patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘arts

David Manley, Deadly Delicious at Tarpey Gallery

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At Tarpey Gallery, David Manley‘s new paintings on circular (sometimes oval) aluminium supports have a wonderful, shiny gold- leaf quality, a consequence partly of the support and partly of the method of painting in semi transparent layers of different colours. They remind me of icons, but bigger, and it’s diseases they represent not divinities, if indeed they are representations.  After all, the sensuality of the paint and luminosity of colour seem to be enjoyed in their own right, and I cannot easily verify their likeness to the specific viruses of their titles, because not being an epidemiologist I don’t often look at viruses through a microscope. So, I have little choice anyway, but to respond to each image on its own terms.

If I had not seen the title Smallpox nor made the connection to the deadliness of the Deadly Delicious series, it might have been only the deliciousness of this painting I paid attention to, with the informal handling of paint, but then also the careful building up of layers creating this hard, pearlescent surface. And there’s the vibrancy of the colours and the figural similarity to a bunch of grapes. It’s only as I look at the picture with “deadly” in mind that I start to wonder if the colours might be slightly too much, about to tip over into the fluorescence I might associate with dead things or deadly materials, the green of acid perhaps. It’s a feast of contradictions, seeming to celebrate the state of being “in-between”.

David Manley, DDA 1 - Smallpox.  Acrylic on Aluminium, 90cm d

David Manley, DDA 1 – Smallpox. Acrylic on Aluminium, 90cm d. Image by courtesy of the artist

Manley is interested in viruses “because they inhabit a place somewhere between living and ‘dead’ or dormant things”, almost as if they are analogous with the situation of the paintings as somewhere between abstract and representational. The circular shape is “in between” landscape and portrait, or perhaps neither landscape nor portrait, though the miniature portraiture tradition might provide a precedent for reading them as portraits. However, in contradistinction to miniature portraits, in Manley’s deadly delicious series each image gives the impression that it could be turned through 360 degrees and continue to work. This impression is, I think, reinforced by the horizontal ‘flatbed’ orientation of a virus seen through a microscope, the circular supports of the paintings already having supplied the cue to interpret them as petri dishes or lenses.

David Manley, DDA 5 - Swine Flu. Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm d.

David Manley, DDA 5 – Swine Flu. Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm d. Image by courtesy of the artist

DDA 5 Swine Flu is a diabolical image of coals in an eternal fire. It looks like what I imagine Swine Flu might feel like, not something I want to test! Just as I wouldn’t want to think of this image as a “point of contact” with the represented, as one might have done with a Byzantine icon.  Nevertheless, icons were images of the invisible and surely this painting is also an image of something that is invisible, at least to the naked eye. Except, strictly speaking, the source material for each paintings is already an image, a picture of a microscopic event, which is then flattened out and simplified, or ‘abstracted’ but not beyond recognition for a scientist familiar with the given virus. The colours however, are entirely the artist’s invention. One type of electron microscope operates only in black and white, Manley explains, adding that because the conventions around coloration remain somewhat open ended  “I took a decision right from the start that in this respect I had ‘carte blanche’ and have operated accordingly”.

David Manley, DDA 6 Sin Nombre , Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm. d.

David Manley, DDA 6 Sin Nombre , Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm. d. Image by courtesy of the artist

In DDA 6 Sin Nombre, the colours are rich blues, reds, ochres, and copper, their crisp edges contrasting with diffused colours in the blue ground, some of which may have been spray painted. And the ‘character’ of this painting (perhaps they are portraits after all) is quite different to The others. This one is calmer, cooler, less frantic than DDA 5 Swine Flu and softer than DDA 8 Measles.

I am interested in the fact that the source images are available to the artist only as a result of technology, and in the implied conflation here of art and technology. The words ‘art’ (‘techne’) and ‘technology’ share the same etymological root, surely. Yet the painterly style suggests ‘free play’, which may be akin to a more primitive approach, often in our thinking the opposite of the technological. In this respect I am reminded of the recent article in the White Review, Techno-Primitivism by Vanessa Hodgkinson and David Trotter, discussing a primitivism mediated by technology in the abstract paintings of Vanessa Hodgkinson and the writing of D H Lawrence.

DDA 8 - Measles . Acrylic on Aluminium, 49 cm. d.

DDA 8 – Measles . Acrylic on Aluminium, 49 cm. d. Image by courtesy of the artist

It may be the case that in a technological society an artist cannot not respond to technology in some way, even if that response is an unconscious one. David Manley is very conscious of the interplay between technology and the handmade that these paintings celebrate.  Jacques Ellul argued that modern art is an imitation of technology or a compensation for it.  The deadly delicious series seems to have elements of both.

David Manley, Deadly Delicious, is showing at Tarpey Gallery until 31 August

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Four Chromatic Syntax Variations Combined

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2221,2222, 2223 and 2224, digitally recombined (a digital sketch)

What interests me most in the combination of these simple variations are the emergent properties: the forms that are produced as a result of the combination that I might not have anticipated.

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 1, 2012 at 8:48 am

Rest and motion at Castleford Civic Centre

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Piet Mondrian suggested that humanity seeks rest within motion, or “repose through movement”[1] and he found an example of it in dance, referring possibly to the foxtrot, he said “each movement is immediately neutralized by a countermovement which signifies the search for equilibrium”[2].

Taking part in the ISTD dance medallist competition (ballroom, latin and sequence) at Castleford Civic Centre on 11 March, I thought that my own foxtrot seemed to have too much repose and not enough movement! Maybe I was feeling too relaxed after looking at the Henry Moore reclining figure on the way into the centre.

 

The reclining figure figures a lot in Henry Moore’s oeuvre, and he donated this one in 1980 to Castleford, the town where he was born, the Civic Centre having been officially opened a decade earlier on 24 March 1970.

 

The Civic Centre, a fine example of modernist architecture, designed by Derek Goad, is an optimistic looking building if ever I saw one, even now when it seems to reflect an optimism about the future that is a situated in the modernist period, when perhaps we believed more honestly in “a steady advance from the poor environment of the past to the more pleasant and brighter surroundings of the future”[3]. One of the features of the building is its facing in precast concrete panels manufactured from a limestone aggregate chosen for its weathering properties: “it has been found to get naturally lighter in colour with exposure to the atmosphere so counteracting the darkening process caused by the atmosphere itself”[4]. Apart from the darkening beneath the windows this hope, this countermovement does seem to have been realised.

 

I find it a hopeful place also by association, because of the activity (medallist competition dancing) for which I have been here a few times now. I go in filled with hope anyway! Sometimes I come out feeling even better than when I went in, other times less so. I first started to become interested in the building when I looked across the dancefloor/theatre and saw the wall sculpture, comissioned for the opening in 1970, silent, static, yet visually rhythmic (movement through repose perhaps). The dynamic rhythms of the dancefloor seem to be echoed in the sculptural forms.

The artist is Diana Dean, who was working with abstract geometric form in both painting and sculpture at the time, and the work, made in stainless steel, is entitled Symmetry in Opposition. I could wonder to what extent the title also echoes that idea of equilibrium found in the Mondrian quote above. Dean explained to me that at first the two projected squares were facing inwards with two corners touching, and then this changed to the outward projection which is why she called it Symmetry in Opposition.

Here are some photo’s of what it looked like in 1970.

 

I wonder if I also find Mondrian’s notion of the neutralisation of opposites in the contrast between the stasis of the final form Vs the activity of its making.

Dean moved to Canada in 1975, where she focused on painting and moved away from abstraction, the geometry hidden, as it were, within the structure, supporting the figuration. When I contacted her recently she replied saying “I felt it was quite synchronistic to receive your email this week as I had just begun a portrait painting with geometric patterning appearing in the carpet and all perspective lines in the room going to the left eye of the sitter. Maybe I am moving towards a new form of geometric abstraction again”[5].

A psychological reading might suggest that we are witnessing a “return of the repressed”.

(Thanks to Diana Dean and Derek Goad for supplying information and pictures for this blog post)


[1] Piet Mondrian. ‘Natural Reality and Abstract Reality: an essay in Trialogue Form’ (1919-1920) in Mondrian:

Natural Reality and Abstract Reality edited by Martin James (1995) p.27 quoted in Dancing with Mondrian by Annette Chauncy, in The International Journal of the Arts in Society vol 5, no.3

[2] Piet Mondrian. ‘The New Plastic in Painting’ (1917) in The New Life the New Art – Collected writings of Piet

Mondrian edited by Harry Holtzman & Martin James (1987). P.43, quoted in Dancing with Mondrian by Annette Chauncy, in The International Journal of the Arts in Society vol 5, no.3

[3] Opening ceremony brochure

[4] Opening ceremony brochure

[5] Personal email from the artist