patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Hepworth Wakefield

William Scott at the Hepworth, Wakefield

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Isn’t  there something about still lives, or nature morte, that corresponds to painting itself? Their near two-dimensionality, the synthetic arrangement and the stillness seems to echo the characteristics of a completed painting. And they are already in a way “abstract”, emptied of narrative and even of nature, in that it is dead. Only in their relationship to the viewer, often as anticipated meal, do they still live.

Perhaps this is what Scott had in mind when he said that they “convey nothing. There is no meaning to them at all but they are a means to making a picture” and that his paintings were abstract “as a still life by Chardin is abstract”.

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William Scott, Still Life with Candlestick, 1949-50, Private Collection, Copyright 2013 estate of William Scott, Image by courtesy estate of William Scott and The Hepworth, Wakefield.

Yet, without meaning they are also full of meanings, the table being an ancient metaphor for social life, and in the New Testament, for the kingdom of God. Scott’s paintings, nearly all still lives, on show at the Hepworth Wakefield until 29 September, even at their most abstract evoke other experiences ‘outside of themselves’ often employing straight forward sexual symbolism as in Still Life with Candlestick, 1949-50.

A phallic symbol works by visual pun, it’s a double image, and Scott uses double images in other ways too, a primary reading of a painting often giving way to secondary or tertiary ones.  As well as the purely formal reading, a still life could also easily be interpreted as a landscape or a figure. The magnificent Blue Abstract, 1959, winner of the John Moores Painting Prize that year, is a good example of this, where the still life quickly gives way to the purely formal, and then evokes a landscape. In an earlier painting The Harbour , 1952,  the formal arrangement of lines and colours is primary for me, becoming a representation of a harbour, itself already a symbol of shelter and nurture, and then becoming a reclining figure, recalling the bathing figure in Bonnard’s The Bath, of which Scott painted his own version, entitled White Reclining Nude, in 1956.

The Harbour, 1952

William Scott, The Harbour, 1952, Tate, Copyright 2013 estate of William Scott, Image by courtesy estate of William Scott and The Hepworth Wakefield

At the Hepworth show it is easy to see how the scale and simplification of the image increases through Scott’s career, almost always keeping the referent content of still life, figure or landscape, yet becoming increasingly abstract and universal.

William Scott, White, Sand and Ochre, 1960-1

William Scott, White, Sand and Ochre, 1960-1, Tate, copyright 2013 estate of William Scott, image by courtesy of the estate of William Scott and The Hepworth Wakefield.

Paintings like White, Sand and Ochre, and Still Life with Orange Note, as well as one of Scott’s latest paintings Orange Segments, remind me of the way that ‘pure’ colours refer to the outside world even in the names we give to them, and I experience a moment of confusion: “is orange a colour or a fruit?”

William Scott, Still Life with Orange Note, 1970

William Scott, Still Life with Orange Note, 1970, Collection Ulster Museum, National Museums Northern Ireland, copyright 2013 estate of William Scott, Image by courtesy of the estate of William Scott and The Hepworth Wakefield

I wonder if the more abstract they become the more they invite multiple references, but increasingly ambiguous, subjective ones. Patrick Heron referred to Scott’s work as an “intensely personal amalgam of the figurative and non-figurative” and Herbert Read said that in Scott’s more abstract work he found “a sensuousness and a potency of evocation that I find completely seductive”. Isn’t this what happens with abstraction, and the modernist search for the universal? The more universal the image, the more particulars can be projected onto it. For me, the legacy of modernism that remains urgent is the form or process and content distinction, as well as the recognition of how easily the distinction breaks down, because form is always content at the next higher logical level. The content “an orange”, at  at the next logical level is “a colour contained in a circle” in other words form, but at the next logical level that circular colour becomes content.

The most abstract paintings here are the ones from Scott’s Berlin Blues series, for me the highlight of the show, the blue forms becoming almost pure rhythm especially when each individual painting is seen as part of the larger whole of the series, (effectively achieved in the marvelous space of the Hepworth), blues pulsating against the whites of the ground creating after images that reverberate with the overall rhythm. Here, the associations are with music and dance, despite Scott’s denial that the blues of the title made any reference to “The Blues” explaining that it was named after the blue paint he discovered whilst in Berlin.

In this room and throughout the exhibition, the serial aspect of Scott’s method shows through, too much improvisation and imperfection to be systematic  but certainly series, according to Scott every one of his paintings was related to the one before either as a “continuation of a previous painting or… a reaction against it” and I get a strong sense of that here at the Hepworth. It is a wonderful exhibition and a timely reminder of the brilliance of Scott’s oeuvre.

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Systems at Lion and Lamb and William Scott at Hepworth, Wakefield

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I wish I was going to the opening of this show at the Lion and Lamb Gallery tonight.

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I do hope to get along to see it before it closes on 15 June and, assuming I manage it, I will write about it.

In the opposite direction travel-wise there is also an interesting show starting up at the Hepworth, Wakefield this evening and I will be going along to that  (it’s much closer to where I live. If there was nothing in it as far as travel and cost are concerned I would be in a dilemma as to which one to go to).

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and I hope to write about this one too during the next few days.

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

Abstract portraits?

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Dan Coombs has suggested that the abstract paintings of Tomma Abts are better understood “not so much as material objects in the abstract painting tradition but as surrogate people with their own personalities. Each painting is a portrait …of something that does not yet exist[1]“. Seeing the Tomma Abts painting at The Indiscipline of painting exhibition at the Mead Gallery, I was reminded of Coombs’ article. The painting is entitled Thiale, a first name I believe. The format looks like a portrait as does its size (48cm x 38cm).

Tomma Abts, Thiale, 2004, Courtesy of greengrassi, London

It draws us in for closer inspection, I mean for us to inspect the painting, not the other way around, though who knows, maybe whilst I am studying it, it is also studying me? And studying is the mode of viewing that it seems to elicit. Some of the other paintings in the show need to be simply enjoyed, breathed in almost, but not this one; it seems to require close attention or study. And studying it slowly reveals the slowness of its making as evidence of corrections and underpainting becomes apparent.

It isn’t the only ‘portrait’ here. There is also the much larger scale work by Moira Dyer entitled The Vanishing Self-Portrait. There is underpainting of sorts in this one, but hardly in the sense of ‘corrections’. In the Tomma Abts I get the sense of painstaking application and revision, until the ‘correct’ form is arrived at. The Moira Dyer seems more about following a pre-determined course, and quickly. Painted in 1990, only two years before she died at the age of 34, it is balanced on a small tree trunk, rather than hanging on the wall. I could imagine it having been painted right there, the lateral brush strokes in a pale blue/grey with a slightly bluer frame painted around the edge with one blue paint run on the left hand side, that has been allowed to follow its course almost to the bottom edge. The paint looks like it was erased rather than applied, the erasing of an image of the artist perhaps, yet the brush strokes and the dimensions attesting to the artists presence, and body. She was here, and this ‘image’ is what is left of her performance, the record of it hasn’t vanished.

And in looking at these abstract portraits I am reminded of the Clare Woods exhibition at Hepworth Wakefield: The Unquiet Head, showing until 29 January. As well as the large abstract landscapes, which themselves allude to figures in rock formations, there are some smaller works of rocks that are specifically presented as portraits, a series of Idol heads. And then there is a small painting on aluminium entitled Hollow Face, a portrait ‘read into’ the negative space, a hole, or a clearing, in a hedge or some shrubs.

Clare Wood, Hollow Face, (my photo)

This also vanishes, if ever it was there, or only there because we see the absence as a presence and see in that a face. The painting is already there in ‘nature’ but always only inside the imagination, a portrait of something that is both there and not there at the same time, a visual metaphor perhaps. The Moira Dryer portrait is of an event, a performance that once took place, now a nominalisation, whereas the Abts portrait is of a ‘personality’ that exists only because it has been painted into existence.

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

The Unquiet Head is showing at Hepworth Wakefield until 29 January 2012


[1] Tomma Abts by Dan Coombs in Turps Banana, Issue Ten

Now that is scale!

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Yesterday, I was thinking about reducing the scale of my work from a modest 4′ x 4′ to a prudish 4″ x 6″. I think I have noticed a trend towards working on a smaller scale in painting. Perhaps in times of ecomomic downturn it is to be expected. Not for Clare Woods, whose gigantic abstract landscapes can be seen at Hepworth, Wakefield until 29 January 2012.

You can see the connection to Barbara Hepworth in the landscape and figure references, figures that is of stone, “natural” sculpture. The paintings seem to explore the relationship between abstraction and figuration, the way that we read into “abstract” objects like rock formations, images of human forms, and the way that we can also see a represented form as an abstract one (“before a paintings is anything else it is first and foremost a blank surface covered with colours in varying patterns” – J.A.M Whistler).

It is difficult not to read this as a scull,

and am I right to see it as a reference to that particular anamorphic skull in The Ambassadors by Holbein?

And though there are unambigous references to rock formations and their fugural associations here, this painting asserts itself first and foremost as …. etc etc

Written by Andy Parkinson

January 8, 2012 at 8:45 am

Six Forms by Barbara Hepworth

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At the Hepworth, Wakefield over the holidays I saw this piece by Barabara Hepworth entitled Six Forms.

Written by Andy Parkinson

January 5, 2012 at 8:45 am

Studying Mondrian

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This link shows the Mondrian on view at The Hepworth,Wakefield: Composition C (No.III) with Red, Yellow and Blue  1935. I am making studies of it. It is nearly square.

Sean Scully says somewhere that if you have Mondrian, Matisse and Rothko, then you have his (Scully’s) work, and he also says that its impossible to get to the artist’s touch in Mondrian (that’s how I remember what he said anyway, what I have forgotten is where I read it). If that’s what he said he certainly has a point.

However, there is something of Mondrian’s touch in the paintings. Though it never approaches gesture, I do get a sense of the numerous re-workings. In Scully’s paintings you can clearly see lots of layers of under-painting, whereas in Mondrian you discern them.

Don’t you also get a strong sense of the thinking process of making the work, the creative tension between thinking and doing?

Written by Andy Parkinson

November 1, 2011 at 8:00 am