patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘images and icons

David Manley, Deadly Delicious at Tarpey Gallery

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At Tarpey Gallery, David Manley‘s new paintings on circular (sometimes oval) aluminium supports have a wonderful, shiny gold- leaf quality, a consequence partly of the support and partly of the method of painting in semi transparent layers of different colours. They remind me of icons, but bigger, and it’s diseases they represent not divinities, if indeed they are representations.  After all, the sensuality of the paint and luminosity of colour seem to be enjoyed in their own right, and I cannot easily verify their likeness to the specific viruses of their titles, because not being an epidemiologist I don’t often look at viruses through a microscope. So, I have little choice anyway, but to respond to each image on its own terms.

If I had not seen the title Smallpox nor made the connection to the deadliness of the Deadly Delicious series, it might have been only the deliciousness of this painting I paid attention to, with the informal handling of paint, but then also the careful building up of layers creating this hard, pearlescent surface. And there’s the vibrancy of the colours and the figural similarity to a bunch of grapes. It’s only as I look at the picture with “deadly” in mind that I start to wonder if the colours might be slightly too much, about to tip over into the fluorescence I might associate with dead things or deadly materials, the green of acid perhaps. It’s a feast of contradictions, seeming to celebrate the state of being “in-between”.

David Manley, DDA 1 - Smallpox.  Acrylic on Aluminium, 90cm d

David Manley, DDA 1 – Smallpox. Acrylic on Aluminium, 90cm d. Image by courtesy of the artist

Manley is interested in viruses “because they inhabit a place somewhere between living and ‘dead’ or dormant things”, almost as if they are analogous with the situation of the paintings as somewhere between abstract and representational. The circular shape is “in between” landscape and portrait, or perhaps neither landscape nor portrait, though the miniature portraiture tradition might provide a precedent for reading them as portraits. However, in contradistinction to miniature portraits, in Manley’s deadly delicious series each image gives the impression that it could be turned through 360 degrees and continue to work. This impression is, I think, reinforced by the horizontal ‘flatbed’ orientation of a virus seen through a microscope, the circular supports of the paintings already having supplied the cue to interpret them as petri dishes or lenses.

David Manley, DDA 5 - Swine Flu. Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm d.

David Manley, DDA 5 – Swine Flu. Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm d. Image by courtesy of the artist

DDA 5 Swine Flu is a diabolical image of coals in an eternal fire. It looks like what I imagine Swine Flu might feel like, not something I want to test! Just as I wouldn’t want to think of this image as a “point of contact” with the represented, as one might have done with a Byzantine icon.  Nevertheless, icons were images of the invisible and surely this painting is also an image of something that is invisible, at least to the naked eye. Except, strictly speaking, the source material for each paintings is already an image, a picture of a microscopic event, which is then flattened out and simplified, or ‘abstracted’ but not beyond recognition for a scientist familiar with the given virus. The colours however, are entirely the artist’s invention. One type of electron microscope operates only in black and white, Manley explains, adding that because the conventions around coloration remain somewhat open ended  “I took a decision right from the start that in this respect I had ‘carte blanche’ and have operated accordingly”.

David Manley, DDA 6 Sin Nombre , Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm. d.

David Manley, DDA 6 Sin Nombre , Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm. d. Image by courtesy of the artist

In DDA 6 Sin Nombre, the colours are rich blues, reds, ochres, and copper, their crisp edges contrasting with diffused colours in the blue ground, some of which may have been spray painted. And the ‘character’ of this painting (perhaps they are portraits after all) is quite different to The others. This one is calmer, cooler, less frantic than DDA 5 Swine Flu and softer than DDA 8 Measles.

I am interested in the fact that the source images are available to the artist only as a result of technology, and in the implied conflation here of art and technology. The words ‘art’ (‘techne’) and ‘technology’ share the same etymological root, surely. Yet the painterly style suggests ‘free play’, which may be akin to a more primitive approach, often in our thinking the opposite of the technological. In this respect I am reminded of the recent article in the White Review, Techno-Primitivism by Vanessa Hodgkinson and David Trotter, discussing a primitivism mediated by technology in the abstract paintings of Vanessa Hodgkinson and the writing of D H Lawrence.

DDA 8 - Measles . Acrylic on Aluminium, 49 cm. d.

DDA 8 – Measles . Acrylic on Aluminium, 49 cm. d. Image by courtesy of the artist

It may be the case that in a technological society an artist cannot not respond to technology in some way, even if that response is an unconscious one. David Manley is very conscious of the interplay between technology and the handmade that these paintings celebrate.  Jacques Ellul argued that modern art is an imitation of technology or a compensation for it.  The deadly delicious series seems to have elements of both.

David Manley, Deadly Delicious, is showing at Tarpey Gallery until 31 August

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Icons and Salt at Ikon Birmingham

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The photo-realist paintings of John Salt have something approaching the miraculous about them. Could they really be paintings? Pictures of photographs of cars, made with airbrush, they look untouched by human hands.

Tree 2001

Tree 2001, Casin on linen, 109 x 166 cm, Tellenbach Collection, Switzerland, Image courtesy of Ikon gallery

In the Greek Orthodox tradition isn’t acheiropoieta the name given to icons not made by human hands? They were allegedly painted by saints, or they appeared miraculously like Veronica’s Veil or the Turin shroud. Maybe the images were made of the salt from Jesus’ sweat.

But these are no icons, though my eye was conned from time to time into thinking that I was looking at very large photographs rather than paintings. In some senses they are not even images, the matter of fact way in which they are produced and presented, renders them artless, real, objects, to be viewed but not worshipped. And in that they are also images, they are images of images, the subject matter of which is artless, found, material as opposed to image in the sense of advertisement, shiny gleaming mirror. Other photo-realists seem more interested in images of this kind.

Ikon Gallery Birmingham is showing work by John Salt until 17 July 2011. I wandered through the two rooms of paintings, 18 in all, spanning 42 years of Salt’s artistic output. Not wishing to be impressed (my mission, you may remember, is to view abstract paintings outside of London), I found myself confronted by a body of work that I was hugely impressed by.

I lingered longest on the 2001 painting Tree, a solitary vehicle, parked outside a disused store, next to a weedy self-seeded tree, the long shadows suggesting evening or morning.

Tree 2001

Tree 2001, Casin on linen, 109 x 166 cm, Tellenbach Collection, Switzerland, Image courtesy of Ikon gallery

I feel it should be evening symbolically, but seeing how the windscreen is condensed it looks like it may be morning. The shadows emphasise the whereabouts of the cables running up the side of the building and bring attention to the puny tree, projecting  a larger than life image of it onto the façade of the building, rather like the projected image of a photograph onto a large canvas, the standard technique for drawing in photo-realist art. The car and the store are a similar colour, terracotta, or rust. Knowing even a little about this kind of work I think it highly unlikely that Salt is interested in the symbolic or metaphoric elements in the piece, and maybe these also are projections, but I find it difficult not to see in the terracotta, a symbol of rust and decay, also hinted at in the parked or abandoned car.  And I find it difficult not to see in the tree at least a gesture of hope, however futile. I feel sure that this is not the content of the picture as far as the artist is concerned. However, I think the NLP mantra ‘the meaning of a communication is the response you receive rather than the intention you had for it’ applies here.

I found I could also interpret the painting in abstract ‘colour-field‘ terms, enjoying the large expanse of orange, framed above by the light blue band of sky, and below by the darker blue/grey of the tarmac. Then becoming aware of the lemon yellow rectangle on the right hand edge, echoed by the adjacent dark grey or black rectangle of the door, within which is a cut-out of white. At the opposite side, there are similar rectangles in almost complementary colours of blue and lilac. In this reading of the painting the car plays almost no role at all. I realise that here I may have been compensating for the abstract paintings I did not find!

Another reading might concentrate more on the signs. I have already mentioned the index sign of the rust colour and the long shadows: signs of decay and death, the icon sign: the painting of the photograph, and there are also the symbol signs represented in the photograph itself: “No Parking Any Time” and “Store for Rent”.

Well, I had parked myself in front of it for long enough and there were other paintings to see, and work to do.  So I left, hoping I would get chance for another viewing before 17 July.