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abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Dan Roach

Summer Mix at Turps Banana Gallery

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Summer Mix at Turps Banana Gallery is their first salon-style summer show. I am delighted to be included in such company. The artists are as follows.

Jessie Browne, Rose Davey, Carlos David, Dan Davis, Matthew Draper, Stuart Elliot, Louise Evans, James Fisher, Kirsten Glass, Kate Groobey, Lewis Henderson, Sam Herbert, Günther Herbst, Reece Jones, Richard Kirwan, Hannah Knox. Rachel Levitas, Wendy McLean, Mali Morris, Andy Parkinson, Katie Pratt, Dan Roach, David Ryan, Kate Shepherd, Marianne Shorten, Damian Taylor, Alaena Turner, Joan Waltemath, Simon Willems, Mela Yerka, Neil Zakiewicz

My own little painting comprises two 12″ x 12″ canvases, a duo, or perhaps even better, a double or twins, as one is identical to the other, in terms of the process used for dividing each square. One of the things that interests me when the two are presented side by side, almost adjoined, is that what was edge becomes centre. The yellow line that, as edge, was almost unnoticeable, as centre becomes quite prominent.

Andy Parkinson, Duo: 92 division square 1 & 2, 2015, acrylic on canvas, two canvases each one 12

Andy Parkinson, Ninety-Two Division Square Duo, 2015, acrylic on canvas, two canvases each one 12″ x 12″

At the centre of the exhibition, and quite prominent, is a wonderful Richard Kirwan painting, Frame of Reference. It is as disorienting as it is strident, with flat dayglow colours arranged in bands, supporting white stencilled asterisks that appear to rotate. There’s a strange spatial thing going on but with absolutely no attempt to depict a place where something happens. There’s no picture here, but some of the asterisk shapes are closer to me than others, which seem more to recede, especially when comparing a set of asterisks on a different band of the same colour. I am looking now on the fifth row down in the central black band and comparing the two asterisks there with the two on black in the row above, quite a deep space seems to open up between the two sets. And this keeps happening as I look at other parts of the painting too. So there’s the illusion of movement and the illusion of space yet no illusionary scene within which a narrative might develop.

Richard Kirwan, Frame of Reference, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 137 cm. My photo.

Richard Kirwan, Frame of Reference, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 137 cm. My photo.

Crossings (Red), by Mali Morris, a smaller, slower painting, less strident than the Kirwan, has a rich overall red quality to it, even the yellow that acts as a ground for criss-crossing red lines seems to have red beneath it, shining through. If for a moment, we perceive the yellow ground as negative space then the lines that zig-zag, one horizontally, and one vertically, are positive figures, above or in front of it. However, the yellow pushes forward, no longer content to be ground, it seeks to become figure, and my reading of the space becomes more complex. Losing my initial sense of lines traversing a flat ground, I now perceive the yellow rectangle at bottom right to be way in front of the one diagonally opposite, but only long enough for the spatial relationships to shift again, so that the converse is now true. I am also becoming more aware of the fleshy pinky-orangey-red shape on the right hand edge pulling spatially forward of the crossing lines, suggesting that it may be part of another larger shape, which is itself obscured by the canvas edge, similar to the way in which edges sometimes crop figures in snap-shot photography. (There’s a lot more to be said about this delightful painting, which I hope to find time for at a later date.)

Mali Morris, Crossings (Red), 2014, acrylic on canvas 43 x 60 cm, my photo.

Mali Morris, Crossings (Red), 2014, acrylic on canvas 43 x 60 cm. My photo.

Whilst I think it unlikely that Morris is deliberately connecting to photography, there are other works here that may have a more direct link, such as Damian Taylor’s Untitled (in), which reproduces the inside of the metal support he uses to paint on, like a photocopy of the inside of a stretcher. The work takes the form of a white monochrome, very nearly a picture of nothing, a representation of itself in its blank state. Based on information from Taylor’s website, (rather than from sensory evidence I must admit, even though I am looking directly at the work), I think it is a resin cast of the inside of a folded metal tray. I can see smudges and incidental hand prints or dirt marks, and not much else. Is it a painting, a sculpture or a print? And are all paintings all three of these anyway? What, to begin with, looked very slight now becomes complex, first intellectually and then, as a result, visually. I do think it is that way around in this work. Though either way it is a fascinating piece, and I am totally intrigued by it.

Damian Taylor, Untitled (in), 2015, Pigmented epoxy resin, glass fibre, honeycomb aluminium, 69 × 48 cm. My photo

Damian Taylor, Untitled (in), 2015, Pigmented epoxy resin, glass fibre, honeycomb aluminium, 69 × 48 cm. My photo

There are other monochromes here too: Louise Evans’ Untitled (Russet), and possibly Stuart Elliot’s Untitled, may be best thought of in this category, as may Rose Davey’s Untitled pair of paintings and Dan Roach’s meticulously painted Homebound, which is not a monochrome in the sense of a potentially imageless coloured surface, but rather in the sense that there is one colour, white, on an unprimed canvas support. Here, overlapping layers of natural hexagonal cells, reminiscent of a wasp nest, create a swirling circular movement that becomes a vortex, deepening spatially the more I view it. In Rose Davey’s double painting each panel presents a blue rectangle bounded by a brown band, as if the blue were mounted on the brown. At first appearance the two panels are identical. However, like seeing twins and only gradually perceiving the differences, I start to notice that the two blues are not the same. It is actually Katrina Blannin who points out to me the possible changes in hue, yet it remains unclear to us whether it is simply that the frames are of different browns, one being nearer to yellow the other being nearer to violet, thereby creating different experiences of the “same” blue or whether in fact the two blues are physically different. My money is on the frames alone being different.

Left: Rose Davey, Untitled, 2011, acrylic and emulsion paint on plywood panels, 60 x 40 x 4cm each. Right: Dan Roach, Homebound, 2012, mixed media on canvas, 70 x 60cm. My photo

Left: Rose Davey, Untitled, 2011, acrylic and emulsion paint on plywood panels, 60 x 40 x 4cm each. Right: Dan Roach, Homebound, 2012, mixed media on canvas, 70 x 60cm. My photo

David Ryan’s Set 2 (c) also seems to have some doubling going on, this time within the one painting, in the repetition of rectangles that occupy different spaces, one in lime green, one in yellow ochre and one in white, as well as the containing rectangle of the support. The green appears to be an opaque “outer” whereas the ochre houses some internal happening or other, stage like in appearance, almost like a play within a play.

There is contrast in the ways in which different parts are painted: scumbled brushstrokes or gestural rhythms differentiating themselves from areas of flat matt colour.  The more clearly delineated rectangles cluster towards the top left quadrant of the painting, almost in conflict with the unformed-ness of the rest of the canvas, “we three against the world”.

David Ryan, Set 2 (c), 2015, oil on linen 25 x 30 cm. My photo

David Ryan, Set 2 (c), 2015, oil on linen 25 x 30 cm. My photo

James Fisher’s painting may look abstract, with geometric shapes in a non literal pictorial space. However, it contains clear representational elements, a fan, or a stairway, along with architectural cubes, suggestive of a fortress or castle ramparts alongside the natural geometry of plants, or animals, sponges perhaps and what could resemble a sea creature, at first I am thinking coral, then even a brain a heart or some other internal organ. There is imagery, and possibly some narrative that is hinted at, evoked, but only ambiguously described,  rather like in a dream, or a song or a poem. The work is named after the traditional Irish folk song Eileen Aroon. Could it be that a painting may evoke in a similar way to a song, and yet also be less fleeting, more fixed, possibly maintaining a beauty that does not fade?

James Fisher, Eileen Aroon, 2013, oil on linen, 52 x 57 cm. My photo

James Fisher, Eileen Aroon, 2013, oil on linen, 52 x 57 cm. My photo

When, like the dawning day
Eileen Aroon
Love sends his early ray
Eileen Aroon
What makes his dawning glow
Changeless through joy and woe
Only the constant know
Eileen Aroon

Were she no longer true
Eileen Aroon
What would her lover do
Eileen Aroon
Fly with a broken chain
Far o’er the bounding main
Never to love again
Eileen Aroon

Youth must in time decay
Eileen Aroon
Beauty must fade away
Eileen Aroon
Castles are sacked in war
Chieftains are scattered far
Truth is a fixed star
Eileen Aroon

Summer Mix is on at Turps Banana Gallery until 15 August, opening times Fridays and Saturdays 12-6pm

The Discipline of Painting

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“Before there was art, there was painting”, so says Barry Schwabsky in his essay Everyday Painting in the introduction to Vitamin P2. In the earlier book Vitamin P he explored the relationship between painting as art and painting as an art, a specific discipline. Throughout its history painters have questioned, explored and challenged the boundaries of that discipline. So much so that its definition has become somewhat unstable, to the extent that it might be better to think of it as an ‘indiscipline’ as Daniel Sturgis et al did in the exhibition The Indiscipline of Painting, that opened at Tate St Ives in October 2011 and toured to Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre in January 2012, presenting a “partial and partisan” survey of abstract painting from the 60’s until now.

David Manley makes a tongue in cheek reference to that show entitling the new exhibition at Harrington Mill Studios The Discipline of Painting, featuring a ‘control group’ of works: one by Manley from 1973 along with two owned by him, a Sean Scully painting on paper from 1980 and a recent drawing on paper by David Tremlett, alongside paintings by David Ainley, Katrina Blannin, Luke Frost, Lauri Hopkins, Dan Roach, Andy Parkinson, and Trevor Sutton.

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It used to be common to divide the discipline of painting into sub-categories or genres, still life, landscape, history painting etc, and whereas there was a time when abstraction looked like it might transcend all those genres it now appears to have become a genre, or tradition, of its own. That tradition could itself be divided into two approaches one that looks “disciplined”, we might even say “austere”, as opposed to a looser more casualist approach, where “spontaneity” and “improvisation” are the watch words. According to the gallery notes, “The selection of works on display shows an abiding and durable commitment to a disciplined abstraction that foregrounds an aspect of colour and form and a certain ‘discipline’ in construction”. (A second exhibition will explore the other approach.)

Luke Frost’s paintings have been described as “austerely reductive, minimal and hard edged” whilst also being “curiously alluring”. For me there’s something paradoxical about them, that such asceticism can at the same time be so wantonly pleasurable, that pared-down emptiness can give rise to such rich fullness. Deep Brilliant Blue Volts and Tangerine Volts are highly coloured square monochrome canvases with a fine line frame, painted in a colour the complementary of the ground. This subtle intervention elicits heightened visual excitation. The space is transformed by the frame in much the same way as, in language, meaning is transformed by context or ones “frame of reference”. The colour within the frame is ‘objectively’ the same as the colour around the frame, yet I experience it as a different colour. The edge and the central colour occupies literally the same space or plane yet subjectively the outer edge is spatially nearer than the middle. It’s like looking through a window onto an infinite field of colour. Then, as I turn away fractionally the painting seems to shift, or shudder optically, as if calling my attention back to it. It doesn’t want to let me go, and I don’t want to stop looking at it. We are locked into an exchange, a deeply contemplative conversation. Yet there’s no pseudo-spirituality in this experience, reminded as I am of the artificiality of the colours, and the matter of fact-ness of their presentation, something along the lines of Frank Stella’s famous “what you see is what you see”. However, seeing is a truly remarkable experience always involving more than the strictly visual.

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Katrina Blannin’s paintings are similarly more-than factual. The three on show here are ‘the same’ in size and in design, but look very different because of the differences in colour. I have the sense of holding the whole thing constant and changing just one thing, and everything changes, recalling how in any system a change to a part always has consequences for the whole. Tracking such changes requires a serial approach, so it is particularly helpful to get three in a row here. Two are darker paintings, in indefinable blue/black/green/greys, applied in glazes (hence the difficulty of identifying specific names for the colours), with highlights in yellows, and one is in greys much nearer to white with warmer hues, creating an experience quite different to the other two. In fact so different that I have to be reminded that the design employed is ‘the same’ as in the other two paintings. Manley has positioned the two darker paintings slightly closer to each other than to the third one, a strategy that seems to heighten the contrast, whilst also allowing the two darker works to be read as a pair, hinting at relationships between the two that Blannin sometimes makes explicit in her own diptychs. The diagonal arrangement of tones and colour sets up a subjective experience of shifting planes, never just “this” or just “that” but sometimes “this” and sometimes “that”, an experience that is fundamentally time dependant.

Trevor Sutton’s beautiful paintings here are separated in time by twenty years, Rue Jacob, a circular painting with a central two tone irregular hexad shape situated within a field of fluctuating brown/grey hues, being painted in 1992, and Raindance, a vertical rectangular grid with four columns and sixteen rows in reds, pinks, greys, browns and blacks, having been painted only last year. They testify to this artist’s disciplined commitment to the idea of abstraction and to its ongoing exploration. Remembering that I saw a remarkable painting by Sutton in a show last year, Abstract Painting in the Seventies, higher in colour than these at HMS, I make comparisons in my head and note the “continued vigour” of his oeuvre (borrowing a phrase from Manley).

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At the other end of the scale as far as years of experience goes, Lauri Hopkins a recent graduate, shows the continued relevance of the tradition for younger artists. Her wonderful constructions made from combinations of different coloured book covers recall Albers and Rothko, in miniature. Strictly speaking they are collages, but they read like paintings.

Once again I am impressed by Dan Roach’s paintings. The two here are quite different, in scale and colour, yet similar in that they employ his now customary arrangements of semi-transparent cell-like structures, situated in an indefinite space. That it is now possible to present abstract paintings on an almost miniature scale seems to me to be something new in the tradition, and Roach’s paintings have contributed to this development.

Dan Roach, Falling Up the West, 2012, Oil and Wax on Oak, 14.5cm x 19.5cm. Image by Courtesy of HMS

Dan Roach, Falling Up the West, 2012, Oil and Wax on Oak, 14.5cm x 19.5cm. Image by Courtesy of HMS

The paintings by David Ainley are colour monochromes built up in layers of thick paint, forming a substantial surface into which Ainley scores lines, revealing parts of the underpainting, in a process that is similar to excavation or mining. I am interested in the systematicity of the process as well as in the resultant ‘image’, each one a subtly interrupted surface, eliciting a state-altering meditative response. I choose to prolong the experience of viewing. There’s opticality here that, for me, is always more than the “purely optical”, including a sensing of time, suspended, distorted, and also simply passing, and with it a metaphorical connection to ideas related to mining, and toil.

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I am pleased to have one of my own paintings hung alongside Ainley’s works. I think there are some resonances, in the final look, an interrupted surface that I hope engages the eye/brain, and in the process, almost in reverse. In my painting Screen (Yellow Band) it is more the process of covering than excavating that interests me. Layers of colour are hidden or covered, without being entirely obliterated. A black and white diagonal chequer pattern inadequately hides what’s underneath, forcing colour to the edges of each individual rhombus shape, and in this painting also to the right hand edge of the support, where a yellow vertical band is allowed to remain.

The Discipline of Painting is on show at Harrington Mill Studios until 27 October with a viewing on Saturday 26 October, 2-5PM. The HMS Open Studios also takes place Saturday 26 October 2-5PM and Sunday 27 October, 11-4PM

Installation shots by courtesy of David Manley

Written by Andy Parkinson

October 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Coming Soon to HMS

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The Discipline of Painting, curated by David Manley, 6 Oct to to 27 Oct, with View on Saturday 26 Oct, 2PM to 5PM, at Harrington Mill Studios, Long Eaton.

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Without an Edge There is no Middle, at Pluspace

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Pluspace, in the Meter Rooms, just on the edge of Coventry city centre, is host to a wonderful exhibition celebrating the continuing exploration of the possibilities inherent in abstract painting. Without an Edge There is no Middle brings together a diverse set of contemporary abstract painters that “look beyond the comfort of the safe harbour of the middle, and push towards the unknown edges”. Curated by Matthew Macaulay, it captures, if just for a moment, that determined if sometimes gradual, pushing out towards the edge of what painting can be and do. No longer a “progression” as it might once have seemed, and inevitably including repetition or recommencement, there is also a faltering “progress” of sorts, a wending of different ways towards one end.

The artists exhibited are Katrina Blannin, Julian Brown, Gordon Dalton, Andrew Graves, Terry Greene, Mark Kennard, Hannah Knox, Mali Morris, Joanna Phelps, Dan Roach, David Ryan, Andrew Seto, and David Webb.

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Installation shot. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

Again, I find that the paintings of Mali Morris quite literally take my breath away. I don’t know that I have ever seen colour so luminous, or space, self evidently the result of painterly gesture or manipulation, so mysterious. The central ‘figure’ in Blue Flame, a near perfectly formed blue circle supporting a further inchoate circle that resembles a flame, hovers above a gestural violet ground, itself resting upon a ground of the same colour as the blue flame, clearly seen at the top left edge but also shining through the darker gestural brushstrokes. However, this figure in the middle is made of the same stuff as the edge, created as it is by the removal of the upper layers of paint, an inverted keyhole through which a lower layer of blue ground is reveled, yet reading as if it were a positive shape above the ground.

Mali Morris, Blue Flame, Image by courtesy of the artist via Pluspace

Mali Morris, Blue Flame, Acrylic on Canvas, Image by courtesy of the artist via Pluspace

I think it is this play of figure and ground, both literal and optical, combined with the quality of colour/light, that I find so appealing in paintings by Morris, and I can hardly help saying “that’s beautiful” when I look at them.

Almost, includes a gestural white helix over a multicolored ground, possible wet on wet, creating not just a sweeping rhythm but also depth through and beyond the gesture, with sentinel-like coloured discs that appear impossibly to be both tied to the surface by an imaginary or obscured grid and also free floating in space, almost airborne but held back also by the edges of the support.  Yet, as with Blue Flame, those positive circular shapes hovering “above” are clearly excavations of lower layers of colour.

Mali Morris, Almost

Mali Morris, Almost, Acrylic on Canvas, Image by courtesy of the artist via Pluspace

I don’t think it is just my playing with the title of the exhibition that leads me to pay attention to the edges of many of the paintings here, sometimes as if the action gets pushed outwards, as in Andrew Graves audacious painting Tomorrow. a stained canvas of magenta stapled over a blue canvas, covering it almost entirely, the colour contrast taking place right at the edge, creating tension between the framed image and the parameters of the object. I am tempted to liken it to colour field painting on a small scale, if that were possible.

Andrew Graves, Tomorrow, 2013, Oil on Canvas, image by courtesy of Pluspace

Andrew Graves, Tomorrow, 2013, Oil on Canvas, image by courtesy of Pluspace

Mark Kennard‘s Untitled, is more or less a monochrome ground, again with the action taking place towards the edges as the bars of the stretcher seem to bleed through to the surface, creating a frame, within which barely perceptible events take place. In his Nine Lines on Black, narrow, differently coloured lines, all of similar length, interrupt a black ground, each line having at least one end touching an edge, and non of them crossing each other. The subtlest of interventions resulting in spatial shifts, clearly two dimensional yet also suggesting box-like objects on a floor.

But it isn’t the edge I pay attention to in the Andrew Seto paintings. More pictorial, they seem to be paintings of something, as if structures formed of triangles situated in a sparse landscape or interior were actually constructed of sumptuous oil paint.  They have this sculptural look to them, even though in the two paintings here, Ahead and Pom Pom, there is no horizon line, (in contrast to Seto’s Device, currently on show at the Lion and Lamb Gallery), so situating them in a space becomes more difficult, and alternative interpretations might assert themselves. Ahead looks totemic, recalling African masks as painted by Picasso, whilst the thickness of the paint has something Auerbachian about it , but richer in colour and without the external referent. Around the central figure, the warm area that I am reading as ‘background’ pushes forward creating depth through the latticework structure only to lead the eye back to the surface again. Pom Pom, is a flatter image, without the impasto, in rich grey and blue, also exploiting triangular forms with much more of an alternation between figure and ground. Seto seems to have discovered a fascinating modular structure that is capable of multiple combination, extension and variation.

Andrew Seto, Ahead, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

Andrew Seto, Ahead, Oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist via Pluspace

Terry Greene‘s  They’re not scared of you, is an attractive painting with simple bar shapes of blue on ochre against a variegated green and blue ground, It’s simple yet has the appearance of having been hard to come by, there are signs of struggle. I reflect on Greene’s process, thinking that the first thing that goes down on the canvas is necessarily a “mistake”, the painting appearing to have progressed via a series of “corrections” not knowing what the end will look like until it arrives. The starting point is an act of faith, like Abraham “who went out without knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8). It occurs to me that abstraction could be classified according to the amount of planning that takes place before work commences. Terry Greene would be at one end of the scale, with say, Katrina Blannin at the opposite end.

David Ryan‘s paintings might include improvised events within a planned structure, possibly comprising a systematic study. The two paintings here Set c and Set 5 (d), both read to me like paintings within a painting, different versions of abstraction in conversation with each other, both of them including a monochrome and a more gestural piece, signs almost, of differing approaches, held together within a frame, forming a kind of “gallery” where they jostle for attention, achieving a continuous push-pull effect.

installation shot, above David Ryan, Set C, oil on canvas, below Terry Greene, They're not scared of you, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

installation shot, above David Ryan, Set C, oil on canvas, below Terry Greene, They’re not scared of you, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

I am enjoying seeing two David Webb paintings, a very recent one Untitled (Windmill) close to the older, Smoking Room (Blue) the former is more abstract the latter more obviously on the edge of figuration. I love its humour and simplicity. The Dan Roach paintings also nod towards figuration in that the beautiful hexagonal forms he employs could be cells of a honeycomb, yet they inhabit only this abstract space, combining in transparent overlapping layers to form an entirely abstract arrangement, virtually impossible to tell which layers are above and which below when I allow my attention to take in more than two cells. There is something entirely congruent about the scale of these paintings in relation to the cells: architecture in miniature, challenging, along with other artists here, the notion that abstraction must necessarily be big.

Dan Roach, Aye Takeuder. Oil Acrylic and Whiting on Panel. Image by courtesy of  Pluspace

Dan Roach, Aye Takeuder. Oil Acrylic and Whiting on Panel. Image by courtesy of the artist via Pluspace

The hexagonal or hexad form also features strongly in Katrina Blannin‘s work but if Roach’s hexagons are organic in character Blannins are geometric, rather than allowing overlapping of forms, she explores the ‘natural’ propensity of geometric hexagons, and triangles to tessellate.

Katrina Blannin, Double Hexad Black Pink. Acrylic on Line. Image by courtesy of the Artist via Pluspace

Katrina Blannin, Double Hexad Black Pink. Acrylic on Linen. Image by courtesy of the Artist via Pluspace

Double Hexad – Black Pink, one of an ongoing series, does however have layering of a different kind, each geometric form being achieved by applying paint in glazes, layer upon layer until the colour and tone make visual sense, each shape being visible as part but without distracting from the perception of the whole. I am fascinated by the way the texture and weave of the linen shows through, creating a two-tone effect, the pinks appearing to glisten, and where areas are very closely matched in hue or value they are demarcated by a narrow drawn line. The  space appears to bend. It has depth to it, but shifting gently, undulating almost as my perception of the image changes. One of the qualities of a two dimensional image is ‘simultaneity’, more than one event can be seen at once, yet these tessellating forms seem to contradict that characteristic, multiple readings being possible, but sequentially not simultaneously. And that’s surely what creates the experience of fascination for the viewer: seeing the image, for example with blacks as positive shapes, giving way to seeing it with blacks as negative spaces and then trying to get the former view back again and finding it difficult to do so, is enchanting. It’s also possible that a new reading will suddenly present itself, causing surprise for the viewer, as no doubt it did also for the artist during the empirical process of making the painting. Blannin says it this way:

 Whatever the intention, the finished work is never entirely as envisaged. the power of surprise is important: its Gestalt, or ability to be more than the sum of its parts.

The 22 paintings in this exhibition all have an edginess about them that makes them appealing, and all worth spending some time with, all approaching the task of painting and of abstract painting in particular, in different and interesting ways.

The exhibition title is based on two pieces of prose by the author and poet Toby Litt which can be read on the Pluspace website.

Without an Edge There is no Middle continues until 8 September, Friday, Saturday 11am – 5pm (closed Saturday 24 August) or appointments can be made by emailing matthew@pluspace.com

Nothing Plain at Plane Space

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There’s nothing plain about Plane Space, an exhibition of abstract paintings, at Worcester Cathedral Crypt, 8 – 15 September 2012, curated by Dan Roach, artist in residence there. The show includes paintings by Karl Bielik, Katrina Blannin, Sarah McNulty, Dan Roach, Paul Rosenbloom and Gwennan Thomas, scattered throughout the crypt, rather than ‘hung’,  I guess partially because of the limitations of using such a poetic space (I would be amazed if you were allowed to drive screws into the ancient wall). I had no idea when I visited that as well  as negotiating the planar space of the abstract paintings on show, those paintings themselves would also be influencing me to explore the anything but plain space of the Cathedral Crypt, in a manner not unlike ‘hunt the thimble’.

 

Nearly every church building I  have seen today has an ‘Open’ sign outside it. Worcester Cathedral is no exception, and there are numerous visitors to the crypt who had no expectation of seeing paintings here. On entering, they look slightly confused, as if to ask (without actually asking anyone) “what are these people looking at?” Their experience may have been in the opposite direction to my own. I came to view paintings and they seemed to lead me to the space, they came for the space and it presented them with the paintings. Like the tiny Dan Roach situated at the foot of a statue.

When I posted previously about a Dan Roach painting, Zak Braiterman made the observation that my write-up sounded to him like a description of religion, something to do with clearing away of layers and gestural marks on the ritual surface . I am not sure I quite get it, yet it’s strange now to be seeing Roach paintings in this religious setting. And there is something of a ritual quality to his production, repeating his now familiar hexagonal motif, as if attempting to understand it rather than just to ‘use’ it, or as if the act of painting is a process of learning, of coming to know something that may already be known by others but for the learner is known for the first time, a revelation.

Dan Roach, New Unit, 2012, Oil and wax on oak, 20 x 34cm

In this painting the hexagonal motifs float in a space that I cannot help but see as deeper than the two-dimensional flat plane that I know it is and that the painting itself keeps reminding me it is, by the refusal to open up a window on the world of recognizable objects, almost as if I find myself at the moment where perception attempts to become cognition and the attempt is continually thwarted. Maybe that moment (which, following John Grinder and Judith DeLozier, I think of as similar to the state that Carlos Castaneda referred to as “stopping the world”) holds information for us, and abstract painting allows us to remain there for longer than we usually do. Those organic hexagons could settle, they could join in network-like formation, yet they remain perpetually frozen in that space-time moment of being just about to form.

Katrina Blannin’s marvelous paintings here look fully formed, yet in each one there is also a shifting, just when you think you’ve ‘got it’ the forms or gestalts shift and you notice a different reading, and then another, and another.

Even the fact that we so clearly have a series: diptychs exploring the same arrangement of triangles and rectangles in different colours, that change things remarkably, reminds me of the unfixedness of fixed things, or that within a rational order is infinite variety. I like seeing two of them here, and I hope for an occasion to see the whole series together. On seeing the first one, even in this small space, separated far enough from the other as to be unaware of its presence, my reaction is to wonder if it is the same one I had seen recently at the Double Vision exhibition at the Lion and Lamb Gallery. Even though I know it is not the same, the colours are different, I consider it possible that I am mis-remembering it. On seeing the second diptych here, I realise that both these two are different to the one I saw a few weeks previously. I am an identical twin and when my brother and I are apart we often get mistaken for one another, which could not happen when we are together. I think these paintings are like that.

In a similar way to the series reminding me that this one work is also a part of a larger whole, a system, this particular ‘hang’ sets up clear connections with the surroundings so that it is not just each painting that I am viewing but its relationship to a wider context. It would be difficult not to notice the beauty in the contrast between the copper colours in the wall and the blues in Blannin’s Hexad painting.

Similarly, the Sarah McNulty painting M (II), cannot not be connected to the environment when it is already placed on concrete before then being placed here in this space. Other paintings here sometimes have a pebble or a piece of wood perhaps, discretely placed beneath them to keep them straight, but these are not part of the painting whereas in the McNulty the medium is “Gouache on Linen on  Concrete”. The relationship between art work and plinth sounds like a concern more associated with sculpture. The object-ness of an abstract painting also brings this consideration to mind in painting and being in this space seems to emphasise that.

The painting Apostrophe by Karl Beilik seems to assert that abstract painting can evoke places and events, and that a motif might be borrowed from everyday text, yet in such a way that is ambiguous, are they “really” apostrophes or do they just look a bit like them?

Gwennan Thomas’s paintings are similarly ambiguous: forms that don’t quite form, bringing my attention to the way objects are formed or coded, before ever considering what they might mean.

The Paul Rosenblooms resemble cave paintings, marks etched into painted grounds, gestures and ritual again maybe, invoking a past much older even than Worcester Cathedral’s Norman origins, or of abstraction’s barely 100-year-old history.

On viewing these abstract paintings at Plane Space, I could easily begin to speculate on the status of abstract painting in contemporary art, for some already consigned to the crypt, painting being dead and abstract painting especially so, quite possibly in danger of becoming a mere footnote in its ancient history. Here in this crypt however, it seems very much alive, demonstrating its power to evoke and reveal, not so much the visual world outside it as the very coding of the visual.

Dan Roach etc.

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I wish I had seen the Dan Roach exhibition at Harrington Mill Studios in 2010, having recently viewed a magnificent painting by him at the Double Vision show at the Lion and Lamb Gallery…

…beautifully painted, the way that various layers show through carefully rendered transparent shapes, themselves forming a rhythm that echoes the central figure, and contrasting with other shapes that are also made by revealing underpainted areas but this time as if clearing away the top layer to allow a gestural mark to come right up to the surface.

I am glad that David Manley recently brought my attention to another opportunity to see work by Dan Roach at the upcoming Plane Space exhibition in Worcester Cathedral from 8 to 15 September.

It also includes, Katrina Blannin and Sarah McNulty (they also showed work at Double Vision) as well as Paul Rosenbloom, Gwennan Thomas and Karl Bielik. Thinking of Bielik there’s this good write-up of a studio visit by Paul Bhenke at Structure and Imagery.

More from Double Vision

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The Double Vision show at Lion and Lamb Gallery, curated by Katrina Blannin and showing until 14 July 2012 is an excellent selection of paintings by abstract artists working today. I enjoyed every work in this show, so excuse me if I come back to it more than once, to comment about another painting or two.

My snapshot of Geoffrey Rigden’s painting “Erik” 2012, 30.5 x 30.5 cm

Geoffrey Rigden’s Erik reminds me of a painting I saw at the Hepworth Wakefield last year by John Piper: Forms on a White Ground, 1935. It may simply be that they both contain ‘forms on a white ground’ and that the forms could be people, even whilst so clearly not being. The connection is no doubt an entirely personal one. Seeing this Rigden painting triggered my experience of the John Piper, of how ‘big’ the little painting had seemed to be, and how strange. I love the informality of the geometry, its ‘painterliness’ and the playing with space. My eye gets taken into those spaces in the centre and the figure (three rhombus shapes combined) on the left appears to be in front of the one on the right (again, not really a figure so much as four black shapes that my eye groups together and interprets as a figure), that ochre square in the bottom left is definitely in front of the red/brown square, until suddenly the white space in the middle becomes figure, softer and slightly curved, which for less than a second might be a female figure, or a face. And then my eye rests on the odd little cluster of triangular shapes towards the top centre of the painting which could be a painting all of its own, a painting within the painting perhaps, and then the upper pointing triangle takes me up and around the whole again. I have no sense that this is “abstracted from” anything, yet it does have some connections to picture-making and composition that I think of as “figurative” even within the larger frame of abstraction.

I find less picture-making in the painting by Estelle Thompson.

My (poor) snapshot of Estelle Thompson’s “Look at Me Now and Here I Am”, 2011, Oil on Panel, 50 x 40 cm

I first saw paintings by Thompson at the Angel Row Gallery in Nottingham in 200o and I was so impressed by them that I could hardly stay away. I worked near there at the time, so visiting them became my regular lunchtime activity for the duration of the show. Those paintings were stripe paintings, quite spectacular, eliciting lots of optical excitation. They grabbed your attention in a way that the painting here does not. It is almost as if Thompson says “now I have done that successfully, what would its opposite be like?” this painting rewards my attention rather than grabbing it. It is double in that we very clearly have a top and a bottom “half”, there’s also the duality of black and white VS colour (black and white is a major sub current in this exhibition), or rather it seems to highlight how black and white behave as colours. The red, black and white “half” of the painting looks harder to me than the bottom “half” of yellow/orange and a peach/flesh colour. The fleshy area also looks softer than any other section in the way the paint is applied too. This seems to contribute to my sometimes seeing the bottom “half” of the painting as sitting forward of the top “half” and sometimes seeing the other harder shapes as framing the soft fleshy area. And then the black and red seem to join forces with the yellow/orange to create a form in distinction to the white and flesh colour that become its ground. I hope it is not too grand to say that when looking at this painting I find that I am thinking first about what a strange thing this is but then about what a strange thing I am, that I can find many different ways of seeing such a “simple” arrangement of colour/shapes.

Does the title Look at Me Now and I am Here refer to this conversation I am having with the painting and with myself? I am reminded of that cartoon by Ad Reinhardt where a viewer of an abstract painting in an art gallery is mockingly asking “what does this represent?” only to be answered by the painting “what do you represent?” but the experience is more gentle than that. It is more like that greeting of West African origin that I came across in an NLP workshops with Robert Dilts, where one person says “I see you” and the other replies “I am here”. Until we are seen by another we do not yet exist, and that seems to be what’s going on here. This painting exists when I pay attention to it, and it rewards my continued looking with visual pleasure.

The other artists in this exhibition are: Chris Baker / Dominic Beattie / Isha Bøhling / Ian Bottle / Katrina Blannin/ Alice Browne / Simon Callery / Keith Coventry / Natalie Dower / Tom Hackney / Jumpei Kinoshita / Hannah Knox / John McLean/ Sarah McNulty / Neil Mendock / Mali Morris/ Jost Münster / Selma Parlour / Dan Roach / Danny Rolph / David Ryan / Julian Wakelin.