patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Sturgis

Crossing Lines @ &Model

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I arrive very late in the day (both literally and metaphorically) for the amazing exhibition Crossing Lines, at &Model in Leeds, and being my first visit to this venue I am immediately  impressed both by its central Leeds location, opposite the Art Gallery and Town Hall, and by the space itself, occupying all three floors of a 19th century building. Just looking through the window the work looks great and I am relieved that someone has waited for me so I can see the whole show.

I learn from the gallery notes that “The sixteen artists presented by Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hanz Hancock … all share reductive, formal, or non-objective approaches to image making”. It occurs to me that what we mean by labels like abstraction is as difficult to situate now as ever, and perhaps more so now because contemporary practitioners may well be doing something quite different than its early proponents. I usually hesitate to use the word “reductive”connoting, for me, a paring down to essentials, or a search for essence as well as a lessening, and I find myself unwilling to think of the concentration on process or form as in any way a lack. Seeing the work on show here, if ever I needed proof of the vitality of contemporary abstract/reductive/formal etc, approaches it is here in abundance.

Installation shot showing works by, from left to right, Patrick Morrisey, Andrew Harrison, David Riley, Patrick Morrissey

I am even tempted to propose the word additive, wondering if, contrary to a “paring down” we get instead a “building up”, adding new objects/images to the world, objects and images that continue to be as challenging and interesting as the abstraction of 100 years ago.

Drawing on the constructivist tradition, Morrisey and Hancock pursue a systems approach, as do others here like David Riley and possibly Giulia Ricci and  Andrew Harrison. Because I know that Morrisey’s paintings and videos (the video Four States, shown here is mesmerizing), are based on numerical systems, I attempt to work them out and fairly quickly reach the limit of my ability to do so without an external prompt. It’s one of the things that fascinates me about number in relation to images: attempting to “break the code”, is a specific mode of viewing, or state, that seems different to the one I engage in when I give up the attempt and simply look. And simply looking I appreciate the beauty of the image: I “get” the beauty of the abstract relations even without being able to translate them (back) into the numerical code. I think what’s going on here is akin to the pleasure I get from listening to Bach.

Patrick Morrissey, The Queen is Dead, 2011. Image by courtesy of the artist

Patrick Morrissey, The Queen is Dead, 2011. Image by courtesy of the artist

Looking at Tower, by Clive Hanz Hancock, I become unclear about what is image and what is object, I know it’s a relief, constructed from plastic tubing arranged in a vertical grid, yet it seems flat, I even begin to wonder whether the plastic tubing is a trompe l’oeil effect. What’s coming into question for me here is what I know, and how I know it: “how much of this construction is “out there” and how much of it is “in here” and realizing that it’s the interplay, that constitutes the art work. Here aesthetics and epistemology meet.

Clive Hanz Hancock, Tower, 2013. Image by courtesy of the artist

Clive Hanz Hancock, Tower, 2013. Image by courtesy of the artist

David Riley’s Code, is a series of digital images printed on sheets of paper, presented like brochures, and held together with plastic binding combs, the combs becoming part of the overall image. I read it as a painting, whilst simultaneously seeing printed digital material, and again I believe that the image is based on a numerical or alphabetical code that I struggle to decode. It’s the very act of looking that I think is being deconstructed in the process of viewing this piece.

David Riley, Code, 2013-14, multiple materials installation, 33 x 180 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

David Riley, Code, 2013-14, multiple materials installation, 33 x 180 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

There’s something architectural about Riley’s image, as there is in the works of Andrew Harrison (entitled Construction Project 3 and  Construction Project 4) and Clive Hanz Hancock. In these pieces it’s the boundary or extension of abstraction, that comes to mind, as it does in many of the paintings here that almost approach figuration as in Mary Yacoob‘s Doodle Drawings, and the painting Low Down by Daniel Sturgis from his Boulders series, where changes of scale seem to create vast spaces and where abstract image becomes slightly humorous, perhaps referencing the cartoon, a kind of abstract pop art?

Daniel Sturgis, Low Down, 2013

Daniel Sturgis, Low Down, 2013

Vincent Hawkins’ paintings and works on paper are probably the most provisional of the works on show here and possibly Tom McGlynn’s Signal the most minimal, if such labels are not too misleading. Likening Hancock’s and Morrissey’s sculptural pieces, colour intervals on wood strips leaned against the wall, to John McCraken‘s minimalist work is I am sure also misleading but a connection I find difficult not to make. There are sculptural pieces here also by Mick Frangou, Phill Hopkins and Andy Wicks, all that seem to at least quote minimalism whilst also expanding it, Hopkins ans Wicks exploring the border between the two and three dimensional as well the border between art and everyday objects and Frangou continuing his personal process of repeating a T shape symbol.

Marion Piper paintings here from her Free Man series are marvelous. I have the impression that her process in these paintings involves a dialectical pairing of opposing forces that are held together by overlaying one upon the other, as if something suggestive of the organic (wavy lines or soft free-flowing motifs) is overlaid with ‘harder’ geometric designs, resulting in a synthesis which is both and neither the other two, “transcending them” sounds too metaphysical, and “combining them” sounds too prosaic, but in viewing the paintings I enter a state in which these opposing positions seem to be held in stasis, not just visually, but also psychologically.

Installation shot, Left to right: Marion Piper, Free Man 3, Marion Piper, Free Man 4, Patrick Morrisey, Indirect Enquiry 2, Front: Mark Frangou, Tome

Installation shot, Left to right: Marion Piper, Free Man 3, Marion Piper, Free Man 4, Patrick Morrissey, Indirect Enquiry 2, Front: Mark Frangou, Tome

I think something similar takes place in relation to Giulia Ricci’s beautifully executed drawings where a carefully ordered design begins to break down, or a pattern is systematically interrupted, the tracing of which, by eye and mind, seems to create a shift of state. This mildly “calming” experience is repeated for me in many different ways in this show, Frixos Papantoniou appearing to suspend geometric (mostly triangular) shapes in a contemplative space, David Leapman getting close to psychedelia, and Mark Sengsbusch presenting dualisms that are entirely matter of fact, (he describes them as “two-color painting(s) where there is no background or foreground. No layering. All of the paint is equa-distant to your eye”),  yet the viewing of them is psychologically complex.

Installation shot, Mark Sengsbusch, Right: Comb 15 (Anaemic Shield), 2011, Left Comb 9 (Frozen Reel), 2011

Installation shot, Mark Sengsbusch, Left: Comb 15 (Anaemic Shield), 2011, Right: Comb 9 (Frozen Reel), 2011

And perhaps that’s what I want to say most about this exhibition of contemporary reductive art: there is nothing “reduced” in the action of seeing these works, I experience more of an “addition”, a “fulness”, an “abundance”.

Crossing Lines was on show at &Model from 23 January to 22 February 2014. I just wish I’d got there sooner!

Farewell Indiscipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Indiscipline of Enjoyment

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This weekend The Indiscipline of Painting exhibition moved from Tate St Ives to Mead Gallery, a mere 120 mile round trip for me, so, after all the anticipation, I finally got to see it (well, not finally because I will be visiting many times between now and when it closes in March).

At the opening party a crowd of us had gathered before the doors were swung back at 6.30 on the dot and in we poured, seeing first the unmistakable Frank Stella painting Hyena Stomp and the gigantic Keith Coventry England 1938 (1994 -2011), as if to make the point that the show would feature international abstraction from the sixties to now.

I turned left, seeing the show ‘backwards way round’ gazing with dropped jaw at the brilliant Brillian Xanthinus Arborexcans by John Armleder, Primalon Ballroom by Mary Heilman, and finding my breath taken by Peter Davies’ Small Touching Squares Painting, reminiscent in its effect of a huge Seurat: the grandest scale made up of tiny dots, or in Davies’ case tiny squares, creating a massive ripple, a gesturless gesture.

Thinking of dots, the painting that I may have looked at longest, and over which I had a conversation with a small band of Italian students, was #16 – 1968 (Dot Painting) by Peter Young.

Peter Young, #16 - 1968 (Dot Painting), 1968, Courtesy of Kunstmuseum St Gallen, Formal collection Rolf Ricke

Unlike Seurat’s dots these do not combine to create an image, nor are they of differing colours that mix optically. Instead they are the same dark (black, I think) colour arranged so they are more or less of equal distance from each other, on a ground of white over pinks greens yellows and blues. Whilst the colours are perceived as shifting after-images, my eye cannot but trace circular patterns in the dots, moving and bending and not quite forming. I become aware in viewing it that I am actively participating in its construction, which I experience as playful enjoyment especially when for a few moments I turn off the dialogue (both external and internal) and simply look. Once the dialogue returns I have moved from thinking about what kind of painting it is to what kind of world this is that I actively construct even whilst appearing to passively observe.

Opticality seems an important sub plot in this show, and its’ not just the Peter Young or the stunning Cantus Firmus by Bridget Riley that I have in mind, there is also the early Sean Scully painting East Coast Light 2, the pulsating Auditorium by Dan Walsh, Depth of Field by Richard Kirwan, as well as the strangely photographic Flirt by Jane Harris and Untitled (fold) by Tauba Auerbach. Above all there is No Other Home by Daniel Sturgis who selected the paintings in this show.

Daniel Sturgis, No Other Home, 2011, Courtesy of the artist / Gallerie Holenbach Stuttgar & Zurich

The carefully painted chequer patterns have an optical charge all of their own and the fact that the two central layers one stacked upon the other are misaligned creates further visual excitation. The shallow space fluctuates and bends, partly as a result of the pattern and partly as a result of the colour. Even the space between viewer and painting seems animated as if the action truly resides in that optical place. Multiple experiences of visuality seem stacked in much the same way as the coloured or patterned bands in the painting are stacked one upon the other. The effect for me is slightly trance inducing leading to that enjoyable feeling of engaged relaxation. You could almost say that these are experiences that have no other home than in that odd discipline called painting, and specifically abstraction.

One painting here has no other home than Mead gallery, painted directly onto the wall by Francis Baudevin The Only Truth samples the cover for Paul Haig’s 12″ single of the same title.

Francis Baudevin, The Only Truth, 2010, Courtesy of Mead Gallery

“The title of the show The Indiscipline of Painting is a contradiction” said a woman standing next to me as we looked at the Baudevin “because these paintings are very disciplined aren’t they?” I agreed and I asked her if she was used to looking at paintings. She was not, having been invited along by a friend. She was clearly enjoying it, itself an indisciplined kind of discipline.

The Indiscipline of Painting: International Abstraction from 1960 to Now is showing at Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, until 10 March 2012.

The discipline of the indiscipline

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Very soon The Indiscipline of Painting exhibition comes to the Mead Gallery at the University of Warwick. Photos of the installation process can already be seen on the Mead Gallery Facebook page (they kindly said I could include one here).

It takes some discipline to get a show like this together!

Featuring work by 41 abstract painters from the sixties to now, it starts on 14 January 2012 and runs until 10 March 2012. As well as seeing the show you can also book a tour of the abstract paintings in the University of Warwick collection, attend a talk by Daniel Sturgis artist and curator of the show and join a symposium for an in-depth discussion of the origins and endurance of abstraction.

Written by Andy Parkinson

January 9, 2012 at 8:45 am