patternsthatconnect

abstract art and systems thinking

Posts Tagged ‘Bridget Riley

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!

Somewhat Abstract at Nottingham Contemporary

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The exhibition Somewhat Abstract, drawn from The Arts Council’s national collection, on view at Nottingham Contemporary until 29 June 2014, is abstract to varying degrees, and in a variety of ways. After all, both the following statements hold true, “all art is abstract” and “there is no such thing as abstract art”. Hence, the show’s curator, Alex Farquharson, can say of abstract art that it “is many things, if it can be said to exist at all”.

In the gallery notes we get an excellent discussion of the multiple relationships to the abstract characterised in the show (see fig 1), from work that is downright figurative but that either “verges on the abstract” or that “could not have been made without the knowledge of it” to the work of proponents of ‘pure’ abstraction like Kenneth Martin. There’s the suggestion that even the exemplars of abstraction like Anthony Caro, Bridget Riley and John Hoyland, are more connected to the ‘real world’ than we might once have allowed. I find this argument to be much more convincing in relation to Hepworth, Clough and Paolozzi than I do for Caro, Riley and Hoyland. The reference to landscape made for Hoyland’s magnificent Red Over Yellow, 18.9.73, seems somewhat spurious. The point being made is that the most abstract art may be more figurative than we think and that the old distinction between abstraction and figuration is no longer relevant. Certainly there’s a strong case for seeing ‘nature’ in the most abstract of works, if more in the sense of “the pattern that connects” to quote Gregory Bateson [1]; or in Bridget Riley’s own words: “I draw from nature, I work with nature, although in completely new terms. For me nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces – an event rather than an appearance”[2]. So whilst there is a deep connection with nature, the work doesn’t become ‘figurative’, as Riley goes on to say: “These forces can only be tackled by treating colour and form as ultimate identities, freeing them from all descriptive or functional roles.”

Fig.1 Relationships to abstraction

Fig.1 Relationships to abstraction

There are also works that specifically reference abstraction, a relatively new phenomenon in my book, because whilst there have always been “paintings of paintings” and references to art of the past, the paradoxical referencing of a class seems to me to be a postmodern invention. Its power comes from a deliberate confusion of logical types.  Abstract or non-representational art’s claim to the status of autonomous object means that it now becomes grist for the mill of representation, leading to the paradoxical position of art that is abstract by being non-abstract, and vice versa. Keith Coventry‘s CrackCity series here is a brilliant example of this. What, at first sight, look like appropriations of Kazimir Malevich‘s white on white paintings, turn out to be representations of the footprints of South London tower blocks, a critical comment on the failure of modernism at the social level, the design of tower blocks clearly sharing in the heritage of Malevich and Russian Constructivism, ending not in utopia but in dysfunction and ugliness.

Perhaps this failure was reflected in the choice by artists such as Kenneth Martin, of a specifically non-utopian abstract art. (Martin preferred the word ‘construction’ which he stated was “the opposite of abstraction”.[3])

Viewing Kenneth Martin's Endless Configuration, 1964, oil on board. (My own snapshot)

Viewing Kenneth Martin’s Endless Configuration, 1964, oil on board. (My own snapshot)

The paintings of Tomma Abts, one of the new generation of  abstract artists, recall the constructivist tradition. The contemporary resurgence of abstraction in painting and sculpture is acknowledged in the gallery notes, finding a distinct contrast between the abstract art of the middle half of the twentieth century and that of today, the mid century version being “associated with boldness of scale, conception and execution” (check out the John Hoyland) as opposed to the vulnerability of the more recent return. In Abts’ painting Heit, the scale is modest and the form looks carefully arrived at through multiple iterations. I see it from a distance and could have continued walking past without really seeing it because it absolutely doesn’t “grab my attention”. It is unassuming, reticent even, and it is only as I deliberately get closer to look at it that it discloses itself. Even then, one of its fascinating qualities is the white line that bisects the painting vertically about a third of the way in from the right. It reads like another of the lines on the painting’s surface, in fact hovering above the other lines in a space that projects outward, whilst being clearly the result of placing two stretchers almost together. The presence of the line (I am tempted to see it as a reference to a Barnett Newman ‘zip’) is in fact an absence, like the Lacanian “absent centre” of the subject.

Tomma Abts, Heit, 2011. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. Photo: Marcus Leith. Courtesy of greengrassi, London

Tomma Abts, Heit, 2011. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. Photo: Marcus Leith. Courtesy of greengrassi, London

The untitled painting here by Alexis Harding, is also modest in scale, without quite the intimacy of Abts, looks like it is in the process of decomposing, . The impression I have is that the materials have reacted with each other in an unstable way, the abstract grid becoming wonky, out of control in the centre, now resembling a figurative, almost cartoon-like, rendering of a disintegrating net. It’s a wonderful painting and seems to reverse the more familiar sequence of events in which a realistic image becomes increasingly “abstracted”. Here the abstract image becomes figuration.

Alexis Harding, Untitled, 1995, oil and gloss on canvas. Image by courtesy of Mummery + Schnelle

Alexis Harding, Untitled, 1995, oil and gloss on canvas. Image by courtesy of Mummery + Schnelle

There’s a strange abstract/figurative relationship in Daniel Sinsel‘s beautifully executed Untitled, where the more realistic the image the more abstract it appears. Perhaps this is the result of the close harmony of form and content, a flattened figure-of-eight arrangement of a piece of cloth, resembling so much the formal, literal, ontology of a painting: two-dimensional, motionless, fabric.

Daniel Sinsel, Untitled, 2012. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. (c) the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

Daniel Sinsel, Untitled, 2012. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. (c) the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

My friend suggests that, with so many outstanding works here, it’s difficult to find one that “stands out”. However, for me, the star of the show is Bridget Riley’s 1962 black and white painting, Movement in Squares. I keep coming back to it for another look, and even back at home much later, I can’t get it out of my head (a non-optical kind of after-image).  In viewing this painting I start to become aware of my own movement in the gallery space, attempting to find a position from which to really see this thing and to experience it. The nearest analogy I can find is that of music when it is ‘heard’ not just aurally but when the vibrations are also felt, physically, in the body. Here, seeing is somehow also felt in the body. I have a physical sensation approaching motion sickness (except it’s pleasurable), and observing the reactions of others around me, I sense I am not alone in this. Now, this painting does seem to ‘grab attention’ but it also has amazing subtlety that I fear could be lost in first impressions alone. It’s too easy to let the attention first be ‘grabbed’ and then to allow it to be distracted with something else. This painting deserves prolonged attention. And it’s only then that its nuances are realised. It’s not just that studying the execution of it I note that the nails fixing the board to the support are just visible, protruding slightly above the surface, or that the earlier drawing marks shine around the blocks of black paint, those are mere details, it’s the way the structure takes on different emphases, and even that the squares of black and white start to look like multiple kinds of grey. In fact, now I feel sure that I am seeing colours, yellows greens and then reds and violets, in the pulsating ‘mid’ section (more or less along the golden mean), where the squares become narrow rectangles. I have the strong sense that colours are generated, issuing from the painting into the space in front of it. Admittedly they are faint, like a diffused light, only just perceptible. I absolutely cannot get this from looking at the reproduction, only from standing at a certain point in front of the painting itself. Then, I doubt myself; this subjective experience must indeed be so subjective that it is actually entirely imaginary. So I check it out with someone else, who agrees that they are also seeing colours.

Bridget Riley, Movement in Squares, 1962. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London (c) Bridget Riley 2014. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London

Bridget Riley, Movement in Squares, 1962. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London (c) Bridget Riley 2014. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London

The experience of looking becomes the experience of doubting my senses and then of starting to become conscious of my own process of ‘map making’, at the point just before my own linguistic abstractions start to come into play, which they do almost immediately and I get into a conversation with myself about what’s going on. At this second stage, I am a further step removed from direct experience, commenting upon it and adding meanings. These are my own processes of abstracting: the abstractions of thought.

This exhibition brings to awareness the many uses of the word, ‘abstract’, in art, in thought and in life. It’s as visually interesting as its scope is ambitious, and I know I will be revisiting it many times.

Artists include Tomma Abts, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, David Batchelor, Karla Black, Peter Blake, Zarina Bhimji, Anthony Caro, Helen Chadwick, Prunella Clough, Richard Deacon, Jeremy Deller, Barry Flanagan, Elizabeth Frink, Gilbert and George, Barbara Hepworth, Yoko Ono, Eduardo Paolozzi, Bridget Riley, Walter Sickert, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mark Wallinger, Cathy Wilkes and Rachel Whiteread.

 


Notes:

[1] See Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature, A Necessary Unity (1979)

[2] From The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley, Collected Writings 1965 – 2009, edited by Robert Kudielka, p 110

[3] See Kenneth Martin: Construction from Within, in The Tradition of  Constructivism, edited by Stephen Bann 1974, reprinted 1990

Farewell Indiscipline

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Regular visitors to this blog will have noticed that I have been enjoying the exhibition The Indiscipline of Painting, International Abstraction from 1960 to now, that started out at Tate St Ives late in 2011 and moved to Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, in January 2012. Well, today is the final day of the show and bidding it farewell seems an opportune moment to reflect on what I got from visiting it many times.

The early Sean Scully painting East Coast Light 2, was a surprise to me. I like Scully’s work. especially the Wall of Light series, and that the earlier paintings look so very different to the more recent ones was more of a surprise than I expected. I was surprised by the surprise. I had read in Scully’s book Resistance and Persistence that this early work was “frankly illusionistic” and I saw a photograph of East Coast Light 2 in that book. But seeing it for real it is frankly illusionistic! much more so than in the reproduction. Seeing it here opposite the Bridget Riley Painting Cantus Firmus was interesting, as there are obvious connections and also differences. The space in the Scully is illusionistic in that it it opens up “inside” the painting, whereas Riley’s space is “outside”, between painting and viewer.

Sean Scully, East Coast Light 2, 1973, Courtesy of the artist and Neo Neo Inc.

Just down from the Scully, Karin Davie‘s lovely painting is highly gestural and though there is space “inside” or “behind” and “through” the gestural line, it is less illusionistic, much shallower than in East Light 2.

Karin Davie, Symptomania No 7, Image Courtesy of the artist

Richard Kirwan‘s painting Depth of Field seems also to be about what we might call “optical space”, a magnificent painting of the simplest motif repeated many times: an asterisk, possibly a reference to text and therefore to language and sign. Is our attention being brought to multiple footnotes? One of the experiences I have whilst viewing this, and many other paintings in this exhibition is the pure pleasure of seeing. Then my internal dialogue kicks in asking what it is that provokes that pleasure, seeking to ‘unpack’ it intellectually, to follow-up on the “footnotes”. So I read the catalogue, finding out more about the works and the patterns that connect them. At the gallery talk last Saturday with Bob Nickas and Alison Green (both who write in the catalogue), Alison Green commented on the many “back stories” of these paintings suggesting that the pleasure of looking at art includes learning those stories, and that it is not a solely visual experience. I think she is right about that, even though looking without knowing is immensely pleasurable. There seems something very playful about being amazed at how the asterisks seem to rotate. When you have seen the painting before you know it is going to happen but you are still thrilled by it when it does!

Richard Kirwan, Depth of Field, 2011, Copyright the artist / Galerie Hollenbach Stuttgar & Zurich

No Other Home by Daniel Sturgis, the artist who selected the work for this show, has a similar optical buzz, only more so. As I look, I notice my breathing change, almost a sigh, that seems to signal a change of state. Exhaling, my shoulders relax and I ‘take in’ the painting, puzzled by its structure and almost laughing when those chequer patterns seem to dance. Then I get fascinated by the blue discs, and getting up close I just cannot tell whether, for example, the disc on the right looking like it is balanced dangerously close to a cliff edge, and the other one slightly further in (almost immediately left), are the same physical colour, the surrounding colours making them look quite different to each other, or whether in fact they are mixed as different colours. However many times I step nearer and further away from the painting I am unable to verify which it is, though I suspect the former (and later, asking the artist, he confirms it).

Dan Sturgis, No Other Home, 2011, Courtesy of the artist / Galerie Hollenbach Stuttgar & Zurich

At the gallery talk Bob Nickas likened abstract painting to the Hitchcock film The Trouble With Harry, about a dead body that is discovered, hidden, buried, dug up and rediscovered etc, the trouble being that it just “won’t stay dead”. Painting, and specifically abstraction, have been pronounced dead umpteen times but the discipline (or rather the indiscipline, its status being highly contingent) just won’t stay dead.

This show, with 49 artists represented, gives me 49 reasons to continue making abstract paintings, or I learn 49 ways to do abstract painting now that it is dead, or I get to see 49 responses to what to do with abstract painting since its demise: possibly three ways of saying the same thing.

Sarah Shalgosky, Curator, University of Warwick, in her guided tour of this exhibition suggested that it was a “walk through the mind of Daniel Sturgis” and she also said that in bringing these works together they wanted us to have “visual fun”. Judging from the numerous conversations I have had with people at the gallery since the opening night, I am sure that I am not the only one for whom this goal was amply met.