patternsthatconnect

abstract art and systems thinking

Posts Tagged ‘exhibitions

Chris Baker and Natalie Dower in “Double Vision”

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The Double Vision show at Lion and Lamb Gallery, Hoxton has a lot to keep going back for, and I have at least one other trip planned before it closes on 14 July 2012.

Two paintings I want to see again are Natalie Dower‘s Fast Track Through 44 Points and Metan by Chris Baker. Both paintings seem to position themselves in a continuing relation to Modernism, as opposed to a break with it, and I guess this may be true of all of the paintings on show here. Maybe this is to state the obvious, it’s abstract art after all. But Modernism breaks down into a number of traditions even when we are within the general term ‘abstraction’.

Chris Baker seems to draw from many of those traditions, and I am not always entirely sure that they are ‘abstract’ as figurative elements sometimes find their way in, though not so with Metan.  Is the title Old English? Others of his titles are similar. Could it be that the paintings reference an outmoded language, one that has lost its original meaning and can be plundered now for new ones?

It “draws from” quite literally, the lines seem excavated from a less than unified ground, or alternatively it is created by filling in the negative spaces allowing the linear structure to emerge. It is double in that it presents a strong figure/ground contrast, the light lattice like structure being figure against the dark ‘background’ that is actually ‘foreground’.  It is also double in terms of the divided space, the structure bisecting the canvas down and across the middle (more or less) as well as in numerous other ways. The structure looks arrived at through trial and error, like a form trying to get out of the otherwise monochrome surface, and in getting out it bends the space, so that the bottom half recedes, giving the appearance of horizontality, whereas the top half extends upwards giving a vertical appearance. The bottom half of the structure could be the shadow of the top half if the lines corresponded, which they don’t so that interpretation is discarded, but then it reasserts itself, only to be discarded, it’s a cycle, a system, in a way.

Chris Baker, Metan, oil on canvas, 75 x 60cm, image by courtesy of Lion & Lamb Gallery

I situate Natalie Dower’s paintings within the tradition of Constructivism and more specifically Systems art. One of the many things I appreciate about that approach is the unpredictable and un-work-out-able results that can be generated by logical means, or a pre-determined path. The great systems thinker Gregory Bateson’s question: “What pattern connects the crab to the oyster and the orchid to the primrose and all the four of them to me, and me to you?” seems to resonate with Dower’s aesthetic investigations, based as they are on the abstract pattern that connects all things. Mel Gooding recently said of her: “Like her ‘Systems’ comrades, Dower has worked in the knowledge that all nature – from the spiralling mechanics of the galaxies to the growth of a snail’s shell and the branching of a plum-tree – is governed by mathematical rules”. So when I look at the wonderful Fast track Through 44 points, I know that it is ordered by mathematical rules, I just don’t quite know what they are.

Natalie Dower, “Fast Track Through 44 Points”, 2008, oil on panel, 29 x 29cm, image by courtesy of Lion & Lamb Gallery

I approach it a bit like I might a puzzle, attempting to work out what is going on, except that I don’t care much for puzzles whereas I do care a lot for this painting and paintings of this kind. Possibly the title helps to solve it, though it could be a diversion. I am sure that the organisation of the line and points through which it passes as it journeys about the surface is not random, but I am unable to determine the rules for it. As I study the construction I feel sure that the ordering principle is staring me in the face but I just can’t see it. I realise that this may be saying a lot more about me and my slowness to catch on, than about the painting! Again the ‘figures’ (the bars and lines) look like they are the consequence of filling in the spaces with black, so that it is difficult to decide which are the positive and which the negative  shape, though I think we would agree that we read the black as space and the lighter tones as structure, until we don’t. The support is shaped, therefore some of the bars are ‘real’ rather than drawn. I like the difference between the constructed edges and the drawn edges, and that the image extends beyond the confines of the square, confounding its identity as image and asserting its constructed-ness.

These are wonderful things to view, and I am looking forward to making another visit soon.

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

Richard Long at Hepworth, Wakefield

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I visit the Hepworth, Wakefield quite often, usually a lightning tour towards the end of the day. This Sunday we were amongst the last people in there. It felt a bit like “last orders at the bar” and “time please!” The invigilators were kind in letting me take a quick look at Richard Long’s slate works, and magnificent clay ‘painting’, Waterfall – a site specific piece, before they closed the doors for the day.

I love the Hepworth. The quality of light in there is wonderful, perhaps the best lit art space I know, so you get all this wonderful natural light in many rooms, just great for seeing the work. And they always have a few really good paintings to look at (there’s lots of sculpture as you would expect, and whilst I like that, it is always the painting to which I am drawn). This time it was the fantastic Patrick Heron they have on show in the “St Ives” room. Sorry, “no photos allowed”. Does anyone know where I can find one to link to?

P.S. I say THE Patrick Heron as if you know that I only really cared for one of them. It had a landscape referring title, though needed no such referent. (The others were a figure and a churchyard scene that I thought were only OK.)

P.P.S. I found a link here (it gives an idea of it). The painting is titled June Horizon and was painted in 1957.

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 3, 2012 at 7:00 am

Alex Hubbard Exhibition: Eat Your Friends, at Simon Lee

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The Alex Hubbard exhibition at Simon Lee Gallery, London, entitled Eat Your Friends, just six works, two of them being videos and the other four being paintings, is absolutely wonderful.

The “title track” is a video that I just cannot help but read as a moving painting with sound.

Montage-like, there are at least three camera views, two look down onto a table top or the floor and one looks forward, and as they overlap actions in one descreet space seem to be taking place also in another. Here it is quite possible to be in two places at once. The actions include spray painting the words “EAT YOUR FRIENDS”, constructing a tower with large cups of take-away coffee until it collapses spilling the contents, and moving a cuboid frame around, “building” some temporary structure the purpose of which seems to defy the logic of building.

The paintings more or less coloured monochromes, made with fibreglass, and found objects: plastic bottles, syringes, broken bits of things, rubbish, the resin sticking the objects to the canvas and forming a high gloss surface over a stained acrylic base. I try to decide whether the objects are carefully placed or randomly scattered and I suspect it’s a bit of both. I study them and then wonder why I am studying them so carefully, what am I expecting to find? Yet I do keep looking, hesitiating to admit that they are beautiful.

 

Finding beauty and being fascinated is my response to the paintings and also to the two videos. I watch them both a few times (they are only about 5 minutes in length). They have narrative of sorts, something happens, and yet also nothing happens. BOTTOM OF THE TOP, like the first video, also uses text, this time not spray painted but possibly arrived at through cutting out the lettering and dropping it in place along the right hand edge of the frame (I so nearly wrote “painting”) over the duration of the video. That’s how it looked to me. And following what is being written, making sense of it yet it not making sense, is matched by the rest of the action,even whilst acknowledging some of the references, the most obvious one being Magritte’s painting Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe, a pipe in the bottom left corner billows smoke across the picture plane throughout. In the top right an electric fan whirs and carnations are ‘fed’ through the mesh until, hitting the blades, they are scattered across the picture plane in the opposite direction to the smoke. This is what happens when the carnations hit the fan! Meanwhile the artist’s head wrapped in bandages(?) which he paints blue appears at the bottom. We see only head and an arm placing a fish and an eel and flowers above his head, moving them around and eventually cutting the fish and placing the flowers inside it.

There’s beauty here, amid lots of humour. I am reminded of some of those old black & white surrealist films but can’t quite recall a specific one, and action painting, abstract expressionism, neo Dada, are all in here too, as are art-historical/art critical ideas of constructivism, all overness, and Leo Steinberg’s “flatbed picture plane”, in other words modernism, post modernism, and I want to say post-post modernism (Metamodernism even). For all its humour, this work never seems to me to be parody or irony, or of it is ironic I get the sense that it is post-modern irony itself that is being parodied.

The art works in this show seem to blur the distinction between sculpture, painting, performance, and video as well as the ‘genres’ of figuration, abstraction and surrealism, and delightfully question our ways of making sense of art, non-art and everything else.

Eat Your Friends is showing at Simon Lee Gallery, London until 4 April 2012.

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.

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.

Models and modelling: Thomas Demand at Nottingham Contemporary

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Walking towards Model Studies the Thomas Demand exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, and having forgotten whose work was on show, I felt sure that I was walking towards an exhibition of abstract paintings.

In fact, they are large photographs of small architectural models. The scale tends to flatten out the space and to produce large areas of lightly modulated colour, hence the resemblance to American abstract paintings of the 50s and 60s. When you get a bit closer the space in the photos becomes more apparent, it reminds me of the space in a cubist paintings now. I can imagine the artist bending a craning to get into the tiny models attempting to experience it for himself, in a way similar to the cubist modelling of space, as experienced in time.

Demand is known for his photographs of life-size models, made by him, of architectural interiors like the Oval Office, paper models which are destroyed after being photographed. In these new works the models he photographed were made by the architect John Lautner (1911 – 1994), and discovered by Demand in the archives of the Getty Research Institute when he was artist-in residence there.

In this short video clip he talks to Alex Farquharson, the Director of Nottingham Contemporary, about how he found these models and about his interest in the status of the model: far from being a diminution of reality modelling is our way of perceiving the world and communicating our experience of it to others. (In NLP we think of models and modelling in a similar way. We make models of how people do what they do well so that we can teach it to others.) It occurred to me that these photographs, themselves 2 dimensional models, document the process of modelling. They show us something of how in modelling we alter scale, freeze time, distort space in order to ‘understand’.

Written by Andy Parkinson

March 7, 2012 at 8:45 am

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