patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘David Ryan

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

Francesca Simon at Making Matters and Site Lines

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I have seen paintings by Francesca Simon at two exhibitions recently. The first one was the group show Making Matters, at Platform A Gallery, a great space, quite big with lots of natural light doing justice to the work, whether the three dimensional objects by  Kate Terry or the paintings by Andrew BickKatrina BlanninClem CrosbyDavid Ryan, and Francesca Simon.

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Making Matters, installation shot, courtesy of Platform A Gallery

In my reviews of this show, at Constructed Realities and Saturation Point, I attempted to employ some distinctions to describe the work and noted that in applying them they seemed to break down. Taking the following list of binary opposites: Fact/Fiction, Object/Image, Construction/Representation, Faktura/Facture and System/Improvisation, it could be argued that all the artwork at Making Matters shows affinity with the terms on the left hand side of the dividing lines. However, these oppositions also provide a way of distinguishing between the works of the artists within the show. I could, for example, note that Clem Crosby and David Ryan demonstrate more interest in facture (including the handwriting of the artist) than say Katrina Blannin and Francesca Simon whose paintings could be situated more in the “faktura-over-facture” camp. However, the distinction breaks down if, allowing a confusion of logical levels, I consider that the preference for faktura is itself a signature style.

Left, Francesca Simon, In Construction, 2014, acrylic on linen on wood, diptych, each panel 122 x 93 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery, London. Right, Andrew Bick, OGVDS-GW #5, 2014, acrylic, marker pen, pencil, watercolour, oil paint and wax on linen on wood, 76 x 64 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London

Left, Francesca Simon, In Construction, 2014, acrylic on linen on wood, diptych, each panel 122 x 93 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery, London. Right, Andrew Bick, OGVDS-GW #5, 2014, acrylic, marker pen, pencil, watercolour, oil paint and wax on linen on wood, 76 x 64 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London

Similarly, whilst Ryan’s and Crosby’s paintings may look improvised whereas Blannin’s and Simon’s look pre-planned, this distinction breaks down, even without a logical level shift, as I discover that the difference is simply one of degrees. Thinking in terms of degrees of improvisation could also provide a way of (speculatively) separating out the six Making Matters artists along a scale for improvisation, perhaps with Blannin at the lowest end, followed by Terry, then Simon, then Bick, then Crosby and with Ryan at the highest end.

Francesca Simon, False Construct 1, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 110x144cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Francesca Simon, False Construct 1, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 110 x 144cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Seeing Francesca Simon’s new solo exhibition Site Lines at Beardsmore Gallery, I perceive more improvisation in her paintings than I did at Making Matters. There is evidence, in many of them, of decisions that were not followed through, lines that are marked out but not really used, disturbances on the surface, that subtly contrast with the very clear demarcation lines, edges and shapes that make up the final construct. I am reminded of the process of ‘brainstorming’ whereby a group of people generate new options by calling out, one at a time in strict rotation, whatever idea comes to mind. Although the majority of suggestions get rejected at the evaluation stage, they are absolutely required to trigger the breakthrough that results. Equally, I could think of the tremendous amount of labour involved in a construction site that is sublimated in the final, stable state of the end product, which would be closer to Simon’s abstract subject matter, the paintings shown here being directly influenced by the excavation and construction of London’s Crossrail project. Hence, we have titles like Close Construction and Double Girder Crane.

That the works are serial seems to reflect something of the constantly changing nature of the site, literally just outside Simon’s London studio. The Close Construction paintings present a void around and across which various geometric elements are choreographed, and the Double Girder Crane series could easily have originated from seeing that massive crane every day traversing back and forth over the gigantic chasm. Differences in the crane’s position generate a variety of shapes, echoing the changes in relationship between crane and environment. These shapes, together with the almost aggressive flashes of colour, a yellow triangle here and the blue of the crane there, find their way into the work.

Francesca Simon, Double Girder Crane 3, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm

Francesca Simon, Double Girder Crane 3, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm

The geometry of this construction site, is documented, even its movement is here, the inherent stillness of painting being set into dynamism by the zig zagging of diagonal lines. Only the assault on the auditory sense is lost, in the silence of viewing. I would be wrong to find part to part isomorphism, the paintings are “abstract” after all, but not entirely autonomous, the outside world entering through a  window into the artist’s lived experience, transformed by mental process and projected out again onto the paintings as geometric form.

Francesca Simon, Close Construction 2, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Francesca Simon, Close Construction 2, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Employing again the binary distinctions with which I started, I return to the poles of construction/representation and wonder whether there is a double irony in Simon’s geometry: 1) whilst her paintings are not a window on the world, her ‘subject matter’ is a set of events taking place directly outside her studio window, and 2) her work draws on, and is closest to, the tradition of constructivism, yet here we find abstracted ‘representations’ of a construction site, as if to neutralise the opposition between construction and representation that, at one time, for me, was at the crux of the argument for abstraction. Not that Francesca Simon’s paintings are representational or abstract, more that they are both and neither.

 

Making Matters was on show at Platform A Gallery from 9 Ocotber to 20 November

Site Lines continues at Beardsmore Gallery until 20 December.

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

At the Point of Gesture at the Lion and Lamb Gallery

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At the Point of Gesture opened at the Lion and Lamb Gallery on 23 February 2013 and runs until 23 March: curated by David Ryan it’s a show of abstract paintings and a video, by five artists Clem Crosby, Gabriel Hartley, Andrea Medjesi-JonesDavid Ryan and Alaena Turner , each in their different ways exploring the potential of gesture, materiality and improvisation.

Maybe the exhibition title suggests that the works are only just at the point of gesture, like the Andrea Madjesi-Jones painting, where gesture seems to be included in a wider pictorial strategy, or perhaps that they have arrived at the point of gesture having set out from some other place, Clem Crosby’s work, for example, coming out of the monochrome tradition to a reconsideration of the role of drawing. Then again, in Aleana Turner’s Secret Action Painting 3 gesture is as much implied as it is physically present.

A point could almost be the opposite of a gesture, I’m thinking of pointillism where all those dots of colour negate the action of the sweeping brush stroke, yet once the dots are aggregated gestures of a sort do start to emerge. In physiological communication, to point is to gesture, and now I have in mind Grunwald’s amazing Isenhheim altarpiece where John the Baptist points at the crucified Jesus. Here the gesture refers to another, and I wonder if that might also be the case with gesture in abstract (non referential) painting, the minimum reference being to the act of painting itself, surely one of the points of the current Painting After Performance show at Tate modern.

Gabriel Hartley’s spray paint over impasto brushwork seems somehow to simultaneously both dissolve and emphasise the gestural mark-making, such contradictions being possible in a painting, even if nowhere else.

Gabriel Hartley, Frack, 2013, spray paint and oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Gabriel Hartley, Frack, 2013, spray paint and oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Approaching action painting, the individual marks almost lose themselves in the one gesture that is the finished piece. Kelp is almost white and Frack is almost black, and it’s difficult not to read them as monochromes, even though that tradition usually implies the repudiation of the gestural.

David Ryan’s Fame in California/1964, a small canvas in orange and pink has a central ‘sculptural’ figure flanked by indistinct forms or brushmarks and overlayed (or wrapped around) with a roughly painted green motif.  In the top left hand corner a flat white rectangle asserts the painting’s edge, against which the rest of the action seems to recede in a pictorial, non-perspectival space. Because it is optical, the space is ambiguous, it shifts slightly and the pink and orange brush strokes or blobs and a line that traces the edge of the figure, now appear to occupy a place somewhere in between the white rectangle up front and the main form further back.   

David Ryan, Fame in California/1964, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 36cm. Image by courtesy Lion and Lamb Gallery

David Ryan, Fame in California/1964, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 36cm. Image by courtesy Lion and Lamb Gallery

I recall that I enjoyed seeing another David Ryan painting here in the summer of 2012, a lovely little thing in black white and greys, entitled Index. It had a white rectangle in the left hand corner, similar to the one on show today. In both works this ‘hard edge’ rectangle seems incongruous, as if, there, inserted into the picture, is another very different one, a monochrome again, a painting within a painting that has me consider what other kinds of picture this one could also have become.

In Clem Crosby’s Little Wing, magenta and black continuous swirling lines dance on a grey ground that looks like the result of all but erased previous versions of the loose network that forms the painted ‘image’. It’s difficult not to see it as existing in a kind of landscape, the loops at the bottom of the canvas suggesting a floor upon which the lines are ‘standing’, like a sculpture of string or tape.

Clem Crosby, Little Wing, 2012-2013, Oil on Formica mounted on Aluminium, 76.2 x 61cm. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Clem Crosby, Little Wing, 2012-2013, Oil on Formica mounted on Aluminium, 76.2 x 61cm. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

I attempt to work out where each swirl begins and ends. In an image there is no such thing as a start and a finish yet the brush had to touch the support somewhere first and lay off somewhere too, but those entry and exit points become difficult to identify. In tracing the action with my eye and brain I also have something of the sensation of following with my hand and arm, for all I know they are actually moving, like when feeding an infant I find that I open my own mouth. So I notice that I am at the point of gesture myself, as if answering an invitation to explore the theme of the exhibition, as a viewer and also as a practitioner of abstract painting. The exhibition poses questions, for me, about the role of painterliness, offering a kind of counterpoint to my own preoccupation with systems. Here, painting is physical and the design is improvised, whereas my own practice is more cerebral and pre-planned. It’s not that a systems approach precludes chance and gesture, Kenneth Martin comes to mind as does Mel Prest whose gestural line drawings produced in a totally non-random fashion have the appearance of something random or ‘felt’, and David Ryan’s work already addresses the relationship between construction and improvisation. However, this show opens up for me some interesting questions and suggestions for future practice are starting to form.

One of the stated goals of the Lion and Lamb Gallery is to provide an opportunity for painters to curate visual essays that examine current practices in painting, and for me this show delightfully succeeds in this intention.

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.

Double Vision at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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The Lion and Lamb is itself a double vision: a bar and gallery, what a great idea! (in my earlier post I said it was in Shoreditch but actually the postal address puts it in Hoxton).

The Lion and Lamb is a unique opportunity for painters to curate painting shows: perhaps visual essays or a kind of platform where artists can examine current practices in painting, take works from their usual contexts and experiment with new juxtapositions.

‘Double Vision’ is the title of the current exhibition, curated by Katrina Blannin and showing until 14 July 2012.

It alludes to “notions of double layering in painting, whether material, compositional or theoretical”. It explores binary oppositions like figure/ground, surface/depth, symmetry/asymmetry and chance/system, oppositions that are, in a sense, combined or held together, which in language might be oxymoronic but in painting seems perfectly natural. I wonder if we might even say that holding together opposites and exploiting ambiguities in relation to them is what abstract painting does best. Although it is a very long time since I read Harold Osborne, I feel sure that one of his arguments was that quality in painting is largely to do with exploiting spatial ambiguity.

Maybe because I was looking for the Mali Morris painting it was the first thing I saw as I entered the gallery (with a pint of beer in hand). Like many of her recent paintings it is modest in size, but it seems less obviously to do with colour as the paintings she recently showed at Oriel Mostyn Gallery, until you get up close that is, which is quite difficult for me because it is high up and I am only just 5′ 6″ tall.

In my memory, but not in this snapshot so now I am wondering how much of my recollection is constructed, colour shines through the multiple layers of ground, and maybe through ‘figure’ too. Was the swirling white ‘ground’ added last, so that the figure is negatively constructed from what might previously have been the ground? That’s the sense I have. Also I think that the black is a layering of colours rather than black paint, though I could be wrong about that. I liked the way the show was hung, but I also wanted something to stand on so I could get a closer look at this one ( I should have asked). Even without entirely getting to answer my “how was it made?” questions the painting starts to work on me. I become fascinated by the layering, the information that seems both hidden and revealed, and by the “figure”, is it one or three? that seems to hover above a vortex, creating an optical space that is in one reading quite deep, and in another entirely flat.

my snapshot of Mali Morris painting: Degrees of Freedom, 2005, acrylic on canvas

Having recently read Katrina Blannin’s interview with Jeffrey Steele in Turps Banana (Issue 11), where there was also a little reproduction of her painting Pink, I was keen to see some of her work “in the flesh” and the painting here, a diptych, was a delight. The “systems” connection is clear, and she seems to share with Steele a commitment to painstaking execution of the work. It is beautifully done, and double in more than one way (doubly double): it is physically two paintings joined, and one is mirrored in the other along the central diagonal, with the tones and colours reversed.  Like the Morris there is spatial ambiguity: the lighter ‘figures’ in one viewing (it shifts) combine to form a ground which I start to interpret as space, almost as sky, as if I am looking up from an enclosed space (with buildings) and some strange thing, an alien vessel perhaps, is descending. Then it shifts again and I know for sure that this illusionistic referential reading is just that, one reading, that I would have to work hard to maintain. What interests me is that my eye/brain seems to want to make sense of it in this way, until the object before me seems to insist that I change my mind.

The Gallery information sheet had the lowest two rows of information missing so I don’t know the title of this particular double vision.

Likewise with the John McLean painting:

another small piece, higher in colour than many here, with black, which features quite a lot in this show. It is years since I saw a John McLean painting in real life (I have been looking at some reproductions recently in a very good book), and seeing this one reminded me that I have half arranged to go and see the one in the collection at the Whitworth. I met him once, when I was an art student and he came to see my work. I remember being mildly embarrassed by his enthusiasm for it, my friend dubbed it “an unqualified rave” McLean exclaiming over and over “this is f***ing ambitious work”. Looking back, I wish I had allowed that feedback from an artist I admire to become more productive in terms of self-confidence, which I lacked in those days. This painting is self-confident, seeming to assert the modernist tradition in abstraction, almost because it is out of fashion.

The other artists in this exhibition, and I will post another time about some of their work, are: Chris Baker / Dominic Beattie / Isha Bøhling / Ian Bottle / Alice Browne / Simon Callery / Keith Coventry / Natalie Dower / Tom Hackney / Jumpei Kinoshita / Hannah Knox / Sarah McNulty / Neil Mendock / Jost Münster / Selma Parlour / Geoff Rigden / Dan Roach / Danny Rolph / David Ryan / Estelle Thompson / Julian Wakelin.

It’s all good stuff, each work individually, and the exhibition as a whole-different-then-the-sum-of-its-parts, that I hope I get to see again before it closes on 14 July.