as headings with Clay Smith’s responses below each one.

Clay Smith, Blue Collar 1, 2012, image by courtesy of the artist

Clay Smith, Blue Collar 1, 2012, C-type print. Image by courtesy of the artist

To what degree do you think of your images as “abstract”?

My works are very recognisable, you can easily spot the imagery in them but I use them in a way that changes the culture or meaning of the originality of the image. I see that as an abstract variant. I change the meaning and use of the image, making the viewer look differently at the work, to think about the piece perhaps on an abstracted level. I love abstract paintings, I even tried it myself many years ago, but failed terribly! I prefer to look at paintings than photography as they allow the viewer to interpret the piece as they wish. I’d like people to perhaps do the same with my work although not abstract in aesthetic they could be abstracts in how we would deal with them intellectually.

How do you make them? Surely not physically cut out, nor likely to have been made in a darkroom, are they digitally manipulated?

I use photographic slides, I find them, buy them and get given them. I also make my own. I look through hundreds of them to find the images that I need, then I scan them. I used to send them to the Palm Labs in Birmingham but I now own my own scanner so I do them myself. When they are scanned and made into TIFF files I only adjust the contrast a little and that is it! I leave everything else as it was, the dust specks, the hairs, water stains and grit. I love em! Then they get printed onto light sensitive papers using a Chromira printer. The files are projected onto the paper as light, then it goes through another machine that fixes the image, then hey-presto! Out it pops. So, they are kinda produced in a dark room but on a modern technological ground.

Clay Smith, Landscape with Superimposed Cannibalism, 2012, Image by courtesy of the artist

Clay Smith, Landscape with Superimposed Cannibalism, 2012, Image by courtesy of the artist

Do they exist primarily as digital images that could then be printed, or are the physical images the artworks?

I usually have an issue of say 3-15 depending on the work, but I would like to start working on issues of just 1 so that the piece would be the artwork. I’d like to make photography just as important as painting, and for it to be viewed the same. I don’t like the idea of reprinting work over and over again, to me that takes away some kind of layer from the piece. Perhaps it begins to destroy its originality and heart. The sizes of my work mean a lot. Depending on the condition of the slide and its content, I will only print the work to a size according to how best the image will be displayed. Some of my pieces can only be printed at a small size due to the unfocused nature of the image or how busy the image is, and some can only be printed large because of the content of the image. For example, open mountain scenes that are pretty well composed and shot can be printed large as this gives a better impact.

Earlier you were using real moths, clearly a mix of digital and real, has that changed?

I was going through a transitional state when I was using moths and butterflies. I wanted to use two different ‘cultures’ with my work so I tried using insects and photography as a way of displaying two different objects within the same frame and making them work. My photographic work still uses two or even three different images in the same way as the butterflies did but I have gone completely photographic now. There is more material out there and of course I can make my own. With my new work I want to get across something very different then the butterfly work.

What specifically is the difference?

The butterfly works were objects of collage that would just be looked upon as objects of collage. Any attachments people would  have had would be more about how the two collaged objects worked well together. My new works are more about how the photographic images create an entirely different meaning and direction to the original image. They hopefully question the image, create dialogue that will change the way we look at images perhaps, if it’s only whilst looking at my work. I want the images that we recognize in the work to have new meaning for the viewer.  I have a lot more scope and flexibility with pure photography then I did when using insects. This alone gives my work more freedom of expression and expansion that’s open to reinterpretation and analysis.

Clay Smith, Landscape with Superimposed Masters, 2013. Image by courtesy of the artist

Clay Smith, Landscape with Superimposed Masters, 2013. Image by courtesy of the artist

Do your pictures come together by assembling disparate found images or do you have images in mind and go looking for them?

I collect as many slides as possible (good and bad) and go through them to find images that I am currently working with like open landscapes, empty townscapes or planes. I organise my slides into sections of ‘landscapes’ ‘planes’ ‘medical’ ‘towns’ ‘people’ etc. If I need to find some people to put into a medical image I know where to find them. If I receive a bag of slides I may just make a series of work from that one bag, keeping them together. I was given a bag of slides from the artist Laura Ellen Bacon and with the slides I was able to make just one image, that’s good enough for me! It is a good image. So sometimes I will keep a collection together or I will mix and match to find what I want from other collections.

Clay Smith, Hedonic. Image by courtesy of the artist

Clay Smith, Hedonic Nothing. C-type print. Image by courtesy of the artist

How important is the content for you? And what are your main interests in relation to the content?

The content is everything but its meaning means nothing to me. I try to par images together in order to create for the images a completely different objective. Images that I work with are usually amateur holiday and family snap shots, when I make my images they become semi political and questions societies and their cultures a little. Using slide film allows me to flip the image around which also allows me to flip its content around, this works well for me as I feel the world from how people see it should be flipped about a bit!

What artists do you appreciate?

I tend to lean towards established artists for various reasons: Werner Herzog the film maker for his directing methods and character/actor choices. Shomie Tomatsu for his ambiguous photograph of the glass bottle, Jan Saudek for his backgrounds, Gottfried Helnwein for his scale and the ability to prove just how powerful art can be and Alberto Burri for his choice of material.

Clay Smith, Plane 4, 2014. Image by courtesy of the artiist

Clay Smith, Inverted Space, Demagogic Device, 2014. C-type print. Image by courtesy of the artiist

To what extent do you see your work as participating in a tradition?

My work lends itself to exploration of a theme rather than tradition. It is because of this I’ve been able to find myself as an artist. Tradition to me is craft, and I think a lot of artists get trapped in the tradition of making and not creating. I use photography but I wouldn’t call myself a photographer, far from it. I am an artist that uses photography. In fact I could go as far as to not even call myself an artist! To call yourself something traps you in its meaning which doesn’t allow you to breath properly. I see really amazing printers using acid, copper, etching etc, but some of them are trapped in their tradition as printers and produce work that only displays a great skill in printmaking and not art. I can say perhaps that I am a photomontage artist.

When people look at your pictures what do you hope they will experience?

I hope that they will walk away feeling a little different then they did when they walked in, and that they will say ‘thank you’ when they leave.

Clay Smith, Stenographic Child 10, 2014. Image by courtesy of the artist

Clay Smith, Stenographic Child 10, 2014. C-type print. Image by courtesy of the artist

Some of your images have shock value (some for example are obscene) is that a reaction you seek?

I think some people are shocked by viewing something in a gallery that has an erection in it or scenes of a medical nature because of the environment they are in. These same people wouldn’t think twice about flicking on the t.v and watching A&E or enjoying some private time with an erection or two! Some of my images are extreme, such as the use of Marilyn Monroe. I find her very extreme, nothing normal about Marilyn at all, so I will use an image that I think is equally as extreme but taken from the other side of the wall. In the Marilyn case I used an image of a medical nature, and it worked. I have used pornography, but after I have worked with it the final piece of work no longer has any attachments to pornography because I have perhaps merged it with a photograph of an English gentleman. I think it’s this that people are offended by. People don’t like to view things out of its rightful context. I don’t make work in order to shock, that would be too easy, I use certain imagery in order to get across the extremism of people.

Why are the aeroplanes upside down?

To give us the viewer the impression that something isn’t quite right. To establish a kind of dystopian environment to which I feel we created by how we treat each other. The abnormal and surreal action of the plane is a metaphor for our times.


The exhibition Dystopia is on at Harrington Mill Studios. Long Eaton until 7 October 2014.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 9, 2014 at 8:00 am

New Painting: LR(E)1 (Thomas Cook)

with 4 comments

I hope I haven’t given too much away by sharing my preliminary studies in recent posts.

Andy Parkinson, LR (E) 1 (Thomas Cook), acrylic and paper on MDF, 20" x 20"

Andy Parkinson, LR (E) 1 (Thomas Cook), acrylic and paper on MDF, 20″ x 20″

I’m working on ten paintings, based on the decorative pavement tiles in Long Row (East) Nottingham. Here’s a snapshot of the first one. On Long Row, the tile arrangements are each 20″ x 20″, these are dimensions that I have been working with for some time now, so it seems natural to make paintings that are “actual size”.

What do you think, is my new work abstract?

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 11, 2014 at 8:15 am


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