patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘art

Abstract art and photography

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For me, the important link between abstract art and photography was established in those famous words of 19th century painter Paul Delaroche, uttered after seeing a daguerreotype for the first time: “from today painting is dead”, painting that is, as naturalistic representation.

So painting became increasingly abstract….and then so did photography, artists like Man Ray and Moholy Nagy exploring its potential as an abstract idiom, and since then…

I am looking forward to seeing this show at Tate Modern

 

 

Written by Andy Parkinson

May 5, 2018 at 7:41 am

Betty Parsons and Abstract Expressionism

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AbEx being in vogue just now reminds me of a painting I saw at a wonderful exhibition earlier this year. The exhibition, back in March at Seventeen Gallery, curated by Gabriel Hartley and Rhys Coren was Cuts, Shapes, Breaks and Scrapes and the painting was Forms 1 ,1978, by Betty Parsons. Yes THE Betty Parsons who Rhys Coren described as “the one and only, gallerist and artist extraordinaire”, known for her early championing of Abstract Expressionism through her New York gallery, where she exhibited Pollock, Rothko, Reinhardt, Still and Newman long before they were well known. Helen Frankenthaler said of her that she and her gallery “helped construct the centre of the art world”. Nevertheless, every summer, she would close the gallery to concentrate on her own art.

Her driftwood assemblage sculptures, mostly small sized totemic abstract figures sometimes wall mounted, are probably better known than her paintings. They seem to borrow from the “primitive” art traditions that Barnett Newman, writing for the catalogue of Parson’s opening exhibition Northwest Coast Indian Painting, had already connected to “our modern American abstract artists”

In her paintings Parsons borrows more from her AbEx contemporaries, but without the all-important scale, Clyfford Still in miniature, almost. Parsons also looks back to earlier European modernist works, those of Paul Klee for example, not only in the modest sizes of her canvases but also in their whimsical lack of certainty.

Betty Parsons, Forms 1, 1978. Oil on canvas, 72 x 70.5 cm, my photo 20160323_143442

Betty Parsons, Forms 1, 1978. Oil on canvas, 72 x 70.5 cm, my photo

In Forms 1, irregular, roughly geometric forms in four loose columns situate themselves on a grey ground, which looks as though it may be comprised of many layers of other colours in order to arrive at the richness of the final colour. The forms may have been drawn by brushing the painted ground only as far as the perimeter of imagined figures, constructing shapes from negative spaces, allowing a previous layer of colour to remain, a blue here, a yellow ochre or a green there. If the ground had been blue the forms might have looked like islands in a sea but as some of the forms are themselves blue, maybe they more resemble fishing holes in ice. When I see the painting this way I realise it must be an aerial view, a plan or a map, and this quality is present in many of the paintings that Parsons made around this time. Moonlight – Maine, 1972 looks so much like a map of ocean and islands, (possibly the gulf of Maine), that I find it difficult to read in any other way. But if they are maps, they are very unusual ones in that they are entirely without function, “cheerfully useless cartography”, to borrow a phrase that Roberta Smith used in relation to them. They do not describe a territory, rather the map is the territory; signifier and signified have become one and the same.

Another painting Journey 1975, on the other hand, can be perceived as oriented vertically or horizontally, and in this respect I think it has more of the quality of Forms 1.

Seen vertically, Forms 1, might show two abstracted human, animal or machine figures, inhabiting a space in which there are other unspecified objects, the figure on the right is possibly carrying something. But then, they are so vaguely described that the gestalts quickly rearrange into simply multiple forms, of various colours and shapes, some repeated or reversed, creating shifting spatial links, and indefinite relationships.

Here, Parsons does not take some real world starting point and abstract from it in the process of representation, rather she invents by pushing the paint about on the canvas until forms suggest themselves. And the suggestions remain just that, never quite becoming precise things, always ambiguous, hovering between definition and doubt.

If the paintings of Pollock, Rothko, Newman and Still are epic and tragic Parsons works are lyric and comic. Rather than concertos they are chamber music, “the music of friends” (an apt expression for someone as generous as Parsons). And if a concerto might seem more ambitious, the domesticity of chamber music should in no way be disparaged. After all, monumentality is much more useful to propagandists of corporate capital than is humility. In a 1981 interview with Gerald Silk, Parsons recalls that Newman saw how the apparently uncompromising could be pressed into the service of the ruling class. Parsons reports that when she had referred to Rothko as “The Painter of the sublime” Newman’s response was “It should be The Painter of the Establishment”[i]. Why that should be true of Rothko only, I have no idea.

In Parsons we get wavering uncertainty, appropriately small in scale, not overwhelming but enticingly intimate. Jeanette Winterson once argued that our experience of art “suggests that the monolith of corporate culture is only a partial reality”, an idea that may seem especially pertinent when viewing works by Parsons such as Forms 1.

 

 

[i] Gerald Silk interview with Betty Parsons: Oral history interview with Betty Parsons, 1981 June 11, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Wrap 2

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A Parkinson, Wrap 2, 2016, acrylic PVA and paper on canvas, 51 x 20.5cm

A Parkinson, Wrap 2, 2016, acrylic PVA and paper on canvas, 51 x 20.5cm

Written by Andy Parkinson

November 17, 2016 at 8:30 am

Approaches to Colour: KALEIDOSCOPE at Fold Gallery

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Working for a day in central London, only yards away from New Cavendish Street where FOLD Gallery’s summer exhibition Kaleidoscope, curated by Dominic Beattie, is on show, I get my lunch hour to go and see it. Having learned from the publicity flyer that the seven artists, Dominic KennedyMali MorrisBridget RileyJulian WildJames Alec HardySelma Parlour and Martin Maloney, work with colour in “radically different ways” each one presenting “a unique vision of how to liberate colour to stimulate and energise the viewer” I wonder if I can discover in my short visit what it is that they are doing differently with colour. 

Installation view, with works from left to right by Bridget Riley, James Alec Hardy and Julian Wild. Image courtesy of Fold gallery

Installation view, with works from left to right by Bridget Riley, James Alec Hardy and Julian Wild. Image courtesy of Fold gallery

I already know that in a work by Bridget Riley I will find a clear structure within which colour can do it’s thing, where individual colours will change in relation to each other depending on the specific juxtaposition and where the overall colour sensation will change, structure being essential not for control but rather so that the colour can achieve free play. So when I see the Riley prints here, About Lilac (2009) and One Small Step (2007), I get what I expected, but the experiencing of it is, as always, surprising.

In Selma Parlour’s fascinating paintings, there is also this freeing of colour by keeping the drawing precise, but with Parlour it’s more minimal. In Metapainting (One for Each Eye 1) 2015, Metapainting (One for Each Eye 2) 2015, and One for Each Eye 4 (2016), two rectangles of different colours, oil on linen, in thinly painted veils allowing the white underneath to shine through as in watercolour painting, are presented to the viewer as one rectangle for each eye. I take the titles as an invitation to stare, as one might do in a visual cognition experiment. Almost immediately after-imaging and merging of the two colours begins to take place, a hazy third colour sometimes appearing. In One For Each Eye 4, I start to see a rainbow in the white space between the two rectangles. I cross my eyes slightly which enhances the perception of the rainbow down the central divide. There is no doubt that my engagement with these paintings has its own unique quality, akin to experimentation, triggered specifically by what the artist is doing with colour.

Installation shot, with works, from left to right, by Dominic Kennedy, Selma Parlour and Julian Wild

Installation view, with works, from left to right, by Dominic Kennedy, Selma Parlour and Julian Wild. Image courtesy of Fold Gallery

If the attention I give to Parlour’s paintings has this quasi-scientific quality, that doesn’t seem quite so appropriate for the Julian Wild sculptures, though here colour is also used, at least in part, to reveal aspects that might otherwise be hidden. I think it is the case that in both these sculptures the “inside” of the object is demarcated by colour and re-positioned so it is “outside”. In Peeled (2015), a wonderfully polished stainless steel bar, presented horizontally on the gallery floor, is divided down the middle at one end and one half of the divided section is bent upwards and out and coloured bright red, whereas in Himalayan Balsam (2013), a bright pink colour is used to explicate the inside and outside-ness of a vertical knotted steel bar.

In Dominic Kennedy’s painting Slowly Fading Forms (2016), colour perhaps does the opposite of what it does in Wild’s sculptures. In the Wild sculptures colour makes explicit, along the lines of “colour coding” but with a much stronger emphasis on sensation than any code might exhibit. In the Kennedy painting colour dissolves form, rays from a summer sun dazzling rather than revealing. The sun is represented in the top left hand corner of this near seven foot canvas. In the rest of the picture the sun’s rays meet dissembling forms, all held within a shallow near-cubist space that hints at deeper spatial recession in the top right hand quarter. Forms and rays of light merge so it’s difficult to differentiate the two. Colour describes form only long enough to depict its dissolution, even whilst materially constructed in oil paint, oil stick, crayon and pencil, with wood, felt and pins stuck on here and there, yellow felt strips making up a slim frame around the image. Here colour represents and symbolizes, or does it go only so far as to suggest or connote that ‘beneath’ the illusory appearance of solid forms, all of matter is sub atomic flux?

Martin Maloney, Studio Flowers #47, 2016, oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

Martin Maloney, Studio Flowers #47, 2016, oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

There is perhaps more description of appearances in Martin Maloney’s Studio Flowers #47, (2016), but this painting is by no means an observational study. A bowl of flowers is undoubtedly represented, but in semi symbolic style. Taking a cartoon impressionist approach to depiction, blobs of pink are flowers and red diagonal bars are stems, with green dashes for leaves, emerging from a terracotta semi circle that must be a plant pot and all against the blue/green of the studio wall that also pushes forwards spatially to interrupt the rhythm of the red bars and green dashes.  The naming of colours comes to mind, how certain colours are so associated with certain objects or experiences that each is named by the other: orange, sky-blue, lime, lilac, green grass, fuchsia pink etc.

James Alec Hardy creates video installations using obsolete analogue equipment from TV studios, displaying arrangements of monitors as symbolic motifs. Here 160804 comprises eighteen VGA monitors forming an S shape that produces a negative cross above the centre, showing the same images on each screen but rotated physically in that the monitors themselves are different ways up. The images are generated by setting up feedback loops with analogue video processors. Without the use of cameras, or external input, obsolete analogue broadcast and editing devices, are connected in sequence, and manipulated in real time. Jerky changes of colour and image in the video are the result of the artist’s hand manipulating the devices. A computer is used only to digitise the video for playback purposes. A progression of colour and shape presented simultaneously by each monitor, fractal like, coheres into an overall image whilst continually changing, like a kaleidoscope. As what’s presented changes the overall ‘mood’ changes; I have the feeling that sounds are involved but I am not hearing any. I could have this completely wrong, but the sense I have is of something approaching colour/sound synesthesia.

Mali Morris, Second Stradella, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 198 x 214 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

Mali Morris, Second Stradella, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 198 x 214 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

The analogy with music is appropriate for many of the paintings here, and none more than Second Stradella (2016) by Mali Morris, even though only Hardy’s video installation shares with music the quality of being played over an actual time duration. Over six foot tall, not quite square, a grid of twenty rectangular colour cells taller than they are wide, some of which are divided by a curve creating two shapes of contrasting hue and seen together suggest a large circular shape competing with the grid formation, is the visual equivalent of a multiplicity of chords being sounded together. Yet all is not strictly simultaneous. Perceptual figure/ground shifts create change, movement and depth that are specifically two-dimensional. If one shape/colour stands out way in front of the others there must be quite a deep space here, but no sooner have I perceived it than it snaps back into its flat presentation, only then to make way for another cell, shape or gestalt to project outward or to recede. All this without the slightest hint of linear perspective. Not one of the colours here is the same as another, the curving pink triangles on the top row that look similar, are not identical. The one on the left is slightly darker, more saturated and shinier than the other. The blacks and whites are never actually black or white, and again none are precisely repeated. It is difficult to show this in a photograph but the two jade green/whites in the second row up are not the same colour, nor are any of the black/greys on that row. It’s difference within sameness and things never being quite as they seem that I become mindful of now.

The sameness in the exhibition is these artists involvement with colour, the differences are their particular approaches to it. The variety keeps me interested for longer than this lunch hour really allows.

Kaleidoscope is on show at Fold Gallery only until Saturday 27th August 2016!

Laurence Noga also writes about this show at the Saturation Point website

KALEIDOSCOPE

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exhibition-kaleidoscope

Curated by Dominic Beattie, KALEIDOSCOPE opens at FOLD Gallery London today, featuring  Dominic KennedyMali MorrisBridget RileyJulian WildJames Alec HardySelma ParlourMartin Maloney, seven artists who have each developed their own sense of the ‘right’ colour choice, liberating colour to stimulate and energise the viewer in radically different ways.

Though I won’t get there today, I do hope to see it, and write a review before it closes on Saturday 27th August 2016!

Channa Horwitz Review at Saturation Point

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Go to the Saturation Point website for a review by Mark Liebenrood of the Channa Horwitz exhibition on show at Raven Row, London until 1 May.

Channa Horwitz (1932–2013, Los Angeles) was a pioneer of “a distinctly Californian minimalism” in the late 1960s and 70s, although she received scant attention from the art world until the end of her life.

Channa Horwitz, Canon 6 Variation II, 1982 Ink on Mylar. Courtesy Collection Oehmen, Germany, photo by Timo Ohler

Channa Horwitz, Canon 6 Variation II, 1982 Ink on Mylar. Courtesy Collection Oehmen, Germany, photo by Timo Ohler

 

Read the full review here

Written by Andy Parkinson

April 28, 2016 at 6:27 am

Katrina Blannin Annodam at Jessica Carlisle

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Katrina Blannin‘s very smart looking solo show Annodam at Jessica Carlisle closes in just two days.

Katrina Blannin, Annodam, by Jessica Carlisle, photo by Tom Carter, image by courtesy of Jessica Carlisle

Katrina Blannin, Annodam, installation photo by Tom Carter, image by courtesy of Jessica Carlisle

Geoff Hands recommends going to see it, in his article at Abcrit, though I had deliberately avoided reading what he has to say until now because I was writing my own review and I didn’t want to be influenced. You can read my review here at Saturation Point, the online editorial and curatorial project for reductive, geometric and systems artists working in the UK. 

Katrina Blannin, Annodam, installation photo by Tom Carter, courtesy of Jessica Carlisle

Katrina Blannin, Annodam, installation photo by Tom Carter, courtesy of Jessica Carlisle

Annodam is Madonna spelt backwards, all the paintings in the exhibition being strangely connected to the Madonna del Parto (c.1455-60), a fresco by Piero della Francesca. But how are they connected? Read more here

Written by Andy Parkinson

April 7, 2016 at 9:56 pm

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

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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.

Other Rooms at Basement Arts Project

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

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

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

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

Patrick Morrissey, Goodbye Ploy 2. (my photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Sparkes, Flue, (My Photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dystopia at HMS: Interview with Clay Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What specifically is the difference?

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

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

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

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

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

Clay Smith, Hedonic. Image by courtesy of the artist

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

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

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

What artists do you appreciate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are the aeroplanes upside down?

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

 

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

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 9, 2014 at 8:00 am