patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘David Batchelor

Colour: A Kind of Bliss

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Colour can be indulgent. You can lose yourself in it, as in colour field painting. Viewing a gigantic Jules Olitski for example, such as Instant Loveland, (1968), undoubtedly induces a blissful state. The critic Peter Fuller was wary of this experience. I remember being shocked, hearing him refer to this paintings as “awful”. Today, I still think it is a great painting. However, I can see that it may be in danger of eliciting a gormless fascination, a distraction from the “real world”, a bliss that smacks too much of escapism, an opiate.

When Roland Barthes refers to colour as “a kind of bliss”, [i] he is countering a first impression of Cy Twombly as an anti-colourist. To do so, Barthes differentiates colour “in the blissful sense of the word” from colour as a “rhetorical mode of existence”, a “sensual idea”. He contrast them along the following lines.

 

Colour as bliss Colour as sensual idea
Lacerates something, passes in front of the eye, apparition, disappearance, like a closing eyelid, a tiny fainting spell. Appears, is there, inscribed, Intense, violent, rich. Delicate, refined, rare. Thick-spread, crusty, fluid. Affirmation or installation of colour

 

For Barthes blissful colour is almost incidental, as if the altered state that colour induces were akin to the naturally occurring trance states that we experience on an everyday basis, a daydream, an apparition, or a negative hallucination such as not being able to find the car keys, even though they are staring you in the face on the kitchen table. Disappearance, a closing eyelid or a tiny fainting spell has momentarily hidden them.

Colour as bliss cuts into our everyday “reality”. It is inscribed into it, rather than installing itself with cries of affirmation. Yet, neither is it exquisite nor exclusive. Instead, it is simply present if we are. However, it is the presence of something quite extraordinary, as David Batchelor has it, “a falling into a state of grace”.[ii]

Julian Brown, Vega, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 40 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

The 18th century poet Thomas Gray had already associated colour with bliss in his poem Ode on the Pleasure Arising from Vicissitude, where “the hues of bliss more brightly glow chastised by sabler tints of woe”. Colour, appearing brighter when countered by black, becomes in the poem, a metaphor for the tempering of joy with grief, again suggesting a grounded bliss, somewhere between hedonistic pleasure and spiritual ecstasy.

Kandinsky no doubt overstated the case for colour in his treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, invoking its healing power after the fashion of chromotherapy, but the attempt was to ground the spiritual in the discoveries of “science” at the same time as showing that colour could affect the viewer directly, quite apart from the requirements of imitation or analogy. He was making a case as much for abstract or non-objective painting as for colour.

The artists included in the exhibition Colour: A Kind of Bliss, at St Marylebone Crypt, London, approach colour directly, without the distractions of representation, but also without an over indulgent spirituality.

In the paintings here by Julian Brown, colour seems inherently tied to the ground upon which it is situated. In Vega (2016), spectrum bands zig zagging across the surface have been applied over a polished, pearl white surface that shines through the gestures lending them a vibrant luminosity. Scattered among the assertive bands of colour are black circles, dots that look to have been dropped or splattered into existence, except that they also look too carefully placed to have been made that way. A non-verbal conversation takes place between the ground, the rainbow bands and the black dots, as well as between each band, some favouring the yellows and oranges of the spectrum and others more the blues and violets, each band shot through with lines of other temperatures.

Julian Brown, Tattoo Lagoon, 2017, acrylic on linen, 80 x 100 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

In Tattoo Lagoon, (2017), the sabler tints of dark blue and grey form circular patterns in the centre, flanked and partially obscured by multiple crescents of various colours, resembling melon boats on a sea that is just about to become stormy. They are accompanied by circles in gold, amber, maroon, black and silver along with tiny yellow speech balloons, ochre asterisks, pink drips and blue or green runs. And all the time it’s the dark ground that calls to us, almost menacingly. A captivating darkness is waiting to envelope us, just as it has already overtaken some of the crescent shapes, absorbing their colour into a homogenous mass of dark.

Yet it is a playful and joyous painting, the darkness recalling the dark ground of East Asian decorative lacquerware or indeed the Polish folk art that Brown cites as an influence.

In David Manley’s shield-like ovals painted on aluminium, colour differentiates one form from another, or merges geometric shapes so that they come in and out of view often giving way to a larger pattern of their interconnections, like cut-outs in paper, where the paper is kept and what’s cut out is thrown away, as if to bring our attention to the importance not so much of things as the relationships between things.

David Manley, Nine Lives Of Fives, 2017, acrylic on aluminum, 72 x 48 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

In his Nine Lives of Fives, (2017), pentagon forms are all but destroyed by having been posited, erased and restated numerous times and in many places within the frame. Colour gives them life via demarcation, just as it does for map-makers who have known for centuries what I only just learned from Beau Lotto that “you only need four colours to create any map and be able to make sure no bordering countries are ever coloured the same”.[iii]

In my own paintings, I am interested in what 17th century cartographers knew about colour, that colour spreads, not “really” i.e. physically, but “really” i.e. in our perception. It is unnecessary to colour-in every country of a map, the colour of a bounded outline can be made to spread into an area, not physically, but perceptually. Visual cognition scientists have called this the watercolour effect (WCE). A light meter will show you that the area is physically white, but colour is perceived there as a result of the boundary colour. In my Cybernetic Drawing (Hexagons), (2014), the lilac of the drawn lines merges into the white of the ground in a similar way.

Andy Parkinson, Cybernetic Drawing, (Hexagons), 2014, mixed media on canvas.

In, Jeff Dellow’s paintings the same motifs change dramatically in different colour-environments. A motif seen in one painting looks very different when set within the differently coloured ground of another. Also, within a single painting, a repeated motif, especially the net-like motif that appears quite often, looks markedy different depending on its colour. But even more interesting, the ground that I know is the same colour over a large area, changes colour where different coloured nets interact with it. In Orange Fix, (2016), the orange ground between and around the squares of the green/grey net motif is much redder than it is between the squares of the lilac/greys along the right hand edge. The ground is the same colour physically but perceptually it changes. Although we “know” that such “illusions” will take place, when they do, they surprise us. I think that is what makes colour so blissfully enjoyable.

Jeff Dellow, Orange Fix, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 92 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

The paintings of Freya Purdue are like colour landscapes, it is difficult not to read the blue grounds as skies, within which are colour happenings, resembling what daylight fireworks might look like, bursts of colour sometimes taking up discrete areas here and there and sometimes filling half the space.

Purdue’s Nada (2016), may be a picture of nothing. The sky association remains and there is a cloud-like shape, taking up more than half of the canvas. It could be a swarm of smaller nothings, insects perhaps, or atoms, or smoke. And this indistinct cloud hovers above sticks of colour that are arranged to suggest a perspectival recession into a vanishing point at the centre of a low horizon line. Associations abound, as they do whenever we see colours, but without ever cohering into a definitive object or idea or story. No thing is clearly depicted.

Freya Purdue, Nada, 2016, oil on canvas, 50 x 60 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Lucy Cox’s playful geometric arrangements, almost inhabiting a believable three dimensional space, seem to celebrate the ways in which colour creates spatial ambiguities and irregularities. In Zippy Seven, (2017), holes in grey planar structures reveal coloured and/or patterned surfaces way behind them. However, being more coloured than the sable structures, the parts of surfaces covered by holes appear to push forward, sometimes occupying the space immediately behind a hole, but more often transforming themselves into positive circles that hover in front of the grey planes.

Lucy Cox, Zippy Seven, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 50 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Knowing a bit of colour theory we could have predicted this chromatic (mis)behaviour. Nevertheless, when it happens we experience a jolt of surprise as if it had been totally unpredictable.

The trouble with colour theory is that it con’s us into thinking we understand colour. Yet face to face with it, we find that we cannot get wise to it, almost as if it puts us in the wrong and makes us ignorant. But isn’t ignorance also bliss? Borrowing even more famous lines from Thomas Gray: “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise”.[iv]

 

Colour: A Kind of Bliss, curated by Lucy Cox and Freya Purdue continues at The Crypt, St Marylebone Church, London until 30 June 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Roland Barthes, The Responsibility of Forms, Basil Blackwell, 1986

[ii] David Batchelor, Chromophobia, Reaktion Books, 2000

[iii] Beau Lotto, Deviate, The Science of Seeing Differently, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2017

[iv] Thomas Gray, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, 1747

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Written by Andy Parkinson

May 26, 2017 at 8:48 am

For the millions

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When I was touring the art collection at Warwick University, assistant curator Elizabeth Dooley introduced a wonderful painting by Patrick Heron. I heard her call it “For the Millions”..

…and in this collection, dispersed as it is throughout the university and right there where work is being done, as well as open for public viewing, it may well get seen by ‘the millions’. However, I mis-heard her. The title is Four Vermillions. Four reds near enough in value, tone and hue to be called “vermillion” yet different enough for there to be four very distinct colours.

I recently heard David Batchelor (there is a marvelous piece by him in the same building entitled Against Nature, photo below) say that he does not use the names of colours, as you cannot know what kind of the named colour it is without actually seeing it. He said something like that anyway, unless I mis-heard him.

Thanks Liz, for the tours, they were excellent.

Written by Andy Parkinson

March 16, 2012 at 8:45 am

Mali Morris at Mostyn Gallery

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When you plan your trip to see Mali Morris: Works on Canvas and Paper at Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno, even though it continues until 24 June 2012, and even though Mostyn Gallery is open 7 days a week, go sooner rather than later, because when you’ve been the once, you will probably want to visit a second or third time.

What is it about these works that rewards prolonged viewing and that later, when enjoying the memory of them, seems to draw me back for a repetition? And, on repeat viewing, I realise the impossibility of repetition: it is something different I am noticing in the work this time around.

If abstract painting, to quote Matthew Collings on Mali Morris, is about “constantly coming up with visual metaphors for experience”, and the artist’s job is to produce this metaphor-world “in the form of visual pleasure, or beauty”, that’s a great metaphor for what Mali Morris does. And visual pleasure begins even as I peer though the window, waiting for the gallery to open

and even more so when I get inside and confront, or am confronted by the large painting North & South, on loan from The Royal Academy.

Love at first sight (!) is my response to the startling beauty that seems to be “out there”, or the visual pleasure, that seems to be “in here”. Beauty seems connected to desire, and the goal of desire, according to Slavoj Zizek “is not to realize its goal, to find full satisfaction, but to reproduce itself as desire”. Seeing it, I want to see it some more, and looking more closely, what started out like an epiphany becomes more like a slow reveal. The brightness of the coloured discs immediately grabs my attention from a distance, and moving nearer, I get interested in their very specific characters, each one different as a result not only of the quality of the particular chosen colour but because of the way it is arrived at. And are they contained within shaped ‘fields’ or do they sit on top of flat planes? Or maybe they inhabit different spaces, some receding further back than others, or then again, perhaps they hover above twisting and bending spaces. Seeing the painting from a different angle the space certainly appears to bend, but not in an “op art” way, it is slower and gentler than that. The colour creates space, and doesn’t perceiving this colour at least hint at a suspension of the natural cycle of desire, a kind of “bliss” according to Roland Barthes?

I missed the artist’s talk at the exhibition opening, the day before my visit, but a member of the gallery staff was kind enough to relate some of what had been said, recalling that partly it had been about the influence of other painters both modern and pre-modern, and remembering a comment about the relationship of the size of the works to the body, not just the artist’s hand or wrist but indeed the whole arm, and in the larger works the whole body.

Looking at the paintings, whilst the circular forms, even in the works that seem to hold just one such form, never become ‘faces’ or ‘heads’, they do engage me in a kind of conversation and I wonder if that’s what the first painting in this show brings to mind, or rather to heart, in its title: Reply.

I can imagine the two circles replying, or being a reply to one another, or the two circles in conversation with the blue-ish over-painted “ground”. Or is the painting itself a reply to previous paintings, (working as Morris does in series tends to create an ongoing conversation of art works)? I can also imagine the whole exhibition as a reply to a previous one, almost as if this first painting, on a wall of its own, announces that the show is the artists reply, situated within a previously established dialogue. And doesn’t an artist also enter into a kind of debate with the painting itself, so that the work could even be a reply to the artist as if it had a life of its own? It could equally be that the artist is engaging me in a discussion, replying to my statement or question about art or about life. The painting greets me, draws me into a conversation, but one that has already commenced some time ago, a bit like when I meet up with my twin brother and we just “carry on from where we left off” even though we haven’t seen each other for months. Even so, it is a conversation beyond or before language, where again it is colour that seems to temporarily suspend the necessity of language and thought-as-language (internal dialogue).

There are 18 paintings on canvas in the downstairs gallery, mostly small in size, yet each one ‘big’ enough to get a good ‘conversation’ going between painting and viewer. The way they are arranged also means they get ‘conversations’ going between themselves.

In the upstairs gallery there are 18, mostly smaller, paintings on paper including the very recent series the Mostyn Suites, which remind me of jewels, approaching tiny at 10 x 15 cm, in amazingly luminous colour (my photos don’t do them justice have a look at the picture on the Mostyn web site).

In David Batchelor‘s book Chromophobia he observes that in literature colour often gets “caught in the spell of gems and precious stones” and that “gems often stand in for colour-in-general. They represent the point at which colour becomes independent and assertive…” Whether in Aldous Huxley’s visions of Heaven: “always a place of gems” or Dorothy’s Oz, “colour – intense, heightened, pure, unqualified offer(s) a glimpse of the ‘Other World’, a world beyond Nature and the Law”. In Mali Morris’s little works on paper, gem-like in their luminosity, colour seems to become independent and brilliantly assertive. The modernist abstract tradition where the words “big” and “abstract” belong together has clear resonance with Morris’s work, yet in these little paintings she almost turns the theory of colour-field abstraction on its head.

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.

Against Nature 2

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Yesterday I posted about an artwork by Klaus Weber subtitled “Against Nature” an allusion to the novel of the same title by J.K. Huysmans, which I feel I have a connection with simply because as an art student I read it as part of my Aesthetics course and enjoyed it. There is nothing unnatural in that! Nor in the connection I then made to my Aesthetics tutor whom I emailed and got a reply from.

By chance today, as I was surfing the net, I came across another art work entitled “Against Nature“. I wonder if it has any connection to the Huysmans novel. It is by David Batchelor, with whom I also have a connection, he was an art student in the year above me at Trent. I remember him, and I liked him, (though I would be surprised if he remembers me).

His piece is on display at the University of Warwick, and I hope to see it in the near future.

Written by Andy Parkinson

December 27, 2011 at 9:45 am