patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Kandinsky

Colour: A Kind of Bliss

with 3 comments

Colour can be indulgent. You can lose yourself in it, as in colour field painting. Viewing a gigantic Jules Olitski for example, such as Instant Loveland, (1968), undoubtedly induces a blissful state. The critic Peter Fuller was wary of this experience. I remember being shocked, hearing him refer to this paintings as “awful”. Today, I still think it is a great painting. However, I can see that it may be in danger of eliciting a gormless fascination, a distraction from the “real world”, a bliss that smacks too much of escapism, an opiate.

When Roland Barthes refers to colour as “a kind of bliss”, [i] he is countering a first impression of Cy Twombly as an anti-colourist. To do so, Barthes differentiates colour “in the blissful sense of the word” from colour as a “rhetorical mode of existence”, a “sensual idea”. He contrast them along the following lines.

 

Colour as bliss Colour as sensual idea
Lacerates something, passes in front of the eye, apparition, disappearance, like a closing eyelid, a tiny fainting spell. Appears, is there, inscribed, Intense, violent, rich. Delicate, refined, rare. Thick-spread, crusty, fluid. Affirmation or installation of colour

 

For Barthes blissful colour is almost incidental, as if the altered state that colour induces were akin to the naturally occurring trance states that we experience on an everyday basis, a daydream, an apparition, or a negative hallucination such as not being able to find the car keys, even though they are staring you in the face on the kitchen table. Disappearance, a closing eyelid or a tiny fainting spell has momentarily hidden them.

Colour as bliss cuts into our everyday “reality”. It is inscribed into it, rather than installing itself with cries of affirmation. Yet, neither is it exquisite nor exclusive. Instead, it is simply present if we are. However, it is the presence of something quite extraordinary, as David Batchelor has it, “a falling into a state of grace”.[ii]

Julian Brown, Vega, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 40 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

The 18th century poet Thomas Gray had already associated colour with bliss in his poem Ode on the Pleasure Arising from Vicissitude, where “the hues of bliss more brightly glow chastised by sabler tints of woe”. Colour, appearing brighter when countered by black, becomes in the poem, a metaphor for the tempering of joy with grief, again suggesting a grounded bliss, somewhere between hedonistic pleasure and spiritual ecstasy.

Kandinsky no doubt overstated the case for colour in his treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, invoking its healing power after the fashion of chromotherapy, but the attempt was to ground the spiritual in the discoveries of “science” at the same time as showing that colour could affect the viewer directly, quite apart from the requirements of imitation or analogy. He was making a case as much for abstract or non-objective painting as for colour.

The artists included in the exhibition Colour: A Kind of Bliss, at St Marylebone Crypt, London, approach colour directly, without the distractions of representation, but also without an over indulgent spirituality.

In the paintings here by Julian Brown, colour seems inherently tied to the ground upon which it is situated. In Vega (2016), spectrum bands zig zagging across the surface have been applied over a polished, pearl white surface that shines through the gestures lending them a vibrant luminosity. Scattered among the assertive bands of colour are black circles, dots that look to have been dropped or splattered into existence, except that they also look too carefully placed to have been made that way. A non-verbal conversation takes place between the ground, the rainbow bands and the black dots, as well as between each band, some favouring the yellows and oranges of the spectrum and others more the blues and violets, each band shot through with lines of other temperatures.

Julian Brown, Tattoo Lagoon, 2017, acrylic on linen, 80 x 100 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

In Tattoo Lagoon, (2017), the sabler tints of dark blue and grey form circular patterns in the centre, flanked and partially obscured by multiple crescents of various colours, resembling melon boats on a sea that is just about to become stormy. They are accompanied by circles in gold, amber, maroon, black and silver along with tiny yellow speech balloons, ochre asterisks, pink drips and blue or green runs. And all the time it’s the dark ground that calls to us, almost menacingly. A captivating darkness is waiting to envelope us, just as it has already overtaken some of the crescent shapes, absorbing their colour into a homogenous mass of dark.

Yet it is a playful and joyous painting, the darkness recalling the dark ground of East Asian decorative lacquerware or indeed the Polish folk art that Brown cites as an influence.

In David Manley’s shield-like ovals painted on aluminium, colour differentiates one form from another, or merges geometric shapes so that they come in and out of view often giving way to a larger pattern of their interconnections, like cut-outs in paper, where the paper is kept and what’s cut out is thrown away, as if to bring our attention to the importance not so much of things as the relationships between things.

David Manley, Nine Lives Of Fives, 2017, acrylic on aluminum, 72 x 48 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

In his Nine Lives of Fives, (2017), pentagon forms are all but destroyed by having been posited, erased and restated numerous times and in many places within the frame. Colour gives them life via demarcation, just as it does for map-makers who have known for centuries what I only just learned from Beau Lotto that “you only need four colours to create any map and be able to make sure no bordering countries are ever coloured the same”.[iii]

In my own paintings, I am interested in what 17th century cartographers knew about colour, that colour spreads, not “really” i.e. physically, but “really” i.e. in our perception. It is unnecessary to colour-in every country of a map, the colour of a bounded outline can be made to spread into an area, not physically, but perceptually. Visual cognition scientists have called this the watercolour effect (WCE). A light meter will show you that the area is physically white, but colour is perceived there as a result of the boundary colour. In my Cybernetic Drawing (Hexagons), (2014), the lilac of the drawn lines merges into the white of the ground in a similar way.

Andy Parkinson, Cybernetic Drawing, (Hexagons), 2014, mixed media on canvas.

In, Jeff Dellow’s paintings the same motifs change dramatically in different colour-environments. A motif seen in one painting looks very different when set within the differently coloured ground of another. Also, within a single painting, a repeated motif, especially the net-like motif that appears quite often, looks markedy different depending on its colour. But even more interesting, the ground that I know is the same colour over a large area, changes colour where different coloured nets interact with it. In Orange Fix, (2016), the orange ground between and around the squares of the green/grey net motif is much redder than it is between the squares of the lilac/greys along the right hand edge. The ground is the same colour physically but perceptually it changes. Although we “know” that such “illusions” will take place, when they do, they surprise us. I think that is what makes colour so blissfully enjoyable.

Jeff Dellow, Orange Fix, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 92 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

The paintings of Freya Purdue are like colour landscapes, it is difficult not to read the blue grounds as skies, within which are colour happenings, resembling what daylight fireworks might look like, bursts of colour sometimes taking up discrete areas here and there and sometimes filling half the space.

Purdue’s Nada (2016), may be a picture of nothing. The sky association remains and there is a cloud-like shape, taking up more than half of the canvas. It could be a swarm of smaller nothings, insects perhaps, or atoms, or smoke. And this indistinct cloud hovers above sticks of colour that are arranged to suggest a perspectival recession into a vanishing point at the centre of a low horizon line. Associations abound, as they do whenever we see colours, but without ever cohering into a definitive object or idea or story. No thing is clearly depicted.

Freya Purdue, Nada, 2016, oil on canvas, 50 x 60 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Lucy Cox’s playful geometric arrangements, almost inhabiting a believable three dimensional space, seem to celebrate the ways in which colour creates spatial ambiguities and irregularities. In Zippy Seven, (2017), holes in grey planar structures reveal coloured and/or patterned surfaces way behind them. However, being more coloured than the sable structures, the parts of surfaces covered by holes appear to push forward, sometimes occupying the space immediately behind a hole, but more often transforming themselves into positive circles that hover in front of the grey planes.

Lucy Cox, Zippy Seven, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 50 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Knowing a bit of colour theory we could have predicted this chromatic (mis)behaviour. Nevertheless, when it happens we experience a jolt of surprise as if it had been totally unpredictable.

The trouble with colour theory is that it con’s us into thinking we understand colour. Yet face to face with it, we find that we cannot get wise to it, almost as if it puts us in the wrong and makes us ignorant. But isn’t ignorance also bliss? Borrowing even more famous lines from Thomas Gray: “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise”.[iv]

 

Colour: A Kind of Bliss, curated by Lucy Cox and Freya Purdue continues at The Crypt, St Marylebone Church, London until 30 June 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Roland Barthes, The Responsibility of Forms, Basil Blackwell, 1986

[ii] David Batchelor, Chromophobia, Reaktion Books, 2000

[iii] Beau Lotto, Deviate, The Science of Seeing Differently, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2017

[iv] Thomas Gray, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, 1747

Advertisements

Written by Andy Parkinson

May 26, 2017 at 8:48 am

Louisa Chambers’ Stereoscope at Mrs Rick’s Cupboard

with 2 comments

Mrs Rick’s Cupboard exists in a time warp. Once the teacher’s cupboard in a Nottingham primary school, now somehow out-of-place, functionless, in the corner of artist Craig Fisher‘s studio at Primary, Nottingham. No longer a stock cupboard, it serves as an exhibition space that seems larger on the inside than on the outside. At least that’s how it appears to me as I view paintings by Louisa Chambers in this setting.

And having created that filter for seeing the work, doesn’t the background of Tent resemble the interior of Doctor Who’s TARDIS, depending on whether you are seeing the spray painted circles as positive or negative shapes? When they are negative shapes, I have the impression that an interior space is being described, when positive then it’s a landscape I am seeing.  This perceptual shift allows the painting to be viewed first in this way and then in that way and back again, but can never be seen in both ways simultaneously, though the painting holds both views. Perhaps the artist has something of this in mind, when she envisages the cupboard functioning as a Stereoscope, an optical device in which two separate photographic images that have been taken from slightly different viewpoints corresponding to the spacing of the eye, merge together to become a single three-dimensional scene. The device itself being an object of fascination, two flat photographs becoming three-dimensional only when the binocular viewer is brought into operation.

Louisa Chambers, Tent, 2013, spray paint, acrylic and oil on canvas, 23 x 30 cm

Louisa Chambers, Tent, 2013, spray paint, acrylic and oil on canvas, 23 x 30 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

There are other ambiguities that come into play also in this charming little painting. In one viewing the tent figure itself hovers in space, whether the literal space of the support, or the illusionistic space hinted at by the horizon line. The main figure could seem to hover above the horizon or settle down onto the ground that the low horizon line suggests and/or it protrudes slightly in front of the picture plane, and then readjusts back into the framed space. Another alternating reading also asserts itself: the yellow undersides of the lower row of circles/spheres seem to be attached to the triangular figure almost as if they are its wheels, a reading that can be sustained when focusing on the centre of the base and that falls away when focusing more on the edges. The main figure can be interpreted as a vehicle or as an object like the tent of the title, and then fairground associations are triggered for me, in contrast to the Sci Fi associations when I am reading it is a vehicle: a Robot, a Dalek perhaps or a spaceship. All this is further complicated by the formal(ist) abstract ‘language’ of the painting, warning me not to read content into it at all but to see it only as a formal composition of shape and colour.

Louisa Chambers, Unveil, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Unveil, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Unveil follows almost the same compositional arrangement as Tent, the space being divided more or less centrally by a horizontal, a vertical and by two diagonal lines, resulting in a positive double triangle shape situated in a negative double triangle space, resembling a pyramid topped by an inverted pyramid, the shape of a ‘double tetractys’. The space has more of a sense of different two-dimensional planes than Tent, becoming more of an illusionistic space in the upper triangular area, as if the flat inverted triangle has opened into a portal onto a three-dimensional space in which an impossible figure rotates. Comparing the two paintings the rotating geometrical figure corresponds to the geometrical ‘ring’ figure in Tent. Both add further spacial ambiguity to each whole. In Unveil, flag like shapes might be interpreted as bunting, adding to a celebratory mood suggested by the joyous colours, that could equally be menacing. I am back at the fairground again where the clowns could be both comedic and terrifying. Yet there are no ‘clowns’ here, no human figures, only coloured triangular and circular forms.
There’s something Kandinsky-esque about this painting. Again I want to refer to the formal ‘language’ but I am wondering if the word ‘technology’ might be better, the means employed being derived from the technology of modernist abstraction, and in so far as content is suggested, we have objects and landscapes that are neither natural nor societal but rather technological, which I think I also find in Kandinsky.

Louisa Chambers, Non-Stop Radio, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Non-Stop Radio, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

in Non-Stop Radio and Over the Hill the geometric shapes, like paper cut-outs waving in the air of an unspecified urban park landscape have been anthropomorphised, as if they were dancing figures, with wide shaping at the topline contrasting with the close contact at centre, narrowing down to the feet that look only just strong enough to support the swing and sway above. These constructions could exist only in a painting, whilst looking like they could be fabricated in three dimensions I suspect that an attempt to do so would soon show their impossibility.

Louisa Chambers, Over the Hill, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Over the Hill, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Looking at them, I sense the artist’s enjoyment in imagining them, as well as in painting them, with the lightness of watercolour, the paint handling seems so congruent with these fluid geometries, precise enough, yet never uptight.

Louisa Chambers, Louisa Chambers, Over the Hill, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Timer, 2013, acrylic and oil on linen, 35 x 20 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Timer could be a painting of a real object, something similar to an egg timer, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s an impossible construct, which again I would love to attempt to build. For a start, it looks much too large to be an egg timer, even without paying attention to the differing geometries of the four horizontal intersections. I know I am in danger of coming across like a die-hard Doctor Who fan if I say that it reminds me of the control mechanism of the old style TARDIS, but I just cannot help making that connection. I feel confirmed in my interpretation when I read in the gallery notes that “Chambers’ paintings present alternative universes where impossible science fiction/architectural structures comment on conflicts between our inner dream worlds and the technological robotic control on our everyday lives”. I’d go further and say that our “inner dream worlds” have been technologised, and Doctor Who could serve as an example of that.

 Rotating Shape (Side I and Side II), 2013, acrylic on card, 68 x 66 x 0.5 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers. Rotating Shape (Side I), 2013, acrylic on card, 68 x 66 x 0.5 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Maybe it’s a response to the impossibility of the constructions within the paintings that has led to Chambers’ recent experiments in three-dimensions: Rotating Shape Side I and Side II, Shelter and Monument, all of which are here in the cupboard. Shelter and Monument are like nets in the moment of converting from two to three dimensions and Rotating Shape is literally that, a geometric painting on shaped card that can be both rotated and reversed (hence Side I and Side II). However even these constructible paintings have unconstructability in them, tessalating shapes, bending the space as they shift from one arrangement to another, introducing time as well as space into flat, motionless surfaces.

Louisa Chambers, Rotating Shape (Side I and Side II), 2013, acrylic on card, 68 x 66 x 0.5 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Rotating Shape (Side II), 2013, acrylic on card, 68 x 66 x 0.5 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Although Stereoscope closed on 6 December, other paintings by Louisa Chambers can be seen at The Midlands Open at Tarpey Gallery until 11 January and at Crash Open Salon 2013, at Charlie Dutton Gallery from 11 December to 11 January.

Natalie Dower: Constructive Line of Enquiry

with 4 comments

I wish I had seen the Natalie Dower exhibition Line of Enquiry at the Eagle Gallery in May. I became interested in her work after seeing the wonderful Fast track Through 44 points, at Lion & Lamb Gallery in June.

Well, I did the next best thing and bought a copy of the book that accompanied the show, published by EMH Arts London, 2012, with a preface by Mel Gooding and a text by Alan Fowler. I am enjoying it a lot.

Here’s a link to a summary with images at Abstract Critical, where in comments Alan Fowler says:

I find it fascinating that Dower – together with, among others, Jeffrey Steele, Peter Lowe and Gillian Wise – continue to carry into the 21st century an approach to abstraction which was prefigured 100 years ago by Kandinsky when he wrote in 1912 that he foresaw a time when the relationship between elements in a painting could “be expressed in mathematical form”, and concluded that “the time was approaching “when the painter would be proud to declare his work constructive

I also found this interesting podcast of an interview with Dower in relation to her paintings/constructions in the Government Art Collection. She comments on her artistic background, the notion of systems art, the Fibonacci sequence and the Dudeney Dissection. (It becomes clear that the interviewer is herself an artist, but I don’t know who it is.)