Posts Tagged ‘abstraction’
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I hope I haven’t given too much away by sharing my preliminary studies in recent posts.
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?
I think there is something rather ironic about seeing a great big cinema-style sign heralding MARLOW MOSS, as if she were a household name, when in fact, although highly deserving of attention, she has been a little known figure, especially here in the UK, where she was born and spent the latter part of her life, only recently being recognised as one of Britain’s most important Constructivist artists.
The paintings and constructions, currently on show at the Leeds Art Gallery exhibition Parallel Lives (Marlow Moss and Claude Cahoun) are marvellous. I am particularly impressed by the two paintings White Blue Yellow & Blue, 1954, a finished and an unfinished version. Comparing the two, I gain information about her working method, how the lines are drawn in pencil and ‘filled in’ with colour rather than using masking tape, and how the white is applied last. (A gallery note contrasts Mondrian’s method of painting a white ground first.) Mondrian recognised her ‘double-line’ as a contribution to the visual ‘language’ of Neo-Plasticism. If she was a disciple, she was also an innovator in her own right. She was associated not only with Mondrian in Paris in the thirties but also with other international artists: Max Bill, Vantongerloo and Jean Gorin, being a founder member of the the Association Abstraction-Création in 1931. Yet returning to England in 1941 living and working in Cornwall she seems to have been somewhat ignored by other British artists, (unanswered letters to Ben Nicholson are included in the exhibition).
The lightbox sign of her name is itself an artwork, by Cullinan Richards, in the window of &Model, the gallery almost directly opposite Leeds Art Gallery, announcing the exhibition Conversations Around Marlow Moss, curated by Andrew Bick and Katrina Blannin. The work Savage School Window Gallery, seems to create both an invitation and a barrier at the same time, as does all good art.
Something similar happens for me viewing the first painting I see on the inside of the gallery, a piece also by Cullinan Richards entitled Ian Poulter wore shocking pink, and including a newspaper photo of Poulter beneath an abstract composition, possibly based on (abstracted from) the colours in the photo. There’s the hint of a narrative, abstracted from a newspaper report, or perhaps even a headline, announcing a narrative that is not actually fulfilled, now that only the photo and title remain, of a piece that I must imagine actually existed. “Meaning” is context dependent, and the change of context creates something like a jarring sensation for me as I struggle to make sense of the object/image before me. Although I attempt simply to observe, I keep on interpreting, and my own processes of interpretation keep on coming to my attention. I am myself “abstracting” in the sense that I think Alfred Korzybski, Gregory Bateson and Chris Argyris may have understood the term, identifying at least these levels of abstraction: observation, interpretation and judgement. I judge the work to be good when it has this effect on me, of alerting me to my own seeing/thinking/abstracting and in doing so bringing me “back to my senses” where I notice the colour and shapes and materials, and also make an (probably incorrect) association with that 1915 Malevich painting entitled Painterly Realism of a Boy with Knapsack – Colour Masses in the Fourth Dimension, comprising only a black and a red square on a white ground. Already, I am interpreting again.
Any conversation around Marlow Moss must surely reference Modernism, abstraction, and specifically that strand of abstract art that we might group under the heading of Constructivism, developing as she did “a Constructivism from the Russian movement synthesised with Parisian Purism and Neo-Plasticism”. The show at &Model brings together contemporary artists who have some form of dialogue with the positions of Constructivism, (e.g. its emphasis on non-objectivity or abstraction, its privileging of material over form, its critical engagement of the viewer), with British Construction and Systems artists forming part of a larger exchange artists are making now with modernist positions.
I find the large Black & White paintings by Jeffrey Steele here, entirely convincing. It occurs to me that even in 2 dimensions, prints or paintings, systems are never composed, always constructed. Hence no individual part has compositional preference over another, or over the whole, we have a lack of hierarchy, every part functioning according to the purpose of the system. Every part is “determined”, yet there is also a certain amount of “free” play provided by the near infinite variety of permutations, as well as in the unpredictable phenomena of “emergence”. The paintings are radically abstract yet also completely related to my lived experience of determinism within a system. If ever I needed persuading of the power, not to mention the beauty, of this approach these works amply achieve criteria, though you probably guessed that I am already fully persuaded.
I find David Saunders‘ sequence of six canvases entitled Black Transformation painted in 1973-4 similarly convincing, and I am surprised by the dates as the piece appears contemporary enough to have been painted this year.
I am interested also by other works from the same era: as well as the wonderful 1977 Rational Concepts portfolio of prints (7 English artists: Norman Dilworth, Anthony Hill, Malcolm Hughes, Peter Lowe, Kenneth Martin, Jeffrey Steele, Gillian Wise) there’s a delightful pastel colour study by Jean Spencer and two of Peter Lowe‘s reliefs from 1968 in perspex mounted on wood, both 23 x 23 cm: Permutation of 4 Groups of 2 and Permutation of 4 Groups of 3, in which rational order and faktura combine to produce objects of staggering beauty.
The influence of these artists on Katrina Blannin and Andrew Bick is self evident. Bick’s OGVDS-GW #2, directly quotes a work of Gillian Wise, and Blannin clearly follows a systems approach in her paintings. The wonderful paintings by Maria Lalic here Bohemian Green Landscape Painting and Sevres Blue Landscape Painting, both constructed by placing two landscape oriented canvases one above the other creating a “real” horizon line, also have visual similarities to the Jean Spencer study.
Andrew Bick’s paintings may have a rather playful connection to systems, introducing what appear to be random markings, textures, colours, or materials, to a programmatic method of repeating the form and structure of a previous work. Sometimes the end result looks anything but rational, approaching Dada even! (Here, one of Bicks paintings is placed quite comfortably over a dishevelled stairway.) I might venture to suggest that his system is a stochastic one, wherein “a random component is combined with a selective process so that only certain outcomes are allowed to endure”. There is also playfulness in his references to the history of abstraction: as well as his Gillian Wise quotation mentioned earlier, his placing of a canvas across the corner of the gallery must surely be a nod to Malevich that I interpret as humorous rather than ironic.
There’s something Dada-like in the interventions of Adam Gillam included in this exhibition, for example the placing of two sticks, pieces of wood or dowelling to which are attached high colour, painted false finger nails (from the nail salon next door), alongside the Anthony Hill pages from the publication Module, Proportion, Symmetry. It’s as if it fulfils the function of a disturbance, prompting a “double-take” in the viewer. Am I also reconnected for a moment to the actual environment within and around the gallery and jolted out of my art-trance? I don’t know why I am recalling Van Doesburg’s Dadaist alter ego I.K. Bonset, through whom he could participate in a very different kind of art making as a kind of foil for his own De Stijl Constructivism. Perhaps Gillam plays a similar role here.
I have written before about Katrina Blannin’s paintings, and seeing new ones here, I continue to be impressed by her work, not least by her commitment to her series of rotations of a bisected hexad. The variables are kept stable enough that learning can actually take place, yet there’s enough newness to create surprise and enjoyment.
What I get from Blannin’s paintings is the integration of intellectual and emotional experience, at least the part of experience that is to be had by looking at images and objects. Come to think of it, it may even be in the mediation of these two (image and object) that such integration takes place. I am trying to explain the felt pleasure (which I associate with emotion) that I am having when viewing or perhaps more accurately, studying (associated with intellect), these new works. I know it’s corny now to allude to “laughing out loud” but that’s close to the delight I am enjoying as I note the differences in scale, size and colour, and the sheer beauty of the objects themselves.
Over the last year or so, Blannin has introduced a demarcation line between the sections, and it adds first clarity and then nuance, on concentrated viewing, as the figure/ground shifts lead to constantly changing interpretations of the image.
The smaller works are painted on coloured Hessian, and whilst I am fairly sure that none of it actually shows through the opacity of the acrylic paint, I do think that it seems to add a new brightness to the paintings. The high colour of the Hessian on the sides of these immaculately painted objects casts a reflection on the wall and maybe that influences my perception of the colour, or maybe it’s simply the new colours that Blannin is using here that creates, for me, the impression of a change to a higher register or key.
Berendes Untitled sculpture in lacquered steel and brass reminds me of a screen and functions like one in this space by dividing the room in half diagonally, yet it counters such a purpose in that it’s “see through”. I think of it as a decorative screen that neither decorates nor provides privacy: an attractive object that counters its own suggested utility.
Cooke’s large scale relief in felt and Perspex entitled Housement provokes similar contradictions, being imposing, weighty, sculptural in scale whilst also fragile, soft and ephemeral in material and colour. It simultaneously affirms and denies its own materiality.
All the works in this show can be situated in relation to the Constructivist tradition in which Marlow Moss was a worthy participant, but it’s a critical relationship, questioning and perhaps even extending it. Modernisms keep renewing themselves by continually criticising their own foundations. I suspect that new modernisms will continue to find inspiration in their chequered pasts, and often by re-evaluating the contributions of particular individuals and their contexts.
Conversations Around Marlow Moss continues at &Model until 18 July and Parallel Lives: Marlow Moss and Claude Cahoun, continues at LeedsArtGallery until 7 September 2014.
 Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature, 1979
Just found out about this exciting new show opening soon at
19 East Parade, Leeds, LS1 2BH, UK http://www.andmodel.com/
Curated by Andrew Bick and Katrina Blannin
12 June–18 July 2014
The exhibition Somewhat Abstract, drawn from The Arts Council’s national collection, on view at Nottingham Contemporary until 29 June 2014, is abstract to varying degrees, and in a variety of ways. After all, both the following statements hold true, “all art is abstract” and “there is no such thing as abstract art”. Hence, the show’s curator, Alex Farquharson, can say of abstract art that it “is many things, if it can be said to exist at all”.
In the gallery notes we get an excellent discussion of the multiple relationships to the abstract characterised in the show (see fig 1), from work that is downright figurative but that either “verges on the abstract” or that “could not have been made without the knowledge of it” to the work of proponents of ‘pure’ abstraction like Kenneth Martin. There’s the suggestion that even the exemplars of abstraction like Anthony Caro, Bridget Riley and John Hoyland, are more connected to the ‘real world’ than we might once have allowed. I find this argument to be much more convincing in relation to Hepworth, Clough and Paolozzi than I do for Caro, Riley and Hoyland. The reference to landscape made for Hoyland’s magnificent Red Over Yellow, 18.9.73, seems somewhat spurious. The point being made is that the most abstract art may be more figurative than we think and that the old distinction between abstraction and figuration is no longer relevant. Certainly there’s a strong case for seeing ‘nature’ in the most abstract of works, if more in the sense of “the pattern that connects” to quote Gregory Bateson ; or in Bridget Riley’s own words: “I draw from nature, I work with nature, although in completely new terms. For me nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces – an event rather than an appearance”. So whilst there is a deep connection with nature, the work doesn’t become ‘figurative’, as Riley goes on to say: “These forces can only be tackled by treating colour and form as ultimate identities, freeing them from all descriptive or functional roles.”
There are also works that specifically reference abstraction, a relatively new phenomenon in my book, because whilst there have always been “paintings of paintings” and references to art of the past, the paradoxical referencing of a class seems to me to be a postmodern invention. Its power comes from a deliberate confusion of logical types. Abstract or non-representational art’s claim to the status of autonomous object means that it now becomes grist for the mill of representation, leading to the paradoxical position of art that is abstract by being non-abstract, and vice versa. Keith Coventry‘s CrackCity series here is a brilliant example of this. What, at first sight, look like appropriations of Kazimir Malevich‘s white on white paintings, turn out to be representations of the footprints of South London tower blocks, a critical comment on the failure of modernism at the social level, the design of tower blocks clearly sharing in the heritage of Malevich and Russian Constructivism, ending not in utopia but in dysfunction and ugliness.
Perhaps this failure was reflected in the choice by artists such as Kenneth Martin, of a specifically non-utopian abstract art. (Martin preferred the word ‘construction’ which he stated was “the opposite of abstraction”.)
The paintings of Tomma Abts, one of the new generation of abstract artists, recall the constructivist tradition. The contemporary resurgence of abstraction in painting and sculpture is acknowledged in the gallery notes, finding a distinct contrast between the abstract art of the middle half of the twentieth century and that of today, the mid century version being “associated with boldness of scale, conception and execution” (check out the John Hoyland) as opposed to the vulnerability of the more recent return. In Abts’ painting Heit, the scale is modest and the form looks carefully arrived at through multiple iterations. I see it from a distance and could have continued walking past without really seeing it because it absolutely doesn’t “grab my attention”. It is unassuming, reticent even, and it is only as I deliberately get closer to look at it that it discloses itself. Even then, one of its fascinating qualities is the white line that bisects the painting vertically about a third of the way in from the right. It reads like another of the lines on the painting’s surface, in fact hovering above the other lines in a space that projects outward, whilst being clearly the result of placing two stretchers almost together. The presence of the line (I am tempted to see it as a reference to a Barnett Newman ‘zip’) is in fact an absence, like the Lacanian “absent centre” of the subject.
The untitled painting here by Alexis Harding, is also modest in scale, without quite the intimacy of Abts, looks like it is in the process of decomposing, . The impression I have is that the materials have reacted with each other in an unstable way, the abstract grid becoming wonky, out of control in the centre, now resembling a figurative, almost cartoon-like, rendering of a disintegrating net. It’s a wonderful painting and seems to reverse the more familiar sequence of events in which a realistic image becomes increasingly “abstracted”. Here the abstract image becomes figuration.
There’s a strange abstract/figurative relationship in Daniel Sinsel‘s beautifully executed Untitled, where the more realistic the image the more abstract it appears. Perhaps this is the result of the close harmony of form and content, a flattened figure-of-eight arrangement of a piece of cloth, resembling so much the formal, literal, ontology of a painting: two-dimensional, motionless, fabric.
My friend suggests that, with so many outstanding works here, it’s difficult to find one that “stands out”. However, for me, the star of the show is Bridget Riley’s 1962 black and white painting, Movement in Squares. I keep coming back to it for another look, and even back at home much later, I can’t get it out of my head (a non-optical kind of after-image). In viewing this painting I start to become aware of my own movement in the gallery space, attempting to find a position from which to really see this thing and to experience it. The nearest analogy I can find is that of music when it is ‘heard’ not just aurally but when the vibrations are also felt, physically, in the body. Here, seeing is somehow also felt in the body. I have a physical sensation approaching motion sickness (except it’s pleasurable), and observing the reactions of others around me, I sense I am not alone in this. Now, this painting does seem to ‘grab attention’ but it also has amazing subtlety that I fear could be lost in first impressions alone. It’s too easy to let the attention first be ‘grabbed’ and then to allow it to be distracted with something else. This painting deserves prolonged attention. And it’s only then that its nuances are realised. It’s not just that studying the execution of it I note that the nails fixing the board to the support are just visible, protruding slightly above the surface, or that the earlier drawing marks shine around the blocks of black paint, those are mere details, it’s the way the structure takes on different emphases, and even that the squares of black and white start to look like multiple kinds of grey. In fact, now I feel sure that I am seeing colours, yellows greens and then reds and violets, in the pulsating ‘mid’ section (more or less along the golden mean), where the squares become narrow rectangles. I have the strong sense that colours are generated, issuing from the painting into the space in front of it. Admittedly they are faint, like a diffused light, only just perceptible. I absolutely cannot get this from looking at the reproduction, only from standing at a certain point in front of the painting itself. Then, I doubt myself; this subjective experience must indeed be so subjective that it is actually entirely imaginary. So I check it out with someone else, who agrees that they are also seeing colours.
The experience of looking becomes the experience of doubting my senses and then of starting to become conscious of my own process of ‘map making’, at the point just before my own linguistic abstractions start to come into play, which they do almost immediately and I get into a conversation with myself about what’s going on. At this second stage, I am a further step removed from direct experience, commenting upon it and adding meanings. These are my own processes of abstracting: the abstractions of thought.
This exhibition brings to awareness the many uses of the word, ‘abstract’, in art, in thought and in life. It’s as visually interesting as its scope is ambitious, and I know I will be revisiting it many times.
Artists include Tomma Abts, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, David Batchelor, Karla Black, Peter Blake, Zarina Bhimji, Anthony Caro, Helen Chadwick, Prunella Clough, Richard Deacon, Jeremy Deller, Barry Flanagan, Elizabeth Frink, Gilbert and George, Barbara Hepworth, Yoko Ono, Eduardo Paolozzi, Bridget Riley, Walter Sickert, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mark Wallinger, Cathy Wilkes and Rachel Whiteread.
 See Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature, A Necessary Unity (1979)
 From The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley, Collected Writings 1965 – 2009, edited by Robert Kudielka, p 110
 See Kenneth Martin: Construction from Within, in The Tradition of Constructivism, edited by Stephen Bann 1974, reprinted 1990