patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Katrina Blannin

Katrina Blannin Annodam at Jessica Carlisle

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Katrina Blannin‘s very smart looking solo show Annodam at Jessica Carlisle closes in just two days.

Katrina Blannin, Annodam, by Jessica Carlisle, photo by Tom Carter, image by courtesy of Jessica Carlisle

Katrina Blannin, Annodam, installation photo by Tom Carter, image by courtesy of Jessica Carlisle

Geoff Hands recommends going to see it, in his article at Abcrit, though I had deliberately avoided reading what he has to say until now because I was writing my own review and I didn’t want to be influenced. You can read my review here at Saturation Point, the online editorial and curatorial project for reductive, geometric and systems artists working in the UK. 

Katrina Blannin, Annodam, installation photo by Tom Carter, courtesy of Jessica Carlisle

Katrina Blannin, Annodam, installation photo by Tom Carter, courtesy of Jessica Carlisle

Annodam is Madonna spelt backwards, all the paintings in the exhibition being strangely connected to the Madonna del Parto (c.1455-60), a fresco by Piero della Francesca. But how are they connected? Read more here

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Written by Andy Parkinson

April 7, 2016 at 9:56 pm

Generator Discussion

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On the final day of the Generator exhibition, Duncan Brennan from Kaleidoscope Gallery, posed a few questions for discussion by the artists. Here is an attempt at recovering some of the conversation from notes. I wasn’t actually there. Think of it as an exercise in constructed memory. I have also taken the liberty of adding some thoughts of my own. I think that the questions alone are generative enough to be worth a post.

DB: How would you define the type of work in this exhibition?

HH: It is work that is created by using a mathematical or logical system

CP (from the exhibition introduction): artwork that is by nature ‘generative’, created once an artist cedes control to an external system or set of rules. The artwork thus results not from the wholly instinctive decisions of the artist, but is formed by objective rules or logical instructions that shape its process or material outcome.

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, acrylic on six canvases, total 77 x 79 cm

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, 2015, acrylic on six canvases, total 77 x 79 cm

DB: Can you talk about some of the defining characteristics of generative work?

AP: In his 2010 paper Program, be Programmed or Fade Away: Computers and the Death of Constructivist Art, Richard Wright summarises Kenneth Martin’s division of systematic work into three types : 1) the completely predefined system which once set in motion can generate work independently of any further input from the artist. 2) a system that may be initially predefined but is then constantly altered through feedback, bringing into contact with other systems, the ‘program’ thereby being written in conjunction with the work itself. 3) the system which builds up from a primary act without any previous planning, like a self propelled aggregation of logical steps. The works in Generator may be closest to the first of these three definitions.

Charley Peters, Configuration #30,

Charley Peters, Configuration #30, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 25 x 50 x 3 cm

DB: What makes this different to other forms of abstraction, such as constructivism?

AP: I think it is situated within the Constructivist tradition, though that historical moment has passed. British Constructionist and Systems Group artists saw the need to abandon its utopianism and showed how art could be generated by a numerical or mathematical system. It is different from expressionism, which has been another strand within abstraction.

HH: Constructivism was /is a more political form of creation. Generative art has its own roots, the methodology and interpretatons are unique to the individual

Patrick Morrissey, Indeterminant

Patrick Morrissey, Indeterminant, 2011, Acrylic on linen, 6’ x 4’

DB: Would you agree that rules need to be constructive rather than restrictive?

HH: Everything in the world is generated by rules. Painting a landscape has rules that govern the outcome of what will be a recognisable presentation. Working in the constraints of rules or systems allows the artist to interpret data and input  in many ways. I use a system at work which plots the movement of the railways in graphic representation. I use the variations in the programme to generate  some of my own work, the patterns vary according to the input in spite of the fact that the system itself is governed or regulated by a computer.

Left Christina France, Right Hanz Hancock

Left Christina France, Equilibrium 1 and 2, pigment, archival digital print on German etching paper, 80 x 60 cm. Right Hanz Hancock, Untitled, 2015, mixed media, 51 x 51 cm

DB Can a computer make art?

HH: A computer can make extremely complex patterns/can create algorithmic sequences , it cannot make emotional decisions as to what looks good. That is down to human preference. I/we make sequences based on numerical systems, something working within the grid. Patrick created several works that generated themselves: a module was sent into rotation within a grid, in a concentric spiral and each module had a graphic relationship or difference to the positioning of the the other. However, because of the repetitive nature of the system, repeating aggregations became apparent, appearing almost at random within the matrix, i.e. the formation of pattern. This could then be sampled and magnified into groups and in turn, work was made from tha , a sort of generative mechanism or device to generate pattern.

JI: Yes, computers can make art but humans make computers. The computer is just a tool. An algorithm, performed by a computer, is just a mirror of a set of processes condensed in time and space. It is in this compression that the art lies.

AP: Your question reminds me of a story told by that great systems thinker Gregory Bateson, of a computer programmer in the days of big mainframe computing, who wanted to know about mind in his private large computer. He asked it, “Do you compute that you will ever think like a human being?” The machine then set to work to analyse its own computational habits. Finally, the machine printed the answer ticker tape style, as such machines used to do. The programmer ran to get the answer and found, neatly typed, the words: THAT REMINDS ME OF A STORY”.

James Irwin, Silicon Binary Progression (ii), 2014, HD video, monitor, media player, dexuob speed frame, MDF, 4 mins 15 secs

James Irwin, Silicon Binary Progression (ii), 2014, HD video, monitor, media player, dexuob speed frame, MDF, 4 mins 15 secs

DB: Has the computer changed the focus of generative art? Is the computer to generative art what the camera was to representational art?

JI: Good question and there’s probably the same analogue relationship between the computer and generative work, and the camera’s photographic image. It’s not that simple though. Using the computer is just one way of working generatively. It isn’t definitive of generative art.

HH: Human beings create programs by which the computer will create images, but the camera can only record the image which can then be manipulated both outside of the camera and electronically inside. The human brain has always generated images and pattern forming/art. The computers is a tool not a focus, as is the camera for human imagination.

AP: I have my doubts about that little word  “just”, as much as I do also about the idea of the computer as a tool. It seems to me that the computer, and indeed technology more generally, gets characterised as just a tool to make it seem smaller than us and in our control, like a spanner, a hammer or a paint brush, when in fact, as a system it obeys its own rules, and incorporates us into its usage. Nevertheless, in Generator it is the contemporary analogue, rather than digital, ‘programmatic’ that is being explored. The computer programme is often used as a metaphor for the human processes of thinking/doing, so we might wonder what the programme is for activities like walking, or breathing, or even attempt to codify neuro-linguistic programmes for performance excellence in any particularly field. In this exhibition the systems that generates the artwork are thought of as analogue programmes, which have clearly been around a lot longer than have computer programmes, but only now that we have the computer are we able to utilise the metaphor for thinking about thinking. I like the circularity of it.

Left, Mary Yacoob, Right Katrina Blannin

Left, Mary Yacoob, Modular Hakka House, 2014, ink and graphite on paper, 50.8 x 40.6 cm, Right, Katrina Blannin, blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50, 2015, acrylic on linen, 70 x 70 cm

DB: What characterises good generative art? Is it necessary to be either or both conceptually and aesthetically strong?

AP: I think Natalie Dower and Jeffrey Steele answer this best. Here’s Dower in an interview with Patrick Morrissey: “If the input that has generated the idea does not translate into valid visual terms I do not accept it.  I have had intellectually interesting ideas that I have had to abandon for that reason”. And here’s Steele in an interview with Katrina Blannin: “…something has good Gestalt or bad Gestalt — has it got a clear shape to it? I can look at one of my paintings and see whether it has good Gestalt or bad, and this has happened occasionally. A clear process of abstract thinking should lead to a satisfying visual Gestalt. I don’t necessarily “reject” or stop working on a project when this is not happening, but it bothers me, and I want to know what is going wrong”.

DB: Are you looking to formalise the human aesthetic?

JI: A human aesthetic is wide reaching and all encompassing. Defining a human aesthetic as work that shows signs of ‘the hand’if that’s what the question suggests, is too limiting”

AP: Maybe formal logic and formal linguistics, abstract languages, like mathematics, all pertinent to computer programming, have close connections to the formal ‘language’ of abstract painting.

DB: Does any of your work explore any of the hypotheses, the rules and processes of the scientist? Do you think generative art work like this can inform scientific study?

AP: I was going to say that whilst likely to have been informed by scientific study, the relationship is unlikely to be reciprocal, but then I remembered that some of the truly fascinating discoveries made in the last few decades in the science of visual cognition was discovered by map makers in the seventeenth century, so I guess you never know!

Generator print by MuirMcNeil (2015), edition of 400

Generator print by MuirMcNeil (2015), edition of 400

Generator: Systems Logic and the Analogue Art of Programming, at Kaleidoscope Gallery from 11 June to 11 July 2015, included work by Katrina Blannin, Christina France, Hanz Hancock, James Irwin, Patrick Morrissey,  Andy Parkinson, Charley Peters and Mary Yacoob.

Generator: Systems Logic and the Analogue Art of Programming

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Generator, curated by Saturation Point Projects, on show at Kaleidoscope Gallery presents a selection of artworks that are automatically generated, in that control of the artistic process and/or outcome is transferred from the artist to a system or set of rules. However, the programmatic here is decidedly analogue as opposed to the digital programming associated with “computer art”. 

Charley Paters, Configuration #33, 2015, acylic on plywood, 40cm x 50cm x 5cm

Charley Paters, Configuration #33, 2015, acylic on plywood, 40cm x 50cm x 5cm. My photo

Charley Peters Configuration #33 is unmistakeably a painting, even though there is only trace evidence of facture in terms of brush strokes or painterly gesture. It is a new kind of materiality, one that is informed by the experience of looking at screens or monitors, abstraction in HD perhaps. A gridded pattern of repeated triangles in blue green and pink, the subtle changes are to colour and tone but not to structure, leading to my reading it as a tilted spatial plane over which light falls. Yet I am finding no representational object, other than what might appear to be a wall, or more accurately simply this painting, a representation of itself in three dimensions, slanting backwards from the right hand edge. I am tempted to suggest that there is information here but that it is information about information.

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, 2015, acrylic on six canvases, 77cm x 79cm

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, 2015, acrylic on six canvases, 77cm x 79cm

My own painting here is a sequence of six identical hexagonal canvases. Each one is divided into two triangles and two parallelograms described by opposing sets of coloured stripes, more or less tonally matched. The stripes are themselves arranged sequentially, a light blue stripe, for example always meeting a yellow ochre one, dark blue always meeting black etc. and ordered according to the pattern ABACADAEBCBDBECDCEDEABCDE.

Christina France, Equilibrium 1, pigment, archival digital print on German etching paper, 80 x60cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Christina France, Equilibrium 1, pigment, archival digital print on German etching paper, 80 x 60cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Christina France’s Equilibrium is an ongoing series of screen prints and etchings, and here pigment rich,digital prints, developed from initial works on paper, made in response to notions of balance and counterbalance within a quadrilateral form. In the artists words: “Determined by size and colour, the 50:50 ratio of the square is altered and reconstructed within the initial format and without, employing chance operations to assign colours and placement within the square”.

Hanz Hancock, Untitled, 2015, mixed media, 51cm x 51cm

Hanz Hancock, Untitled, 2015, mixed media, 51cm x 51cm. My photo

In Hanz Hancock’s Untitled, rows of till-rolls in blue white and black are pressed into a square frame, and organised according to a specific procedural system, or analogue programme, in which certain rolls are pushed upwards in the framework in a particular order. I think that the puzzling out of the structure is an essential experience in relation to this piece, as indeed with the other works on show here. It might even be the case that this is a mode of viewing unique to the systems aesthetic. Other artistic traditions have contained elements of puzzle, think for example of a history painting, a biblical narrative or a mythical allegory. Identifying the actors and figuring out what’s being enacted is part of the enjoyment. Counting twelve people, for example, might cue recognition of the twelve disciples, or three female figures might indicate the three graces. However, in such instances interpretation, and number even, is about content, whereas here it is entirely at the level of process. Just as in mathematics, twelve, or three, are of interest in their own right, the language being abstract, tautological, rather than representational. There’s also something happening here to do with foundness and materiality, the till-roles being ready made and having more physicality than paint. The work is abstract in the sense of the word that is opposite to its usual meaning: it is concrete. But the system is abstract in the more usual sense of “removed from reality”. However, though abstract in the second sense used here, a system or procedure also has something of a ready-made quality.

Patrick Morrissey, Goodbye Ploy 2, 2015, video

Patrick Morrissey, Goodbye Ploy 2, 2015, video. My photo

Patrick Morrissey’s video Goodbye Ploy is an animation of a painting, the materially existent becomes material for video. Here we have a process of abstraction in a number of self reflexive moves: the abstract analogue programme is realised in a physical painting, which is then transformed into information, into animated image, not quite immaterial, but certainly more abstract than the painted object. James Irwin’s video based work Silicon Binary Progression (ii) seems to explore similar terrain, alternating between abstract code and perceptual image, and all contained within work station hardware. In Mary Yacoob’s intricate ink and graphite drawing, resembling an architectural plan, Modular Hakka House, abstract map, lacking any referent, has become abstract territory.

Katrina Blannin, blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50, 2015, acrylic on linen, 70cm x 70cm

Katrina Blannin, blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50, 2015, acrylic on linen, 70cm x 70cm. My photo

I love the literal matter of fact-ness of Katrina Blannin’s title blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50. We would be right to say that the painting does exactly what the title says it does, at least in terms of the programmatic order of rotated tone/colours within a set of tessellating mostly triangular forms on a lozenge shaped canvas. And we would also be wrong, because in viewing the painting, fact seems to give way to nuance, flat tiles become shifting spatial relationships. Perception is never simple, however reductive a work may be . Hence my attempt to describe it in a precise sentence fails. “The map is not the territory and the thing is not the thing named”. I think it is this slippage between map and territory, information and material, idea and object, procedure and outcome, generator and generated, that I am enjoying in Blannin and others’ work on show here.

Generator: Systems Logic and the Analogue Art of Programming, including work by Katrina Blannin, Christina France, Hanz Hancock, James Irwin, Patrick Morrissey,  Andy Parkinson, Charley Peters and Mary Yacoob is on show at Kaleidoscope Gallery until 11 July .

A limited edition print by MuirMcNeill with an essay by Laura Davidson accompanies the exhibition.

Chance and Order at Eagle Gallery

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The Chance and Order exhibition at Eagle Gallery takes its title from Kenneth Martin‘s early 1970s series of works, that he later developed into his Chance Order Change series, magnificent paintings in my view. The show brings works from the 1960s and 1970s by the British Constructionist and Systems Group together with more recent works by artists who currently draw upon this tradition. It is a mystery to me that this incredibly rich field in British art has been somewhat overlooked, when the paintings, drawings reliefs etc. of Kenneth and Mary Martin, Jeffrey Steele, and many others in this grouping are among the finest produced anywhere in the world. That they are being appreciated now by more than a generation of younger artists seems absolutely appropriate.

NATALIE DOWER Root Two Spirals no 2 2014 oil on canvas 85 x 122cm

Natalie Dower, Root Two Spirals no 2, 2014, oil on canvas 86 x 122 cm. Image copyright of the artist by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

The two 2014 paintings by Natalie Dower are wonderful, both exploring the properties of Root-2 rectangles, which can be halved and halved endlessly and each time the rectangles will be of the same proportions. In these paintings Dower employs a rotating or spiralling movement to position repeatedly halved rectangles or triangles, (the triangles being derived by halving the rectangle diagonally), differentiating them using a nine colour sequence, in each reduction the triangle and rectangle shape share the same colour. There are nine moves, so nine colours are duplicated on two spirals tracks, one situating the triangular units and one the rectangles. On the first move the two units occupy the same area but in the subsequent diminutions the first two moves are in the same halves but then the track of rectangles curves inwards whilst the triangle track follows the periphery. The smaller scale units have priority over the previous, larger ones.  If I am not mistaken Two Spirals No.2 is the inverse of Two Spirals No.1, in the same colours, used in different order. I read somewhere that the colours are “muted”, but that’s not really my experience, white may have been added, they are not quite primary and not quite secondary colours, but to my eyes the colours are high, with turquoise, cerulean blue, orange and yellow contrasting with Payne’s grey, white and a neutral base. The logical relationship of shapes and the sequential ordering, is combined with the intuitive, in the form of two sets of choices: the system being explored and the colours used, an inventive fusion of chance and order that I am finding in each of the works in this exhibition.

Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change 1978 pencil and ink on paper 21.5 x 29.5cm (1)

Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change (2 Drawings),1978, pencil and ink on paper, 21.5 x 29.5cm. Copyright Estate of Kenneth Martin, Image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art, London.

There’s a rotational theme too in the Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change drawings, the paper having first been marked with numbered points, moving clockwise around the rectangle, the artist generated the lines by taking numbers, two at a time, at random out of a bag. A line was drawn between each successive pair of numbers as they were picked out. Chance determined the sequence and the number of parallel lines, the first drawn would have one line, the second two lines and so on. Change was initiated by rotating the drawing by 90 degrees and repeating the process for three rotations. The result is this intriguing network of lines which was then transferred to canvas. Order and chance may appear to be opposites, yet here their opposition is suspended, one being determined by the other.

Katrina Blannin, Diamond Light 50 (tonal Rotation with Pink/Green: Blue/Black Demarcation), 2014, acrylic on linen, 50 x 50 cm, copyright of artist by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

Katrina Blannin, Diamond Light 50 (tonal Rotation with Pink/Green: Blue/Black Demarcation), 2014, acrylic on linen, 50 x 50 cm, Image copyright of the artist by courtesy of Eagle Gallery, London

Katrina Blannin also employs rotation in her method, using the same double hexad starting point that has by now become familiar to regular viewers of her work, this time skewed to fit a square format, oriented to hang as a diamond shape, which is subdivided into triangles differentiated by a range of colours (yellow pink green red blue and grey) that get darker and then lighter in rotation. Narrow demarcation lines are also added. There is a sense in which the careful definition of parts leads to accurately separating flat areas of colour, yet they immediately set up fascinating, shifting spatial relationships that create ambiguity. I think of them oxymoronically as precisely ambiguous. There are three paintings in sequence here increasing in size from left to right: 50 x 50 cm , 60 x 60 cm and 70 x 70 cm.

Mary Martin, Drawing for Cross 1968, pen on paper 25.3 x 20.3cm

Mary Martin, Drawing for Cross 1968, pen on paper 25.3 x 20.3cm. Image Copyright: estate of Mary Martin, courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art, London

Mary Martin‘s drawing for Cross, a preparatory study for the magnificent stainless steel on wood relief that won the John Moores prize in 1969, is a diamond shape on a square. In the drawing Martin uses six iconographic figures, one for each of the six positions of her basic unit of a half cube, cut on the hypotenuse, faced with stainless steel, that she used in the relief. The half cube, placed in six different positions and and then arranged in a variety of sequences results in an amazing complexity of form, as demonstrated in this beautiful drawing. There’s a similar strategy being followed in Jeffrey Steele‘s outstanding Six sets of 7 x 5 half circles in cinematic rotation. It does “what it says on the tin”, yet whilst the descriptive title may sound somewhat prosaic, the visual experience is surprisingly poetic. And this is where I am supposed to say that their approach is not “mechanical” or “formulaic”, because we seem prejudiced towards those ideas, preferring instead the illusion of freedom. So I am going to say the opposite: it is formulaic, mechanical, digital (though not virtual), and that’s good! These drawings and paintings are totally contemporary, dealing with the issues of our day, without ever representing them or commenting upon them. What we are faced with in these works, precisely because of their programmatic or systematic formality, are the big, dare I say existential, questions to do with freedom and necessity, chance order and change.

Andrew Bick‘s OGVDS (Tilted Forward/straightened) v 5 is perhaps less systematic. Rather than numeric permutations of a single unit, we have more playful, serial variations on a theme, the theme being a particular grid arrangement that looks very different depending on changes to colour, texture, quality of mark and perceived depth. His work has been described as ‘gently disruptive and purposefully chaotic’, and it is easy to see this here. I like the gentle disruption in the spatial shifts as two large dark grey areas, an interrupted triangular shape at bottom left and a rectangular slab taking up nearly all of the right-hand half of the painting, first share the same literal plane and then snap into opposition, the larger shape receding in space in one interpretation, or jutting forward, in another, two orange irregular rectangles joining this game of push/pull, perhaps supporting the first interpretation slightly more than the second.

Andrew Bick, OGVDS (Tilted Forward/Straightened)V 5 , 2014, mixed media on linen on wood, 76.5 x 64.5cm, image copyright of the artist by courtesy of Eagle Gallery and Hales Gallery

Andrew Bick, OGVDS (Tilted Forward/Straightened)V 5 , 2014, mixed media on linen on wood, 76.5 x 64.5cm, image copyright of the artist by courtesy of Hales Gallery, London

The Martins, in common with many of the British Constructionists moved somewhat away from painting towards constructed reliefs, Jeffrey Steele on the other hand, and it would appear that this is also true of Bick, Blannin and Dower, have stayed with painting, In a recent interview with Steele for Turps Banana, (Issue 11),  Blannin asks him “Why is it important to develop …the historically charged process of ‘paint on canvas’?” In his answer Steele says “I have always wanted to try to justify the supreme importance of painting” contrasting the painter with the artist-as-manager who has works made in a factory, arguing that in the latter process “you lose the evidence of the ‘journey'”, adding that “for me the ‘journey’ is worth knowing and (its) traces… are important to see”. In every one of the works in this exhibition there is such evidence. Perhaps the show itself evidences the continuation of a journey, starting out with the British Constructionists and reaching into the future, an exploration rather than a repetition, yet quite possibly, ending as T S Elliot would have had it, where we started and knowing the place for the first time.

Chance and Order was on view at Eagle Gallery from 20 November to 19 December 2014

Francesca Simon at Making Matters and Site Lines

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I have seen paintings by Francesca Simon at two exhibitions recently. The first one was the group show Making Matters, at Platform A Gallery, a great space, quite big with lots of natural light doing justice to the work, whether the three dimensional objects by  Kate Terry or the paintings by Andrew BickKatrina BlanninClem CrosbyDavid Ryan, and Francesca Simon.

IMG_0070

Making Matters, installation shot, courtesy of Platform A Gallery

In my reviews of this show, at Constructed Realities and Saturation Point, I attempted to employ some distinctions to describe the work and noted that in applying them they seemed to break down. Taking the following list of binary opposites: Fact/Fiction, Object/Image, Construction/Representation, Faktura/Facture and System/Improvisation, it could be argued that all the artwork at Making Matters shows affinity with the terms on the left hand side of the dividing lines. However, these oppositions also provide a way of distinguishing between the works of the artists within the show. I could, for example, note that Clem Crosby and David Ryan demonstrate more interest in facture (including the handwriting of the artist) than say Katrina Blannin and Francesca Simon whose paintings could be situated more in the “faktura-over-facture” camp. However, the distinction breaks down if, allowing a confusion of logical levels, I consider that the preference for faktura is itself a signature style.

Left, Francesca Simon, In Construction, 2014, acrylic on linen on wood, diptych, each panel 122 x 93 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery, London. Right, Andrew Bick, OGVDS-GW #5, 2014, acrylic, marker pen, pencil, watercolour, oil paint and wax on linen on wood, 76 x 64 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London

Left, Francesca Simon, In Construction, 2014, acrylic on linen on wood, diptych, each panel 122 x 93 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery, London. Right, Andrew Bick, OGVDS-GW #5, 2014, acrylic, marker pen, pencil, watercolour, oil paint and wax on linen on wood, 76 x 64 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London

Similarly, whilst Ryan’s and Crosby’s paintings may look improvised whereas Blannin’s and Simon’s look pre-planned, this distinction breaks down, even without a logical level shift, as I discover that the difference is simply one of degrees. Thinking in terms of degrees of improvisation could also provide a way of (speculatively) separating out the six Making Matters artists along a scale for improvisation, perhaps with Blannin at the lowest end, followed by Terry, then Simon, then Bick, then Crosby and with Ryan at the highest end.

Francesca Simon, False Construct 1, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 110x144cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Francesca Simon, False Construct 1, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 110 x 144cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Seeing Francesca Simon’s new solo exhibition Site Lines at Beardsmore Gallery, I perceive more improvisation in her paintings than I did at Making Matters. There is evidence, in many of them, of decisions that were not followed through, lines that are marked out but not really used, disturbances on the surface, that subtly contrast with the very clear demarcation lines, edges and shapes that make up the final construct. I am reminded of the process of ‘brainstorming’ whereby a group of people generate new options by calling out, one at a time in strict rotation, whatever idea comes to mind. Although the majority of suggestions get rejected at the evaluation stage, they are absolutely required to trigger the breakthrough that results. Equally, I could think of the tremendous amount of labour involved in a construction site that is sublimated in the final, stable state of the end product, which would be closer to Simon’s abstract subject matter, the paintings shown here being directly influenced by the excavation and construction of London’s Crossrail project. Hence, we have titles like Close Construction and Double Girder Crane.

That the works are serial seems to reflect something of the constantly changing nature of the site, literally just outside Simon’s London studio. The Close Construction paintings present a void around and across which various geometric elements are choreographed, and the Double Girder Crane series could easily have originated from seeing that massive crane every day traversing back and forth over the gigantic chasm. Differences in the crane’s position generate a variety of shapes, echoing the changes in relationship between crane and environment. These shapes, together with the almost aggressive flashes of colour, a yellow triangle here and the blue of the crane there, find their way into the work.

Francesca Simon, Double Girder Crane 3, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm

Francesca Simon, Double Girder Crane 3, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm

The geometry of this construction site, is documented, even its movement is here, the inherent stillness of painting being set into dynamism by the zig zagging of diagonal lines. Only the assault on the auditory sense is lost, in the silence of viewing. I would be wrong to find part to part isomorphism, the paintings are “abstract” after all, but not entirely autonomous, the outside world entering through a  window into the artist’s lived experience, transformed by mental process and projected out again onto the paintings as geometric form.

Francesca Simon, Close Construction 2, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Francesca Simon, Close Construction 2, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood, 52 x 66cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Beardsmore Gallery

Employing again the binary distinctions with which I started, I return to the poles of construction/representation and wonder whether there is a double irony in Simon’s geometry: 1) whilst her paintings are not a window on the world, her ‘subject matter’ is a set of events taking place directly outside her studio window, and 2) her work draws on, and is closest to, the tradition of constructivism, yet here we find abstracted ‘representations’ of a construction site, as if to neutralise the opposition between construction and representation that, at one time, for me, was at the crux of the argument for abstraction. Not that Francesca Simon’s paintings are representational or abstract, more that they are both and neither.

 

Making Matters was on show at Platform A Gallery from 9 Ocotber to 20 November

Site Lines continues at Beardsmore Gallery until 20 December.

“Conversations Around Marlow Moss” and “Parallel Lives”

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Cullinan Richards, Savage School Window Gallery, 2008 ongoing text: MARLOW MOSS, perspex and aluminium light box, 18 x 140 x 300cm with scaffold stand (dimensions variable). Image by courtesy of the artist

Cullinan Richards, Savage School Window Gallery, 2008 ongoing text: MARLOW MOSS, perspex and aluminium light box, 18 x 140 x 300cm with scaffold stand (dimensions variable). Image by courtesy of the artist

I think there is something rather ironic about seeing a great big cinema-style sign heralding MARLOW MOSS, as if she were a household name, when in fact, although highly deserving of attention, she has been a little known figure, especially here in the UK, where she was born and spent the latter part of her life, only recently being recognised as one of Britain’s most important Constructivist artists.

The paintings and constructions, currently on show at the Leeds Art Gallery exhibition Parallel Lives (Marlow Moss and Claude Cahoun) are marvellous. I am particularly impressed by the two paintings White Blue Yellow & Blue, 1954, a finished and an unfinished version. Comparing the two, I gain information about her working method, how the lines are drawn in pencil and ‘filled in’ with colour rather than using masking tape, and how the white is applied last. (A gallery note contrasts Mondrian’s method of painting a white ground first.) Mondrian recognised her ‘double-line’ as a contribution to the visual ‘language’ of Neo-Plasticism. If she was a disciple, she was also an innovator in her own right. She was associated not only with Mondrian in Paris in the thirties but also with other international artists: Max Bill, Vantongerloo and Jean Gorin, being a founder member of the the Association Abstraction-Création in 1931. Yet returning to England in 1941 living and working in Cornwall she seems to have been somewhat ignored by other British artists, (unanswered letters to Ben Nicholson are included in the exhibition).

Marlow Moss installation shot. Image courtesy of Leeds Art Gallery.

Marlow Moss installation shot. Image courtesy of Leeds Art Gallery.

The lightbox sign of her name is itself an artwork, by Cullinan Richards, in the window of &Model, the gallery almost directly opposite Leeds Art Gallery, announcing the exhibition Conversations Around Marlow Moss, curated by Andrew Bick and Katrina Blannin. The work Savage School Window Gallery, seems to create both an invitation and a barrier at the same time, as does all good art.

Something similar happens for me viewing the first painting I see on the inside of the gallery, a piece also by Cullinan Richards entitled Ian Poulter wore shocking pink, and including a newspaper photo of Poulter beneath an abstract composition, possibly based on (abstracted from) the colours in the photo. There’s the hint of a narrative, abstracted from a newspaper report, or perhaps  even a headline, announcing a narrative that is not actually fulfilled, now that only the photo and title remain, of a piece that I must imagine actually existed. “Meaning” is context dependent, and the change of context creates something like a jarring sensation for me as I struggle to make sense of the object/image before me. Although I attempt simply to observe, I keep on interpreting, and my own processes of interpretation keep on coming to my attention. I am myself “abstracting” in the sense that I think Alfred Korzybski, Gregory Bateson and Chris Argyris may have understood the term, identifying at least these levels of abstraction: observation, interpretation and judgement. I judge the work to be good when it has this effect on me, of alerting me to my own seeing/thinking/abstracting and in doing so bringing me “back to my senses” where I notice the colour and shapes and materials, and also make an (probably incorrect) association with that 1915 Malevich painting entitled Painterly Realism of a Boy with Knapsack – Colour Masses in the Fourth Dimension, comprising only a black and a red square on a white ground. Already, I am interpreting again.

Left: Andrew Bick, Mirror Variant Drawing #1, 2011 -12, acrylic charcoal, digital print, spray paint and watercolour on cut paper, 135 x 135 cm. Right: Cullinan Richards, Ian Poulter wore shocking pink, 2012, oil paint, canvas, household paint, polythene sheet and newspaper, 113 x 85 cm. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick

Left: Andrew Bick, Mirror Variant Drawing #1, 2011 -12, acrylic charcoal, digital print, spray paint and watercolour on cut paper, 135 x 135 cm. Right: Cullinan Richards, Ian Poulter wore shocking pink, 2012, oil paint, canvas, household paint, polythene sheet and newspaper, 113 x 85 cm. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick

Any conversation around Marlow Moss must surely reference Modernism, abstraction, and specifically that strand of abstract art that we might group under the heading of Constructivism, developing as she did “a Constructivism from the Russian movement synthesised with Parisian Purism and Neo-Plasticism”[1]. The show at &Model brings together contemporary artists who have some form of dialogue with the positions of Constructivism, (e.g. its emphasis on non-objectivity or abstraction, its privileging of material over form, its critical engagement of the viewer), with British Construction and Systems artists forming part of a larger exchange artists are making now with modernist positions.

I find the large Black & White paintings by Jeffrey Steele here, entirely convincing. It occurs to me that even in 2 dimensions, prints or paintings, systems are never composed, always constructed. Hence no individual part has compositional preference over another, or over the whole, we have a lack of hierarchy, every part functioning according to the purpose of the system. Every part is “determined”, yet there is also a certain amount of “free” play provided by the near infinite variety of permutations, as well as in the unpredictable phenomena of “emergence”. The paintings are radically abstract yet also completely related to my lived experience of determinism within a system. If ever I needed persuading of the power, not to mention the beauty, of this approach these works amply achieve criteria, though you probably guessed that I am already fully persuaded.

Installation shot showing portfolio on tables and Jeffrey Steele paintings on walls

Installation shot showing portfolio on tables and Jeffrey Steele paintings on walls, left: Syntagma Sg IV 117, right: Syntagma Sg 116, both 1991, pencil and oil on canvas, 122 x 122cm. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick

I find David Saunders‘ sequence of six canvases entitled Black Transformation painted in 1973-4 similarly convincing, and I am surprised by the dates as the piece appears contemporary enough to have been painted this year.

I am interested also by other works from the same era: as well as the wonderful 1977 Rational Concepts portfolio of prints (7 English artists: Norman Dilworth, Anthony Hill, Malcolm Hughes, Peter Lowe, Kenneth Martin, Jeffrey Steele, Gillian Wise) there’s a delightful pastel colour study by Jean Spencer and two of Peter Lowe‘s reliefs from 1968 in perspex mounted on wood, both 23 x 23 cm: Permutation of 4 Groups of 2 and Permutation of 4 Groups of 3, in which rational order and faktura combine to produce objects of staggering beauty.

The influence of these artists on Katrina Blannin and Andrew Bick is self evident. Bick’s OGVDS-GW #2, directly quotes a work of Gillian Wise, and Blannin clearly follows a systems approach in her paintings. The wonderful paintings by Maria Lalic here Bohemian Green Landscape Painting and Sevres Blue Landscape Painting, both constructed by placing two landscape oriented canvases one above the other creating a “real” horizon line, also have visual similarities to the Jean Spencer study.

Installation shot, Left: Maria Lalic, Sevres Blue Landscape Painting, Front: Rational Concepts  portfolio of prints, Back Andrew Bick OGVDS - GW #2. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick.

Installation shot, Left: Maria Lalic, Sevres Blue Landscape Painting, Front: Rational Concepts portfolio of prints, Back Andrew Bick OGVDS – GW #2. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick.

Andrew Bick’s paintings may have a rather playful connection to systems, introducing what appear to be random markings, textures, colours, or materials, to a programmatic method of repeating the form and structure of a previous work. Sometimes the end result looks anything but rational, approaching Dada even! (Here, one of Bicks paintings is placed quite comfortably over a dishevelled stairway.) I might venture to suggest that his system is a stochastic one, wherein “a random component is combined with a selective process so that only certain outcomes are allowed to endure”[2]. There is also playfulness in his references to the history of abstraction: as well as his Gillian Wise quotation mentioned earlier, his placing of a canvas across the corner of the gallery must surely be a nod to Malevich that I interpret as humorous rather than ironic.

There’s something Dada-like in the interventions of Adam Gillam included in this exhibition, for example the placing of two sticks, pieces of wood or dowelling to which are attached high colour, painted false finger nails (from the nail salon next door), alongside the Anthony Hill pages from the publication Module, Proportion, Symmetry. It’s as if it fulfils the function of a disturbance, prompting a “double-take” in the viewer. Am I also reconnected for a moment to the actual environment within and around the gallery and jolted out of my art-trance? I don’t know why I am recalling Van Doesburg’s Dadaist alter ego I.K. Bonset, through whom he could participate in a very different kind of art making as a kind of foil for his own De Stijl Constructivism. Perhaps Gillam plays a similar role here.

I have written before about Katrina Blannin’s paintings, and seeing new ones here, I continue to be impressed by her work, not least by her commitment to her series of rotations of a bisected hexad. The variables are kept stable enough that learning can actually take place, yet there’s enough newness to create surprise and enjoyment.

Installation shot showing Katrina Blannin paintings and plinth with Adam Gillam intervention with Anthony Hill pages from Module, Proportion, Symmetry. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick

Installation shot showing Katrina Blannin paintings and plinth with Adam Gillam intervention with Anthony Hill pages from Module, Proportion, Symmetry. Image by courtesy of Andrew Bick

What I get from Blannin’s paintings is the integration of intellectual and emotional experience, at least the part of experience that is to be had by looking at images and objects. Come to think of it, it may even be in the mediation of these two (image and object) that such integration takes place. I am trying to explain the felt pleasure (which I associate with emotion) that I am having when viewing or perhaps more accurately, studying (associated with intellect), these new works. I know it’s corny now to allude to “laughing out loud” but that’s close to the delight I am enjoying as I note the differences in scale, size and colour, and the sheer beauty of the objects themselves.

Over the last year or so, Blannin has introduced a demarcation line between the sections, and it adds first clarity and then nuance, on concentrated viewing, as the figure/ground shifts lead to constantly changing interpretations of the image.

Katrina Blannin, Bisected Double Hexad Rotation - Lemon/Delft Blue, 2014, acrylic on hessian, 30 x 25cm

Katrina Blannin, Bisected Double Hexad Rotation – Lemon/Delft Blue, 2014, acrylic on hessian, 30 x 25cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

The smaller works are painted on coloured Hessian, and whilst I am fairly sure that none of it actually shows through the opacity of the acrylic paint, I do think that it seems to add a new brightness to the paintings. The high colour of the Hessian on the sides of these immaculately painted objects casts a reflection on the wall and maybe that influences my perception of the colour, or maybe it’s simply the new colours that Blannin is using here that creates, for me, the impression of a change to a higher register or key.

Eva Berendes, Untitled, 2012, steel, brass. lacquer, 220 x 90 x 60 cm, image by courtesy of & Model

Eva Berendes, Untitled, 2012, steel, brass. lacquer, 220 x 90 x 60 cm, image by courtesy of the artist

The imposing sculptural work of Eva Berendes and Liadin Cooke take up most of the ground floor of this show so I spend some time with them on my way out of the exhibition.

Berendes Untitled sculpture in lacquered steel and brass reminds me of a screen and functions like one in this space by dividing the room in half diagonally, yet it counters such a purpose in that it’s “see through”. I think of it as a decorative screen that neither decorates nor provides privacy: an attractive object that counters its own suggested utility.

Cooke’s large scale relief in felt and Perspex entitled Housement provokes similar contradictions, being imposing, weighty, sculptural in scale whilst also fragile, soft and ephemeral in material and colour. It simultaneously affirms and denies its own materiality.

Liadin Cooke, Housement, 2010, Felt, Perspex, 100 x 200 x 21.5cm. Image by courtesy of the Artist

Liadin Cooke, Housement, 2010, Felt, Perspex, 100 x 200 x 21.5cm. Image by courtesy of the Artist

All the works in this show can be situated in relation to the Constructivist tradition in which Marlow Moss was a worthy participant, but it’s a critical relationship, questioning and perhaps even extending it. Modernisms keep renewing themselves by continually criticising their own foundations. I suspect that new modernisms will continue to find inspiration in their chequered pasts, and often by re-evaluating the contributions of particular individuals and their contexts.

 

Conversations Around Marlow Moss continues at &Model until 18 July and Parallel Lives: Marlow Moss and Claude Cahoun, continues at LeedsArtGallery until 7 September 2014.

 

 

[1] Lucy Howarth The Lonely Radical

[2] Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature, 1979

 

Coming Soon to & Model: Conversations around Marlow Moss

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Just found out about this exciting new show opening soon at

& Model 
19 East Parade, Leeds, LS1 2BH, UK   http://www.andmodel.com/

  

Eva Berendes, Untitled, 2012, steel, brass. lacquer, 220 x 90 x 60 cm, image by courtesy of & Model

Eva Berendes, Untitled, 2012, steel, brass. lacquer, 220 x 90 x 60 cm. (Image by courtesy of & Model)

    

Conversations around Marlow Moss

Curated by Andrew Bick and Katrina Blannin
12 June–18 July 2014

Conversations Around Marlow Moss, consists of hypothetical dialogue between the exhibiting artists’ work and that of Moss, in which Moss represents the under acknowledged éminence grise, the original tricky figure from a British past in which Modernism, as another kind of European queerness, has also been diligently repressed.

Arguably we are still in muddled dialogue with the things Modernism represents and in the UK this means that the stalled and chequered nature of that conversation has an important effect on what contemporary art means and how it operates. Two exhibitions of Mondrian, at TATE Liverpool and Turner Contemporary, Margate, will open at around the same time that Marlow Moss opens at Leeds Art Gallery and this one comes to &Model. Considering Moss’ artistic relationship with Mondrian is a way of reconsidering her impact, but also the other conversations represented in the &Model exhibition, with British Construction and Systems artists such as Norman Dilworth, Anthony Hill, Peter Lowe, David Saunders, Jeffrey Steele, Gillian Wise and others, form part of a bigger and very necessary exchange artists are making now with modernist positions that are far from redundant. Moss, as an overlooked protagonist for conversations that never happened in her lifetime, is the pre-eminently undigested presence in this exchange and the symbolic figure of resistance to an over homogenised history of British art. As with other projects Bick and Blannin have worked on, the irrational within the rational and the idea of contradiction as a vital driving force within art practice since modernism, is celebrated as a reason why we should enjoy and understand the work of Moss and her successors now.

The aim of Conversations Around Marlow Moss, is to put her work and forgotten personality back in dialogue with what came after and what happens now, as well as to ask questions about what makes practice contemporary. The artist/curators have been in extended dialogue with British post War Construction and Systems Artists since meeting through an ‘in conversation’ Bick held with Jeffrey Steele at Hales Gallery in 2009. Since then Bick has curated exhibitions in Basel, Huddersfield, Leeds, Leigh and London around these artists’ work and Blannin has published extensive interviews with Steele and Bick in Turps Banana magazine. Both artists explore the implications of this artistic territory in their own practice. Included in Conversations around Marlow Moss will be works by post war British Construction and Systems artists as well as many of the younger artists Bick and Blannin have collaborated with on various projects since 2009.

Conversations Around Marlow Moss
Eva Berendes
Andrew Bick
Katrina Blannin
Liadin Cooke
Cullinan Richards
Adam Gillam
Maria Lalic
Peter Lowe
David Saunders
Jean Spencer
Jeffrey Steele

+ Rational Concepts, 7 English Artists:
Norman Dilworth
Anthony Hill
Malcolm Hughes
Peter Lowe
Kenneth Martin
Jeffrey Steele
Gillian Wise
[Portfolio, comprising seven screenprints, 4 in black and white, 3 in colour, each signed and numbered by the artist size 60x60cm, edition of 100 copies with title-page, introduction by Richard Paul Lohse, ‘Constructive art in England today’ and short statements by each artist in a black vinyl covered portfolio, design Rudolf Mattes, published 1977 by Lydia Megert Edition Bern (CH) and Hoffmann Edition Friedberg (D). Loan, collection Andrew Bick.]

The exhibition coincides with and complements the exhibition Parallel Lives (Marlow Moss and Claude Cahoun), which will be at Leeds City Art Gallery from 6 June to 7 September 2014.
Planning my visit!