patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘art galleries

Callum Innes at Whitworth Art Gallery

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The exhibition of recent paintings by Callum Innes  at Whitworth Art Gallery is astounding, quite literally breathtaking.

It includes works from his series of Exposed Paintings, where using turpentine, he removes layers of black oil paint to reveal underlying colours, leaving the evidence of his process on the canvas and around the canvas edges.

Callum Innes, Exposed Painting Green Lake, 2012, Oil on linen. Image by courtesy of Whitworth Art Gallery

Callum Innes, Exposed Painting Green Lake, 2012, Oil on linen.Oil on linen, 205 x 200cm, Courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London

As I am examining the edges of the canvas to attempt to discover which colours were laid down first a man interrupts me to ask

“have you found any?”

“any what?”

“any brushmarks”.

I think there are some, but the removing of paint is more evident and the multiple layers tend to prevent the perception of individual mark-making.

There are paintings here also from the Monologue series, in which washes resembling a waterfall or a mist cover the entire canvas. Innes’s paintings are rarely ever strictly ‘monochromes’, but I do think that they speak from and to that tradition, and I wonder if the title of this series hints at this.

All the paintings here are of a fair size, big but not massive. There are paintings that do not appear to belong to a named series, Untitled no 31 for example. On second thoughts, they do form a series: the Untitled series in which the canvas is divided vertically into two sections, sometimes into roughly equal halves, but not always.

Callum Innes, Untitled no 31, 2012. Image by courtesy of Whitworth Gallery

Callum Innes, Untitled no 31, 2012. Oil on linen, 160 x156cm, Courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London

Sitting down, I look at Untitled no 31 for a long time and it is only the nagging awareness of an upcoming appointment that eventually motivates me to get going. I want to say that there’s something timeless about it except that it also seems to mark the passing of time both of the artist in the making of it and of the viewer who wishes to stay on and gaze. It may be more accurate to say that it induces a time distortion. I get absorbed in the process of seeing, at first accompanied with internal dialogue but less and less so. Time seems to have stopped. It’s not altogether a reverie, nor is it all emotion; whilst there is something emotional about it, there is also “something for the mind to do”. I become fascinated by the line that separates the two ‘halves’ or that joins them, there does seem to be an actual line which can be seen very close up, absent from middle distance but becoming magnified optically after prolonged viewing from where I am seated a few feet away. The surface also takes on a slightly undulating quality. I have the impression that these optical effects are bi-products of the painting process rather than deliberately sought after or designed-in by the artist.

The exhibition also has a selection of works on paper and 20 new watercolours made especially for the Whitworth.The watercolours are displayed laid flat on a long table in a manner that recalls the process of making them. Innes lays the sheets of paper out in sequence and works on them in order, beginning each one by masking off a square in the centre of the paper, blocking it out with a wash of watercolour and leaving it to partially dry before removing the masking and adding further layers allowing them to be slightly larger or smaller than the initial square, so residues of the unmixed colours remain at the edges.

Callum Innes, Cerulean blue / Transparent Orange, 2013. Image by courtesy of Whitworth Gallery

Callum Innes, Cerulean blue / Transparent Orange, 2013, Watercolour, 56 x 77cm, image by courtesy of Frith Street Gallery, London

Each work combines two colours transforming them in the process into a new, indeterminable hue. I am reminded of the dialectical triad: thesis, antithesis, synthesis, which in turn reminds me that no ‘formalist’ painting can ever be only formal, it is always also trans-formal.

Callum Innes, Ivory Black Green / Titanium White, 2013, watercolour on Fabriano Artistico HP 640gsm, 56 x 77 cm. Image by courtesy of Whitworth Gallery

Callum Innes, Ivory Black Green / Titanium White, 2013, Watercolour, 56 x 77cm, image by courtesy of Frith Street Gallery, London

There is something right about seeing them laid horizontally, partly because it maintains the sequence, encouraging me to see each individual work as a part of a larger whole, and partly because I think the colours are slightly intensified when seen in this orientation.

Callum Innes, Red Violet / Gamboge Modern, 2013,  watercolour on Fabriano Artistico HP 640gsm, 56 x 77 cm. Image by courtesy of Whitworth Gallery

Callum Innes, Red Violet / Gamboge Modern, 2013, Watercolour, 56 x 77cm, image by courtesy of Frith Street Gallery, London

These works, whether the large paintings or the watercolours, are only deceptively, simple. All the actions that are documented in the production process are in themselves very simple, and sometimes they result in paintings that at first glance also seem simple. Yet linger only a short while and their complexity becomes more apparent. And it’s paradoxical in that the process of making is never hidden, it is in one sense clearly displayed. However, the moment I try to piece it together it eludes me it all starts to seem too difficult to follow, much of the process now being obscured by the very action of layering and removal of paint. If I might switch sensory systems for a moment I could say that viewing them is akin to the experience of listening to music by Steve Reich, on the one hand simple ( I resist the ‘minimalist’ tag) and on the other, highly complex.

The Callum Innes exhibition, part of the Whitworth Spring Season, opened on 2 March and continues to 16 June 2013.

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Quick! Get Treatment at PS Mirabel

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The abstract painting exhibition at PS Mirabel Manchester is a treat, a sight for sore eyes as it were. But hurry, the last day you can see it is Saturday 9 March!

PS Mirabel is a new gallery space on the ground floor of Mirabel Studios and is open on Saturdays from 11am to 5pm or by appointment. So, having seen the write up of  the current show at Abstract Critical I made an appointment to visit.

Curated by Lisa Denyer, Treatment features the work of six contemporary abstract painters from across the UK:

Laura Jane Blake‘s delightful watercolour Fold Abstraction #2 unframed and simply pinned to the wall treats painting as an empirical means of investigating structure that seems to develop organically from a simple geometric starting point, the medium lending, as well as its translucent colour, also a looseness to what might otherwise seem too tightly formed.

Richard Ward‘s digital prints have a quality of light that, like watercolour, seems generated from the inside, similar to the experience of looking at a screen, possibly encouraged in the title Brief Encounter, recalling the 1954 film romance, but whereas that was black and white, set in the era of the steam locomotive, this image is in full colour and set in the digital age. Whilst including other references to the past, in the history of abstraction, particularly the photograms of Man Ray, these digital prints demonstrate what abstraction can be now and suggest what it could become in the future. After all, this is a show about the nature of abstract painting, the digital print being firmly placed in that category, as if painting could become, to quote Lisa Denyer in our conversation here “anything we want it to be”.

Mattise’s cut outs come to mind for me as a treatment of material that we think of as ‘painting’ even though the only painting was in the preparation of the paper prior to being cut. And if the paper being used was industrially coloured it would still read as ‘painting’, like the wonderful card on card works on show here by Neill Clements.

Neill Clements, series of cut-outs, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Neill Clements, series of cut-outs, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

They are individually titled, encouraging us to view each one in its own right and yet, seeing them in series like this, leads us also to treat them as parts of a larger whole, like a frieze or a cartoon strip. And they have some of the humour of a cartoon, almost like visual jokes, the one third from the right for example: Halloween. They also have tongue-in-cheek references to other abstract art e.g. Black Carl Andre…

Neill Clements, Black Carl Andre, 2012, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Neill Clements, Black Carl Andre, 2012, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

…and figural associations e,g, Valley.

Neill Clements, Valley, 2012, card on card. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Neill Clements, Valley, 2012, card on card. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

The unavoidably associative quality of otherwise abstract images means that it’s both the definition of ‘abstract’ as well as the definition of  ‘painting’ that is up for consideration here, in a way that is humorous without becoming ironic.

Terry Greene‘s work contains some humour too, especially when viewed with the titles, as in An ever-expanding, loving, joyful, glorious, and harmonious universe, which might also have some irony in it. Titling abstract paintings is, I think, a better strategy for differentiation than say numbering them and although “Untitled” avoids over-influencing the viewers’ interpretation it makes differentiation impossible. So Greene’s titles are ambiguous and seem free-associative both for artist and viewer, (free association being a psycho-therapeutic treatment all of its own). The image reminds me of a portal, a window on the world, but one that thwarts the attempt to find a world out there. I am particularly impressed by Greene’s use of colour and the variety of the acrylic paint handling. In Cathedral the build up of paint at the edges, overflowing the sides of the support acts as a record of the process and invites the viewer to imagine how that process led to the realization of this particular image/object. The paint in That’s the sun in my hands, man! looks like it was squeegeed in opposite directions forming two impasto waves in the act of separation, revealing a ‘sky’ of almost indeterminable colour.

Terry Greene, That's the sun in my hands, man! 2012, acrylic on canvas. 12" x 16". Image by courtesy of the artist

Terry Greene, That’s the sun in my hands, man! 2012, acrylic on canvas. 12″ x 16″. Image by courtesy of the artist

Mark Kennard  in his treatment of paint employs more of a staining technique, the weave of the canvas showing through most of the time. Untitled is a near monochrome surface where the staining/brushing of paint has been interrupted creating a horizon line where an underpainted ground shows through and appears to glow. The whole surface has something of a glowing quality, and on closer inspection the paint looks thicker than I first thought, and has a gloss sheen to it. I cannot tell whether it is a varnish applied to the paint surface afterwards or whether the thick gloss quality is in the paint itself. I suspect it is the latter. However, the overall impression is of a lightness that may be my own ‘treatment’ in that it may be more optical than material.

Mark Kennard, Untitled, 2012, Oil on Canvas, Image by Courtesy of PS Mirabel

Mark Kennard, Untitled, 2012, Oil on Canvas, Image by Courtesy of PS Mirabel

Matthew Macaulay uses painterly mark-making in a variety of ways on different canvases arranged on a shelf, one canvas slightly smaller than the others and overlapped by those on each side, having the effect that I want to re-arrange them so I can see what is just out of view. But then all painting is like that isn’t it? There are other paintings included in the final version that are hidden forever underneath the final layer. In this arrangement the hiding is temporary, provisional, and the obscured detail could, theoretically at least, still be accessed. Reading the painting is more like looking at books on a shelf than it is like seeing a picture, there is little ‘image making’ going on here. The piece is entitled Coventry Construction, and invites a reading from left to right, where the mark making starts out simple and gets more complex, more layered and dense towards the right hand side, as if building up from scratch. It’s a construction, bringing to mind the constructivist tradition, yet some of the later marks are reminiscent of the more informal gestural abstract/figurative traditions, one canvas with Hodgkinesque marks and the final one more Aurebachian.

Matthew Macaulay, Coventry Construction, 2012, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Matthew Macaulay, Coventry Construction, 2012, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

There’s a world of variety of abstract painting here in this modest sized space and my own malady, a deficiency of access to abstract painting outside London, is amply treated at PS Mirabel today.

At the Point of Gesture at the Lion and Lamb Gallery

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At the Point of Gesture opened at the Lion and Lamb Gallery on 23 February 2013 and runs until 23 March: curated by David Ryan it’s a show of abstract paintings and a video, by five artists Clem Crosby, Gabriel Hartley, Andrea Medjesi-JonesDavid Ryan and Alaena Turner , each in their different ways exploring the potential of gesture, materiality and improvisation.

Maybe the exhibition title suggests that the works are only just at the point of gesture, like the Andrea Madjesi-Jones painting, where gesture seems to be included in a wider pictorial strategy, or perhaps that they have arrived at the point of gesture having set out from some other place, Clem Crosby’s work, for example, coming out of the monochrome tradition to a reconsideration of the role of drawing. Then again, in Aleana Turner’s Secret Action Painting 3 gesture is as much implied as it is physically present.

A point could almost be the opposite of a gesture, I’m thinking of pointillism where all those dots of colour negate the action of the sweeping brush stroke, yet once the dots are aggregated gestures of a sort do start to emerge. In physiological communication, to point is to gesture, and now I have in mind Grunwald’s amazing Isenhheim altarpiece where John the Baptist points at the crucified Jesus. Here the gesture refers to another, and I wonder if that might also be the case with gesture in abstract (non referential) painting, the minimum reference being to the act of painting itself, surely one of the points of the current Painting After Performance show at Tate modern.

Gabriel Hartley’s spray paint over impasto brushwork seems somehow to simultaneously both dissolve and emphasise the gestural mark-making, such contradictions being possible in a painting, even if nowhere else.

Gabriel Hartley, Frack, 2013, spray paint and oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Gabriel Hartley, Frack, 2013, spray paint and oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Approaching action painting, the individual marks almost lose themselves in the one gesture that is the finished piece. Kelp is almost white and Frack is almost black, and it’s difficult not to read them as monochromes, even though that tradition usually implies the repudiation of the gestural.

David Ryan’s Fame in California/1964, a small canvas in orange and pink has a central ‘sculptural’ figure flanked by indistinct forms or brushmarks and overlayed (or wrapped around) with a roughly painted green motif.  In the top left hand corner a flat white rectangle asserts the painting’s edge, against which the rest of the action seems to recede in a pictorial, non-perspectival space. Because it is optical, the space is ambiguous, it shifts slightly and the pink and orange brush strokes or blobs and a line that traces the edge of the figure, now appear to occupy a place somewhere in between the white rectangle up front and the main form further back.   

David Ryan, Fame in California/1964, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 36cm. Image by courtesy Lion and Lamb Gallery

David Ryan, Fame in California/1964, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 36cm. Image by courtesy Lion and Lamb Gallery

I recall that I enjoyed seeing another David Ryan painting here in the summer of 2012, a lovely little thing in black white and greys, entitled Index. It had a white rectangle in the left hand corner, similar to the one on show today. In both works this ‘hard edge’ rectangle seems incongruous, as if, there, inserted into the picture, is another very different one, a monochrome again, a painting within a painting that has me consider what other kinds of picture this one could also have become.

In Clem Crosby’s Little Wing, magenta and black continuous swirling lines dance on a grey ground that looks like the result of all but erased previous versions of the loose network that forms the painted ‘image’. It’s difficult not to see it as existing in a kind of landscape, the loops at the bottom of the canvas suggesting a floor upon which the lines are ‘standing’, like a sculpture of string or tape.

Clem Crosby, Little Wing, 2012-2013, Oil on Formica mounted on Aluminium, 76.2 x 61cm. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Clem Crosby, Little Wing, 2012-2013, Oil on Formica mounted on Aluminium, 76.2 x 61cm. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

I attempt to work out where each swirl begins and ends. In an image there is no such thing as a start and a finish yet the brush had to touch the support somewhere first and lay off somewhere too, but those entry and exit points become difficult to identify. In tracing the action with my eye and brain I also have something of the sensation of following with my hand and arm, for all I know they are actually moving, like when feeding an infant I find that I open my own mouth. So I notice that I am at the point of gesture myself, as if answering an invitation to explore the theme of the exhibition, as a viewer and also as a practitioner of abstract painting. The exhibition poses questions, for me, about the role of painterliness, offering a kind of counterpoint to my own preoccupation with systems. Here, painting is physical and the design is improvised, whereas my own practice is more cerebral and pre-planned. It’s not that a systems approach precludes chance and gesture, Kenneth Martin comes to mind as does Mel Prest whose gestural line drawings produced in a totally non-random fashion have the appearance of something random or ‘felt’, and David Ryan’s work already addresses the relationship between construction and improvisation. However, this show opens up for me some interesting questions and suggestions for future practice are starting to form.

One of the stated goals of the Lion and Lamb Gallery is to provide an opportunity for painters to curate visual essays that examine current practices in painting, and for me this show delightfully succeeds in this intention.