abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Freyja Wright

Rest at Lion and Lamb Gallery

leave a comment »

Taking a rest from my over-busy schedule, I arrive at the Lion and Lamb somewhat hot and bothered. I order a drink at the bar, get mistaken for a member of a darts team playing this evening, and enjoy a good mix of sounds old and new, as I make my way to the gallery in the back room, where the exhibition Rest, curated by Wendy McLean is on show. My other passion being Ballroom, Latin and Sequence dancing I note that the rhythm they’re playing now is a Rumba. The first beat is not danced it is “rested”, the hip settling over the standing leg before the step is taken with the opposite foot. It’s not really a rest at all, it’s the means to getting good hip action. So whilst little is actually happening in terms of a step, there’s a lot going on in terms of movement.

There’s a lot going on behind or within the minimal (not necessarily Minimalist) ‘events’ being shown here, and some of it I find disconcerting enough to disturb any rest I thought I might get.  I am recalling that Robin Greenwood once brought my attention to how unlikely it must be that Matisse actually meant it when he said that he wanted his paintings to be “similar to a comfortable armchair”, Greenwood saying “If you are comfortable with Matisse, I’d worry”.

I’m feeling mildly uncomfortable figuring out what’s going on in with Ben Cain‘s three dimensional piece entitled Private Dancer, in which two  MDF panels, trying their best to look like wood, lean against MDF covered blocks on which are placed an MDF (?) baton.

Ben Cain, Private Dancer, 2014, Sealed MDF, painted and lacquered. dimensions variable

Ben Cain, Private Dancer, 2014, Sealed MDF, painted and lacquered. dimensions variable. Image by courtesy of the artist.

Each panel is host to a fragment of text, one written on the front (well, I interpret it as a ‘front’ anyway), that reads “I’m your private dancer” no doubt a quote from the Mark Knopfler song, of the same title, made famous by Tina Turner, and the other on the back that says “the only thing your eyes haven’t told me is…” the rest of the text is obscured by the block but I finish the cheap chat up line in my head … “your name”. I’m thinking about the crassness of the MDF as MDF matching the statement “I am your private dancer” and the insincerity of the chat up line somehow reflected in the quality of MDF pretending to be wood.

Ben Cain, Private Dancer, 2014, sealed MDF, painted and lacquered, dimension variable

Ben Cain, Private Dancer, 2014, sealed MDF, painted and lacquered, dimension variable. Image by courtesy of the artist

I become aware that the surfaces are worked and I wonder about the similarities and differences between the labour of, for example, a carpenter and an artist, the materials here looking like they should be functional, yet serving no function except perhaps as makeshift signs themselves fragments, abstracted from a context that might provide meaning.

It’s only a few weeks since Cain’s exhibition Down Time at The Tetley, in which he explored themes of work and so called non-productive activity, and I find that here, viewing Private Dancer, it is to these themes that I address my thoughts.

Would it be correct to categorise this and other works here as “conceptual”? I certainly find that the experience of seeing them leads to increased conceptual activity or internal dialogue, partly perhaps because there is little happening visually, yet in a very different way to say a painting by Agnes Martin, where there is little to see, yet that experience seems somehow entirely ‘visual’.

Freyja Wright, Interior Sequence, 2013, oil on linen, each panel 60 x 90 cm, Image courtesy of the artist

Freyja Wright, Interior Sequence, 2013, oil on linen, each panel 60 x 90 cm, Image courtesy of the artist

Freyja Wright’s painting, one work comprising two panels, entitled Interior Sequence, show incidental scenes, by which I mean that there is little incidence: two meticulously executed domestic interiors with a figure (she looks a lot like Joni Mitchell). Although the forms are precisely rendered, it’s difficult to read what is taking place, I think because of the lack of action. Wright describes the events depicted in her paintings as “low key moments”, like when someone turns their head, reflected perhaps in a mirror or a pane of glass. For me, these images have the quality of snapshots taken accidentally. Possibly the figure turns from one panel to the next, or maybe the viewer has turned or a door has opened creating a counter reflection in the mirror, perhaps there are two different figures within the same interior. Whilst I have difficulty identifying specifically what has happened, one thing is certain, before ever seeing the title or noting that it is one piece of work, I am reading it sequentially. So now rather than snapshot photography it’s still frames of film that I could be recognising. Yet, presented in this way, as slowly painted images, abstracted from the context which might once have generated meanings, they now appear mysterious, opaque, lacking a coherent narrative, as if the very strangeness of the visual might be what is on offer for my consideration.

Nicholas John Jones, Le Scale Mobili (the escalators) (IT), 2011, oil on linen, 38 x 32 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Nicholas John Jones, Le Scale Mobili (the escalators) (IT), 2011, oil on linen, 38 x 32 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Three paintings by Nicholas John Jones, inhabit a conceptual space within the abstract tradition, though toying with figural associations, exploring themes to do with materiality, gesture, image making, and colour. The hues are soft, and the drawing hazy, especially in the charming little painting Le Scale Mobili (The Escalators), where I feel cued to recognise shapes or a vague scene of some kind, but that won’t actually come into focus. I wonder if the title might suggest a picture of something but a set of escalators is certainly not it, much too hard and synthetic, it might be more to do with the feeling of ascending.  I could imagine being on an escalator and taking in only the sense of moving upwards as opposed to bringing the fleeting sights to recognition. This experience is decidedly visual. Less to do with the strangeness of what might be decipherable “out there”, more to do with the sense of seeing without labeling, not necessarily an inwardly focused experience, it is visual after all, more like seeing before the linguistic descriptions kick in. Here it’s the opposite of internal dialogue that is elicited. Even if only momentarily, I am in a state of rest, jaw slightly open, breathing slowed, alternating between foveal and peripheral vision.

There’s a different alternating in relation to the two paintings here by Brad Grievson, in that both employ double images one situated slightly overlapping the other, and in each painting my attention alternates between the two images, looking for the differences.

Brad Grievson, left to right, Double Drawing (Camera Edge), 2014, and Double Drawing (Shadows), 2014. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Brad Grievson, left to right, Double Drawing (Camera Edge), 2014, and Double Drawing (Shadows), 2014. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

I am enthralled by them. Viewing the Jones paintings was more, if I dare use the term, emotional than the Grievson works, where my engagement has more of an intellectual quality, I might be tempted to make the distinction between ‘somatic’ for Jones and ‘cognitive’ for Grievson. My curiosity is aroused by his technique. Double Drawing (Camera Edge), and Double Drawing (Shadows) look like they may have been made with charcoal yet in each painting the ‘double’ is too exact a copy for them to be freehand drawings. I wonder which one, if any is the original, and I am asking myself whether one is a traced copy of the other or whether the two are ‘copies’ of a third image, as with printmaking. Turning to the gallery notes I discover that the images are transfers, though specifically how they are “transferred” is not stated, nor can I tell by studying the surface. Each transfer has a gloss sheen that stands out against the more matt white support. Little accidents seem to have happened along the way, a hair caught in the transfer here, or some damage to the surface there.

Ben Grievson, Double Drawing, (Camera Edge), 2014, Transfers on Canvas, 66 x 51cm, image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Ben Grievson, Double Drawing, (Camera Edge), 2014, Transfers on Canvas, 66 x 51cm, image by courtesy of the artist

I have written before about my own status as an identical twin becoming part of my reflection whenever looking at double images, my own transferred content, that clearly must be quite outside the artist’s intention. I also speculate on what an “expanded field” for painting might look like and I conclude that it must include printmaking/not printmaking  and drawing/not drawing. Perhaps these paintings occupy such a field. That one has the supplementary title (camera edge) gets me looking for an image and I wonder if I can see a face obscured by a camera in the moment of taking a photograph, perhaps not! Then I think that this could indeed be transferred from a photographic image. I recall that as teenagers my brother and I used to use detergent to transfer photographs from newspapers to cartridge paper. I believe the process used here is different, but the fragmentary abstract that resulted seems similar to what Grievson may be doing.

Ben Grievson, Double Drawing (Shadows), 2014, Transfers on Canvas, 66 x 51cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Ben Grievson, Double Drawing (Shadows), 2014, Transfers on Canvas, 66 x 51cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

If there is a source image it is perhaps simultaneously preserved and destroyed in the process of transferring it to canvas. Certainly a new thing results from the doubling of whatever the source image may have been. Again, we have this process of “abstracting from” that in differing ways is present in the other works here.

Rest was at Lion and Lamb Gallery from 20 June to 12 July 2014.

Lion and Lamb Gallery Summer Saloon Show

with 3 comments

Getting to the Lion and Lamb Summer Saloon Show early on opening night I bump into artist Enzo Marra. We take some snaps and chat about the work on view. Forty three painters are represented:

Phillip Allen, Kiera Bennett, Simon Bill, Juan Bolivar, Claudia Böse, John Bunker, Jane Bustin, Stephen Chambers, John ChilverDan Coombs, Ashley Davies, Benjamin Deakin, Hayley Field, Mick Finch, Kirsten Glass, Andrew Graves, Hanz Hancock, Dan HaysMark Jones, David Leeson, Caroline List, Declan McMullan, Patrick Morrisey, Alex Gene Morrison, Darren Murray, Joe Packer, Andy Parkinson, Dan Perfect, Daniel Pettitt, Clare Price, Fiona Rae, Andrew Seto, Francesca Simon, Lucy Stein, Michael Stubbs, Emma TalbotDolly Thompsett, Michelle Ussher, Jacqueline Utley, Covadonga Valdes, Caroline Walker, Freyja Wright, Mark Wright.

Many of them are well known, and many are artists previously not shown.


Fiona Rae’s Party Time is Coming takes central position, with its black fluffy figures and colourful cartoon swishes and stars, on a lilac ground topped with a pink pool of paint running over into carefully controlled drips.

Fiona Rae, Party Time Is Coming

My snap of Fiona Rae, Party Time Is Coming

As well as the demoniacal teddy there are black ‘non-figures’ dancing in an ambiguous space that has hints of a floor but then could just as well be outer space. The paintings is both frivolous and slightly menacing, party time is coming but that’s not necessarily a good thing, almost like the invitation to party is being called by mischievous gremlins from Joe Dante’s 1984 comic horror film.

Above Party Time Is Coming, on the right, is Emma Talbot’s Matins Vespers, a “before and after” painting, in two halves separated horizontally, morning  and night, a female cartoon-like figure in a kitchen making a drink of tea or coffee of hot chocolate, the action of the intervening day being hinted in the ‘after’ state. There’s anticipation and regret simultaneously evoked on a representation of a black and white gridded decorative tile, another kitchen theme. Katrina Blannin suggests to me that the black and white grid is “in conversation” with my own painting Cover, to the left of the Rae, a grid or chequer board of lozenge shapes in black and white, obscuring a multi-coloured surface underneath, but not so much obscured that you can’t tell it’s there. The underneath is incorporated into the covering top layer.  And layering seems to be a theme in many of the paintings here. Enzo brings my attention to the layering and the grid armature in Mark Jones’ painting Baby Doll, commenting on how the armature becomes incorporated into the content, another layer of meaning if you will.

My snap of Mark Jones, Baby Doll, oil on canvas

My snap of Mark Jones, Baby Doll, oil on canvas

It’s Mark Jones who points out to me the layering in Daniel Pettit’s Lovely Slang, above and left of the Fiona Rae, a green ground supporting a minimum of events,  and then there’s Sacrifice by Jane Bustin, a beautiful surface created by tiny oil paint brush strokes over a muslin support, leaving half of the muslin unpainted and see-through. Joe Packer’s Superstrake also employs purposive layering, more in perception than materially perhaps, in that it’s trees and landscape that is evoked as if I’m looking through layers of foliage, or undergrowth, and not quite getting out into the clearing, and yet knowing all the time that its paint and maybe “only paint”. Packer says he wants a “suggestion of a looking through trees or a forest, but not in a literal or descriptive way, so that the brushstrokes are still not trying to be anything other than themselves”.

Joe Packer, Superstrake, 2013, oil on canvas, 30cm x 25cm, image by courtesy of the artist

Joe Packer, Superstrake, 2013, oil on canvas, 30cm x 25cm, image by courtesy of the artist

Oasis by Juan Bolivar, is a delightful painting of a painting, or more accurately a naturalistic painting of a postcard of an abstract painting, with full trompe-l’oeil effect. As such it is paradoxical, akin to the liar paradox (Epimenides the Cretan saying “all Cretans are liars”)  it is abstract by being figurative and figurative by being abstract. The content being a Damien Hirst spot painting, it could be said to be ironical about the ironic. It also seems possible that this array of dots is not a Hirst painting at all, simply an array of dots. in relation to a Hirst then it could be a simulacra, a copy without an original.

My photo of Juan Bolivar, Oasis, 2012, acrylic on canvas

My photo of Juan Bolivar, Oasis, 2012, acrylic on canvas

In interpreting it I am tempted to use that famous Zen formulation where all four statements comprise a truth: “it is abstract” “it is not abstract” “it is both abstract and non abstract” “it is neither abstract nor non abstract”. This painting also settles the question for me about whether a painting of a painting could ever be better than the original. This one in my view is better than the ‘original’. Better in that the use of appropriation is more layered therefore more interesting, as well as in its virtuoso painting technique: a hand painted miniature (Enzo Marra: “how did he get the spots flat?”). I like that, for me, it connects to philosophy (and not only Braudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation) and to the tradition of paintings of paintings that goes back way further than postmodernism, into the middle ages, as recently highlighted in Alexander Nagel’s wonderful 2012 book Medieval Modern, Art Out of Time, yet its also a beautiful painting to look at, with all that spatial layering that I am finding so fascinating.

There are other paintings too that I think of as ‘virtuoso’, like Stephen Chambers’ Man with Twig, which reminds me of a Persian miniature, Hayley Field’s Mean Machine, an obscured Sunflower, Dan Hayes’ Interstate, comprising a marix of precisely constructed coloured dots, that coheres into a highway only from a distance (and I sense that I can’t get back quite far enough). Also there’s Francesca Simon’s Below Ground 10, a dark painting that may be a grave stone or simply a square in an illusionistic space, Cavadonga Valdes’ untitled painting of a house and trees in a reflected in a puddle, the theatrical scene by Michelle Ussher: Holding the Head, Freyja Wright’s photographic Journey Between Homes and Caroline Walker’s picture of a swimming pool being cleared of leaves: Skimmed.

Then there are other very precise paintings that are strictly abstract, like the systems inspired paintings of Patrick Morrisey, Francesca Simon and Hanz Hancock along with others that address the tradition of abstraction, like Kiera Bennet’s Painting recalling early modernism. Keep It All, by Claudia Bose is a charming painting of indefinite window-like shapes over a green ground allowing a partial view of something beyond the ‘windows’, layers again, like in Sleep by Clare Price, where a pink and blue roughly painted layer of semi transparent colour all but erases a series of near geometric figures or patterns. Andrew Graves’ daring Untitled painting is orange on orange, a piece of orange painted canvas stuck onto a canvas painted with an orange ground ( I remember it as orange but the photo may be correct in showing it as nearer to red).

Top left: Claudia Bose, "Keep it all", Bottom left: John Bunker "Charline" Right: Andrew Graves: "Untitled"

Top left: Claudia Bose, “Keep it all”, Bottom left: John Bunker “Charline” Right: Andrew Graves: “Untitled”

John Bunker’s collage Charline, includes elements that are reminiscent of Russian Constructivism along with more irregular shapes that I read as somehow more irrational, though I doubt the rationale of that reading. Just above the centre a mirror-like shiny aluminium foil (?) square brings the external world into the picture frame. I suspect Ad Reinhardt would have disapproved.

I have long admired paintings I have seen only in reproduction or online by Andrew Seto, Alex Gene Morrison, Dan Coombs, Dan Perfect and Phillip Allen, and their work here is distinctive.  Seto’s painterly object(s) in Device, could be sculptures in an unspecified space, marked out only by the horizon line and a sense of ‘floor’, whereas Morrison’s image has more the feel of a poster, but more painterly than that, with diagonal green strokes to the bottom right opening up a receding space against the darker green ground. The Dan Coombs painting could be two stretched out figures, male heads on female bodies, throwing snowballs at each other in the fiery heat of a tropical landscape, the heads, each a mirror image of the other, look dot matrix printed and stuck on, they may even be famous but if they are I am not recognising them. I think the snowballs are drawing-pins stuck into the canvas. It’s anarchic and wonderful. So is Dan Perfect’s Operator, a maximal space, crammed with events that almost seem to make sense figuratively, whilst constantly thwarting figural interpretation. The celebration of image and paint in high colour seems to induce a state that alternates between euphoria and mania. There’s celebration of paint too in the painting by Phillip Allen. I am impressed by the variety of handling, combining flatly painted areas in the centre with thick encrusted layers lining the top and bottom, creating a space that resembles a theatre of competing patterns.

My photo of the Phillip Allen painting (no description details)

My photo of the Phillip Allen painting (no description details)

A theatre of competing patterns might also be a description of the summer saloon show. One of the things I like about the Lion and Lamb Gallery is this continued bringing together of different painters, creating a rich dialogue about what contemporary painting is and might become.

The show continues until September 1st.