Posts Tagged ‘constructivism’
A recent show I wish I had been able to visit, unfortunately I never managed to get there, was Reflections, Natalie Dower, at Eagle Gallery. There’s a good review of it at Saturation Point in which James Campion discusses the selection of works, reflecting on some individual pieces, specifically the Spiral Track works (1984), Colour Spiral Track no.2 (19) and Jungle Sphere, (1988), and briefly considers Dower’s relationship to the tradition of Constructivist and Systems art.
The exhibition, drawing from Dower’s career of over 40 years, and presenting recent paintings hung in counterpoint to selected historic works, including a selection of intricate reliefs that have not been exhibited since exhibitions at the Curwen Gallery, would have been an invitation to reflect on the connections between works from the eighties up to the present day. Even without a visit, in surveying material available online (the Saturation Point review, an Eagle Gallery website summary, the catalogue with images of the work and an essay by Laurence Noga), I am immediately impressed by Dower’s constancy of purpose along with the way that the relatively simple numerical systems she employs have the power to generate their own forms, almost even without the input of an artist. However, there is an artist here, constantly making choices, experimenting, offering feedback, thus contributing to that larger system, of which each work is a part, a meta-system if you will.
Not actually visiting, I can imagine seeing the work, and I can also remember other works by Dower that I have seen before, like the one I saw here once at the Eagle Gallery, and where, in a conversation with the gallery owner Emma Hill, she noted the beautiful, subtly “faulted” quality of the painted surface. It wasn’t the charming oil on wood Hybrid from this show, but it so easily could have been. I now know enough about Dower’s paintings to guess that they share similar qualities. To really experience them however, does mean getting up close and seeing them first-hand.
In the excellent publication Natalie Dower Line of Enquiry Alan Fowler summarizes the distinctive features of Dower’s work, in comparison with other systems artists, as displaying “a greater lyricism, a more varied use of colour” as well as “a freedom from the strictly orthogonal imagery that characterized the work of many earlier constructivist artists”. I think the “faulted-ness”, specifically in the paintings, is part of what might be included in the idea of the lyricism of Dower’s style.
Some think of the slippage between concept and execution, especially when very slight, as in Dower’s paintings, as a particularly human trait (see comments by Richard Guest on a previous blog post, though referring to quite different content). I think they are right. However, isn’t pure abstract thought also entirely human? (Cogito ergo sum).
For too much of my life I considered “mental arithmetic” as an enemy, a bully to be avoided, because I knew I couldn’t subdue it in open conflict. I put it down to the method of rote learning that disagreed with me as a child, and to the threat of punishment for getting my multiplication tables wrong. That beauty could reside here was unthinkable. That was until I started to notice the pleasurable rhythm of “seven sevens are forty nine” or “six sixes are thirty six” (I may never know why “six fours are twenty four” and in fact most of the other lines of the poem, didn’t have quite the same swing and therefore weren’t as memorable). Then one day one of the clever girls in my class showed me a real table (I mean a matrix not furniture) that she had drawn and coloured-in rather attractively, numbering 1 to 12 along the top and down the side and displaying plain as day the multiplication tables, even making it possible to follow a line say from 4 along the top and 6 along the side and find in the cell where they joined the number 24. It was magic, and it was beautiful: epistemology and aesthetics combined!
I am in no way comparing this visual table with the look of Dower’s paintings, nor suggesting that her work is a demonstration of numerical or arithmetic processes, simply that the sudden discovery of the beauty of number, via the visible chart has some resonance with my experience of beauty in Dower’s art.
Is there in each painting and construction a physical manifestation of thought: logic apprehended by the senses, not so much “word made flesh” as perhaps number made material? I have written before about the highly pleasurable experience of attempting to recover the numerical system that spawned a particular painting or relief, and only sometimes thinking I may have succeeded. I do think this is an important aspect of viewing work of this kind, though it is by no means the only thing.
It’s Dower’s work that has me reflecting on the beauty of say a root 2 rectangle, or even a double square, and that’s when I am viewing a specific piece, and also when I am thinking about a work that I once viewed. The numerical system, now communicated, becomes available to my thought independently of the artwork, as if there were such a thing as a “realm of pure thought”. Now what had become material becomes immaterial, non physical, abstract thought.
Dower has said “I want the image to be able to attract and hold the attention of the viewer” her objects/images long since attracted my attention, and continue to hold it beyond the physical viewing of artworks. Nevertheless I do wish I had actually seen the show!
I think there is something rather ironic about seeing a great big cinema-style sign heralding MARLOW MOSS, as if she were a household name, when in fact, although highly deserving of attention, she has been a little known figure, especially here in the UK, where she was born and spent the latter part of her life, only recently being recognised as one of Britain’s most important Constructivist artists.
The paintings and constructions, currently on show at the Leeds Art Gallery exhibition Parallel Lives (Marlow Moss and Claude Cahoun) are marvellous. I am particularly impressed by the two paintings White Blue Yellow & Blue, 1954, a finished and an unfinished version. Comparing the two, I gain information about her working method, how the lines are drawn in pencil and ‘filled in’ with colour rather than using masking tape, and how the white is applied last. (A gallery note contrasts Mondrian’s method of painting a white ground first.) Mondrian recognised her ‘double-line’ as a contribution to the visual ‘language’ of Neo-Plasticism. If she was a disciple, she was also an innovator in her own right. She was associated not only with Mondrian in Paris in the thirties but also with other international artists: Max Bill, Vantongerloo and Jean Gorin, being a founder member of the the Association Abstraction-Création in 1931. Yet returning to England in 1941 living and working in Cornwall she seems to have been somewhat ignored by other British artists, (unanswered letters to Ben Nicholson are included in the exhibition).
The lightbox sign of her name is itself an artwork, by Cullinan Richards, in the window of &Model, the gallery almost directly opposite Leeds Art Gallery, announcing the exhibition Conversations Around Marlow Moss, curated by Andrew Bick and Katrina Blannin. The work Savage School Window Gallery, seems to create both an invitation and a barrier at the same time, as does all good art.
Something similar happens for me viewing the first painting I see on the inside of the gallery, a piece also by Cullinan Richards entitled Ian Poulter wore shocking pink, and including a newspaper photo of Poulter beneath an abstract composition, possibly based on (abstracted from) the colours in the photo. There’s the hint of a narrative, abstracted from a newspaper report, or perhaps even a headline, announcing a narrative that is not actually fulfilled, now that only the photo and title remain, of a piece that I must imagine actually existed. “Meaning” is context dependent, and the change of context creates something like a jarring sensation for me as I struggle to make sense of the object/image before me. Although I attempt simply to observe, I keep on interpreting, and my own processes of interpretation keep on coming to my attention. I am myself “abstracting” in the sense that I think Alfred Korzybski, Gregory Bateson and Chris Argyris may have understood the term, identifying at least these levels of abstraction: observation, interpretation and judgement. I judge the work to be good when it has this effect on me, of alerting me to my own seeing/thinking/abstracting and in doing so bringing me “back to my senses” where I notice the colour and shapes and materials, and also make an (probably incorrect) association with that 1915 Malevich painting entitled Painterly Realism of a Boy with Knapsack – Colour Masses in the Fourth Dimension, comprising only a black and a red square on a white ground. Already, I am interpreting again.
Any conversation around Marlow Moss must surely reference Modernism, abstraction, and specifically that strand of abstract art that we might group under the heading of Constructivism, developing as she did “a Constructivism from the Russian movement synthesised with Parisian Purism and Neo-Plasticism”. The show at &Model brings together contemporary artists who have some form of dialogue with the positions of Constructivism, (e.g. its emphasis on non-objectivity or abstraction, its privileging of material over form, its critical engagement of the viewer), with British Construction and Systems artists forming part of a larger exchange artists are making now with modernist positions.
I find the large Black & White paintings by Jeffrey Steele here, entirely convincing. It occurs to me that even in 2 dimensions, prints or paintings, systems are never composed, always constructed. Hence no individual part has compositional preference over another, or over the whole, we have a lack of hierarchy, every part functioning according to the purpose of the system. Every part is “determined”, yet there is also a certain amount of “free” play provided by the near infinite variety of permutations, as well as in the unpredictable phenomena of “emergence”. The paintings are radically abstract yet also completely related to my lived experience of determinism within a system. If ever I needed persuading of the power, not to mention the beauty, of this approach these works amply achieve criteria, though you probably guessed that I am already fully persuaded.
I find David Saunders‘ sequence of six canvases entitled Black Transformation painted in 1973-4 similarly convincing, and I am surprised by the dates as the piece appears contemporary enough to have been painted this year.
I am interested also by other works from the same era: as well as the wonderful 1977 Rational Concepts portfolio of prints (7 English artists: Norman Dilworth, Anthony Hill, Malcolm Hughes, Peter Lowe, Kenneth Martin, Jeffrey Steele, Gillian Wise) there’s a delightful pastel colour study by Jean Spencer and two of Peter Lowe‘s reliefs from 1968 in perspex mounted on wood, both 23 x 23 cm: Permutation of 4 Groups of 2 and Permutation of 4 Groups of 3, in which rational order and faktura combine to produce objects of staggering beauty.
The influence of these artists on Katrina Blannin and Andrew Bick is self evident. Bick’s OGVDS-GW #2, directly quotes a work of Gillian Wise, and Blannin clearly follows a systems approach in her paintings. The wonderful paintings by Maria Lalic here Bohemian Green Landscape Painting and Sevres Blue Landscape Painting, both constructed by placing two landscape oriented canvases one above the other creating a “real” horizon line, also have visual similarities to the Jean Spencer study.
Andrew Bick’s paintings may have a rather playful connection to systems, introducing what appear to be random markings, textures, colours, or materials, to a programmatic method of repeating the form and structure of a previous work. Sometimes the end result looks anything but rational, approaching Dada even! (Here, one of Bicks paintings is placed quite comfortably over a dishevelled stairway.) I might venture to suggest that his system is a stochastic one, wherein “a random component is combined with a selective process so that only certain outcomes are allowed to endure”. There is also playfulness in his references to the history of abstraction: as well as his Gillian Wise quotation mentioned earlier, his placing of a canvas across the corner of the gallery must surely be a nod to Malevich that I interpret as humorous rather than ironic.
There’s something Dada-like in the interventions of Adam Gillam included in this exhibition, for example the placing of two sticks, pieces of wood or dowelling to which are attached high colour, painted false finger nails (from the nail salon next door), alongside the Anthony Hill pages from the publication Module, Proportion, Symmetry. It’s as if it fulfils the function of a disturbance, prompting a “double-take” in the viewer. Am I also reconnected for a moment to the actual environment within and around the gallery and jolted out of my art-trance? I don’t know why I am recalling Van Doesburg’s Dadaist alter ego I.K. Bonset, through whom he could participate in a very different kind of art making as a kind of foil for his own De Stijl Constructivism. Perhaps Gillam plays a similar role here.
I have written before about Katrina Blannin’s paintings, and seeing new ones here, I continue to be impressed by her work, not least by her commitment to her series of rotations of a bisected hexad. The variables are kept stable enough that learning can actually take place, yet there’s enough newness to create surprise and enjoyment.
What I get from Blannin’s paintings is the integration of intellectual and emotional experience, at least the part of experience that is to be had by looking at images and objects. Come to think of it, it may even be in the mediation of these two (image and object) that such integration takes place. I am trying to explain the felt pleasure (which I associate with emotion) that I am having when viewing or perhaps more accurately, studying (associated with intellect), these new works. I know it’s corny now to allude to “laughing out loud” but that’s close to the delight I am enjoying as I note the differences in scale, size and colour, and the sheer beauty of the objects themselves.
Over the last year or so, Blannin has introduced a demarcation line between the sections, and it adds first clarity and then nuance, on concentrated viewing, as the figure/ground shifts lead to constantly changing interpretations of the image.
The smaller works are painted on coloured Hessian, and whilst I am fairly sure that none of it actually shows through the opacity of the acrylic paint, I do think that it seems to add a new brightness to the paintings. The high colour of the Hessian on the sides of these immaculately painted objects casts a reflection on the wall and maybe that influences my perception of the colour, or maybe it’s simply the new colours that Blannin is using here that creates, for me, the impression of a change to a higher register or key.
Berendes Untitled sculpture in lacquered steel and brass reminds me of a screen and functions like one in this space by dividing the room in half diagonally, yet it counters such a purpose in that it’s “see through”. I think of it as a decorative screen that neither decorates nor provides privacy: an attractive object that counters its own suggested utility.
Cooke’s large scale relief in felt and Perspex entitled Housement provokes similar contradictions, being imposing, weighty, sculptural in scale whilst also fragile, soft and ephemeral in material and colour. It simultaneously affirms and denies its own materiality.
All the works in this show can be situated in relation to the Constructivist tradition in which Marlow Moss was a worthy participant, but it’s a critical relationship, questioning and perhaps even extending it. Modernisms keep renewing themselves by continually criticising their own foundations. I suspect that new modernisms will continue to find inspiration in their chequered pasts, and often by re-evaluating the contributions of particular individuals and their contexts.
Conversations Around Marlow Moss continues at &Model until 18 July and Parallel Lives: Marlow Moss and Claude Cahoun, continues at LeedsArtGallery until 7 September 2014.
 Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature, 1979
Just found out about this exciting new show opening soon at
19 East Parade, Leeds, LS1 2BH, UK http://www.andmodel.com/
Curated by Andrew Bick and Katrina Blannin
12 June–18 July 2014
A detour on my way home from a day’s work brings me once again to that wonderful informal space The Lion and Lamb Gallery, in the back room of a London pub, where I get to see System Painting Construction Archive, curated by Andrew Bick.
Pint in hand, I view works by Andrew Bick, Stuart Elliot, Robert Holyhead, Clare Kenny, Maria Lalic, Karim Noureldin, David Rhodes, Cullinan Richards, Brandon Taylor, exhibited alongside a ‘museum’ of printed matter related to British Construction and Systems Art. In the gallery notes Bick explains that the artists were invited to “place their work alongside”, rather than respond directly to the archive.
Bick’s OGV (grid GW), does directly reference a Gillian Wise image shown in one of the vitrines, and acknowledged in the ‘GW’ of the title.
Its presentation, straddling the corner of the room, less directly references the Russian Tradition via Malevich’s famous Black Square. That tradition clearly also having resonance for Maria Lalic who has been working with the monochrome for some time. Here in her Sevres Blue Landscape Painting (Le Chemin de Sevres. Corot. C1855 – 65), she reintroduces the horizon line, but it is made by the joining of two monochromes, a lower one in brown and an upper one in blue. The non-objective is simultaneously posited and negated: two monochromes entirely abstract, yet it is impossible not to make landscape associations.
Clare Kenny’s Snow Blind appears also to toy with the propositions of ‘concrete’ and ‘representational’ . I think it is collaged from photographs of windows with blinds, the abstract lines and colours occupying my attention along with blotches or painterly stains, which could be read as ‘errors’ in the printing process, or possibly photographed (‘real’) snow flakes through a window pane. I am reminded of that old notion of painting as ‘a window on the world’, this particular ‘window’ being also physically blind-like, in that the paper support is folded, creating a material object that could function as a blind, obscuring the window.
The work by Cullinan Richards also has obscured ‘subject matter’. The title Paula Radcliffe in Disappointing 4th Place is taken from a newspaper article just showing towards the bottom edge of the piece. Possibly the newspaper was used to rest the art work on whilst it was being made and, getting stuck to it, it became an integral part by the end of the production process, almost as if the article became accidental content even whilst what was being constructed was rooted in the universal ‘content’ of the geometric.
Brandon Taylor’s Painting for CB is a construction with coloured wood pieces stuck to a painted grey ground on canvas that reads like a painting. I have the impression that the composition follows a rational formula but I can’t actually work it out. I find that I am counting the pieces, checking whether they are similar in shape and size and how many times each colour is repeated.
I am in a similar mode when looking at the paintings by David Rhodes and Stuart Elliot, attempting for example to work out in what order the lines in Rhodes’ 2.5.2013 (1) were masked and painted on the raw cotton duck. It’s an impressive painting that could have been executed in three sections, and even if it wasn’t I perceive it as comprising three informal ‘panels’, each with black and off-white lines in alternating directions, resulting in an overall “N” shape. It packs a punch, yet there is softness in the lines as a result of the way the paint has gently bled through the masking tape, and a richness of colour that is hidden by the description “black and white”. Likewise with Stuart Elliot’s Untitled (73), where blackboard paint has been applied to primed canvas before being stretched and the image, in so far as there is an image, looks to have been constructed by scumbling the paint over the bars of a wooden stretcher, creating impressions of the stretcher, not only at the edges but through the centre of the canvas, in numerous directions. Again, to say it is black and white would deny the subtlety and warmth of the colours that are nearer to warm greys on ochre.
In Robert Holyhead’s Untitled (yellow), a variegated yellow ground is interrupted by two, flatly painted, white triangular shapes reading as cut-outs, accompanied by a vertical line of a different yellow, running along the right hand edge branching out at top and bottom into two triangles causing the yellow of the ground to recede, and creating a lively ambiguous space.
The two beautiful drawings by Karim Noureldin, Evo (09-11040) and Evo (07-11009), both pencil on paper, look like a geometric starting point is being empirically explored or unfolded through a series or sequence. One of them has a central mass that could be a sculptural object in a space, whereas the other has a vertical zig zag, more rhythm than object.
My attention alternates between wall and vitrine. I read texts on or by Jeffrey Steele, Gillian Wise, Charles Biederman, Anthony Hill, Kenneth Martin etc. and, wanting to turn the pages, I have the sense of a past that is locked, only partially accessible via faded documents, memory and influence, as if the works on the wall are familiarly connected to the archive material or they can be interpreted as having evolved from a “constructive context”, some more consciously connected to the base than others, like the system formula that eludes my attempt to discern it, or like Noureldin’s drawings wending their way through various permutations, continually repeating and changing, awareness of the past leading to an informed openness to an unknown future.
System.Painting. Construction. Archive is showing at Lion and Lamb Gallery until 15 June 2013, and there’s a talk on 8 June at 5pm.
I wish I was going to the opening of this show at the Lion and Lamb Gallery tonight.
I do hope to get along to see it before it closes on 15 June and, assuming I manage it, I will write about it.
In the opposite direction travel-wise there is also an interesting show starting up at the Hepworth, Wakefield this evening and I will be going along to that (it’s much closer to where I live. If there was nothing in it as far as travel and cost are concerned I would be in a dilemma as to which one to go to).
and I hope to write about this one too during the next few days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I had the idea for this tetractys when I was working at Wallacespace on Duke Street, St Pancras
I was clearing away the marker pens after the day’s work when I noted this sequence of colours: yellow + blue = green, complementary = red, adjacent to orange made by adding yellow, complementary = purple. I made a sketch that same day and then during the next few days completed a version in acrylic and marker pen on acrylic paper, currently on display at First Come First Served at The Lion and Lamb Gallery. More recently I painted the version shown above, on board using narrower lines (possibly too narrow).
(The photo has a slight red cast due to the direct sunlight. My fairly good camera has a limitation of having automatic white balance only.)