patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Ben Nicholson

Line & Circle and Edwina Leapman at Annely Juda Fine Art

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Although to speak about silence is to risk obscuring the very experience one might wish to elucidate, to keep silent is to risk it going unappreciated. I feel similarly about the wonderful exhibition(s) currently on show at Annely Juda Fine Art.  I will be careful not to say too much, but I must say something. I will keep quiet about the wonderful space on the fourth floor with a skylight that is perfect for viewing the new paintings by Edwina Leapman, and say nothing about the beauty of the works in the Line and Circle exhibition on floor three. It’s ages since I saw Naum Gabo‘s linear constructions and constructions in space, and I had forgotten just how captivating they are. Was it in the 70s that there was a big show of these somewhere and we spent ages peering at tiny constructions in glass cabinets and glass covered plinths? And whilst looking, really looking (the response that Gabo achieves so consistently, not just for me, everyone seems to be studying so intently) it is silence that accompanies us.

So, I shan’t say a thing about the amazing paintings here by Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart (an artist only recently brought to my attention by Terry Greene in a recent blog post), Composition N. 204, 1944/5, demanding silent contemplative viewing, like the Max Bill painting pura III, modest in size at just over a foot square, and containing almost no detail, the space divided in half down the centre and each half being divided diagonally from upper left to lower right resulting in four triangles, two in a colour approaching indigo and two in green, also resembling a zig-zag or ‘W/M ‘shape.

Max Bill

Max Bill Swiss 1908-1994, pura III 1990, oil on canvas, 33 x 33 cm

Impossible to determine which form is figure and which is ground, it shifts continually, from green figure against blue ground to blue figure with green ground, the colour relationship between them seeming somehow to be just right, as if there was such a thing as “correct”. Motion is arrested as I fix my attention on this object/image. It’s not just that the experience is a silent one, it’s more that the painting is the visual equivalence of silence: shifting, dependent on our perception of it, between presence and absence.

The other, much larger, Max Bill painting on show here, rotation around expanding white, a brightly coloured diagonally oriented canvas, equally interesting, seems a little ‘noisier’.  Perhaps it’s all that visual excitation. Similarly with the marvelous painting by Kenneth Martin from his Chance, Order, Change series: although quietude continues to attend my viewing, it seems slightly ‘noisier’ somehow than pura III; It has a ‘buzz’ about it. Based on preliminary drawings, this series of paintings is highly programmatic and yet incorporates chance, which defines the position of the lines and their sequence. The points of intersection on a grid of squares are numbered and the numbers written on cards which are then picked at random. A line is made between each successive pair of numbers. I am unsure how the colours are determined but I think I am right in saying that where a line has been crossed by another its colour is changed.

Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change 20, Symmetry B, 1981, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 91.4cm, image by courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change 20, Symmetry B, 1981, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 91.4cm, image by courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

It’s a lively painting, and I am enjoying seeing it here in this room along with others that share with Martin an affinity with the tradition of constructivism (some more some less so: Ben Nicholson, Antony Caro, Josef Albers, Laszlo Moholoy- Nagy, Naum Gabo, Kazimir Malevich and Olga Rozanova ). I am also aware that it belongs in a series and I would like to see more of the series to place it within it’s own more specific context. But most of all I am enjoying the dialogue that this painting seems to invite me into. Perhaps that’s why I say its a noisier painting than some of the others: here I am talking to it about the process followed for its own production.

On the fourth floor Edwina Leapman‘s paintings also encourage thoughts about the process of making them, and the series context is also present: 15 paintings all made in 2012, all of two colours with a ground on which is drawn a sequence of horizontal lines. I have the impression that on each line the brush is loaded with paint and the paint deposited along the line until the brush is empty and then re-loaded to recommence on the line below. It looks as if the position of the line has been determined beforehand but the way the painted line looks is determined only by the process of drawing the brush across the coloured canvas.

Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 183 cm, image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art

Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 183 cm, image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art

In some of the paintings the ground and the line colour contrasts in hue and sometimes they match, but they are generally closely matched in tone. Although I feel drawn into that conversation about process, and even more so having seen the Max Bill painting pura III and wanting to compare and contrast them, they do then bid me to become silent again as I view.

Edwina Leapman, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 183 cm, image by courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

Edwina Leapman, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 183 cm, image by courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

They have amazing optical qualities, that must be ‘simply’ the result of the colour and close tonal relationships. That so much sensation can arise from so little intervention I find surprising, also that each painting has a distinct character of its own, vastly different from the others whilst in structure being entirely similar.

It’s true that appreciating these is something more for experience than for words, and also that their visual charge ( I want to say power but that suggests something much more brash and not ambiguous enough for these) is extremely difficult to put into words. So I will cease my speaking and continue to look on in silence.

Edwina Leapman New Paintings is showing until 28 March and Line and Circle until 23 March.

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Patrick Heron at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

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At the moment the modern collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is in gallery 21. The Patrick Heron painting seems to dominate the room, as if it has a different aesthetic to all the other works on view. His use of colour in his “wobbly hard edge” paintings (his term) makes everything else in here look dull.

Having said that, the little Winifred Nicholson painting of flowers at a window is lovely and there is at least one good Ben Nicholson painting on show.

The two abstract paintings seem to present two quite different versions of modernist abstraction don’t they?

P.S. Sam Cornish on Twitter pointed out that these two are in fact quite similar, and he’s right isn’t he? both are stacked rectangles holding circles. My response was that as an identical twin I see differences where others see similarity. A bad excuse if ever I heard one. I guess what I really have in mind is to do with the colour. When I walked into this space the Patrick Heron painting dominated in a way that the Nicholson collage didn’t. The strong flat colours in the Heron made it the only one in the room that was absolutely other than a window on the world. Actually, it seemed totally out of place. I love the Nicholsons, but they didn’t seem different to all the others in quite the same way as the Heron. Both abstract, both circles and rectangles, maybe we could say the drawing is similar, yet they seem to be different versions of abstraction in that the Nicholson seems to be about line whereas the Heron seems to be about colour.

Mondrian and Nicholson revisited

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I posted about the recent Mondrian and Nicholson in Parallel exhibition long before I read an excellent review of that show by Alan Gouk at Abstract Critical, where he asks

  • Do I prefer the Nicholsons to the Mondrians?
  • Do I think Nicholsons aesthetic carries greater potential for the future/present of painting?

and offers some really interesting answers.

Read them for yourself here.

Written by Andy Parkinson

May 7, 2012 at 8:00 am

Posted in Art

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Mondrian and Nicholson in Parallel

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At last, I got to see Mondrian//Nicholson In Parallel at The Courtauld Gallery over the weekend, and it was worth the wait. Just two rooms of  modestly sized paintings and reliefs, a small exhibition, that delivers a lot. It explores the relationship between the works of Piet Mondrian and Ben Nicholson during the 1930’s when their  friendship culminated with Mondrian moving to London in 1938. They worked in neighbouring Hampstead studios for two years, London at this time being the centre of an international community of avant-garde artists.

Their influence on each other is undeniable and can be seen in the works shown here in their obvious similarity. I am tempted to say that Mondrian’s influence on Nicholson’s painting seems clearer than the other way round. Stylistically, Nicholson’s work appears to have changed  more under Mondrian’s influence than Mondrian’s did as a result of Nicholson’s,  but it surely was not the “one way street” that some commentators have inferred.  Nicholson did a lot for the reception of abstraction in the UK, and he helped to secure sales of Mondrian’s paintings, these actions alone would have been positively reinforcing for Mondrian’s art.

Looking at the work in this show the similarities soon start to give way to the differences. In Mondrian’s Composition C (no. III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, the grid lines and intersectional coloured rectangles seem to refuse any representational associations I might attempt to bring to it.

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) Composition C (no.III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935 Oil on canvas, 56.2 x 55.1 cm Private collection, on loan to Tate © 2012 Mondrian/ Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International Washington DC

I keep coming up against its decisive abstractness, almost like it says “oh no you don’t” every time I find the beginnings of pictorial content. The Nicholsons’, on the other hand, almost invite it. These two paintings hang side by side in this exhibition, highlighting for me this similarity-giving-way-to-difference.

Ben Nicholson (1894-1982) 1937 (painting) Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 91 cm The Courtauld Gallery, London, Samuel Courtauld Trust (Alistair Hunter Bequest, 1984) © Angela Verren Taunt. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

In the Mondrian paintings we get primary colours with Black and White. The painting above being the only one in the exhibition with all three primary colours. By contrast, in Nicholson’s 1937 (painting), planes of primary, secondary and tertiary colours group around a red square, creating a pictorial space with potential associations. For me it resembles architectural forms or possibly a spiral staircase. Although, as with the Mondrian, I am ultimately brought back to its abstractness, it happens less insistently.

I am also surprised to find more evidence of underpainting in Mondrian than in Nicholson, looking like the final version of, for example, Composition C is arrived at through multiple re-workings, whereas I wonder if 1937 (painting) follows a more pre-determined course. Not that either of these approaches is better than the other, just different.

I love the colours of the Nicholson paintings, so it is with some reluctance that I say that he is most authoritative in the white reliefs, (that somehow I still tend to read as paintings). Even there I find it difficult not to read figuration into the abstract forms. A square and a circle looking at times like a building and a full moon. Nevertheless, it is the purity of the forms that ‘speaks’ rather than those ‘accidental’ associations. And they speak of a time when abstract art was capable of opening up a whole new world of possibilities, compared with today when that language seems more or less fixed, and we speak of the ‘abstract tradition’, not to mention its impossibility.

Waltz, Quickstep, Mondrian and the Endurance of Abstraction

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Mondrian, a keen social dancer, disliked the Waltz. It was romantic, emotional, and the rise and fall and sway seemed to denote the curved line. He preferred the Foxtrot and the rhythms and figures that would later become the Quickstep, modern, all straight lines, abrupt changes of direction, obtuse angles and speed. I could imagine that some social dancers like Mondrian might have expected the new dances to replace the Waltz for ever. However, rather than one replacing another they all carried on being danced, side by side, as it were. Today, no longer new, the Modern Waltz, Modern Foxtrot etc continue to be danced.

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) Composition C (no.III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935 Oil on canvas, 56.2 x 55.1 cm Private collection, on loan to Tate © 2012 Mondrian/ Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International Washington DC

At the time (not long before Mondrian was in London painting, and dancing, with the Nicholson/Hepworth crowd),  I wonder if it could have seemed like abstraction might replace figurative painting. Now in the modern ‘modern world’ (metamodern possibly), both remain whilst newer art forms than painting are dominant. Like ballroom dancing, painting continues alongside more contemporary practices, and within the (in)discipline of painting representation and abstraction co-exist.

At the Indiscipline of Painting  exhibition at the Mead Gallery some of the abstract paintings on show question the relationship between abstraction and representation. The show as a whole explores the endurance of abstraction (arguably Mondrian’s invention), specifically concentrating on international abstract painting since the sixties. There is an international element to another abstract painting exhibition that opens in February: Mondrian//Nicholson in Parallel at the Courtauld Gallery where the relationship between the these two artists and their work is the theme. For a few weeks the Courtauld exhibition and the Mead Gallery exhibition will be showing in parallel, a short train journey apart.

Seeing them in parallel may give us a detailed view of abstraction since its early days, what has happened and what is now happening to it, especially now that we no longer think of the adventure in terms of linear progression.

At the Indiscipline show, Bernard Frize’s wonderful painting for example, has little continuity with Mondrian, other than its abstractness, neither in the way it looks nor in its attitude.

Bernard Frize, Suite Segond 100 no 3, 1980, Alkyd Urethane lacquer on canvas162 x 130 cmCollection of the artist, courtesy Simon Lee Gallery, London

Has Mondrian’s utopian purity been replaced by its opposite? Instead of painstaking corrections in the search for harmony we have a chance placing of colours skimmed from the top of the paint cans. Mondrian’s dislike of the curve was not shared by other early abstractionists, for Nicholson the circle starts to look like an image of purity, but not here. For Frize it even has a referent, the paint can. Also, long gone is the insistence on red yellow and blue with black and white, and whereas Mondrian and Nicholson thought of their art as ‘spiritual’ and somewhat lofty, Frize’s seems entirely ‘material’ and approaching the trivial. It is matter of fact, mechanical perhaps, yet not quite resigned or cynical. I still have the sense of searching, discovery and playfulness (or possibly gamefulness) that seems to me to be part of what makes abstraction continually new, interesting and endurable. In ballroom dancing, though the steps and figures of each dance were invented long ago, their repetition in each new performance continues to demonstrate the impossibility of repetition. Though I have heard it said that the ‘language’ of abstraction has now been invented, it is still very much alive.

Mondrian//Nicholson in Parallel is showing from 16 February 2012 to 20 May 2012, and The Indiscipline of Painting is at the Mead Gallery until 10 March 2012.

Mondrian and Nicholson

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At The Painting Space I found out about a very exciting exhibition planned for next year ( February to May 2012) at the Courtauld Gallery, London, exploring the relationship between two important early modernist, abstract painters  Piet Mondrian and Ben Nicholson.

The Painting Space post reminds us that in the 1930s they were leading forces of avant-garde art in Europe. Maybe a re-view of their work and the patterns that connect them will help us to think again about abstraction, its tradition and its continued relevance. In my opinion, the project that they started (non) represents a rich vein for current and future artists to tap.

One of the aspects of Ross Wolfe‘s recent guest post that I particularly appreciated was his celebration of the work of Mondrian, Malevich, Rodchenko and other early avant-garde artists. Ben Nicholson was clearly influenced by these artists and he contributed massively to a broadening of awareness of abstract art in the UK.  Earlier this year, seeing one of his paintings, as well as a Winifred Nicholson, a John Piper, and Barbara Hepworth‘s sculptures  alongside a magnificent Mondrian at the Hepworth in Context  display at the Hepworth, Wakefield, highlighted for me just how wonderful some of the abstract art of the 1930s could be.

The Hepworth Wakefield Installation shot, image by courtesy Hepworth, Wakefield

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 13, 2011 at 8:00 am

Hepworth Wakefield!

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We had just under an hour to visit the Hepworth,

on Bank Holiday Monday…not enough time, especially as there was no parking (today only, I understand – though the parking at the site does look limited) and finding our way to the park & ride (good idea, but only provided for the first two weekends) delayed us further. We got the last bus of the day.

last bus

Park & Ride

Hepworth Wakefield

A magnificent building, I liked the outside, but the inside wow! A great space, in which the sculpture looked just right. In his blog, Tim Garratt says it’s “16000  square feet making it the largest exhibition space outside London”. I found that difficult to believe. It didn’t feel big. Perhaps that’s because each gallery made such good use of the space, it was uncluttered. Hence, viewing the work was a delight.

I was surprised by how many paintings were on view, and I particularly enjoyed the gallery exploring the context in which Hepworth worked. The Piet Mondrian painting was striking, as were the Ben Nicholsons, looking particularly good in this space. Two paintings that surprised me by their brilliance were Quarante Huit Quai d’Auteil by Winifred Nicholson and Forms on a White Ground by John Piper. I hate John Pipers architecture in landscape semi-abstract things, but this one really got me. He was a much better abstractionist than I had realised. The little paintings in this show had a monumentality way beyond their actual size – and whilst I know that’s such a cliché, it is how I experienced them. They absolutely deserve a second, third and fourth look.

In the Garden (misty wet with rain) there’s Heather and Ivan Morison’s The Black Cloud

black cloud

Black Cloud with photographers

I am yours

I am yours and Black Cloud

It is a magnificent space and I will be returning very soon.

hepworth purchase

No method, no guru, no catalogue, I hurriedly scribbled down the details of the paintings that had interested me the most

(Van Morrison fans will have noticed that the mention of Heather and Ivan got me remembering lines from In the Garden)