Posts Tagged ‘dance’
The new exhibition at the Lion and Lamb Gallery entitled Other Objects, curated by Caterina Lewis and Gwennan Thomas, includes paintings and objects by Karl Bielik, Alice Cretney, Vincent Hawkins, Caterina Lewis, Wendy McLean, Gwennan Thomas, and David Webb and is on show until 13 July.
According to the gallery notes, the works, whilst coming from varied places of logic around abstraction, at some point in their realisation share a notion of object and placing them in proximity to other objects, persons or spaces, new relationships emerge inviting us to look again. For me “object” and “relationship” are key words in any consideration of abstract painting, even though they tend to get used in contradictory ways: in abstraction the object (content) gives way to relationship (form), or conversely the relationship (to content) gives way to the autonomous object (form).
Stepping into the Lion and Lamb Gallery, in the back room of a London pub, and being a keen social dancer, I notice that the music being played in the pub, is a good jive tune, and letting slip my interest to Caterina Lewis, we reflect on the way that, in ballroom dancing, forms that were once derived from certain contents now operate independently of them. In Tango the hold, and head flick, may once have been related to the avoidance of the gaucho’s smell, or in old-time dancing the man placing his left hand firmly on his hip once had the purpose of keeping his sword out of the way. No longer wearing a sword, the male dancer continues to place his hand on his hip, the object has gone and only the relationship remains.
Alice Cretney’s sculptural ‘paintings’ are autonomous objects, their relationship to everyday objects is that they are ‘other’ in their “purposeless purposiveness” to borrow a phrase from Kant. The two-part installation here seems to offer two takes on painting’s rectangular picture plane, one that is three dimensional by virtue of being stacked and the other by being rolled. On the linoleum a set of painted gestural marks cannot compete with the one sweeping gesture of the roll itself, resulting in a curling ‘B’ motif drawn in space by the edge of the lino.
Behind it, the Wendy McLean painting, Wall, a foil, a distance, could be a picture of a graffitied wall, a painting of a painting, if it weren’t so immaterial, so veil-like, the marks that I thought were graffiti looking now more like vague objects in an undefined space, receding to a yellow stripe down the left hand edge, except that now the yellow springs forward to meet the surface. To make sense of it I compare it with other paintings in my head, and whilst the association doesn’t quite feel right because McLean’s space is less cubistic, it is Lyonel Feininger that keeps coming to mind, the way his architectural objects give way to light and space, so that in the end, that’s all there is.
The light and space in Karl Bielik’s Widescreen, is interesting too. First of all there’s the literal, three dimensional space of the distressed, buckled object that appears to have been left outside overnight, or for a few nights perhaps! There is something quite beautiful about it as object alone, before ever considering the relationships within the non-literal space of the picture. Isn’t there a tradition in Japanese ceramics of damaging the vessel during its making in order for it not to be too “perfect”?
Turning my attention to the picture, I notice that white pigment, having been pushed into the canvas rather than painted upon it, reflects light back at me from within the painting, or from behind the group of drawn gestures that seem to dance across the top of a hard rectangle or box, possibly the ‘widescreen’ of the title. Above the centre line all is movement and lightness, whereas below it is stability and weight. But not quite solid. Taking my cue from the title, I imagine I am seeing objects on the top of a TV, light reflected back from a wall behind it but also generated from the TV screen below. Not that it is a representation of such a scene, but only that it is similar in structure, relationship again rather than objects. And thinking structurally, I am also tempted to speculate on other binary opposites suggested in the “above and below” of that centre line, oppositions like analogue above the line and digital below the line, or organic vs artificial, or unbound vs contained, but in doing so I become aware that so much of seeing is also interpreting, and that in observing I am also projecting, quite likely confusing facture and fiction.
The other Karl Bielik object on show here, a painting entitled Net, is also capable of provoking allusions, whilst at the same time being strictly non-representational.
Here paint, applied and removed, in an amazing variety of ways for such a modestly sized piece, collaborates with the viewer to construct a rich and interesting planar space that is somehow both coherent and ambiguous. Drips on the uppermost surface become structure in the ‘background’ as the free play of the painting process interacts with the free play of viewing in order to create a kind of meaning, there may be projected content (it is a stage, a face or a mask), personal meanings, but more fundamentally it’s this attempting to assign meaning that becomes the meaning of the work, relationship again as opposed to objects.
Beilik’s pictures are dialogues, improvisations, having little idea at the beginning, of what the painting will become, he proceeds to lay down paint and then he responds to what happens, leading eventually to the crystallization of some image. Working on twenty or so paintings at any one time, he starts from the unknown and takes steps towards a constructed ‘known’, at some stage possibly writing a title, likely based on an association, on the wall beside one of the paintings being made. It’s all process: ‘how’ rather than ‘what’, relationship rather than objects of content.
Caterina Lewis starts out with an image or ‘objects’ of content and empties them out during the painting process. We could use the expression “aesthetic reconstruction”. Quoting Henk Engel on Theo van Doesburg, Lewis and Thomas seem to allude both to the curation of the exhibition: the opening up of relationships between the objects on show, and to their own working methods:
In the aesthetic reconstruction…naturalism is breached. The object falls apart. the boundaries are abolished. A field of untied relationships opens up: relationships between parts of the object and parts of the environment.. but also with parts of other objects.
In Untitled (Yellow) Lewis seems to abolish the boundaries between objects as she wipes away previously applied paint, creating an absence, not so much ‘objects’ as an object, an exquisite surface.
It is difficult not to see a head, possibly of a religious figure, especially as light seems to emanate halo-like from the ‘face’, but then it could also be read as a torso, or as an arid landscape, but these are mere vestiges of ‘objects’ that were her starting point ending up with a “field of untied relationships”.
Her more recent painting Collar seems less glossy than Untitled (Yellow), a sketchy surface that to me looks like it is painted on canvas, though in fact it is panel. The drawing is delicate, her pictorial strategy being to use precision and accuracy in the service of the indefinite: fields of relationships again, rather than objects of content, yet the painting itself becoming autonomous object.
The Gwennan Thomas paintings have a vagueness about them too that I find fascinating, and I have a similar experience as with the Bielik paintings of trying to find meanings and resorting in the end to supplying my own, hence becoming aware of the meaning-making process rather than the ‘objects’ of meaning. The oxymoron “precisely vague” seem to sum up the character of Untitled, 2012. The surface is the result of careful painting, and when I get up close I feel sure that the detailed modelling must dutifully represent something, but I can get no clue as to what it is. Possibly Greenberg’s definition of modernism: “the imitation of imitation as process” applies here.
I find only few associations in David Webb’s Untitled (Tusker), where a somewhat threatening (elephantine?) grey figure takes up most of the space defined by two ‘screens’ one in front of the grey form and one behind. I am surprised that the orange of the far screen and the blue/grey of the near screen allows the space to be read as three dimensional, but it does, at least until the orange pushes forward to assert itself as figure after all and two black diagonal lines prevent the grey form from continuing to make sense as something journeying between two screens. Now I am reading the shapes purely as shapes, the grey ones painted in two different ways the ‘body’ almost forming a pool of diluted paint in contrast to the heavier painted ‘head’ that is more opaque. The application of paint has produced a few minor splashes and there are small lighter painted marks towards the edges which aren’t so easy to see in a photograph (click to enlarge). They look like happy accidents at first but then I see them as carefully included, almost as if the painting has become a catalogue of painterly marks or relationships.
This painting is not flat, but it keeps becoming flat. It is a picture, but it sometimes makes more sense to think of it as a catalogue, or better an empirical investigation. There’s something of that in Vincent Hawkins works on card and paper.
Whilst they are constructions, they do appear to contain some figural associations, for example in Untitled 2013, some of the shapes and colours bring to mind clouds and boats rendered in a somewhat cartoon style. However, it is the careful folding of the paper to create a relief and the cutting out to create negative shapes that forms both their unique content and their objecthood. Like Cretney’s installation these abstractions are both painting and sculpture, or perhaps they are neither painting nor sculpture but other objects that, together with the other objects on show here invite us to look again and to think relationship over content. It could even be that such an invitation contains wisdom that reaches beyond the boundaries of the purely visual, the autonomous object, far from being hermetically sealed, maintaining a relatedness to other objects, to the world of the everyday.
All photographs by Lorna Milburn
The Henk Engel quote is from “Theo van Doesburg & The Destruction of Architectural Theory” in Constructing a New World; Van Doesburg & The International Avant-Garde, 2009, London, Tate Publishing, p38.
The Clement Greenberg quote is from “Modernist Painting”, in The Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 4, Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957-1969, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p17.
I wonder of the painting by Jack Bush with the same title (see http://www.supremefiction.com/theidea/2012/04/the-lightness-of-jack-bush.html) was a reference to this tune. Popular models in abstract painting?
“Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” is a 1936 song, written by Louis Prima and first recorded by him with the New Orleans Gang and released in March 1936 as a 78 as Brunswick 7628 (with “It’s Been So Long” as the B side). It is strongly identified with the big band and swing eras. It was covered by Fletcher Henderson and most famously Benny Goodman.
The Benny Goodman’s version
When I learned Quickstep, I danced it with the rhythm of this song
There is an impression that results from a particular juxtaposition of colours, lights and shades: what one might call the music of painting
… is quoted in the frontispiece of Peter Vergo’s book The Music of Painting, first published in 2010 and just out in paperback.
according to Charles Darwent, Art Quarterly, it’s “a must-have for anyone interested in why modernism looks (and sounds) as it does”
good job I have it then! It was a birthday present, and I have just started reading it.
The front cover shows a reproduction of Theo van Doesburg’s Rhythm of a Russian Dance,1918. Music and dance have an obvious connection with each other and a less obvious one with painting. I have blogged about it before in relation to Mondrian, whose work also features in the book, in a chapter entitled Art, Jazz and Silence. I am also reminded of another book Music and Modern Art, edited by James Leggio, and containing a chapter by Harry Cooper called Popular Models: Fox-Trot and Jazz Band in Mondrian’s Abstraction.
In a recent Rough Cuts video, James Kalm reviews the Stanley Whitney exhibition Left to Right, at Team Gallery (some great pics here ) saying of Whitney “His approach to color and rhythm are akin to the spontaneous riffs of great jazz solos”.
In Blogland, Scott Van Holzen’s blog art in music is dedicated to paintings based on musical themes and Ruth Gray, tells of how listening to some old records, she feels inspired to paint the colours she hears. I guess that making a connection between visual, auditory and kinaesthetic arts is almost bound to get somewhat synaesthetic.
Piet Mondrian suggested that humanity seeks rest within motion, or “repose through movement” and he found an example of it in dance, referring possibly to the foxtrot, he said “each movement is immediately neutralized by a countermovement which signifies the search for equilibrium”.
Taking part in the ISTD dance medallist competition (ballroom, latin and sequence) at Castleford Civic Centre on 11 March, I thought that my own foxtrot seemed to have too much repose and not enough movement! Maybe I was feeling too relaxed after looking at the Henry Moore reclining figure on the way into the centre.
The reclining figure figures a lot in Henry Moore’s oeuvre, and he donated this one in 1980 to Castleford, the town where he was born, the Civic Centre having been officially opened a decade earlier on 24 March 1970.
The Civic Centre, a fine example of modernist architecture, designed by Derek Goad, is an optimistic looking building if ever I saw one, even now when it seems to reflect an optimism about the future that is a situated in the modernist period, when perhaps we believed more honestly in “a steady advance from the poor environment of the past to the more pleasant and brighter surroundings of the future”. One of the features of the building is its facing in precast concrete panels manufactured from a limestone aggregate chosen for its weathering properties: “it has been found to get naturally lighter in colour with exposure to the atmosphere so counteracting the darkening process caused by the atmosphere itself”. Apart from the darkening beneath the windows this hope, this countermovement does seem to have been realised.
I find it a hopeful place also by association, because of the activity (medallist competition dancing) for which I have been here a few times now. I go in filled with hope anyway! Sometimes I come out feeling even better than when I went in, other times less so. I first started to become interested in the building when I looked across the dancefloor/theatre and saw the wall sculpture, comissioned for the opening in 1970, silent, static, yet visually rhythmic (movement through repose perhaps). The dynamic rhythms of the dancefloor seem to be echoed in the sculptural forms.
The artist is Diana Dean, who was working with abstract geometric form in both painting and sculpture at the time, and the work, made in stainless steel, is entitled Symmetry in Opposition. I could wonder to what extent the title also echoes that idea of equilibrium found in the Mondrian quote above. Dean explained to me that at first the two projected squares were facing inwards with two corners touching, and then this changed to the outward projection which is why she called it Symmetry in Opposition.
Here are some photo’s of what it looked like in 1970.
I wonder if I also find Mondrian’s notion of the neutralisation of opposites in the contrast between the stasis of the final form Vs the activity of its making.
Dean moved to Canada in 1975, where she focused on painting and moved away from abstraction, the geometry hidden, as it were, within the structure, supporting the figuration. When I contacted her recently she replied saying “I felt it was quite synchronistic to receive your email this week as I had just begun a portrait painting with geometric patterning appearing in the carpet and all perspective lines in the room going to the left eye of the sitter. Maybe I am moving towards a new form of geometric abstraction again”.
A psychological reading might suggest that we are witnessing a “return of the repressed”.
(Thanks to Diana Dean and Derek Goad for supplying information and pictures for this blog post)
 Piet Mondrian. ‘Natural Reality and Abstract Reality: an essay in Trialogue Form’ (1919-1920) in Mondrian:
Natural Reality and Abstract Reality edited by Martin James (1995) p.27 quoted in Dancing with Mondrian by Annette Chauncy, in The International Journal of the Arts in Society vol 5, no.3
 Piet Mondrian. ‘The New Plastic in Painting’ (1917) in The New Life the New Art – Collected writings of Piet
Mondrian edited by Harry Holtzman & Martin James (1987). P.43, quoted in Dancing with Mondrian by Annette Chauncy, in The International Journal of the Arts in Society vol 5, no.3
 Opening ceremony brochure
 Opening ceremony brochure
 Personal email from the artist
Broadway Boogie Woogie, by Piet Mondrian is a clear reference to music and dance. Mondrian was a keen ballroom dancer, and some of his works are named after dances, for example Fox-Trot B, and Fox-Trot-Lozenge-Composition-with-Three-Black-Lines.
I read in one place at least the implication that he was a good dancer, for example that he practised dance steps in his studio and was known as ‘The Dancing Madonna’ in Holland. Then in another place:
He went shopping for painter’s smocks with Naum Gabo’s wife Miriam and danced with Peggy Guggenheim and Virginia Pevsner in the London jazz clubs. His love of jazz and dancing was well known, but Miriam recalled that he “was a terrible dancer… Virginia hated it and I hated it, we had to take turns dancing with him”.
In an article entitled Dancing with Mondrian By Annette Chauncy, published by The International Journal of the Arts in Society, she suggests that the paintings were possibly inspired by the dances, especially the Foxtrot, the Quickstep and the Tango.
I also found this little film clip entitled Mondrian and Dance at the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art, suggesting that the paintings ‘dance’ more than perhaps we thought.
At the Blackpool Sequence Dance Festival 2011, in the Empress Ballroom of the Winter Gardens, attempting to learn brand new sequence dances, with a large group of people, I found it very difficult. It was wonderful and I loved it, especially as others took pity on us and helped us out, yet I really struggled to pick up 16 bars of steps in half an hour.
I could see many people, 20 years my senior and more, finding it quite easy to do what seemed an almost impossible task to me. What was it that made us different?
Maybe we could put it down to learning styles: this is not my favoured way of learning, I would rather read instructions first or have them explained to me in an environment where I could ask lots of questions, and then slowly piece the whole together part by part. I also seemed to suffer from ‘performance pressure’ that may have been absent in a smaller group or on my own.
It was possibly David Kolb that introduced the notion of learning styles, along the lines of: learning has a cycle of four stages and though all stages are required we may have a preference for a certain stage more than others. I have the impression that Honey and Mumford‘s learning styles are more or less the same as Kolb’s, but with more accessible labels, so we have Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist styles. One implication of the theory is that we learn best when our own style is adequately catered for, Activists and Pragmatists preferring to learn by doing, Reflectors and Theorists favouring a more thinking approach etc. Learning professionals closer to NLP might use the distinctions Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic as learning styles.
But isn’t this somewhat limiting? “I don’t learn that way” “It’s not my learning style” could easily become an excuse to prevent further learning. Isn’t it rather that what is needed is learning at a higher level?
Gregory Bateson proposed that there are levels of learning, where Learning 0 is an habitual automatic response to a given stimulus, Learning 1 is a trial and error process of adaptation to the given environment, Learning 2 is a process of corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choices are made at level 1, and Learning 3 (which rarely, if ever occurs) is about our whole process of forming, exchanging and losing level 2 habits.
Learning how to learn in the situation I described above would be Learning 2, which would then mean that on future occasions I could participate more successfully in the trial and error process of learning the new dances in the large group in only half an hour. One way to do this would be to model the strategies of other dancers/learners, which would I suggest also be a more sophisticated use of NLP.