patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘art exhibitions

Gesso and acrylic paint on nothing! Deb Covell’s new painting at OBJECT / A

with 3 comments

The exhibition Here and Now, recently on show at OBJECT / A, Manchester, UK, featured just the one artwork, a wonderful painting entitled Present (2016) by Deb Covell, a painted black square, without a support, gesso and acrylic on nothing, suspended from the ceiling by wire.

Deb Covell, Present, 2016, gesso and acrylic, 140 x 140 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Deb Covell, Present, 2016, gesso and acrylic, 140 x 140 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

 

Read my review of it here at the Saturation Point website.

Advertisement

Two USA shows: Bed Bath and Between and Territory of Abstraction

with 8 comments

Two exhibitions I would like to see or to have seen, but sadly are too many miles away, with a great big ocean separating us, are Bed Bath and Between, at Soil Gallery, Seattle, which closed on 28 February, and Territory of Abstraction, at Pentimenti Gallery, Philadelphia until 04 April 2015. Both exhibitions feature artists from within and outside the USA. Both shows look ambitious and interesting.

Bed Bath and Between, suggests ideas of home decoration and domesticity, (apparently there is a store reference in the title that is probably lost on UK audiences, we might point towards say Habitat or Ikea) hence in this show the paintings by Julie Alexander, Katrin Bremermann, Maria Britton, Dawn Cerny, Terry Green, Margie Livingston, Nicholas Nyland, Matthew Offenbacher, and Mathieu Wernert are set on highly patterned wall coverings, inviting us to consider their function, at the risk of our dismissing them as “merely decorative”.

BB&B_gallery install

In 1948 Clement Greenberg expressed a concern that “the ‘all-over’ picture … comes very close to decoration, to the kind seen in wallpaper patterns that can be repeated indefinitely” and although the paintings on show at Bed Bath and Between are nowhere near the mural sized works that he was referring to, showing them against this backdrop seems to court the very spectre that Greenberg feared. The whole installation, does more than simply come close to decoration, it squares right up to it and… I don’t know whether to say delivers it an ultimatum, or gets in bed with it.

The wallpapers are hand painted by the three artists in the exhibition who also curated it: Julie Alexander, Nicholas Nyland and Matthew Offenbacher, provoking a dialogue between the roles of curator and artist and questioning where the art begins and ends, it becoming difficult at times to differentiate art-work from environment, portable easel painting from site specific installation.

I am reminded of the work of John Armleder, though his paintings seem slicker in comparison to the more casualist work on view here, and in Armleder I get more the impression of clearly demarcated juxtaposition whereas here the paintings all but entirely merge with their surroundings.

Julie Alexander, Sweet Potato. Image by courtesy of the artist

Julie Alexander, Sweet Potato. Image by courtesy of the artist

Julie Alexander’s Sweet Potato is comprised of three layers of painted or dyed unstretched fabric. The base layer is hemmed and supports an informal design of multiple blobs in pastel colours, yellow, blue and pink. It is partially obscured by a smaller scrap stained in similar hues, and in front of that are pinned two tiny strips, one yellow and one blue. The painting may be less ‘finished’ than the wall behind it, the art work having become entirely provisional, asserting itself against the patterned background via its lighter tonality and the crispness of the hemmed edges, but never quite achieving independence.

Perhaps this is less so in works like Katrin Bremermann’s Letter to Sol where the art object is more clearly differentiated from its context, but here a kind of merging does also take place by virtue of its veil like transparency. Dawn Cerny’s screen print on the other hand might itself be a fragment of wallpaper.

Installation shot including Dawn Cerny and Katrin Bremermann

Installation shot including works by, from left to right, Dawn Cerny and Katrin Bremermann, Wallpapers by Julie Alexander, Nicholas Nyland and Matthew Offenbacher. Photo by Julie Alexander.

UK artist Terry Greene’s diminutive paintings, are more muted in colour than the wallpaper against which they attempt to distinguish themselves. Contrast is found in their tendency more towards the geometric than to the gestural style of the paper behind. There’s a push/pull going on not only within the paintings but between the paintings and the various wallpaper motifs, and I think this is generally the case with the various artists’ work on show here.

Greene’s titles evoke snatches of overheard conversation: “Something is still something, less than that is nothing”, “Lord have mercy! Is that what that is?” and “All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut”, the paintings possessing something of the informality of vernacular language.

Terry Greene, Left: Something is still something, less than that is nothing, 2013, ecoline and acrylic on canvas, 12" x 9", Right:

Terry Greene, Left: Something is still something, less than that is nothing, 2013, ecoline and acrylic on canvas, 12″ x 9″, Right: Lord have mercy! Is that what that is? 2013, acrylic on canvas, 12 1/4″ x 9 1/4″ on wallpaper by Julie Alexander, Nicholas Nyland and Matthew Offenbacher. Photo by Julie Alexander

The other USA show that grabs my interest just now could perhaps be positioned at the opposite end of an imagined continuum. At one extreme the dress code is casual, whereas at the other it is much more suit-and-tie. ‘Classical’ feels wrong when it’s abstract works we are considering but it possibly holds if we think of hard-edge, reductive, post-minimalist abstraction as Classical, and a softer, more lyrical, expressionist or casualist abstraction as Romantic. Maybe we could even invoke the Nietzschean categories of the Apollonian v.s. the Dionysian.

Installation shot. courtesy of Pentimenti Gallery

Installation shot. courtesy of Pentimenti Gallery

At the Dionysian end we have Bed Bath and Between and at the Apollonian end, we have Territory of Abstraction, a group show of new paintings, works on paper and sculpture by twelve artists who, sharing an interest in geometry, colour, pattern and repetition, also manage to form a wider territory by approaching their similar concerns in uniquely individual ways. To quote the gallery write up: “When put together, their work showcases the expansive nature of contemporary abstract art, and the potential content of relatively simple forms”. Even at this extreme on my imagined continuum there’s all this variety. The artists are Steven Baris, Rob De Oude, Edgar Diehl, Gabriele Evertz, Kevin Finklea, Enrico Gomez, Brent Hallard, Gibert Hsiao, Gracia Khouw, Joanne Mattera, Mel Prest, and Debra Ramsay.

Finklea It's my

Kevin Finklea, It’s My Idea of Love #1, Ocean Park, Santa Monica, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 37 x 47 inches. Image by courtesy of Pentimenti Gallery

I’m kicking myself now that realise I missed an opportunity to see works by Kevin Finklea at the Eagle Gallery, London, in November, where he was included in the group exhibition Panel Painting 2. Sometimes it doesn’t take an ocean to get in the way of a good show. Seeing his painting at Territory only in online reproduction, a solid rectangle of blue on a brown ground, I am interested in the apparent simplicity of it and even more in what the colour does. However, struggling to imagine the size even though I know the dimensions and not being able to get up to the surface and see the relationship of paint to canvas, or check out the edges, I am alerted to the importance of actually seeing it for real. In the seventies, if we wanted to know what was being made over the water, in that same week, we often had to make do with black and white grainy photocopied images, so things have certainly improved since then, but the virtual image is a poor substitute for the “real thing”, itself already a re-presentation, an image presented to the occipital lobe.

Gabriele evertz

Gabrielle Evertz, (A)Chromatic + Metallics (Green), acrylic on canvas over wood, 24 x 24 inches. Image by courtesy of Pentimenti Gallery

I have been following some of these artists online ever since seeing a report of the Doppler shows, geographically diverse artists taking their works on international tour by literally transporting them by suitcase: Steven Baris, Edgar Diehl, Kevin Finklea, Brent Hallard, Gilbert HsiaoMel Prest and Debra Ramsay. I am also familiar with Joanne Mattera’s work through her excellent blog. Rob de Oude’s paintings, with carefully placed repeated lines, focusing on colour rhythm and composition, and Gabriele Evertz’s sequences of clean stripes of pure hues contrasted with greys are new to me, as are the abstracted letter forms of Enrico Gomez and Gracia Khouw.

gilbert hsiao.sonic boom rail.19x19_new

Gilbert Hsiao, Sonic Boom, 2010, acrylic on wood, 10 x 10 inches. Image by courtesy of Pentimenti Gallery

Edgar Diehl and Brent Hallard create brightly coloured geometric forms that seem to confront us with the subjective constructed-ness of visual perception. Mel Prest likewise, with her highly personal systems of contrary directional lines, presents us with concentrated fields, that seem to pulsate with energy and even to generate their own light. In Mirror Cycle the work seems to fold into itself, one red pushing against nearly the same red on a green ground, shaping the space. Prest, Diehl and Hallard seem to share with Steven Baris an interest in spatial ambiguity, and “opticality”, a watchword for all of these works, Gilbert Hsiao ‘s paintings for example, tending to elicit pre-linguistic experience, by which I mean that stage of perception before we are able to assign words or names to what is being perceived. At the risk of sounding too new age, I might suggest a parallel with the concept in the writings of Carlos Casteneda, of “stopping the world”.

mel prest. MirrorCycle

Mel Prest, Mirror Cycle, 2014, 36 x 36 inches, acrylic on panel. Image by courtesy of Pentimenti Gallery

Joanne Mattera utilises a diagonally skewed grid as a structuring mechanism in her Chromatic Geometry series of paintings, enabling her to realise a set of diamonds intrinsically linked to the edges of the support, truncated by coloured triangles and held in a pictorial space by the addition of a central horizon line that divides the painting into two different coloured grounds before which the triangles appear to float.

mattera.Chromatic

Joanne Mattera, Chromatic Geometry 23, 2014, 12 x 12 inches, encaustic on birch panel. Image by courtesy of Pentimenti Gallery

Debra Ramsay’s works on paper employ a mathematical logic, generating perhaps more precise forms than Mattera’s and the overall look is less pictorial. From what I can tell, there’s little or no colour. possibly white on white. My “perhaps” and “possibly” brings me back to noting the differences between virtual and “real” seeing, and hoping that we get to see some of the artists’ works from both of these shows in the UK sometime soon.

Dystopia at HMS: Interview with Clay Smith

with 6 comments

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

Interpreting the Abstract: Pareidolia at Pluspace Coventry

with 7 comments

Pareidolia is a special case of apophenia: the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. Having spent years in operational management I have been subject to numerous examples of apophenia, the most common being when a manager sees a dip in performance figures, interprets it as a sign of some lack at the individual level and decides to “take action,” a pep talk or a telling off, and then, when the stat’s show an ‘improvement’ the next day, ascribes the ‘change’ to his or her actions. In fact the data was random, both before and after the intervention. No change took place, just variation within a stable system.

With pareidolia a vague visual stimulus is perceived as something clear and distinct, like the horrifying face I always saw within the pattern and folds of my bedroom curtains when I was a child, or that image of Mother Teresa in a potato I was amused by this morning. Something more than the pattern is read-in, or projected. Jesus in the bacon dripping is a personal favourite. (For me, it’s so convincing I suspect it’s a hoax.)

In writing recently about the paintings of Lisa Denyer, I said that the viewer ‘completes’ the paintings in a similar way to “gazing into a fire and seeing one’s own imagined universe”, which I think is to encourage pareidolia. It’s not quite the same as seeing something that isn’t there, an hallucination,. If we distinguish, within the act of seeing, three separate actions: observation, interpretation and judgement, an hallucination takes place at the observation stage, whereas pareidolia is linked more to interpretation. Both seem to involve the imaginary, possibly in hallucination it is unconscious whereas in pareidolia it is conscious.

Ralph Anderson, Cut Out, Image by courtesy of the artist

Ralph Anderson, Cut Out 738, Image by courtesy of the artist

When I’m looking at Cut Out 738 by Ralph Anderson, I am not hallucinating the drips of paint that are also cut out of the ply wood of which the work is constructed, they are really there, and palpably so. Pareidolia kicks in when I  start to read the curved line toward bottom right as a letter “c” and the green diagonal brushstroke as a forward slash above which is an “i”, i over c, sounds like a vaguely Lacanian sign for something. I check it out with others who didn’t see it until I mentioned it. Perhaps there are degrees or levels of pareidolia, in which case this is low level, not Jesus-in-the-bacon-fat, full blown pareidolia. it’s possible that the artist intended for me to at least question whether these works are signs for something, or possibly even signs that signify only themselves.

In Louisa Chambers‘ painting  Balance 1, I am imagining some alchemy, the forms recalling, for me, laboratory instruments upon a table or work bench and the colours are fire. There’s a believable space in which some unknown drama is being enacted, unknown because it’s not quite figural enough to figure out what’s happening, other than the placement of colour-shapes, so I do what we all do in lieu of adequate information, I make stuff up, or rather I employ my powers of association in order to make sense of what I see.

Louisa Chambers, Balance I, 2013, acrylic on card, 16 x 22 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Balance I, 2013, acrylic on card, 16 x 22 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist. Image by courtesy of the artist

David Manley‘s wonderful oval shaped black and white painting on aluminium, Martin Beck, seems impenetrable, I am struggling to read anything into the six semi circular shapes, subtle scuff markings and clearly drawn white lines, on a glossy black surface. Pareidoliac images form more easily where there is an abundance of indeterminate markings, in other words in works that are “painterly”, and even though here the black ground is far from unmodulated, it’s not painterly enough for pictures to suggest themselves. The painting is more object than image, more so even than Ralph Anderson’s “is it two, is it three dimensional?” piece. Knowing that it is from Manley’s Black North series, inspired by Scandinavian Noir doesn’t lead me to find images, other than the oval shape itself and the hardness of the decorated surface. The sense I have is of being confronted by something that is attempting to occupy my personal space, in fact I can be more specific now, it’s a shield, equally aggressive as it is defensive. And it’s only now that I realise that something similar to pareidolia is taking place after all.

Left: David Manley, Martin Beck. Right: Ralph Anderson, Cut Out 738, My snapshot

Left: David Manley, Martin Beck. Right: Ralph Anderson, Cut Out 738, My snapshot

With Phoebe Mitchell‘s Comfort, there being little formal structure and much painterly gesture, there’s ample opportunity for Pareidolia, almost an open invitation to read-in, not that much different than looking at Rorschach ink blots, if it weren’t for the fact that Mitchell’s work has many more times the beauty, and I don’t think that’s a projection. Similarly, in her other tiny painting here, and also in Rachael Macarthur‘s Untitled, what’s being presented is artfully vague enough to encourage the viewer to free-associate.

Phoebe Mitchell, Comfort, 2013, oil on board, 17 x 14cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Phoebe Mitchell, Comfort, 2013, oil on board, 17 x 14cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Should we distinguish between intended and unintended pareidolia? Is it part of an artists skill to direct the viewer to see what the artist wants, and to prevent ab-interpretations? (I am reminded of Adolph Gottlieb, in relation to his pictographs, if he discovered that one of his signs was actually existent in a past culture he would drop it from his repertoire.) However, sometimes an artist’s intention is for us to see things that s/he did not specifically intend, and I think that’s where Gottleib got to later on. The surrealist practice of decalcomania also seems like a good example of this attitude.

Left: Jack Foster, Untitled, Right: Phoebe Mitchel, Untitled and Comfort. My snapshot

Left: Jack Foster, Untitled, Right: Phoebe Mitchel, Untitled and Comfort. My snapshot

Jack Foster’s Untitled poses questions of interpretation that are more conceptual perhaps than others here. I experience far less free-association in pondering the inverted head on a green ground and I engage in a more linguistic attempt to interpret what is being presented. There’s little by way of free-association also in my own painting Hexagon Colour-Spread (BGRYMC), but the emphasis is more perceptual, the way the viewer constructs colour and shape is what’s being explored, the shifting gestalts also bringing attention to the pre-linguistic processes of perception.

Left: Louisa Chambers, Balance 1, Right: Andy Parkinson, Hexagon Colour-Spread (BGRYMC). My snapshot

Left: Louisa Chambers, Balance 1, Right: Andy Parkinson, Hexagon Colour-Spread (BGRYMC). My snapshot

The link between percept and memory construct is I think what is emphasised in the vulnerable little painting by Rachael MacArthur, shapes only just distinct enough to become forms but never enough to become anything specific. I like the pairing of this hesitant image with the more forceful and the largest painting here: Paradise (Yellow and Grey) by Ellie MacGarry, a painting that seems to exult in the perception of colour, showing how it changes as two colours cross, creating a third that is at the same time both and neither of the other two. Clashes of hue create lots of optical buzz and a lively space that keeps opening up and then bringing me back to the painting’s surface.  The drawing is simple and confident, looking like there was little room for error, as if the artist got just the one chance to place this series of lines, or this marvelous expanse of grey. (Speaking to her, I find out that I am wrong about this and that other versions exist underneath the surface.)

Left: Rachael MacArthur, Untitled, Right: Ellie MacGarry, Paradise (Yellow and Grey)

Left: Rachael MacArthur, Untitled, Right: Ellie MacGarry, Paradise (Yellow and Grey). My snapshot

Colour appears also to be a preoccupation of Frances Disley, in her three-dimensional painting Figure, especially in its power to dissolve form as much as to describe it, and to mislead even, creating events out of the absent shapes that are cut out of the surface and either discarded or added back on in a different place, along with cut-outs of digital prints or spray painted bits of foam. The piece has something theatrical about it, looking vaguely like an object from a science fiction set, Star Trek perhaps, a rock that might also be a creature, but that all along is clearly made from cardboard, or is it?

Frances Disley, Figure. Image by courtesy of the artist

Frances Disley, Figure, Image by courtesy of the artist

How we interpret abstract paintings, and the strangeness of sense-making, seems to be what Pluspace curator Matthew Macaulay is exploring by bringing together the work of these nine artists in the exhibition Pareidolia, which can be seen on Saturdays and Sundays at 50 Bishop Street, Coventry until 14 September.

At Lion and Lamb Gallery: Summer Saloon Show 2014

with one comment

There are some wonderful paintings (etc.) on show at the Lion and Lamb Summer Saloon 2014. My particular interest is in the “abstract” or “reductive” work.

2014-07-28 20.32.32

Onya McCausland‘s double painting Attachment, two eliptical shapes, mirroring each other, one earth pigment on ply panel and the other earth pigment on aluminium panel, seems to extend the criteria of what we mean by “painting”, as does Simon Callery‘s Red Painting (Soft), an object that resembles a canvas bag more than it does a ‘picture’. Both these are engaging pieces of work, existing in that space between painting and sculpture, and leading me to wonder whether the further away from the traditional definition an artwork becomes, the more important it might be to identify it as a “painting” in the title. The boundaries and settled conventions are challenged, whilst also acknowledging that painting is in fact a thoroughly conventional medium.

Simon Callery, Red Painting (soft), 2014, distemper canvas linen threads screws and aluminium, 22 x 38 x 6cm. My snapshot

Simon Callery, Red Painting (soft), 2014, distemper canvas linen threads screws and aluminium, 22 x 38 x 6cm. My snapshot

What gets challenged in Painting by Telepathy by Biggs and Collings is more the viewer’s perception than the medium, not so much questioning “what is painting?” so much as “what is vision?” The image alters depending on the particular gestalt that is prominent for me at any moment, and if you were standing beside me, then you might be seeing a different painting than the one I am seeing. Multiple views are present in the one object at all times, yet they can only be accessed singularly, one interpretation must give way to another. As a result, I sense movement, and space, “real” movement and “real” space but of a strictly two-dimensional kind.

Biggs and Collings, Painting by Telepathy, 2014, oil on canvas, 38.1 x 38.1cm, my snapshot

Biggs and Collings, Painting by Telepathy, 2014, oil on canvas, 38.1 x 38.1cm, my snapshot

I am impressed by the beauty of it, even though that might seem like a rather old fashioned idea, by which I think I mean the fascinating surface, the particular sensation of colour and structure, as well as this experience of shifting gestalts. I find myself saying “wow” and only then considering what such a response might mean, as well as how specifically it was elicited.

It’s a different kind of beauty that I find in Floyd Varey‘s painting. The perception-altering experience I had when viewing Painting by Telepathy is absent. Instead I see something more object-like, more literal, more able to exist on its own without my participation: objectively present, if that were possible. I am still fascinated by the surface and its extension beyond and wrapping around the support, on the verge of becoming three-dimensional, the simple result of a particular process.

Floyd Varey, Fruit, 2002, oil and wax on canvas, 40 x 30cm. My snapshot

Floyd Varey, Fruit, 2002, oil and wax on canvas, 40 x 30cm. My snapshot

Would it be correct to say that in Painting by Telepathy it is more image than object that I am aware of, whereas with Callery and Varey, it’s the object that is more prominent? If so, perhaps there’s a similar conversation going on in Ralph Anderson‘s Summer Toiler, the literal materiality of the paint runs, suggesting a triple movement, from image to object and back again. At times these material gestures cohere into forms I recognise but that I think are my own projections, like the figure 2 that I keep seeing, above which is a division sign beneath a telephone handset. It may also be a projection when I see visual echoes of Frank Stella’s later paintings, in miniature.

Ralph Anderson, Summer Toiler, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 40 x 30cm, my snapshot

Ralph Anderson, Summer Toiler, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 40 x 30cm, my snapshot

Playing with the process of painting, and of abstraction, David Webb‘s now familiar Parcheesi form becomes star-like against a blue/green ground in one reading, or alternatively, a figure emerges from the negative spaces created by moving objects on different planes, much as on TV, when the Channel 4 ident comes into view.

David Webb, Parcheesi (Green), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 51cm. My snapshot

David Webb, Parcheesi (Green), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 51cm. My snapshot

Tim Renshaw‘s tiny, immaculately executed painting, on aluminium, entitled Notebook Architecture 10, is in one sense the simplest of things, two sets of vertical lines, yet it is also highly complex visually, especially in the altering spatial relationship between the two sets of lines, which are stripes towards the bottom edge but when I attend to the upper half of the image they look more like bars that have volume and depth. Space seems to open up between the two banks of lines or bars, a space that twists as I attempt to make sense of it. The groups of bars starts to read like doors slowly opening, suggesting also a deeper space behind them. Becoming aware of the title I start to think that they could be behaving something like the leaves of a notebook.

Tim Renshaw, Notebook Architecture 10, 2014, oil on aluminium, 14 x 18cm. My snapshot

Tim Renshaw, Notebook Architecture 10, 2014, oil on aluminium, 14 x 18cm. My snapshot

There’s a host of good work here,with tons of variety. If this is an indication of what’s happening in contemporary painting right now, then I think it’s looking healthy.  There are interesting conceptual and figurative pieces along with other abstract works that I cannot do justice to in the space I have. One Two Three, by Julian Wakelin seems to be as much about what isn’t there as what is, Rebecca Meanley‘s abstract impressionist landscape, an alluring riot of colour and gesture, almost coalesces into a pinky-blue monochrome, whilst Louise Hopkins’s Outlast, a sophisticated work on paper, economically follows or counters with pencil and watercolour the geometry of folded paper.

2014-07-28 20.32.51

Julian Wakelin, Matthew Musgrave, Vincent Hawkins and Jessica Wilson all show paintings that are daring in their sparsity, I’d say audacious if they didn’t also appear somewhat vulnerable, their modest size and their informality suggesting an alternative to the polished and the spectacular that sometimes seems to be our dominant cultural expression.

Jessica Wilson, Untitled, 2014, oil on linen, my snapshot

Jessica Wilson, Untitled, 2014, oil on linen, my snapshot

There are two charming process paintings by  Erin Lawlor Slip and Bite, wet on wet, and showing clear enjoyment of what paint does when you simply make a brushstroke. In Catherine Ferguson‘s Angels, a blue brush stroke  traces a curving line horizontally across a vibrant yellow ground, populated by pink swirling shapes, at once gestures and figures, kept in place by a jarring orange frame.

2014-07-28 20.32.43

I think I stay longest with Natalie Dower‘s wonderful little painting Seventeen. It’s just 35 x 35cm, a 17 x 17 square grid (my maths! I’m struggling to work out what the dimensions of each cell must be), in black, white, grey and green, again the simplest yet most complex of things, I’m approaching it a bit like I might a puzzle, attempting to work out the criteria for placing the parts, only five different elements in all: a light green square, a grey square, a blue/green square, a black square and a white rhombus set inside a grey square.

Natalie Dower, Seventeen No. 1, 2013, oil on canvas mounted on board, 35 x 35cm, my snapshot

Natalie Dower, Seventeen No. 1, 2013, oil on canvas mounted on board, 35 x 35cm, my snapshot

Whatever the rules governing their placement, I note that repetition is involved in the whole but that the relationships between the five parts in any one line is never repeated, in any direction. There is nothing random about the arrangement of these elements, even if I can’t actually work out how to state the rule, the formula if you will. And I absolutely don’t need it in order to see that what results is surprising and interesting, in contradistinction to what is meant when works are sometimes labelled “formulaic”. It’s a system, and one of the characteristics of a system is emergence, where “larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties”, so that the space created by the aggregation of single grey squares, or the generation of just one complete grey rhombus, itself not one of the five elements, are emergent properties of this system. The phenomenon of emergence is where surprises come from, that I think is a feature of a systems aesthetic.

There’s also something akin to emergence that takes place whenever you bring an array of disparate works together in an exhibition like this one at the Lion and Lamb Summer Saloon.

The full list of artists included is as follows:

Ralph Anderson, Dominic Beattie, Dan Beard, Kiera Bennett, Biggs & Collings, Michael Boffey, Britta Bogers, Simon Callery, Ad Christodoulou, Graham Cowley, Karen David, Nelson Diplexcito, Kaye Donachie, Natalie Dower, Cath Furguson, Hester Finch, Andrew Grassie, Steve Green, John Greenwood, Vincent Hawkins, Gerard Hemsworth, Sam Herbert, Sigrid Holmwood, Suzanne Holtom, Louise Hopkins, Dan Howard-Birt, Erin Lawlor, George Little, Onya McCausland, Declan McMullan, Damien Meade, Rebecca Meanley, Matthew Musgrave, Selma Parlour, Tim Renshaw, Kevin Smith, Benet Spencer, Neal Tait, Dolly Thompsett, Joel Tomlin, Floyd Varey, Jessica Voorsanger, Julian Wakelin, Richard Wathen, David Webb, Robert Welch, Simon Willems and Jessica Wilson.

The show continues until 30 August. Later it will travel to Aldeburgh Beach South LOOKOUT Project, Aldeburgh, Suffolk hosted by Caroline Wiseman Modern Contemporary, 20 – 21 September 2014.

Six Fugues by John Bunker

with 2 comments

On my trip to London on what must be the hottest day of the year so far, even though it’s now about 7 o’clock  in the evening it’s still really warm and here I am wearing a suit, carrying luggage and chasing across the capital to visit Westminster Library, to see collages by John Bunker in the show Six Fugues, curated by Sam Cornish.

Installation view, my snapshot

Installation view, my snapshot

The moment I set eyes on them I know the effort was more than worth it. I have seen one of these in reproduction and liked it, but seeing them here for real is so much better. Why is it that not being able to hold them in my hand and perceiving the depth of the supports and the proper sizes makes a difference?  Also, that they have weight, they are on MDF rather than paper, (no glass – excellent), adds to the sense of their physical presence. That, as well as the stuff they’re made from, “torn posters, shattered CDs, abandoned chicken-shop boxes,”  combined with the painterliness of the gestural flourishes, even in collage there are plenty of those, all adds to their materiality. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think of them as paintings, the construction method of which is  collage, rather than collages made with painted elements.

John Bunker, Shady Hill Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF. Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, Shady Hill Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF. Image by courtesy of the artist

In the exhibition notes Sam Cornish reminds me that collage is a century old, and the many library books open at appropriate pages assembled on a table and in a display case connect Bunkers work clearly to this tradition, a reproduction of Kurt Schwitters’ The Hitler Gang from 1944, having immediate resonance, for me, with Bunker’s Falling Fugue with it’s strong triangular figure and concentric circle motif.  As in other works here, the figures(torn and cut shapes and gestural painterly marks), seem to occupy a fairly narrow cubist space, blues often being interpreted (by me at any rate) as sky, which sometimes opens up into a much deeper space than I was first perceiving, especially in Shady Hill Fugue where the blue plane on the right hand edge becomes as sky seen beneath, but also beyond, an archway suggested by an arc in sandstone ochre, possibly the MDF support. A triangle of a similar colour inserts itself at the bottom right hand corner which is different enough tonally to bring it forward of the darker and more saturated central ochre colour, allowing the other shapes to dance within the space created. I say dance because they seem ungrounded, there’s no sense of an earth or floor other than the bottom edge of the support.

John Bunker, Falling Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 54 x 52.5cm, Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, Falling Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 54 x 52.5cm, Image by courtesy of the artist

In Falling Fugue the obstructed blue circle along the left edge doesn’t quite become open space, unless I focus on the bottom half of the work and then the blue area does seem to recede further than when I have the whole image in view. My eye seems to be taken downwards, I guess it must be because of the strong direction lines, pointing towards the lower edge. I do indeed get a sensation of things falling. Also, I feel that I may be looking slightly upwards, as if I am nearer to the bottom of the frame, whereas in Night Fugue it’s the other way around, enhanced in the photo by the downward angle of the shot, but still taking place when looking directly at the picture. Here the light blues and greys also sometimes become infinite space against which the flatter coloured areas jut forward or within which ink splatters become forms. Then the arrangement shifts so that the large flat area of red becomes a plane in front of which ochre, green, orange blue and grey cut outs jostle or float. The pink triangle at the bottom edge positions itself in front of the ochre but behind the grey/blue pentagon, in front of which a pale yellow triangle hovers, itself obstructed by a dark blue shape that is echoed higher up.

John Bunker, Night Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 30 x 33cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, Night Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 30 x 33cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

And then, of course, they are simply torn papers (etc) randomly assembled on a flat surface. I get to wondering about how much randomness there is in Bunker’s process, I imagine him scattering this week’s finds across the floor and then frenetically rearranging them. What do I know? His method may be quite the opposite of that.

Looking in other library book reproductions, I see similarities also in Cubist works from 1913 or 14, especially perhaps Juan Gris still-lives, with extensive use of collage and creating similar pictorial spaces as these I see in this show. What seems different though is the continued link in the still-lives to representational content. However much a Picasso, Braque or Gris still life is ‘abstracted from’ reality it still maintains that connection, I can recognise a guitar here, a rum bottle or a fragment of newspaper there. In Bunker’s work such elements are almost completely absent, and where for example, a fragment of newsprint or a star motif might be recognised they seem accidental.

Installation view, my snapshot

Installation view, my snapshot

The overriding similarities however, might be in the method of composition, according to rules, that are indeed abstract, in the same way perhaps that the strict laws of counterpoint and fugue in music are abstract.

Speaking of musicality in regard to Cubism, most of the following words by Paul Erich Küppers, director of the Kestner-Gesellschaft in Hanover, writing in 1920, could apply to Bunkers collages:

“…from pale harmonies of colour lines ascend, prisms shoot up, advance towards us or jump backwards, cutting steps out of the infinite space…They multiply, cluster into chords animated by the rhythm, executing their dance against the backdrop of that absolute music which is space. One experiences this transcendental dynamism no differently from the counterpoint of Bach’s fugues, so far removed from reality”∗.

And I say “most of the following words” only because “pale harmonies of colour” understates the power of the colours in Bunkers fugues, and also I don’t really find “prisms”, his shapes are flatter that that, as indeed they often were also in the collage still-lives of Gris.

John Bunker, Blue Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 49.5 x 38cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, Blue Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 49.5 x 38cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

If that modernist innovation collage is 100 years old, so also is the tradition of speaking of visual abstract works in terms of the musical structure of the fugue. Whilst allusions to fugue are only occasionally found in nineteenth century writings about art, they abound in the early twentieth century, the dawn of abstraction. Kandinsky entitled a 1912 painting Fugue (Controlled Improvisation), and by the 1920s lots of artists were doing it, Paul Klee and Josef Albers, amongst them.

John Bunker, John Islip Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 61 x 37.5cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, Shattered Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 44 x 51cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

In a fugue, one instrument or voice follows another echoing note for note the initial tune, as in a ’round’, the voice that enters last reiterates the opening melody (the fugue subject) whilst the preceding voice carries on with its own independent tune (the counter subject), with three or more parts the same process is repeated several times, amazingly the voices fitting together and making sense in ‘counterpoint’. There are usually three sections: an exposition, a development and a recapitulation. Melodies might be repeated backwards or upside down or played again with doubled or halved note values, and counterpoint intervals may be varied.

Such a structure can easily be translated to the visual modality, a figure being inverted, rotated, mirrored, drawn back to front, etc and it all exists simultaneously in the same space. Hence its attraction perhaps for visual artists, and specifically for abstract artists because the structure is entirely formal, no rushing water, no bird song, no bell ringing, no Wagnerian images.

John Bunker, John Islip Fugue, 2014, Mixed media collage on MDF, 61 x 37.5cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, John Islip Fugue, 2014, Mixed media collage on MDF, 61 x 37.5cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

So, for example, in John Islip Fugue, we get arcs and circles each echoing another, in similar and contrasting hues, impossible now to tell which one was placed first, and rectangles that may have been rotated and layered one over another. What I am not sure about is just how systematic Bunker’s method is, the extent to which the fugue is a strict compositional device or whether it’s a fairly loose metaphor. I suspect it is the latter.

Another attraction of the fugue for abstract artists is that it offers a structural method that offers an alternative to more arbitrary approaches and it appeals more to the intellect than it does to the emotions (though we shouldn’t overlook the emotional impact) . The Constructivist tradition comes to mind for me now, with its own take on collage, structure and fugue-like systems of rotation, repetition, inversion, etc. but I will leave those reflections for another day. Enough now to say that Bunker’s six fugues are a delight!

Six Fugues: New Collages by John Bunker was showing at Westminster Library between 1 July and 19 July 2014.

 

∗Paul Erich Küppers quote taken from The Music of Painting by Peter Vergo

At the First Clash, Alex Dewart, Marion Piper and Lindall Pearce at Surface Gallery

with 2 comments

At First Clash, Installation shot at Private View. Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

At First Clash, Installation shot at Private View. Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

At first sight the works of Alex Dewart, Lindall Pearce and Marion Piper, currently featured in the exhibition At the First Clash at Surface Gallery, Nottingham, are highly dissimilar, a clash of styles and approaches whose relationship to one another is symmetrical rather than complementary. However, a Twitter comment by Gill Gregory suggests she finds as much confluence or convergence as collision. Perhaps as soon as disparate practices are brought together in a shared space the similarities and interconnections become apparent, even when it’s difference that we’re celebrating. In the excellent essay by Maggie Gray, which accompanies the exhibition, she proposes that these three artists find commonality in “their awareness and manipulation of surfaces”. I wonder if what unites them is the clash of opposites (and possible reconciliation) that occurs in each of their works.

Alex Dewart

Alex Dewart, Pelle (Skin), 2014, Oil on printed cotton. 30 x 40cm, Image by courtesy of the artist.

In Dewart’s paintings, highly coloured flat patterns clash with illusionistic grey monochrome figures. The figures are context-less, appearing to have weight and volume yet they float in space against high colour backgrounds that clamour for attention. Elements of the pattern sometimes occupy positions in front of or on the same plane as the grey figures. In Pelle (Skin), a leaf motif breaks free from the ground and touches the left shoulder of an armoured figure. Visually there are cues to suggest that the figure is seated on a horse, even though there is no horse shown. Where the horse’s mane might be the pattern appears to push spatially forward of the figure, almost describing the horse’s neck.

Alex Dewart, Verdi sul Verde, 2014, oil on printed cotton, 40cm x 50cm. Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

Alex Dewart, Verdi sul Verde, 2014, oil on printed cotton, 40x 50cm. Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

I find myself searching for meanings that a context might provide, and in lieu of evidence I do what we all do in such situations, I make stuff up. So I consider the grey figures to be statues and I speculatively suggest to myself that, for example, Verdi sul Verde may show a statue of Giuseppe Verdi (really!) against a green floral ground, “Verdi on the green”, a way of being “green on green” that isn’t abstract in the sense of “non-representational”, but quite abstract in the sense of “levels of abstraction” i.e. as opposed to direct sensory experience. In other words, I am required to interpret, linguistically or conceptually if you will, in order to make sense of what I am looking at.

The kind of interpretation required when viewing paintings by Marion Piper is nearer to the pre-linguistic, or perceptual. The experience of ‘clash’ is between differing styles (e.g. painterly or gestural vs. geometric), as well as of competing interpretations of geometric gestalts. Rather than consciously thinking through potential meanings I just keep seeing the arrangement differently, sometimes seeing depth for example, and other times seeing flat shapes. It’s as if the interpreting takes place in the eye/brain, rather than in the mind.

Marion

Marion Piper, Or To 6, 2014, acrylic and oil on canvas, 46cm x 60cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

I first saw paintings by Piper at the Crossing Lines exhibition, earlier this year at &Model Gallery, where I noted that in her Free Man series she appeared to be combining an organic, free-flowing, process with geometry. There’s some of that going on here at the Surface Gallery exhibition in her Or To series, where fluid grey markings (not quite poured, more like staining) clash with measured geometric shapes, but the clash is suppressed perhaps, in that it exists beneath multiple layers, only traces showing through. It’s almost as if the geometry has succeeded in bringing order to the more chaotic, near gestural activity beneath the surface. Or is it that those liquid gestures actually construct the hard edged structures, the outlines being “filled in” with paint whilst in this fluid condition? It’s difficult to tell. The process is evident but not enough to reliably reconstitute it step by step. I can guess at it, but I have little confidence that my guessing matches any of the events that actually took place on the canvas.

Marion Piper, Or To 9, 2014, Acrylic, Oil and Pen on Canvas, 61 x 46cm. Image by courtesy of the artist.

Marion Piper, Or To 9, 2014, Acrylic, Oil and Pen on Canvas, 61 x 46cm. Image by courtesy of the artist.

In Or To 9, illusionistic space is posited along the bottom edge, take the zig zagging triangles away and the alternate bars or stripes of light and dark grey no longer look three dimensional. The triangles lead us to see the stripes as mountain and valley folds, a concertina formation, with a light source from the left. At least two readings compete with each other in an unresolvable conflict. Though contradictory, we believe both interpretations are equally true, not simultaneously but sequentially, first it’s this and then it’s that and next it’s this again, perhaps reminiscent of wave-particle duality in quantum physics. Whatever reading we come to first, we have to concede that “the opposite is also true”.

In the works here by Lindall Pearce the clash is between artwork and arbitrary object, everyday objects being combined to produce highly attractive assemblages. They draw from the tradition of the “ready-made”, but in the end they are not ready-mades, there’s too much craft for that. It could even be that the tradition is turned back on itself by the reintroduction of facture. Nevertheless, the banal object never become so much an artwork that it loses its thingness, nor does the art ever lapse back into banal utilitarian function.

Lindall Pearce, Chroma Chameleon, 2014, Mixed Media, Dimensions Variable, Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

Lindall Pearce, Chroma Chameleon, 2014, Mixed Media, Dimensions Variable, Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

In Chroma Chameleon, adjustable shaving mirrors (I think) are arranged on a black and white striped, painted table top, the mirror glasses having been replaced or painted over, with coloured circles. Even though they do retain some of their reflectiveness they no longer function specifically as mirrors. They create an interesting array of angles, planes and colours and subvert the original purposes of both table and mirrors. Come to think of it, I am now doubting whether “assemblage” is the best label for this and other works by Pearce in this show. In an assemblage don’t pre-existing, unrelated objects get placed together? Yet it looks to me as if Pearce works on her objects and then also makes something else out of them, which possibly brings them closer to “constructions”. (In pondering this distinction I am following a conversation between Peter Lowe and Katrina Blannin recently reported by Blannin in a review at Abstract Critical.)

Looking at the works of these three artists, I think I discover resonance in their appreciation of clashes of opposites, whether two dimensional pattern vs. three dimensional figuration in Dewart, opposing gestalts in Piper or readymade vs. construction in Pearce. Furthermore, they seem unwilling to resolve the contradictions by favouring one position over another. Instead, they hold both sides of the argument in tension, and only then does some form of reconciliation take place. Could it be that the title of the exhibition would be better rendered with a comma after the word “First” so that it would read “At the First, Clash” (to begin with a clash and only then reconciliation)?   Tongue firmly in cheek, if I wanted to give this a theological slant, following Karl Barth, I might insist that the divine “no” always precedes the divine “yes”, or if I wanted to sound more political I might echo that other Karl as well as that old band The Clash: “There’s got to be a Clash, there’s no alternative”.

 

At the First Clash is on at Surface Gallery until 12 July 2014

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 1, 2014 at 11:12 pm

“About Painting” at Castlefield Gallery

with 2 comments

About Painting at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, curated by Lisa Denyer, is an exploration of contemporary abstract painting, featuring eight artists including me. I hope it’s acceptable to review an exhibition in which I am a participant. The artists are : Claudia Böese, Louisa Chambers, Lisa Denyer, Terry Greene, Matthew Macaulay, David Manley, Andy Parkinson and Anne Parkinson (no relation). It is an honour to be associated with this group.

_IGP6048

Window of Castlefield Gallery with my own painting “cover” on the wall below.

The gallery, which is this year celebrating it’s thirtieth year, looks out onto Castlefield and Deansgate rail and metro stops. Today at the opening, on such a warm and sunny evening the place has something of a continental feel to it. The colours of some of the paintings, warm hues against a pristine white backdrop, add to this sensation.

Installation shot, my photo

Installation shot, my photo: On wall: paintings by Lisa Denyer, Louisa Chambers and Claudia Bose, On floor: paintings by Claudia Böse Lisa Denyer and Matthew Macaulay, including painted stones by Lisa Denyer

In the upper gallery, works by Terry Greene, Anne Parkinson and Louisa Chambers kick off the show, and already what I am noticing is the variety of approaches. Greene’s paintings are intuitively arrived at, through a process of trial and error, in a context in which it is difficult to define what an “error” might be. In a way it’s painting as problem-solving, as opposed to puzzle-deciphering, where I am thinking of problems as having multiple correct answers and puzzles as having just the one correct answer. And whilst this could perhaps be said of all painting, for me, Greene’s work gives particular emphasis to this aspect of the medium. Colour/shapes are added and responded to and then, according to some internal logic, some are wiped away with a cloth and then something different laid down in their place. The residue of previous configurations shows through the final arrangement. It would be an overstatement to say that the painting makes itself, along the lines of a self-organising system, but I bet it feels that way to the artist, proceeding by continually asking the painting what it wants to become. Neighbouring Grounds wanted to become a ground only, surrounded by other grounds that might also be standing two dimensional figures gathered around a portal when the central area is an absence. When the central area becomes a positive shape then I can divide the action in half diagonally from top right to bottom left, the other shapes joining together to form a warped frame with the three shapes touching the top and left edge receding in space whilst the shapes along the bottom edge and right hand side push forward. Three shapes opposing three others forming an irregular hexagon in the centre.

Terry Greene, Neighboring Grounds, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 35x25cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Terry Greene, Neighboring Grounds, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 35x25cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

In Anne Parkinson’s approach to painting most of the decision making takes place before the paint is laid down. A system is described according to particular rules, though I am unsure whether I am working them out correctly, perhaps due to the multiple ways we have available to us of classifying our experience. In Expansion,  nine paintings on unstretched canvases are pinned to the wall in a grid formation, I see a row of three rectangles above a row of four rectangles, above a row of two rectangles, but my brain fills in the ‘blanks’ to find three rows or four with spaces. Each individual painting similarly has three rows of four rectangles, that could be read as single brush strokes, with units missing, no one arrangement ever repeated. On the top row, one of the paintings is simply a black monochrome rectangle, yet I cannot help but read it as an ’empty’ grid now that I have become conditioned to see the grid format. I am recalling Boolean algebra, or digital information theory, where either a 0 or a 1 is the carrier of ‘meaning’. Yet the colour and subtle irregularity of paint handling is decidedly analogue.

Anne Parkinson, Expansion! 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 95x114cm, my snapshot

Anne Parkinson, Expansion! 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 95x114cm, my snapshot

If this analogue/digital contrast could be stretched to suggests a theme of something akin to “Technology vs Primitivism” I could claim to find this theme running throughout all modern and contemporary art and certainly it would be a way of codifying the paintings in this show. I feel sure this dichotomy is actually present in the paintings by Louisa Chambers, though I acknowledge my propensity to over-interpret.

Paintings by (left to right) Terry Greene, Andy Parkinson, David Manley, Louisa Chambers and Terry Greene

Paintings by (left to right) Terry Greene, Andy Parkinson, David Manley, Louisa Chambers and Terry Greene

There are four wonderful paintings by Chambers here, two from her Flatland series, one from her Rotation series and one from her Two-Foldness series. I love her use of colour and the way the images shift and create multiple readings, only one of which can be held at any one time, creating a sense of movement as well as a shifting of space within an essentially two-dimensional framework. Patterns are established and then interrupted, and figuration is suggested and then suspended in a continuous loop. The images have a cartoon like appearance, reminding me at times of TV graphics, and when I find figuration it is often technology or machinery in a landscape that comes to my mind. Issues of playfulness (and its difficulty) within a technologically determined world seem at least alluded to.

Louisa Chambers, Sound Reflector, 2012, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 70x60cm, my snapshot

Louisa Chambers, Sound Reflector, 2012, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 70x60cm, my snapshot

If in my viewing of Chambers’ paintings today it is image that I am most aware of, in David Manley’s and Lisa Denyers paintings I am reminded that a painting is also an object. In Manley’s delightful small canvases here, he explores a theme based on a proscenium arch that he first began using many years ago, and to which he has recently returned. The colours are inspired by light and colour of Cornish coastal villages, beaches and coves and the scale is small, miniature even, so that what their presentation as beautiful objects is what I see first, the fact that some of these tiny canvases are painted all the way around the sides increases my perception of them as things, also noting that the colours look particularly vibrant along the top, recalling the experience I often have when working on a painting horizontally, the amazing colour I see when the work is flat dissipates the moment I lift the work to view it vertically on the wall. Manley has maintained this colour vitality by continuing the painting around the edges and especially along the top.

Paintings by David Manley, my snapshot

Paintings by David Manley, my snapshot

Denyer’s paintings on stone are quite evidently objects. In these three dimensional paintings she brings attention to the stone rather than simply decorating it. There is an element of adding something that wasn’t there before, especially in the colours she uses, and there is a definite process of ‘doing something’ to the stone, but I am put more strongly in remembrance of Michelangelo’s strategy in relation to his Prisoner sculptures, where he claimed to draw the forms from within the rock rather than imposing them from without. In bringing my attention to the stones I notice that they are not at all in their natural state, they have already gone through a lengthy process of being quarried, built and demolished. If moments ago, I was thinking in terms of the opposition of digital vs analogue, extended to technological vs primitive, I am now thinking about the natural vs the artificial, which might actually be a subset of the other opposition already referred to.

In Denyer’s two dimensional paintings I am once again impressed by the refinement of the carefully made object, as well as by the textures of the surface when she uses found plywood. I think I have said before that I find both affirmation-and-denial of materiality going on here.

Lisa Denyer, Cube, 2014, Acrylic on found plywood, 28x31cm, my snapshot

Lisa Denyer, Cube, 2014,
Acrylic on found plywood, 28x31cm, my snapshot

I like that in her curation of this exhibition, Denyer has chosen to display the work in interesting ways. Some of her own paintings as well as some of Claudia Böese’ and one of Matthew Macaulay’s are propped against stones or displayed on plinths, emphasising their materiality. I am also very impressed by the way she has lit my own paintings so that the surface detail that is so difficult to show in a photograph, becomes easier to see.

The charming paintings by Böese here, are varied in style, some are “hard-nosed” abstraction exploring process in grid like arrangements whereas others approach figuration, based on Chaïm Soutine‘s paintings of flowers, often it’s frames and edges that she seems interested in. I sense that this links to metaphorical ‘content’ both about painting and about the psychological experience of feeling “on the edge” of something.

Claudia Böse, Relocation (I), 2010, Oil on board, 36x30cm, My snapshot

Claudia Böse, Relocation (I), 2010, Oil on board, 36x30cm, My snapshot

Matthew Macaulay’s paintings seem to have taken a near-monochrome turn as haptic mark-making and resultant images are unified using a larger swirling gesture, recalling the act of “whitening out” that builders or shopfitters might use on a large window or a vacant storefront. The gesture at once connects to a painting that is urban, vernacular, and largely unconscious. At the same time the colours he employs seem far removed from whitening. In this wonderful painting Living in a Daydream for example the overall red glows with an assertive energy. Its energy is all vision and image, whereas its gesture is more texture and material.

Matthew Macaulay, Living in a Daydream, 2014, Oil on board, 40x40cm, my snapshot

Matthew Macaulay, Living in a Daydream, 2014, Oil on board, 40x40cm, my snapshot

In my own systems oriented paintings, I may appear to be doing the opposite of Macaulay, who’s affirmation of colour and energy I might even be attempting to obliterate as I cover fluorescent coloured designs with a diagonally oriented chequer pattern. Actually, it’s what remains after this process that interests me, the way that colours show through, as well as, and perhaps more importantly, the way that when faced with a black and white pattern, and taking time to look, we involuntarily invent colours of our own.

Andy Parkinson, Contra Check 2, 2014, Mixed media on PVA coated paper on canvas, 50x50cm

Andy Parkinson, Contra Check 2, 2014, Mixed media on PVA coated paper on canvas, 50x50cm

About Painting is at Castlefield Gallery until 29 June 2014.

Evidence of a systems based process can be found in Andy Parkinson’s paintings. The checkered overlay has been adhered to a florescent ground, all but blocking out the underlying hues. However on closer inspection, vague forms and subtle colours come through from underneath. The optical illusion brought about by the contrasting black and white checkering creates the appearance of more colour in turn.

A similar repetition of motif is utilized in the work of Louisa Chambers. There is a sense of fairground and fantastical landscape in her vividly coloured paintings; it’s not surprising that contemplation of alternative universes has been instrumental in the making of these pieces. Imagery in the work references castles, monarchy, and the futuristic. These paintings bring to mind a kind of strange, robotic fairy tale.

David Manley’s intimate paintings are representative of a relatively new way of working in contemporary abstraction. Their miniature scale and clean simplicity invites closer inspection. They are the result of investigations into fundamental form and restricted colour, inspired by place, structure and an architectural interest, with particular reference to the proscenium arch.

The works on display by Anne Parkinson centre around pre-planned systems, and experiments in the properties of colour. There is an emphasis on polarity of hue, allowing a visual complexity to manifest when pared with simple mark making. The paintings were made to be shown together, so although each component is small in scale, the repetition in their display creates an impactful and responsive visual series.

The paintings of Claudia Böse show careful thought and process-led considerations around form in her exploration of the medium. Böse focusses on contained areas created by framing devices, inspired by the domestic and every day life; screens, table mats, and windows amongst others. These paintings incorporate influences from place, history and nature, creating a new interpretation of these ideas through an abstract language.

Matthew Macaulay’s playful use of paint is reflected in the titles of his work. An exciting energy is conveyed in his gestural brush stokes and mark making. Macaulay’s work is simple whilst being nuanced. His paintings celebrate colour and imbue a sense of impact, drawing on influences from art history, and reflecting his own experiences to produce something new and joyful.

Experimentation and risk taking are evident in the work of Terry Greene. However, careful consideration of form and structure is equally apparent. Traces of the painting process reveal themselves in the multitude of layers that can be discerned in different aspects of these pieces. Investigation, and a full exploration of the medium have occurred here before arriving at a tension that feels right.

Lisa Denyer’s paintings show a strong interest in materiality. The found plywood she chooses as support adds compositional details in the grain and irregularities of the surface. Simple shape, excavation and subsequent covering of colour are prevalent themes in Denyer’s work. Residual landscape associations are apparent, as well as references to architectural structures and cosmological depiction.

– See more at: http://www.castlefieldgallery.co.uk/event/launch-pad-about-painting/#sthash.b78Jnzbw.dpuf

Evidence of a systems based process can be found in Andy Parkinson’s paintings. The checkered overlay has been adhered to a florescent ground, all but blocking out the underlying hues. However on closer inspection, vague forms and subtle colours come through from underneath. The optical illusion brought about by the contrasting black and white checkering creates the appearance of more colour in turn.

A similar repetition of motif is utilized in the work of Louisa Chambers. There is a sense of fairground and fantastical landscape in her vividly coloured paintings; it’s not surprising that contemplation of alternative universes has been instrumental in the making of these pieces. Imagery in the work references castles, monarchy, and the futuristic. These paintings bring to mind a kind of strange, robotic fairy tale.

David Manley’s intimate paintings are representative of a relatively new way of working in contemporary abstraction. Their miniature scale and clean simplicity invites closer inspection. They are the result of investigations into fundamental form and restricted colour, inspired by place, structure and an architectural interest, with particular reference to the proscenium arch.

The works on display by Anne Parkinson centre around pre-planned systems, and experiments in the properties of colour. There is an emphasis on polarity of hue, allowing a visual complexity to manifest when pared with simple mark making. The paintings were made to be shown together, so although each component is small in scale, the repetition in their display creates an impactful and responsive visual series.

The paintings of Claudia Böse show careful thought and process-led considerations around form in her exploration of the medium. Böse focusses on contained areas created by framing devices, inspired by the domestic and every day life; screens, table mats, and windows amongst others. These paintings incorporate influences from place, history and nature, creating a new interpretation of these ideas through an abstract language.

Matthew Macaulay’s playful use of paint is reflected in the titles of his work. An exciting energy is conveyed in his gestural brush stokes and mark making. Macaulay’s work is simple whilst being nuanced. His paintings celebrate colour and imbue a sense of impact, drawing on influences from art history, and reflecting his own experiences to produce something new and joyful.

Experimentation and risk taking are evident in the work of Terry Greene. However, careful consideration of form and structure is equally apparent. Traces of the painting process reveal themselves in the multitude of layers that can be discerned in different aspects of these pieces. Investigation, and a full exploration of the medium have occurred here before arriving at a tension that feels right.

Lisa Denyer’s paintings show a strong interest in materiality. The found plywood she chooses as support adds compositional details in the grain and irregularities of the surface. Simple shape, excavation and subsequent covering of colour are prevalent themes in Denyer’s work. Residual landscape associations are apparent, as well as references to architectural structures and cosmological depiction.

– See more at: http://www.castlefieldgallery.co.uk/event/launch-pad-about-painting/#sthash.cu1kId2m.dpuf

Evidence of a systems based process can be found in Andy Parkinson’s paintings. The checkered overlay has been adhered to a florescent ground, all but blocking out the underlying hues. However on closer inspection, vague forms and subtle colours come through from underneath. The optical illusion brought about by the contrasting black and white checkering creates the appearance of more colour in turn.

A similar repetition of motif is utilized in the work of Louisa Chambers. There is a sense of fairground and fantastical landscape in her vividly coloured paintings; it’s not surprising that contemplation of alternative universes has been instrumental in the making of these pieces. Imagery in the work references castles, monarchy, and the futuristic. These paintings bring to mind a kind of strange, robotic fairy tale.

David Manley’s intimate paintings are representative of a relatively new way of working in contemporary abstraction. Their miniature scale and clean simplicity invites closer inspection. They are the result of investigations into fundamental form and restricted colour, inspired by place, structure and an architectural interest, with particular reference to the proscenium arch.

The works on display by Anne Parkinson centre around pre-planned systems, and experiments in the properties of colour. There is an emphasis on polarity of hue, allowing a visual complexity to manifest when pared with simple mark making. The paintings were made to be shown together, so although each component is small in scale, the repetition in their display creates an impactful and responsive visual series.

The paintings of Claudia Böse show careful thought and process-led considerations around form in her exploration of the medium. Böse focusses on contained areas created by framing devices, inspired by the domestic and every day life; screens, table mats, and windows amongst others. These paintings incorporate influences from place, history and nature, creating a new interpretation of these ideas through an abstract language.

Matthew Macaulay’s playful use of paint is reflected in the titles of his work. An exciting energy is conveyed in his gestural brush stokes and mark making. Macaulay’s work is simple whilst being nuanced. His paintings celebrate colour and imbue a sense of impact, drawing on influences from art history, and reflecting his own experiences to produce something new and joyful.

Experimentation and risk taking are evident in the work of Terry Greene. However, careful consideration of form and structure is equally apparent. Traces of the painting process reveal themselves in the multitude of layers that can be discerned in different aspects of these pieces. Investigation, and a full exploration of the medium have occurred here before arriving at a tension that feels right.

Lisa Denyer’s paintings show a strong interest in materiality. The found plywood she chooses as support adds compositional details in the grain and irregularities of the surface. Simple shape, excavation and subsequent covering of colour are prevalent themes in Denyer’s work. Residual landscape associations are apparent, as well as references to architectural structures and cosmological depiction.

– See more at: http://www.castlefieldgallery.co.uk/event/launch-pad-about-painting/#sthash.cu1kId2m.dpuf

“Conversations Around Marlow Moss” and “Parallel Lives”

with 5 comments

Cullinan Richards, Savage School Window Gallery, 2008 ongoing text: MARLOW MOSS, perspex and aluminium light box, 18 x 140 x 300cm with scaffold stand (dimensions variable). Image by courtesy of the artist

Cullinan Richards, Savage School Window Gallery, 2008 ongoing text: MARLOW MOSS, perspex and aluminium light box, 18 x 140 x 300cm with scaffold stand (dimensions variable). Image by courtesy of the artist

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).

Marlow Moss installation shot. Image courtesy of Leeds Art Gallery.

Marlow Moss installation shot. Image courtesy of Leeds Art Gallery.

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.

Left: Andrew Bick, Mirror Variant Drawing #1, 2011 -12, acrylic charcoal, digital print, spray paint and watercolour on cut paper, 135 x 135 cm. Right: Cullinan Richards, Ian Poulter wore shocking pink, 2012, oil paint, canvas, household paint, polythene sheet and newspaper, 113 x 85 cm. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick

Left: Andrew Bick, Mirror Variant Drawing #1, 2011 -12, acrylic charcoal, digital print, spray paint and watercolour on cut paper, 135 x 135 cm. Right: Cullinan Richards, Ian Poulter wore shocking pink, 2012, oil paint, canvas, household paint, polythene sheet and newspaper, 113 x 85 cm. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick

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”[1]. 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.

Installation shot showing portfolio on tables and Jeffrey Steele paintings on walls

Installation shot showing portfolio on tables and Jeffrey Steele paintings on walls, left: Syntagma Sg IV 117, right: Syntagma Sg 116, both 1991, pencil and oil on canvas, 122 x 122cm. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick

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.

Installation shot, Left: Maria Lalic, Sevres Blue Landscape Painting, Front: Rational Concepts  portfolio of prints, Back Andrew Bick OGVDS - GW #2. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick.

Installation shot, Left: Maria Lalic, Sevres Blue Landscape Painting, Front: Rational Concepts portfolio of prints, Back Andrew Bick OGVDS – GW #2. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick.

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”[2]. 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.

Installation shot showing Katrina Blannin paintings and plinth with Adam Gillam intervention with Anthony Hill pages from Module, Proportion, Symmetry. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick

Installation shot showing Katrina Blannin paintings and plinth with Adam Gillam intervention with Anthony Hill pages from Module, Proportion, Symmetry. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick

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.

Katrina Blannin, Bisected Double Hexad Rotation - Lemon/Delft Blue, 2014, acrylic on hessian, 30 x 25cm

Katrina Blannin, Bisected Double Hexad Rotation – Lemon/Delft Blue, 2014, acrylic on hessian, 30 x 25cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

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.

Eva Berendes, Untitled, 2012, steel, brass. lacquer, 220 x 90 x 60 cm, image by courtesy of & Model

Eva Berendes, Untitled, 2012, steel, brass. lacquer, 220 x 90 x 60 cm, image by courtesy of the artist

The imposing sculptural work of Eva Berendes and Liadin Cooke take up most of the ground floor of this show so I spend some time with them on my way out of the exhibition.

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.

Liadin Cooke, Housement, 2010, Felt, Perspex, 100 x 200 x 21.5cm. Image by courtesy of the Artist

Liadin Cooke, Housement, 2010, Felt, Perspex, 100 x 200 x 21.5cm. Image by courtesy of the Artist

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.

 

 

[1] Lucy Howarth The Lonely Radical

[2] Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature, 1979

 

Coming Soon to & Model: Conversations around Marlow Moss

with 2 comments

Just found out about this exciting new show opening soon at

& Model 
19 East Parade, Leeds, LS1 2BH, UK   http://www.andmodel.com/

  

Eva Berendes, Untitled, 2012, steel, brass. lacquer, 220 x 90 x 60 cm, image by courtesy of & Model

Eva Berendes, Untitled, 2012, steel, brass. lacquer, 220 x 90 x 60 cm. (Image by courtesy of & Model)

    

Conversations around Marlow Moss

Curated by Andrew Bick and Katrina Blannin
12 June–18 July 2014

Conversations Around Marlow Moss, consists of hypothetical dialogue between the exhibiting artists’ work and that of Moss, in which Moss represents the under acknowledged éminence grise, the original tricky figure from a British past in which Modernism, as another kind of European queerness, has also been diligently repressed.

Arguably we are still in muddled dialogue with the things Modernism represents and in the UK this means that the stalled and chequered nature of that conversation has an important effect on what contemporary art means and how it operates. Two exhibitions of Mondrian, at TATE Liverpool and Turner Contemporary, Margate, will open at around the same time that Marlow Moss opens at Leeds Art Gallery and this one comes to &Model. Considering Moss’ artistic relationship with Mondrian is a way of reconsidering her impact, but also the other conversations represented in the &Model exhibition, with British Construction and Systems artists such as Norman Dilworth, Anthony Hill, Peter Lowe, David Saunders, Jeffrey Steele, Gillian Wise and others, form part of a bigger and very necessary exchange artists are making now with modernist positions that are far from redundant. Moss, as an overlooked protagonist for conversations that never happened in her lifetime, is the pre-eminently undigested presence in this exchange and the symbolic figure of resistance to an over homogenised history of British art. As with other projects Bick and Blannin have worked on, the irrational within the rational and the idea of contradiction as a vital driving force within art practice since modernism, is celebrated as a reason why we should enjoy and understand the work of Moss and her successors now.

The aim of Conversations Around Marlow Moss, is to put her work and forgotten personality back in dialogue with what came after and what happens now, as well as to ask questions about what makes practice contemporary. The artist/curators have been in extended dialogue with British post War Construction and Systems Artists since meeting through an ‘in conversation’ Bick held with Jeffrey Steele at Hales Gallery in 2009. Since then Bick has curated exhibitions in Basel, Huddersfield, Leeds, Leigh and London around these artists’ work and Blannin has published extensive interviews with Steele and Bick in Turps Banana magazine. Both artists explore the implications of this artistic territory in their own practice. Included in Conversations around Marlow Moss will be works by post war British Construction and Systems artists as well as many of the younger artists Bick and Blannin have collaborated with on various projects since 2009.

Conversations Around Marlow Moss
Eva Berendes
Andrew Bick
Katrina Blannin
Liadin Cooke
Cullinan Richards
Adam Gillam
Maria Lalic
Peter Lowe
David Saunders
Jean Spencer
Jeffrey Steele

+ Rational Concepts, 7 English Artists:
Norman Dilworth
Anthony Hill
Malcolm Hughes
Peter Lowe
Kenneth Martin
Jeffrey Steele
Gillian Wise
[Portfolio, comprising seven screenprints, 4 in black and white, 3 in colour, each signed and numbered by the artist size 60x60cm, edition of 100 copies with title-page, introduction by Richard Paul Lohse, ‘Constructive art in England today’ and short statements by each artist in a black vinyl covered portfolio, design Rudolf Mattes, published 1977 by Lydia Megert Edition Bern (CH) and Hoffmann Edition Friedberg (D). Loan, collection Andrew Bick.]

The exhibition coincides with and complements the exhibition Parallel Lives (Marlow Moss and Claude Cahoun), which will be at Leeds City Art Gallery from 6 June to 7 September 2014.
Planning my visit!