patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Alfred Korzybski

Mapping the Abstract at Beers.Lambert

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Seeing the current exhibition at Beers.Lambert, and feeling at first that the paintings in this show are too ‘figurative’ to be Mapping the Abstract, puts me in mind of the difficulty of talking about abstraction, and particularly the ambiguity of the word “abstract” in relation to painting. In one sense, the further removed our experience is from empirical reality the more “abstract” it is. Thinking in terms of “levels of abstraction”, seeing something in the “real world” is a representation “in our heads”, an image that is one removed from “reality”, already an abstraction even at the point of perception, to use Korzybski’s distinction: a map rather than the territory. When an artist then seeks to represent in paint what s/he sees, that representation is a further abstraction, a higher level abstraction if you will. To then “abstract from” that representation is a higher level of abstraction still. In this sense of the word “abstract”, a representation is a lower level abstraction.

However, the expression “non-representational” has also become synonymous with “abstract” because abstract art seeks to do something different than to represent. Consequently, some have preferred the word “constructive”, or “constructionist” (as did Charles Biederman, for whom Korzybski was an important influence) or “concrete”, which in that other sense is the exact opposite of “abstract”. Rather than being removed from observable reality the abstract painting is itself a sub-set of that reality, an autonomous self-organizing system. Things become further complicated when that autonomy is itself called into question as it has, for example by abstract painters such  Jonathan Lasker, Francis Baudevin, Ingrid Calame or Fiona Rae, to name only a few.

It is against this complex background that the three painters in this show: Blake Daniels, Robert Fry and Benjamin Brett could be said to map the abstract.

Installation shot: far wall - Robert Fry, Related Study E, 2011,oil,acrylic and mixed media on canvas, left: Benjamin Brett, Floorswamp, 2013, oil on linen, and Dancer, 2013, oil on linen. Image by courtesy of Beers. Lambert

Installation shot: far wall – Robert Fry, Related Study E, 2011,oil,acrylic and mixed media on canvas, left – Benjamin Brett, Untitled,  2013, oil on linen, and Dancer, 2013, oil on linen. Image by courtesy of Beers.Lambert

Benjamin Brett‘s Dancer is very clearly a figure, as the title suggests, what the dancer is actually doing is difficult to work out, though s/he seems to be making a gesture not unlike the gestures the painter has made on the canvas. I have no way of knowing whether an observed event was the occasion for an abstraction or whether something resembling a figure was the result of ‘free’ gestural mark making. I recall that Kandinsky, in relation to his own paintings, distinguished between an impression (an abstracted representation) and an improvisation (an image that presents itself from within the mark-making process). I wonder whether Brett’s Dancer might borrow from both these approaches.

His painting Untitled, grabs my attention because of its similarity to a pattern I have been exploring in my own work, a diagonally oriented grid resulting in a rhomboid chequerboard, resembling floor tiles. My interest has been in how when the scale is small this formation becomes a network of scintilla. Brett’s formation is large scale which seems to reduce the optical ‘buzz’ of the image, retaining whilst slowing down, the figure ground oscillation. The contrast between the hard edge, flatly rendered ’tiles’ and the loose gestural graffiti drawn over the top tends to create a ‘background’ of the geometrical pattern, except that the gestures then interact with the shifting of figure/ground so that at times I attempt to situate them spatially somewhere in between the dark and light tiles, in an impossible space, or one that is available only to the sense of sight. I am unsure what to make of the drawings of hands, a cup, a rib cage (?) and I relate to them as if their purpose was to deface the geometry. Then I become aware of a blue mark, roughly central toward the lower left hand quadrant of the painting. When the white rhombus shapes are ‘figures’ it positions itself behind a ‘hole’ in the surface, but when they are ‘ground’ it pushes forwards so that it sits on the surface of the brown tile. It also leads my eye to the lower left hand corner where one of the dark tiles is painted light blue as opposed to the brown of the others and the tile above it is divided more or less in half along the diagonal, with the lower half in blue and the higher half in green, reading at times like these two tile shapes have been cut into the surface and I am peering into quite a deep space through the cut-outs. There is no attempt to create a believable representational space here, yet this two dimensional space is anything but flat, and anything but still.

And in the end, I think it is space that is being explored by all three painters in this mapping of the abstract. Robert Fry‘s paintings are clearly representations of male figures, and they are drawn with a certain degree of illusionistic depth within the figure, for example when the figure is side on, the half of the body that is nearest to the viewer looks nearer than the other half, and the space between the feet is readable as a three dimensional space. However the space behind or in front of the figure is not so readable, the space that the figures inhabit then is shallow, and the negative spaces between the figures also read sometimes as positive figures themselves.  To me, they are tableaus with figures, bearing some similarity to ancient Egyptian  tomb decorations except that whereas there the figures are flat here they are almost naturalistic. But if there is a naturalism it is only a naturalism of sorts, in that body parts, for example, sometimes occupy spaces of their own, or seem to have detached themselves from a body in a way that could never be an observable “real world” event.

Blake Daniels paintings are high level abstractions from the real world, the kind of abstraction that take place in dreams where there may be a narrative but one that makes little rational sense, bringing previously unrelated events together, and parts of different wholes interact in a space and time that makes perfect sense only in the dream.

Mapping the Abstract is on at Beers.Lambert, 1 Baldwin Street, London, until 21 September 2013.

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At “Now You See It Now You Don’t”

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Now You See It Now You Don’t, the 8th Terrace annual, is a one day only event, curated by Karl Bielik, it’s as whacky as they come, and amazing.  On a warm sunny afternoon/evening in late August,  4-17 Frederick Terrace, London, becomes this delightful space for looking at art, socialising and listening  to music.

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Over the last six years 162 different artists have shown over 300 pieces of work in this now transformed, former wasteland. Exposed to the elements the works have shifted, faded, broken, rotted, remained and in some cases, disappeared. This year 64 artists have added new work.

In Lisa Denyer‘s painting, I feel sure that the watery stains, complementing harder straight lines, were in the finished piece before it was exposed to the elements. However, the possibility that they could be the result of weathering seems so right.

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Similarly, in a 12″ x 12″ painting by Stephen Macinnis a red paint run that was likely there already, could conceivably have happened as a result of this unique hang.

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There are works old and new by Karl Bielik

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…a new one from Terry Greene

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…and an Andrew Seto painting that has been here at least a year continues to look good. Painted in oils, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that it holds up against the outdoors, but what’s disconcerting is that such a lovely a painting is is so mercilessly delivered up to the elements.

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From the slight damage to the canvas along the lower edge, I suspect that Valerie Brennan‘s painting has been here a while, but the image itself, the glossy quality of the paint and the brightness of colour looks undiminished.

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…and the Paul Behnke looks vibrant and even on paper or card seems quite robust.

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The wonderful, thickly-painted feast of colour by Susan Carr must surely be just as vivid now as it when it was hung, and long may it continue to look this good. An old friend of mine used to judge paintings by how much he wanted to eat them. I suspect that Carr’s painting here would have matched his criteria amply.

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The delightful metal collage by Michigan artist  Tom Duimistra weathers particularly well

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Charlie Bonallack‘s framed image of a caravan parked outside the Duke of Cambridge pub is a continuing work. Each year a photo of the previous year’s entry is added. It is first dusted in a material resembling sugar or salt. The oldest is the clearest of the three, the newest being almost all white. It could be that as the salt decomposes the image becomes clearer, almost the reverse of the natural weathering process, and if that’s not actually what’s going on, it’s a good enough myth to want to perpetuate it.

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I ask Leslie Greene about her intriguing vertical diptych (centre in the photo below) and discover that she has prepared her painting for a dialogue with the rain. The top half of the diptych features written lines of poetry about rain, its surface being punctuated by vertical strips of sellotape, which will decompose, whilst directing rainwater downwards in straight lines. The image on the lower panel is a photograph of a larger painting/collage that incorporates a broken umbrella into the canvas.

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my own piece is canvas stuck to board…

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and though it’s new to the exhibition, it already shows signs of wearing, along the top edge in the centre, two pieces of canvas seem to be pulling apart. How could I have ever thought that PVA glue would be tough in these conditions? Over time perhaps the canvas will come away from the support completely, leaving just the mount, something I really hadn’t envisaged until now!

There’s something mildly perverse or morbid about this show. I think part of the motivation for making art is the desire for “immortality” or at the least, in Alfred Korzybski’s parlance “time binding”, yet here the art decomposes (not quite) in front of our own eyes. Didn’t the Futurists think of museums as graveyards? Here, as autumn approaches, modern and contemporary works take their place in a graveyard that resembles a museum, and whether they like it or not, they all become memento mori.

The full list of artists:
Julie Alexander, Sara Aisha Amido, Karen Ay, Uta Baldauf, Paul Behnke, Beard and Ferguson, Eleanor Bennett, Maxine Beuret, Diane Bielik, Karl Bielik, James Blackburn, Kiera Blakey, Anka Bogacz, Brigitte Boldy, Charlie Bonallack, Alex Booker, Ronan Bowes, Boyle&Shaw, Nina Branhauser, Valerie Brennan, Anna Bruinsma, Rebecca Byrne, Matt Cahill, Eve Campbell, Susan Carr, Lucy Mink Covello, Bimba Champion, Alicia Clarke, Oliver Crowther, Roberta Cucuzza, Annabelle Dalby, Lawrence Daley, Annie Davey, Rosie De Borman, Julia Defferary, Lisa Denyer, Ludovic Dervillez, Pravin Dewdhory, Maria Doohan, Tom Duimstra, Brian Edmonds, Liz Elton, Robert Otto Epstein, Anne-Marie Fairbrother, Rob Flowers, Adrian Galpin, Patrick Galway, Yifat Gat, Sanna-Lisa Gesang-Gottowt, Matthew Neil Gehring, Mira Gerard, Max Gimson, Matthew Golden, Leslie Greene, Terry Greene, Philip Hall-Patch, Robert Hall, Julia Hamilton, Ross Hansen, Rupert Hartley, Michele Hemsoth, Aimie Herbert, Alex Hermon, Russell Heron, Gabriele Herzog, Dan Holliday, Jan Holtoff, Rebecca Hooper, George Horner, Christopher Hudson, Zarah Hunt, Jessica Jang, Helen Jarvis, Elina Jokipii, Nica Junker, Eemyun Kang, Ralph Kietwitz, Susannah King, Yoonjung Kim, Josh Knowles, James Lambert, Lindsey Landfried, David Leapman, Ron Levin, Caterina Lewis, Meg Lipke, Andrea Lippet, Susan Lizotte, Heidi Locher, Vibeke Luther, Stephen B. Maciniss, Nerys Mathias, Julia Maddison, Andrew Maughan, Tony Mcateer, Fay Mccloskey, Andrea Medjesi-Jones, Julie Miranda, Lorna Milburn, David T Miller, Nicola Morrison, Andrea Muendelein, Ryan Muldowney, Hannah Murgatroyd, Danka Nisevic, Emer O’Brien, Martin O’Neil, Susan Overell, Natalie Papageorgiadis, Melanie Parke, Andrew Parkinson, Cathleen Parra, Christopher Peabody, Joanna Peace, Grant Petrey, Caroline Piccioni, Velvet Zoe Ramos, Shirome Ratne, George Riley, Jon Riley, Dan Roach, Andy Robertson, Matthew Robinson, Will Robson-Scott, Anne Rusinoff, Rachel Russell, Cheryl Saunders, Matthew Saunders, Julie Schwartz, Gert Scheerlinck, Frances Scott, Andrew Seto, Ariane Severin, Jennifer Sheperd, Jason Shulman, Emma-Jane Spain, Lili Spain, Marianne Spurr, Richard Stone, Madeleine Strindberg, Martha Thorn, Sabine Tress, Sophie Tomlinson, Emily Trotter, Lee Tusman, Claire Undy, Marijke Vasey, Georgina Vinsun, Maxwell Wade, Julian Wakelin, Tobias Wenzel, Ian White Williams, James White, Emma-Jane Whitton, Tarn Willers, Phil Wise, Retts Wood, Katherine Worthington, Elizabeth Wright, Stephen Wright and Blair Zaye

The Image as a Fading Reality, Let The World Slip, Lion & Lamb Gallery

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Alfred Korzybski‘s famous saying “the map is not the territory” acts as a reminder of the slippage between reality and representation. What’s ‘out there’ is doubly filtered, first at the moment of perception and then again during the process of re-presenting it to ourselves and to others. Let the World Slip at Lion and Lamb Gallery seems to revel in that slippage, and in the ambiguity between abstraction and figuration. To varying degrees the painters in this exhibition seem to start out with re-presentation and then to get caught up in the means of re-presenting as its own end, until in some cases it would be difficult to reconnect to a reality beyond the painted object itself. Image becomes object as what is represented fades.

Some years ago I was driving on a busy motorway when I became aware of the lights of an aeroplane making its descent to a nearby airport, and for a moment I let the world slip just enough to be paying more attention to the lights above me than I was to the road, until the pipping of a car horn behind me brought me back to the real world, (it could have been worse). The Lion and Lamb Gallery is by contrast a safe place to allow the world to slip just enough to become fascinated by the way that the ‘fragile placement of translucent paint’ can both describe and divert.

Installation shot by courtesy of Lion & Lamb Gallery

The paintings that for me seem closest to description are those by Eleanor Moreton (also showing at Ceri Hand Gallery), in that the content is recognisable at a glance, Garland Dance for example is clearly a depiction of a maypole like dance. Yet it is also an image of an image. I don’t believe that I have ever seen a Garland Dance in real life, only ever in images. And isn’t the dance itself an image of country life or a of a particular conception of a social reality, now faded, kept alive only in images?

Simon Willems, curator of this show, presents meticulously rendered images that resemble snowglobe paperweights, or alien landscapes, or alien landscapes in paperweights: object becomes image becomes object, inner and outer worlds continuously alternating as they do in our minds eye.  I get a similar sense of to-ing and fro-ing between recognisable image and constructed reality in Thomas Hylander‘s paintings Playground (left  in above photo) and Mirror Ball, only in the Hylanders I am more aware of paint whereas in Willems it is the psychological construct, or fantasy, that I pay more attention to. Nevertheless, the paint in Hylander’s work seems to mirror those internal processes of recalling, forgetting, constructing, or as Noam Chomsky might have it deleting, distorting and generalizing.

Thomas Hylander, Mirror Ball, 2012, oil on linen, 30x20cm (mobile phone snapshot)

In Mirror Ball I think it is the nominalising process that the paint reflects. In language the movement of a verb can be frozen in a noun ( a nominalisation), for example, the verb ‘to reflect’ can become the noun ‘reflection’. What fascinates in a mirror ball is the glittering effect resulting from multiple reflections of small mirrors in movement. Freeze the movement and you lose the glitter. Hence the challenge for the still image to capture something of what only movement can produce.

In the charming gouache on paper by Mark Van Yetter it is paint as a metaphor for recollection that comes to mind, and that even in my memory place seems more permanent than action, though only slightly so in the painting where the transparency of the paint reminds me that all is in flux, even the semi permanence of objects or landscape. It might even be that the painted gestures are less fleeting than the objects portrayed.

Mark Van Yetter, Untitled 2012, Gouache on paper, 36x39cm, mobile phone snapshot

As I view, I recall a particular place, not the place re-presented here, but one very much like it that I used to visit as a child. It was so secluded that it was possible to remove clothes and go for a swim in the certainty that no one would see you. And from then, the event would exist only in memory. You could go back to the place and verify its continued existence but no evidence of the skinny dip would survive, only the memory of it, fragile and fleeting like the transparency of these painted layers.

This years John Moore’s Painting Prize winner Sarah Pickstone‘s Woolf, a portrait of Virginia Woolf in a London park also has some of these fleeting qualities and in Jo Chate‘s The Last Supper the distorting effect of memory seems prominent as layered paint seems to build multiple possible realities all contained in the finished piece which bears only a vague resemblance to its starting point, if indeed it ever started with the title’s theme. It seems just as likely that the title is the end point of an exploration that led to the vague resemblance, as if the image has found its way into reality rather than being a fading recollection of it.

Let The World Slip, an exhibition of paintings by Jo Chate, Thomas Hylander, Eleanor Moreton, Sarah Pickstone, Mark Van Yetter and Simon Willems is on show at Lion and Lamb Gallery, 46 Fanshaw Street, Hoxton, London until 9 December 2012.

art signs

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I have written before about signs and art.

This sign is art

Arcadia

Leo Fitzmaurice, Arcadia (one of a series scattered around YSP)

whereas this sign is not

Just because it is at Yorkshire Sculpture Park does not mean it is art

The function of the Leo Fitzmaurice sign is different to the function of the caution sign. However this could simply be that they are differing kinds of sign. One is a label and the other is a warning.

Though Arcadia is a label sign, the thing (or place) labelled is absent, bringing our attention to its absence. It reminds us that the map is not the territory, the name is not the thing named (Korzybski).

The Arcadia sign refers to a past, almost forgotten, inaccessible reality (or myth) and elicits action which is more like not-acting: the act of reflecting. For me, that makes it different to other label signs.

In one way the caution sign is similar, it requires a ‘slowing down’ a reflectiveness of sorts. Though its hardly a reflection on signs and their relationship to our experience, or on art and life. If the caution sign were to elicit this kind of reflectiveness it would have failed to do its job, we would no longer be proceeding with caution.

Here’s another sign from YSP (again not art)

Warning sign alerting us to read signs!

Warning sign alerting us to read signs!

It is a sign about signs! (You might need to click on the image to get the smaller print.)

It reminds me of an episode of the Simpsons where Homer gets obsessed with putting up safety signs and eventually resorts to putting up signs exhorting us to take note of the signs.

Written by Andy Parkinson

May 10, 2011 at 7:11 am