abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘contemporary art

Two solo shows at Nottingham Contemporary: Yelena Popova’s After Image and Michael Beutler’s Pump House

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Go to Saturation Point website for my review of two very different exhibitions currently on show at Nottingham Contemporary. Michael Beutler’s Pump House and Yelena Popova’s After Image. Whilst they are completely separate shows they do share some things in common, both artists work in their medium’s “expanded field”, Popova being nearest to painting and Beutler nearest to sculpture. Both create installations rather than single art objects and both work in idioms that have roots in twentieth century abstraction, branching out into their own foliage under highly contemporary skies.

Michael Beutler, Pump House, installation shot, detail, photo by Sam Kirby, image by courtesy of Nottingham Contemporary

Michael Beutler, Pump House, installation shot, detail, photo by Sam Kirby, image by courtesy of Nottingham Contemporary

Beutler’s amazing labyrinth of hand made walls, tools, furniture and models is a repeat-with-differences of the recent show at Spike Island Bristol. The differences reflect the different spaces, though they are similar in many ways, the link being the architects Caruso St John who transformed the Spike Island space only two years before their design of Nottingham Contemporary. Here are a couple of photos, but really you have to be there to experience it. Continuing in the tradition of the total art experience or Gesamtkunstwerk, it is a delight for all the senses.

Michael Beutler, Pump House, detail: wall Elefant Und Schwein 2010 / 2016

Michael Beutler, Pump House, detail: wall Elefant Und Schwein 2010 / 2016

Popova’s installation more or less divides into paintings in one gallery and a video piece, a digital animation, in the other. The paintings are at the same time wonderfully fragile, their images in delicate washes only just there, and robust, the heaviness of the linen and and clarity of its weave taking precedence over image, the arrangements of the paintings then becoming more important than any individual one.

 Yelena Popova, Public Gallery, detail: Untitled 2016, mixed media on linen + wooden pieces, dimensions variable, Photo by Sam Kirby, image by courtesy of Nottingham Contemporary

Yelena Popova, Public Gallery, detail: Untitled 2016, mixed media on linen + wooden pieces, dimensions variable, Photo by Sam Kirby, image by courtesy of Nottingham Contemporary

In the digital animation This Certifies That, a collaboration between Popova and computer programmer Noel Murphy, multiple images of the Euro banknote, are randomly generated in constantly changing sequences, to the accompaniment of a mesmerising soundtrack by Nottingham based sound artist Rebecca Lee. The words “an excess of images leads to a crash” and “a new sequence begins” can be heard intermittently, perhaps marking the ending and beginning of each sequence. The narrative here references a late 19th Century political conspiracy, led by Leon Warneker, who, working with a loose grouping of anarchists, attempted to crash Russia’s economy by flooding the market with forged banknotes. The work surely also brings to mind the financial crisis of 2007-08 precipitated by the credit crunch. The continuation of the guilloché lines from the video piece into the surrounding space as a wallpaper looks like a ‘pure’ abstract drawing. However, as what you see is always more than just what you see, it is also a reminder of the all-encompassing reality of capitalism as a system, whilst the work as a whole suggests the possibility of the system crashing and something new emerging in its place.

Yelena Popova, After Image, detail: Installation shot of gallery 1, my photo

Yelena Popova, After Image, detail: Installation shot of gallery 1, my photo

There’s a very attractive monograph/catalogue available for the Popova show, with texts by Brian Dillon and Claire-Louise Bennett. Highly recommended! I wish there had also been a document for Beutler’s Pump House. However, Nottingham Contemporary have uploaded this marvelous video of his talk prior to the show.

I have written a review of these two shows for Saturation Point, click here to read it and I hope to write discussion pieces for Abcrit at a later date.

Both exhibitions are on show until 25 September 2016


Gesso and acrylic paint on nothing! Deb Covell’s new painting at OBJECT / A

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The exhibition Here and Now, recently on show at OBJECT / A, Manchester, UK, featured just the one artwork, a wonderful painting entitled Present (2016) by Deb Covell, a painted black square, without a support, gesso and acrylic on nothing, suspended from the ceiling by wire.

Deb Covell, Present, 2016, gesso and acrylic, 140 x 140 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Deb Covell, Present, 2016, gesso and acrylic, 140 x 140 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist


Read my review of it here at the Saturation Point website.

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

Six Fugues by John Bunker

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On my trip to London on what must be the hottest day of the year so far, even though it’s now about 7 o’clock  in the evening it’s still really warm and here I am wearing a suit, carrying luggage and chasing across the capital to visit Westminster Library, to see collages by John Bunker in the show Six Fugues, curated by Sam Cornish.

Installation view, my snapshot

Installation view, my snapshot

The moment I set eyes on them I know the effort was more than worth it. I have seen one of these in reproduction and liked it, but seeing them here for real is so much better. Why is it that not being able to hold them in my hand and perceiving the depth of the supports and the proper sizes makes a difference?  Also, that they have weight, they are on MDF rather than paper, (no glass – excellent), adds to the sense of their physical presence. That, as well as the stuff they’re made from, “torn posters, shattered CDs, abandoned chicken-shop boxes,”  combined with the painterliness of the gestural flourishes, even in collage there are plenty of those, all adds to their materiality. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think of them as paintings, the construction method of which is  collage, rather than collages made with painted elements.

John Bunker, Shady Hill Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF. Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, Shady Hill Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF. Image by courtesy of the artist

In the exhibition notes Sam Cornish reminds me that collage is a century old, and the many library books open at appropriate pages assembled on a table and in a display case connect Bunkers work clearly to this tradition, a reproduction of Kurt Schwitters’ The Hitler Gang from 1944, having immediate resonance, for me, with Bunker’s Falling Fugue with it’s strong triangular figure and concentric circle motif.  As in other works here, the figures(torn and cut shapes and gestural painterly marks), seem to occupy a fairly narrow cubist space, blues often being interpreted (by me at any rate) as sky, which sometimes opens up into a much deeper space than I was first perceiving, especially in Shady Hill Fugue where the blue plane on the right hand edge becomes as sky seen beneath, but also beyond, an archway suggested by an arc in sandstone ochre, possibly the MDF support. A triangle of a similar colour inserts itself at the bottom right hand corner which is different enough tonally to bring it forward of the darker and more saturated central ochre colour, allowing the other shapes to dance within the space created. I say dance because they seem ungrounded, there’s no sense of an earth or floor other than the bottom edge of the support.

John Bunker, Falling Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 54 x 52.5cm, Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, Falling Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 54 x 52.5cm, Image by courtesy of the artist

In Falling Fugue the obstructed blue circle along the left edge doesn’t quite become open space, unless I focus on the bottom half of the work and then the blue area does seem to recede further than when I have the whole image in view. My eye seems to be taken downwards, I guess it must be because of the strong direction lines, pointing towards the lower edge. I do indeed get a sensation of things falling. Also, I feel that I may be looking slightly upwards, as if I am nearer to the bottom of the frame, whereas in Night Fugue it’s the other way around, enhanced in the photo by the downward angle of the shot, but still taking place when looking directly at the picture. Here the light blues and greys also sometimes become infinite space against which the flatter coloured areas jut forward or within which ink splatters become forms. Then the arrangement shifts so that the large flat area of red becomes a plane in front of which ochre, green, orange blue and grey cut outs jostle or float. The pink triangle at the bottom edge positions itself in front of the ochre but behind the grey/blue pentagon, in front of which a pale yellow triangle hovers, itself obstructed by a dark blue shape that is echoed higher up.

John Bunker, Night Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 30 x 33cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, Night Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 30 x 33cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

And then, of course, they are simply torn papers (etc) randomly assembled on a flat surface. I get to wondering about how much randomness there is in Bunker’s process, I imagine him scattering this week’s finds across the floor and then frenetically rearranging them. What do I know? His method may be quite the opposite of that.

Looking in other library book reproductions, I see similarities also in Cubist works from 1913 or 14, especially perhaps Juan Gris still-lives, with extensive use of collage and creating similar pictorial spaces as these I see in this show. What seems different though is the continued link in the still-lives to representational content. However much a Picasso, Braque or Gris still life is ‘abstracted from’ reality it still maintains that connection, I can recognise a guitar here, a rum bottle or a fragment of newspaper there. In Bunker’s work such elements are almost completely absent, and where for example, a fragment of newsprint or a star motif might be recognised they seem accidental.

Installation view, my snapshot

Installation view, my snapshot

The overriding similarities however, might be in the method of composition, according to rules, that are indeed abstract, in the same way perhaps that the strict laws of counterpoint and fugue in music are abstract.

Speaking of musicality in regard to Cubism, most of the following words by Paul Erich Küppers, director of the Kestner-Gesellschaft in Hanover, writing in 1920, could apply to Bunkers collages:

“…from pale harmonies of colour lines ascend, prisms shoot up, advance towards us or jump backwards, cutting steps out of the infinite space…They multiply, cluster into chords animated by the rhythm, executing their dance against the backdrop of that absolute music which is space. One experiences this transcendental dynamism no differently from the counterpoint of Bach’s fugues, so far removed from reality”∗.

And I say “most of the following words” only because “pale harmonies of colour” understates the power of the colours in Bunkers fugues, and also I don’t really find “prisms”, his shapes are flatter that that, as indeed they often were also in the collage still-lives of Gris.

John Bunker, Blue Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 49.5 x 38cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, Blue Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 49.5 x 38cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

If that modernist innovation collage is 100 years old, so also is the tradition of speaking of visual abstract works in terms of the musical structure of the fugue. Whilst allusions to fugue are only occasionally found in nineteenth century writings about art, they abound in the early twentieth century, the dawn of abstraction. Kandinsky entitled a 1912 painting Fugue (Controlled Improvisation), and by the 1920s lots of artists were doing it, Paul Klee and Josef Albers, amongst them.

John Bunker, John Islip Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 61 x 37.5cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, Shattered Fugue, 2014, mixed media collage on MDF, 44 x 51cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

In a fugue, one instrument or voice follows another echoing note for note the initial tune, as in a ’round’, the voice that enters last reiterates the opening melody (the fugue subject) whilst the preceding voice carries on with its own independent tune (the counter subject), with three or more parts the same process is repeated several times, amazingly the voices fitting together and making sense in ‘counterpoint’. There are usually three sections: an exposition, a development and a recapitulation. Melodies might be repeated backwards or upside down or played again with doubled or halved note values, and counterpoint intervals may be varied.

Such a structure can easily be translated to the visual modality, a figure being inverted, rotated, mirrored, drawn back to front, etc and it all exists simultaneously in the same space. Hence its attraction perhaps for visual artists, and specifically for abstract artists because the structure is entirely formal, no rushing water, no bird song, no bell ringing, no Wagnerian images.

John Bunker, John Islip Fugue, 2014, Mixed media collage on MDF, 61 x 37.5cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

John Bunker, John Islip Fugue, 2014, Mixed media collage on MDF, 61 x 37.5cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

So, for example, in John Islip Fugue, we get arcs and circles each echoing another, in similar and contrasting hues, impossible now to tell which one was placed first, and rectangles that may have been rotated and layered one over another. What I am not sure about is just how systematic Bunker’s method is, the extent to which the fugue is a strict compositional device or whether it’s a fairly loose metaphor. I suspect it is the latter.

Another attraction of the fugue for abstract artists is that it offers a structural method that offers an alternative to more arbitrary approaches and it appeals more to the intellect than it does to the emotions (though we shouldn’t overlook the emotional impact) . The Constructivist tradition comes to mind for me now, with its own take on collage, structure and fugue-like systems of rotation, repetition, inversion, etc. but I will leave those reflections for another day. Enough now to say that Bunker’s six fugues are a delight!

Six Fugues: New Collages by John Bunker was showing at Westminster Library between 1 July and 19 July 2014.


∗Paul Erich Küppers quote taken from The Music of Painting by Peter Vergo

At the First Clash, Alex Dewart, Marion Piper and Lindall Pearce at Surface Gallery

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At First Clash, Installation shot at Private View. Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

At First Clash, Installation shot at Private View. Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

At first sight the works of Alex Dewart, Lindall Pearce and Marion Piper, currently featured in the exhibition At the First Clash at Surface Gallery, Nottingham, are highly dissimilar, a clash of styles and approaches whose relationship to one another is symmetrical rather than complementary. However, a Twitter comment by Gill Gregory suggests she finds as much confluence or convergence as collision. Perhaps as soon as disparate practices are brought together in a shared space the similarities and interconnections become apparent, even when it’s difference that we’re celebrating. In the excellent essay by Maggie Gray, which accompanies the exhibition, she proposes that these three artists find commonality in “their awareness and manipulation of surfaces”. I wonder if what unites them is the clash of opposites (and possible reconciliation) that occurs in each of their works.

Alex Dewart

Alex Dewart, Pelle (Skin), 2014, Oil on printed cotton. 30 x 40cm, Image by courtesy of the artist.

In Dewart’s paintings, highly coloured flat patterns clash with illusionistic grey monochrome figures. The figures are context-less, appearing to have weight and volume yet they float in space against high colour backgrounds that clamour for attention. Elements of the pattern sometimes occupy positions in front of or on the same plane as the grey figures. In Pelle (Skin), a leaf motif breaks free from the ground and touches the left shoulder of an armoured figure. Visually there are cues to suggest that the figure is seated on a horse, even though there is no horse shown. Where the horse’s mane might be the pattern appears to push spatially forward of the figure, almost describing the horse’s neck.

Alex Dewart, Verdi sul Verde, 2014, oil on printed cotton, 40cm x 50cm. Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

Alex Dewart, Verdi sul Verde, 2014, oil on printed cotton, 40x 50cm. Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

I find myself searching for meanings that a context might provide, and in lieu of evidence I do what we all do in such situations, I make stuff up. So I consider the grey figures to be statues and I speculatively suggest to myself that, for example, Verdi sul Verde may show a statue of Giuseppe Verdi (really!) against a green floral ground, “Verdi on the green”, a way of being “green on green” that isn’t abstract in the sense of “non-representational”, but quite abstract in the sense of “levels of abstraction” i.e. as opposed to direct sensory experience. In other words, I am required to interpret, linguistically or conceptually if you will, in order to make sense of what I am looking at.

The kind of interpretation required when viewing paintings by Marion Piper is nearer to the pre-linguistic, or perceptual. The experience of ‘clash’ is between differing styles (e.g. painterly or gestural vs. geometric), as well as of competing interpretations of geometric gestalts. Rather than consciously thinking through potential meanings I just keep seeing the arrangement differently, sometimes seeing depth for example, and other times seeing flat shapes. It’s as if the interpreting takes place in the eye/brain, rather than in the mind.


Marion Piper, Or To 6, 2014, acrylic and oil on canvas, 46cm x 60cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

I first saw paintings by Piper at the Crossing Lines exhibition, earlier this year at &Model Gallery, where I noted that in her Free Man series she appeared to be combining an organic, free-flowing, process with geometry. There’s some of that going on here at the Surface Gallery exhibition in her Or To series, where fluid grey markings (not quite poured, more like staining) clash with measured geometric shapes, but the clash is suppressed perhaps, in that it exists beneath multiple layers, only traces showing through. It’s almost as if the geometry has succeeded in bringing order to the more chaotic, near gestural activity beneath the surface. Or is it that those liquid gestures actually construct the hard edged structures, the outlines being “filled in” with paint whilst in this fluid condition? It’s difficult to tell. The process is evident but not enough to reliably reconstitute it step by step. I can guess at it, but I have little confidence that my guessing matches any of the events that actually took place on the canvas.

Marion Piper, Or To 9, 2014, Acrylic, Oil and Pen on Canvas, 61 x 46cm. Image by courtesy of the artist.

Marion Piper, Or To 9, 2014, Acrylic, Oil and Pen on Canvas, 61 x 46cm. Image by courtesy of the artist.

In Or To 9, illusionistic space is posited along the bottom edge, take the zig zagging triangles away and the alternate bars or stripes of light and dark grey no longer look three dimensional. The triangles lead us to see the stripes as mountain and valley folds, a concertina formation, with a light source from the left. At least two readings compete with each other in an unresolvable conflict. Though contradictory, we believe both interpretations are equally true, not simultaneously but sequentially, first it’s this and then it’s that and next it’s this again, perhaps reminiscent of wave-particle duality in quantum physics. Whatever reading we come to first, we have to concede that “the opposite is also true”.

In the works here by Lindall Pearce the clash is between artwork and arbitrary object, everyday objects being combined to produce highly attractive assemblages. They draw from the tradition of the “ready-made”, but in the end they are not ready-mades, there’s too much craft for that. It could even be that the tradition is turned back on itself by the reintroduction of facture. Nevertheless, the banal object never become so much an artwork that it loses its thingness, nor does the art ever lapse back into banal utilitarian function.

Lindall Pearce, Chroma Chameleon, 2014, Mixed Media, Dimensions Variable, Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

Lindall Pearce, Chroma Chameleon, 2014, Mixed Media, Dimensions Variable, Image by courtesy of Surface Gallery

In Chroma Chameleon, adjustable shaving mirrors (I think) are arranged on a black and white striped, painted table top, the mirror glasses having been replaced or painted over, with coloured circles. Even though they do retain some of their reflectiveness they no longer function specifically as mirrors. They create an interesting array of angles, planes and colours and subvert the original purposes of both table and mirrors. Come to think of it, I am now doubting whether “assemblage” is the best label for this and other works by Pearce in this show. In an assemblage don’t pre-existing, unrelated objects get placed together? Yet it looks to me as if Pearce works on her objects and then also makes something else out of them, which possibly brings them closer to “constructions”. (In pondering this distinction I am following a conversation between Peter Lowe and Katrina Blannin recently reported by Blannin in a review at Abstract Critical.)

Looking at the works of these three artists, I think I discover resonance in their appreciation of clashes of opposites, whether two dimensional pattern vs. three dimensional figuration in Dewart, opposing gestalts in Piper or readymade vs. construction in Pearce. Furthermore, they seem unwilling to resolve the contradictions by favouring one position over another. Instead, they hold both sides of the argument in tension, and only then does some form of reconciliation take place. Could it be that the title of the exhibition would be better rendered with a comma after the word “First” so that it would read “At the First, Clash” (to begin with a clash and only then reconciliation)?   Tongue firmly in cheek, if I wanted to give this a theological slant, following Karl Barth, I might insist that the divine “no” always precedes the divine “yes”, or if I wanted to sound more political I might echo that other Karl as well as that old band The Clash: “There’s got to be a Clash, there’s no alternative”.


At the First Clash is on at Surface Gallery until 12 July 2014

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 1, 2014 at 11:12 pm

At Aberdeen Art Gallery

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A recent visit to Aberdeen meant I got chance to visit Aberdeen Art Gallery, an impressive space, with an impressive collection including some contemporary works and, my particular interest: abstract paintings. The John Copnall painting Green For Cathy, 1973, looks like it was a painted especially for this space, even though it was not actually a site specific work. (There’s a better photo of it  here.)


According to the label it had been included in a solo show of Copnall’s paintings at Aberdeen Art Gallery in 1974 and was purchased later that year. Set amongst other more contemporary art works here, not necessarily paintings, I think it demonstrates something of the power of formalist painting, even now, long after its ‘moment’ has supposedly passed.

2013-03-22 12.18.11 (2)

Seeing it from a distance the relationship between painting and place is what I am most aware of, the painting’s verticality echoing and perhaps also competing with the architecture, such that “architectural” is an adjective for the artwork that seems difficult to resist. Getting close up, no new information is revealed in terms of detail, brush strokes for example, yet the experience is different. From here it’s me and the colour that forms the primary relationship.

2013-03-22 12.19.11

Absolutely not seeing a window on the world, just me and it, my awareness of the ‘here and now’ is heightened. Here in this place the ‘now’ continues on for a while, its content remaining unchanged, leading to this stretching out of the experience.  Not eternal or timeless, this ‘now’, comprised of smaller ‘now’s, each one giving way to another, also contains multiple ‘then and there’s. For example, I am remembering my brother’s criterion for a good painting: that it will continue to get better even after repeated viewings, something I learned when we were looking at a painting in the Whitworth a few weeks ago. And now I am considering whether this painting would achieve his criterion. I also find myself making comparisons with other artists, clear influences of Copnall, like Barnett Newman and Morris Louis.

Then, as I break state by starting to move away I notice an after image, my own projection on the white wall, instead of an expanse of red I see an expanse of green with narrow red black and orange stripes at the edge.

And I also realize that since stepping into the gallery I have been dimly aware of a familiar sound, emphasizing not the extended ‘now’ but its opposite, the continual repetition of beginning and ending, and especially ending. If it wasn’t that I love the song Room to Roam by Mike Scott, from the 1990 Waterboys album of the same title, I might find the constant repetition of it annoying. The song, featured in an audio visual artwork by Jacques Coetzer, stresses the word “end” in the repeated line “ending in one end” but then when it’s played on a loop that emphasis is magnified. Even when you are not looking at the piece it can be heard all around the gallery. And it doesn’t end there, it continues to repeat in my head long after the gallery visit is over.


I do enjoy the video, and the associations it has for me, remembering that when that album was first released my friend bought a copy on the strength of hearing the Waterboys earlier Album This is the Sea, which includes the amazing song The Whole of the Moon. I had lent my copy to him and he liked it so much that he went out and bought the new Album, only to find that he hated it, so he gave it to me, (thanks Simon).

Painting is less intrusive, it can more easily be ignored, and recollecting a painting afterwards I tend to find more difficult than with a song. But despite the pleasure I gain from the audio/video, it is the paintings that really interest me, the Copnall on one side of the Coetzer, and Rumbold Vertical Four: Green in Green with Blue and Red, 1970 by Patrick Heron on the other side. (A better photo here.)


Like Green for Cathy its verticality seems particularly right for this place, almost like the venue requires a strong visual statement. The two paintings look good together, sharing similar themes: an expanse of colour bordered by stripes on the right hand edge, Copnall’s stripes being more ‘optical’ and Heron’s more wobbly. (Didn’t he once refer to his paintings as “Wobbly hard edge”?) In this informal series Heron combines the stripe with positive/negative circular motifs that look like cut outs. Figure ground relationships shift and colours that ‘should’ recede (e.g. blue) seem to  project forward. He seems also play with the idea of ‘on’ versus ‘in’.

Art and Jazz: Tomorrow at the Old Lockup Studio, Cromford

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Tomorrow sees our one night only exhibition Salon1 at the Old Lockup Studio in Cromford, contemporary art by regional artists (including yours truly) with contemporary jazz by Corey Mwabma.

The connection between modern art and jazz goes back some way. For a start there is Piet Mondrian’s love of Jazz and dance band, evidenced in titles of paintings like Foxtrot A and Foxtrot B, Broadway Boogie-Woogie and Victory Boogie-Woogie, as well as in his writings. He liked Boogie-Woogie, of which he said:

I conceive (it) as homogenous in intention with mine in painting: destruction of melody, which is the equivalent of the destruction of natural appearance, and construction through the continuous opposition of pure means – dynamic rhythm.

There won’t be any Mondrians on show at Salon1

Then there’s Henri Mattise’s artist’s book of 1947 Jazz which he considered to be a “chromatic and rhythmic improvisation” the structure of rhythm and repetition broken by the unexpected action of improvisations.

And there are countless others, including American artist Stuart Davis, who desribed jazz as “a continuous source of inspiration in my work” an American art form in which he discovered “the same quality of art that I found in the best European painting”.

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 17, 2012 at 7:30 am

Models and modelling: Thomas Demand at Nottingham Contemporary

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Walking towards Model Studies the Thomas Demand exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, and having forgotten whose work was on show, I felt sure that I was walking towards an exhibition of abstract paintings.

In fact, they are large photographs of small architectural models. The scale tends to flatten out the space and to produce large areas of lightly modulated colour, hence the resemblance to American abstract paintings of the 50s and 60s. When you get a bit closer the space in the photos becomes more apparent, it reminds me of the space in a cubist paintings now. I can imagine the artist bending a craning to get into the tiny models attempting to experience it for himself, in a way similar to the cubist modelling of space, as experienced in time.

Demand is known for his photographs of life-size models, made by him, of architectural interiors like the Oval Office, paper models which are destroyed after being photographed. In these new works the models he photographed were made by the architect John Lautner (1911 – 1994), and discovered by Demand in the archives of the Getty Research Institute when he was artist-in residence there.

In this short video clip he talks to Alex Farquharson, the Director of Nottingham Contemporary, about how he found these models and about his interest in the status of the model: far from being a diminution of reality modelling is our way of perceiving the world and communicating our experience of it to others. (In NLP we think of models and modelling in a similar way. We make models of how people do what they do well so that we can teach it to others.) It occurred to me that these photographs, themselves 2 dimensional models, document the process of modelling. They show us something of how in modelling we alter scale, freeze time, distort space in order to ‘understand’.

Written by Andy Parkinson

March 7, 2012 at 8:45 am

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.

Against Nature ( A Rebours)

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Previously, I posted about an artwork by Klaus Weber subtitled Against Nature an allusion to the novel A Rebours (Against Nature, or alternatively Against the Grain) by J.K. Huysmans.

I had also seen a photo of another art work entitled Against Nature, this one by David Batchelor and I had wondered if the latter work also referenced the Huysmans novel. Noting that it was on display at the University of Warwick, I hoped to see it soon. Well, soon arrived recently and I got to view the piece. I also recently got to talk with the artist, who confirmed the reference.

against nature 1 against nature 2 against nature 3 against nature 7

Reading his book Chromophobia, the reference might have been obvious. He writes with affection on A Rebours.

The colours in the piece are ‘unnatural’, neon, flourescent, artificial, of the city rather than of ‘nature’. Made from second-hand, discarded lightboxes, neon signs, exit signs etc, with painted plexiglas and light shone through them, they are also repaired, re-used and recycled (so not “against nature” in that respect).

I heard him say recently that there is too much brown, grey and magnolia (non-colours) in British contemporary art, and that you can hardly speak of “bright grey” or “bright brown”. I think he is right (though I did shortly afterwards hear someone use just that term “bright brown”. The sentence went something like: “It’s not a dull brown though, it is a bright brown… copper”).

I love this piece of work. It has some painting in it even though we would hardly call it a painting. It is almost as if the colours have been freed from the constraints of pigment and medium, yet in a totally unnatural way. “Pure” and “impure” at the same time.