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abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Katrina Blannin

Zero Tolerance at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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Borrowing its title from the terminology of manufacture and law enforcement, Zero Tolerance at Lion and Lamb Gallery, focuses on the extent to which three contemporary painters, Juan Bolivar, Nick Dawes and Katrina Blannin, employ systematic methodologies, or strict sets of rules, to construct their work. For me, it forms an urgent investigation into an aesthetic, highly relevant to contemporary life, that forms an alternative to the romantic/expressionistic tendency. I think systems aesthetics are being proposed here in other ways too.

Juan Bolivar, Anvil, 2013, acrylic on canvas, Perspex and sprayed MDF, 33 x 28 cm

Juan Bolivar, Anvil, 2013, acrylic on canvas, Perspex and sprayed MDF, 33 x 28 cm. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

In Juan Bolivar‘s painting, Anvil, we have a system of signs, that remind me of a set of nested Russian Dolls, the outer one being the perspex framing device that functions both literally, as a transparent cover for the painting, and also as a signal to read the work as participating in the tradition of constructive art. The painting housed by the perspex frame looks like a postcard of a Mondrian, taped to a flat surface. We are presented with a construction containing a representation of a representation of a nonrepresentational painting. I think it is more paradoxical than ironic: a sign that reads “this is not a sign”.

Nick Dawes’ paintings are sign systems in a more literal sense. He appropriates ordinary road signs as subverted content in the style of the Readymade. Crossings features three gloss black “Level Crossing” signs on a matt black triangular canvas, as much recalling the “Give Way” sign as it does also the shaped canvases of late Modernist abstract paintings by artists such as Kenneth Noland or Frank Stella. Formalist painting becomes content as much as it also becomes analogous with popular cultural design. I am tempted to say that here a formalist abstraction has become a representation of a road sign that resembles a formalist abstract painting. If Clement Greenberg proposed that Modernist painting, in privileging form over content, could be defined as “the imitation of imitation as process”, I wonder whether in Post-Modernist abstraction the process becomes rather “the imitation of the imitation of imitation”.

Nick Dawes, Crossings, 2012, gloss houshold paint on acrylic on canvas, 213.5cm x 249cm x 8.5cm

Nick Dawes, Crossings, 2012, gloss houshold paint on acrylic on canvas, 213.5cm x 249cm x 8.5cm. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Both Bolivar’s and Dawe’s paintings, can be situated in relation to wider systems, whether high art or popular culture, just as they can to that other sense of the word “system” as in “systematic”, i.e. following a predetermined path, a procedure. And this is true also of Katrina Blannin‘s work in, I think,  a different way. Clearly, Blannin is participating in that other tradition of abstraction that is connected more to Constructivism than to American Abstract Expressionism, the tradition that includes the British Constructionists and the Systems Group where the sense of “system” is a mathematical one. However there is also yet another sense of the word, that I want to explore, at least speculatively, for a moment, in relation to Blannin’s work and that’s the sense of “system” used in cybernetics, where a central concept is that of “feedback”, the process in which information about the past or present influences the same phenomenon in the present or future, forming a chain of cause-and-effect, a circuit or loop: output becomes input.

Viewing Three-piece Suite: Red/White (Double Hexad: Contracted, Root and Expanded + 123/321 Tonal Rotation with Shift), I have an experience close to ecstasy, and I deliberately choose the word for it’s inappropriateness when considering a piece that is mathematical, logical, rational. One of the things that I tend to do whenever looking at work of this kind is to count things. Before ever reading the title on the notes sheet I have counted the system or set of canvases that forms the triptych and then counted the triangular motifs that form the expanded system, noting how the white triangles are contained by a red line and the light grey ones by a black line leaving the dark grey ones unable to be highlighted, thus more readily becoming ‘ground’ or negative space against which the other triangles become ‘figure’. I have noted how the three tone/colours are arranged so that the same arrangement of lines (that also differs across each canvas because the widths of each canvas vary) is “coloured in” such that no colour/shape is repeated horizontally, in other words, there’s a tonal rotation with a shift. So, I’m doing all this counting and working out the logic of the piece and it might all seem so rational, cerebral, cognitive, yet I am using the word “ecstasy” that seems to belong more to our experiences of feeling and emotion.

Katrina Blannin, Three-piece Suite: Red/White (Double Hexad: Contracted, Root and Expanded + 123/321 Tonal Rotation with Shift), 2014, acrylic on linen, tryptich: 50 x 50 cm, 50 x 60cm and 50 x 70 cm

Katrina Blannin, Three-piece Suite: Red/White (Double Hexad: Contracted, Root and Expanded + 123/321 Tonal Rotation with Shift), 2014, acrylic on linen, tryptich: 50 x 50 cm, 50 x 60cm and 50 x 70 cm. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

But after a few moments of looking (and it does require a few moments, and real looking is also necessary, a mere glance will not do justice to the piece) I find that my emotional state has been affected, I have experienced a shift in state that approaches something of what I think we mean by a word like ecstasy. Where else does this happen? Doesn’t counting and emotion get conflated in our experience of anything that has rhythm? I am thinking of music and dance, where mathematical relationships become transformed into emotion. And there’s another context that I think is even closer to what’s happening to me in front of this painting and that’s the context of hypnosis where a trance might be induced through counting.

I could speculate that it’s the tessellating, the shifting of figure and ground, that leads to this shift of state-of-mind, (or emotional state), and this is where I come back to the concept of the “feedback loop”. Surely, it’s not really the object that tessellates at all. It’s a result of what the viewer does in relation to the object. At any one time, I am likely to see a different tessellation than the one you see. The object hasn’t changed, yet I am seeing something different to what you are seeing. It’s this system of object/viewer that Blannin’s paintings emphasise for me, and I wonder if what’s going on is that output becomes input becomes output in this continuous feedback loop and I experience this as fascinating, and even trance inducing.

In all these ways it seems to me that Zero Tolerance is an invitation to “think system”. Unfortunately, my brief review here is a bit late and the show has only a few more days to run. You can catch it at Lion and Lamb Gallery until 22 Feb.

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The Discipline of Painting

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“Before there was art, there was painting”, so says Barry Schwabsky in his essay Everyday Painting in the introduction to Vitamin P2. In the earlier book Vitamin P he explored the relationship between painting as art and painting as an art, a specific discipline. Throughout its history painters have questioned, explored and challenged the boundaries of that discipline. So much so that its definition has become somewhat unstable, to the extent that it might be better to think of it as an ‘indiscipline’ as Daniel Sturgis et al did in the exhibition The Indiscipline of Painting, that opened at Tate St Ives in October 2011 and toured to Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre in January 2012, presenting a “partial and partisan” survey of abstract painting from the 60’s until now.

David Manley makes a tongue in cheek reference to that show entitling the new exhibition at Harrington Mill Studios The Discipline of Painting, featuring a ‘control group’ of works: one by Manley from 1973 along with two owned by him, a Sean Scully painting on paper from 1980 and a recent drawing on paper by David Tremlett, alongside paintings by David Ainley, Katrina Blannin, Luke Frost, Lauri Hopkins, Dan Roach, Andy Parkinson, and Trevor Sutton.

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It used to be common to divide the discipline of painting into sub-categories or genres, still life, landscape, history painting etc, and whereas there was a time when abstraction looked like it might transcend all those genres it now appears to have become a genre, or tradition, of its own. That tradition could itself be divided into two approaches one that looks “disciplined”, we might even say “austere”, as opposed to a looser more casualist approach, where “spontaneity” and “improvisation” are the watch words. According to the gallery notes, “The selection of works on display shows an abiding and durable commitment to a disciplined abstraction that foregrounds an aspect of colour and form and a certain ‘discipline’ in construction”. (A second exhibition will explore the other approach.)

Luke Frost’s paintings have been described as “austerely reductive, minimal and hard edged” whilst also being “curiously alluring”. For me there’s something paradoxical about them, that such asceticism can at the same time be so wantonly pleasurable, that pared-down emptiness can give rise to such rich fullness. Deep Brilliant Blue Volts and Tangerine Volts are highly coloured square monochrome canvases with a fine line frame, painted in a colour the complementary of the ground. This subtle intervention elicits heightened visual excitation. The space is transformed by the frame in much the same way as, in language, meaning is transformed by context or ones “frame of reference”. The colour within the frame is ‘objectively’ the same as the colour around the frame, yet I experience it as a different colour. The edge and the central colour occupies literally the same space or plane yet subjectively the outer edge is spatially nearer than the middle. It’s like looking through a window onto an infinite field of colour. Then, as I turn away fractionally the painting seems to shift, or shudder optically, as if calling my attention back to it. It doesn’t want to let me go, and I don’t want to stop looking at it. We are locked into an exchange, a deeply contemplative conversation. Yet there’s no pseudo-spirituality in this experience, reminded as I am of the artificiality of the colours, and the matter of fact-ness of their presentation, something along the lines of Frank Stella’s famous “what you see is what you see”. However, seeing is a truly remarkable experience always involving more than the strictly visual.

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Katrina Blannin’s paintings are similarly more-than factual. The three on show here are ‘the same’ in size and in design, but look very different because of the differences in colour. I have the sense of holding the whole thing constant and changing just one thing, and everything changes, recalling how in any system a change to a part always has consequences for the whole. Tracking such changes requires a serial approach, so it is particularly helpful to get three in a row here. Two are darker paintings, in indefinable blue/black/green/greys, applied in glazes (hence the difficulty of identifying specific names for the colours), with highlights in yellows, and one is in greys much nearer to white with warmer hues, creating an experience quite different to the other two. In fact so different that I have to be reminded that the design employed is ‘the same’ as in the other two paintings. Manley has positioned the two darker paintings slightly closer to each other than to the third one, a strategy that seems to heighten the contrast, whilst also allowing the two darker works to be read as a pair, hinting at relationships between the two that Blannin sometimes makes explicit in her own diptychs. The diagonal arrangement of tones and colour sets up a subjective experience of shifting planes, never just “this” or just “that” but sometimes “this” and sometimes “that”, an experience that is fundamentally time dependant.

Trevor Sutton’s beautiful paintings here are separated in time by twenty years, Rue Jacob, a circular painting with a central two tone irregular hexad shape situated within a field of fluctuating brown/grey hues, being painted in 1992, and Raindance, a vertical rectangular grid with four columns and sixteen rows in reds, pinks, greys, browns and blacks, having been painted only last year. They testify to this artist’s disciplined commitment to the idea of abstraction and to its ongoing exploration. Remembering that I saw a remarkable painting by Sutton in a show last year, Abstract Painting in the Seventies, higher in colour than these at HMS, I make comparisons in my head and note the “continued vigour” of his oeuvre (borrowing a phrase from Manley).

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At the other end of the scale as far as years of experience goes, Lauri Hopkins a recent graduate, shows the continued relevance of the tradition for younger artists. Her wonderful constructions made from combinations of different coloured book covers recall Albers and Rothko, in miniature. Strictly speaking they are collages, but they read like paintings.

Once again I am impressed by Dan Roach’s paintings. The two here are quite different, in scale and colour, yet similar in that they employ his now customary arrangements of semi-transparent cell-like structures, situated in an indefinite space. That it is now possible to present abstract paintings on an almost miniature scale seems to me to be something new in the tradition, and Roach’s paintings have contributed to this development.

Dan Roach, Falling Up the West, 2012, Oil and Wax on Oak, 14.5cm x 19.5cm. Image by Courtesy of HMS

Dan Roach, Falling Up the West, 2012, Oil and Wax on Oak, 14.5cm x 19.5cm. Image by Courtesy of HMS

The paintings by David Ainley are colour monochromes built up in layers of thick paint, forming a substantial surface into which Ainley scores lines, revealing parts of the underpainting, in a process that is similar to excavation or mining. I am interested in the systematicity of the process as well as in the resultant ‘image’, each one a subtly interrupted surface, eliciting a state-altering meditative response. I choose to prolong the experience of viewing. There’s opticality here that, for me, is always more than the “purely optical”, including a sensing of time, suspended, distorted, and also simply passing, and with it a metaphorical connection to ideas related to mining, and toil.

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I am pleased to have one of my own paintings hung alongside Ainley’s works. I think there are some resonances, in the final look, an interrupted surface that I hope engages the eye/brain, and in the process, almost in reverse. In my painting Screen (Yellow Band) it is more the process of covering than excavating that interests me. Layers of colour are hidden or covered, without being entirely obliterated. A black and white diagonal chequer pattern inadequately hides what’s underneath, forcing colour to the edges of each individual rhombus shape, and in this painting also to the right hand edge of the support, where a yellow vertical band is allowed to remain.

The Discipline of Painting is on show at Harrington Mill Studios until 27 October with a viewing on Saturday 26 October, 2-5PM. The HMS Open Studios also takes place Saturday 26 October 2-5PM and Sunday 27 October, 11-4PM

Installation shots by courtesy of David Manley

Written by Andy Parkinson

October 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Coming Soon to HMS

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The Discipline of Painting, curated by David Manley, 6 Oct to to 27 Oct, with View on Saturday 26 Oct, 2PM to 5PM, at Harrington Mill Studios, Long Eaton.

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Without an Edge There is no Middle, at Pluspace

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Pluspace, in the Meter Rooms, just on the edge of Coventry city centre, is host to a wonderful exhibition celebrating the continuing exploration of the possibilities inherent in abstract painting. Without an Edge There is no Middle brings together a diverse set of contemporary abstract painters that “look beyond the comfort of the safe harbour of the middle, and push towards the unknown edges”. Curated by Matthew Macaulay, it captures, if just for a moment, that determined if sometimes gradual, pushing out towards the edge of what painting can be and do. No longer a “progression” as it might once have seemed, and inevitably including repetition or recommencement, there is also a faltering “progress” of sorts, a wending of different ways towards one end.

The artists exhibited are Katrina Blannin, Julian Brown, Gordon Dalton, Andrew Graves, Terry Greene, Mark Kennard, Hannah Knox, Mali Morris, Joanna Phelps, Dan Roach, David Ryan, Andrew Seto, and David Webb.

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Installation shot. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

Again, I find that the paintings of Mali Morris quite literally take my breath away. I don’t know that I have ever seen colour so luminous, or space, self evidently the result of painterly gesture or manipulation, so mysterious. The central ‘figure’ in Blue Flame, a near perfectly formed blue circle supporting a further inchoate circle that resembles a flame, hovers above a gestural violet ground, itself resting upon a ground of the same colour as the blue flame, clearly seen at the top left edge but also shining through the darker gestural brushstrokes. However, this figure in the middle is made of the same stuff as the edge, created as it is by the removal of the upper layers of paint, an inverted keyhole through which a lower layer of blue ground is reveled, yet reading as if it were a positive shape above the ground.

Mali Morris, Blue Flame, Image by courtesy of the artist via Pluspace

Mali Morris, Blue Flame, Acrylic on Canvas, Image by courtesy of the artist via Pluspace

I think it is this play of figure and ground, both literal and optical, combined with the quality of colour/light, that I find so appealing in paintings by Morris, and I can hardly help saying “that’s beautiful” when I look at them.

Almost, includes a gestural white helix over a multicolored ground, possible wet on wet, creating not just a sweeping rhythm but also depth through and beyond the gesture, with sentinel-like coloured discs that appear impossibly to be both tied to the surface by an imaginary or obscured grid and also free floating in space, almost airborne but held back also by the edges of the support.  Yet, as with Blue Flame, those positive circular shapes hovering “above” are clearly excavations of lower layers of colour.

Mali Morris, Almost

Mali Morris, Almost, Acrylic on Canvas, Image by courtesy of the artist via Pluspace

I don’t think it is just my playing with the title of the exhibition that leads me to pay attention to the edges of many of the paintings here, sometimes as if the action gets pushed outwards, as in Andrew Graves audacious painting Tomorrow. a stained canvas of magenta stapled over a blue canvas, covering it almost entirely, the colour contrast taking place right at the edge, creating tension between the framed image and the parameters of the object. I am tempted to liken it to colour field painting on a small scale, if that were possible.

Andrew Graves, Tomorrow, 2013, Oil on Canvas, image by courtesy of Pluspace

Andrew Graves, Tomorrow, 2013, Oil on Canvas, image by courtesy of Pluspace

Mark Kennard‘s Untitled, is more or less a monochrome ground, again with the action taking place towards the edges as the bars of the stretcher seem to bleed through to the surface, creating a frame, within which barely perceptible events take place. In his Nine Lines on Black, narrow, differently coloured lines, all of similar length, interrupt a black ground, each line having at least one end touching an edge, and non of them crossing each other. The subtlest of interventions resulting in spatial shifts, clearly two dimensional yet also suggesting box-like objects on a floor.

But it isn’t the edge I pay attention to in the Andrew Seto paintings. More pictorial, they seem to be paintings of something, as if structures formed of triangles situated in a sparse landscape or interior were actually constructed of sumptuous oil paint.  They have this sculptural look to them, even though in the two paintings here, Ahead and Pom Pom, there is no horizon line, (in contrast to Seto’s Device, currently on show at the Lion and Lamb Gallery), so situating them in a space becomes more difficult, and alternative interpretations might assert themselves. Ahead looks totemic, recalling African masks as painted by Picasso, whilst the thickness of the paint has something Auerbachian about it , but richer in colour and without the external referent. Around the central figure, the warm area that I am reading as ‘background’ pushes forward creating depth through the latticework structure only to lead the eye back to the surface again. Pom Pom, is a flatter image, without the impasto, in rich grey and blue, also exploiting triangular forms with much more of an alternation between figure and ground. Seto seems to have discovered a fascinating modular structure that is capable of multiple combination, extension and variation.

Andrew Seto, Ahead, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

Andrew Seto, Ahead, Oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist via Pluspace

Terry Greene‘s  They’re not scared of you, is an attractive painting with simple bar shapes of blue on ochre against a variegated green and blue ground, It’s simple yet has the appearance of having been hard to come by, there are signs of struggle. I reflect on Greene’s process, thinking that the first thing that goes down on the canvas is necessarily a “mistake”, the painting appearing to have progressed via a series of “corrections” not knowing what the end will look like until it arrives. The starting point is an act of faith, like Abraham “who went out without knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8). It occurs to me that abstraction could be classified according to the amount of planning that takes place before work commences. Terry Greene would be at one end of the scale, with say, Katrina Blannin at the opposite end.

David Ryan‘s paintings might include improvised events within a planned structure, possibly comprising a systematic study. The two paintings here Set c and Set 5 (d), both read to me like paintings within a painting, different versions of abstraction in conversation with each other, both of them including a monochrome and a more gestural piece, signs almost, of differing approaches, held together within a frame, forming a kind of “gallery” where they jostle for attention, achieving a continuous push-pull effect.

installation shot, above David Ryan, Set C, oil on canvas, below Terry Greene, They're not scared of you, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

installation shot, above David Ryan, Set C, oil on canvas, below Terry Greene, They’re not scared of you, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

I am enjoying seeing two David Webb paintings, a very recent one Untitled (Windmill) close to the older, Smoking Room (Blue) the former is more abstract the latter more obviously on the edge of figuration. I love its humour and simplicity. The Dan Roach paintings also nod towards figuration in that the beautiful hexagonal forms he employs could be cells of a honeycomb, yet they inhabit only this abstract space, combining in transparent overlapping layers to form an entirely abstract arrangement, virtually impossible to tell which layers are above and which below when I allow my attention to take in more than two cells. There is something entirely congruent about the scale of these paintings in relation to the cells: architecture in miniature, challenging, along with other artists here, the notion that abstraction must necessarily be big.

Dan Roach, Aye Takeuder. Oil Acrylic and Whiting on Panel. Image by courtesy of  Pluspace

Dan Roach, Aye Takeuder. Oil Acrylic and Whiting on Panel. Image by courtesy of the artist via Pluspace

The hexagonal or hexad form also features strongly in Katrina Blannin‘s work but if Roach’s hexagons are organic in character Blannins are geometric, rather than allowing overlapping of forms, she explores the ‘natural’ propensity of geometric hexagons, and triangles to tessellate.

Katrina Blannin, Double Hexad Black Pink. Acrylic on Line. Image by courtesy of the Artist via Pluspace

Katrina Blannin, Double Hexad Black Pink. Acrylic on Linen. Image by courtesy of the Artist via Pluspace

Double Hexad – Black Pink, one of an ongoing series, does however have layering of a different kind, each geometric form being achieved by applying paint in glazes, layer upon layer until the colour and tone make visual sense, each shape being visible as part but without distracting from the perception of the whole. I am fascinated by the way the texture and weave of the linen shows through, creating a two-tone effect, the pinks appearing to glisten, and where areas are very closely matched in hue or value they are demarcated by a narrow drawn line. The  space appears to bend. It has depth to it, but shifting gently, undulating almost as my perception of the image changes. One of the qualities of a two dimensional image is ‘simultaneity’, more than one event can be seen at once, yet these tessellating forms seem to contradict that characteristic, multiple readings being possible, but sequentially not simultaneously. And that’s surely what creates the experience of fascination for the viewer: seeing the image, for example with blacks as positive shapes, giving way to seeing it with blacks as negative spaces and then trying to get the former view back again and finding it difficult to do so, is enchanting. It’s also possible that a new reading will suddenly present itself, causing surprise for the viewer, as no doubt it did also for the artist during the empirical process of making the painting. Blannin says it this way:

 Whatever the intention, the finished work is never entirely as envisaged. the power of surprise is important: its Gestalt, or ability to be more than the sum of its parts.

The 22 paintings in this exhibition all have an edginess about them that makes them appealing, and all worth spending some time with, all approaching the task of painting and of abstract painting in particular, in different and interesting ways.

The exhibition title is based on two pieces of prose by the author and poet Toby Litt which can be read on the Pluspace website.

Without an Edge There is no Middle continues until 8 September, Friday, Saturday 11am – 5pm (closed Saturday 24 August) or appointments can be made by emailing matthew@pluspace.com

First Come First Served at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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First Come First Served, the open show at Lion and Lamb Gallery, with no selection criteria other than ‘first come first served’ is described to me by one of the participants at the hang/opening as “democratic”. If that suggest selection by majority then perhaps “anarchic” says it better, so long as we remember that anarchy and chaos are not at all the same thing. I keep hearing people say how curated it looks, how considerately artists have placed their work, leaving room for others and seeking complementarity rather than competition, which is perhaps what you would expect at a venue named after that biblical lion and lamb pairing.

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It’s a collaboration of sorts, unspoken and implicit, reminiscent of a group exercise I learned from Simon Horton, author of Negotiation Mastery, where in large group of people each individual chooses two others in the room, and without letting on who they are positions themselves so they form three points an equilateral triangle. After a few minutes of moving around, and without speaking  or signalling to each other, the group quickly settles into a whole where every part forms an equilateral triangle with two others. The space at Lion and Lamb seems to have been negotiated in a similar fashion.

The only thing that is predictable about a show of this kind is its unpredictability and variety. There are works here by a diverse range of artists including Katrina Blannin, Alli Sharma, Sarah McNulty, Andy Wicks, Laurence Noga, Andrew Bick, Gwennan Thomas and a host of other names some well known and some new to me. I have met Nancy Cogswell here at a PV at the Lion and Lamb Gallery before so it was good to meet her again and to see her exquisitely painted masquerade-style mask in a drawer (sorry, Nancy I don’t know the title and my snap isn’t good enough to show). I met Laurence Noga also at the show he curated here a few months ago. Today his diptych is reminiscent of one of the paintings he showed then, but much smaller, almost like a miniature preliminary study, except that the collage elements, I think, make it look much more a thing in itself. It’s quite beautiful, tiny and jewel-like.

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Removing my own 8″ square painting Duke Street Tetractys from my bag, I place it in a position that had been left especially for it, directly beneath a lovely painting that could be a photogram of a necklace.

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I am enjoying talking with artists about their work and I am asked a few times about my own, one person tentatively classifying it as “Op?” It occurs to me that, like “systems”, that’s a category that often gets disavowed: “it’s not quite Op” or ” it’s not strictly systems art” as though either of those would be very bad. So I proudly answer “yes, and it’s systems based”. I get to say something about my interest in colour-spread phenomena.

Andy Wicks‘ unique lino and digital print with acrylic, Mudlarks seems uncharacteristic of other work I have seen by him, more figurative perhaps in that there are figures in a ‘land’scape, though there is a marine connection as there are with other of his paintings.

Andy Wicks, Mudlarks, 2012, Unique lino and digital print on paper with acrylic paint (edition of 70 with hand painted colour varations)13 x 19 cmImage by courtesy of the artist

Andy Wicks, Mudlarks, 2012, Unique lino and digital print on paper with acrylic paint (edition of 70 with hand painted colour variations)
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Image by courtesy of the artist

The lino cut here, taken from a Victorian etching, shows boys ‘mudlarking’ on the banks of the River Thames, superimposed on a WW2 propaganda image of the Royal air force flying over a naval convoy, boys and their toys, so there is this interesting layering of references and time periods, brought up to date by the adding of Wellington boots to the figures. Seeing is a complex process, triggering imagination, memories and associations. This complex little print highlights for me what might be ‘seen’ in our mind’s eye when we view an image, reminding me of how, at a more general level, we construct meaning through the processes of framing, layering and juxtaposition.

Complex also, but in a different way is Katrina Blannin’s beautiful, systems based, gouache on paper. I am interested in the multiple ways of reading it, negative spaces shifting to positive shapes, and back again, only now it’s a different negative space I am seeing. However hard-edged, or high in clarity the image might be, ambiguities abound. Do we say that something is “deceptively simple” when at first sight it communicates simplicity and matter-of-factness whilst on continued viewing it turns out to be thoroughly nuanced?

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Then I start to wonder about how the colours were achieved: to what degree were they mixed prior to being placed, or how much is the result of physical layering on the paper? Then again, how much of the mixing is taking place on my retina? And I note that a painting can be a lot about colour without necessarily being highly coloured.

First Come First Served is on at The Lion and Lamb Gallery until 11 January 2013, all the works are for sale.

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Game and Play: Intuition/anti-intuition at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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The paintings by Anthony Daley, Caroline List, Laurence Noga, Katie Pratt and Raf Zawistowski on show at Intuition/Anti-intuition at the Lion and Lamb Gallery until 29 September 2012 have something of game and play about them. The word ‘play’ suggests an activity that is free, spontaneous, intuitive whereas ‘game’ connotes something with pre-established rules, and an activity that might resemble work more than play even though a game is quite clearly played, rather than worked.

Raf Zawistowski ‘West of Eden’, 2102, Oil and Wax on Canvas, 70x66cm

There is something about abstract painting that is playful. That dialogical approach to painting where the artist does not know what s/he is going to paint before beginning has a lot of play in it. Which is not at all the same as saying there are no rules. Even “anything goes” is a rule, and all behaviour is rule governed, we just might not know what the rules are. Then, there is another approach where the rules are much more explicitly stated and many more of the decisions about the work are made before the painting is executed. The former approach is improvised and the latter is pre-planned. The former seems more intuitive and the latter anti-intuitive.

Katie Pratt, ‘Jamerera’, 2011, Oil on Canvas, 180x210cm and Caroline List, ‘Microscopic Magnitude’, 2011, Oil, Alkyd, Gesso on Canvas, 110x110cm

On visiting the exhibition and reading that its title “refers to a shared approach through process and materiality” and that “a conscious strategy to subvert intuition is developed by an engagement with rules or games, often through self-imposed instructions” I can imagine that much of the approach these artists take is indeed shared. However, the degree of intuition or anti-intuition, play or game, varies from one artist to another. I don’t think that I am seeing anything here that is as pre-planned as say Natalie Dower or Katrina Blannin (whose work I saw when I visited last time). And even within this shared approach that deliberately follows rules, I struggle to work out what the rules are. And this is part of the pleasure of the show for me: I feel a bit like a spectator of a sports competition, the rules of which I do not know but seek to deduce by watching the game play out. Except that I get nearer to deciphering them when I watch the sport than when I see the paintings. It’s probably just me, but however long I study, I doubt I will fathom the rules. (Whilst I got a sense of this when looking at Natalie Dower’s paintings in that, when I was sure I had worked out what was happening I then discovered that there was much more going on than that, or that I was just wrong, at least I thought that I was getting somewhere, and most of the time I probably was.) Here I am less sure I am getting somewhere. Then, I realise that this too is a game. My experience as a viewer is both intuitive and anti-intuitive, I wonder if I would have been puzzling about the rules if I had not read about that strategy to subvert intuition, maybe I would have intuited them.

Anthony Daley “Like Loving under a Heavy Sky”, 2012, Acrylic on Canvas, 40x40cm and “Like Strolling in the Elements”, 2012, Acrylic on Canvas 40x40cm

Anyway, I am enjoying the puzzle as I view the evocative and lyrical paintings of Anthony Daley, Caroline List and Katie Pratt. Each containing allusions to a world outside of the canvas, although what is being celebrated is the painting process. List’s painterly marks, fluid in blues, whites and greys, sometimes a shiny lustre glaze and sometimes a matt white flurry, can’t help but suggest a seascape, possibly being viewed through the porthole of a ship. And I am making tree associations when I view the highly playful lines and gestures in Katie Pratt’s marvelous ‘Jamerera’. Daley’s “like” paintings invite metaphorical landscape readings, not just in their titles.

I am finding landscape imagery in Raf Zawitowski’s ‘West  of Eden’ and again I think the title confirms the association, but this time far from a lyrical evocation, I am reminded of the violence and ‘unnaturalness’ of nature. If the others made connections to earth and water now it is fire I am being confronted by. Then, in case I am allowing my intuition to over-indulge in associations the density of the surface (the paint stands about an inch from the canvas) brings me quickly to my senses, the look and texture of the paint as well as the smell, I can definitely smell oil paint, asserts the materiality of the painted object. C.G. Jung opposed “sensing” to “intuition” and I wonder if this distinction is relevant here, at least to the game I am playing of viewing these paintings.

The two paintings by Laurence Noga also bring me back to my senses, specifically the visual. That “colour underpins decisions” is clearest here. Yet the results of those decisions, that suggest control of the process, also lead to a disorienting effect in the viewer, as they must have done in the viewer/artist when the painting was in progress. It is as if the paintings assert the unpredictability of colour, however much you think you know about it.

Lawrence Noga, ‘In Between Violet and Green’, 2012, Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 62x162cm

whilst the process may indeed be anti-intuitive, the colour arouses not just visual excitation but also all kinds of intuitions, thoughts, associations, prompted by the experience of viewing but way out of the control of the artist.

Nothing Plain at Plane Space

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There’s nothing plain about Plane Space, an exhibition of abstract paintings, at Worcester Cathedral Crypt, 8 – 15 September 2012, curated by Dan Roach, artist in residence there. The show includes paintings by Karl Bielik, Katrina Blannin, Sarah McNulty, Dan Roach, Paul Rosenbloom and Gwennan Thomas, scattered throughout the crypt, rather than ‘hung’,  I guess partially because of the limitations of using such a poetic space (I would be amazed if you were allowed to drive screws into the ancient wall). I had no idea when I visited that as well  as negotiating the planar space of the abstract paintings on show, those paintings themselves would also be influencing me to explore the anything but plain space of the Cathedral Crypt, in a manner not unlike ‘hunt the thimble’.

 

Nearly every church building I  have seen today has an ‘Open’ sign outside it. Worcester Cathedral is no exception, and there are numerous visitors to the crypt who had no expectation of seeing paintings here. On entering, they look slightly confused, as if to ask (without actually asking anyone) “what are these people looking at?” Their experience may have been in the opposite direction to my own. I came to view paintings and they seemed to lead me to the space, they came for the space and it presented them with the paintings. Like the tiny Dan Roach situated at the foot of a statue.

When I posted previously about a Dan Roach painting, Zak Braiterman made the observation that my write-up sounded to him like a description of religion, something to do with clearing away of layers and gestural marks on the ritual surface . I am not sure I quite get it, yet it’s strange now to be seeing Roach paintings in this religious setting. And there is something of a ritual quality to his production, repeating his now familiar hexagonal motif, as if attempting to understand it rather than just to ‘use’ it, or as if the act of painting is a process of learning, of coming to know something that may already be known by others but for the learner is known for the first time, a revelation.

Dan Roach, New Unit, 2012, Oil and wax on oak, 20 x 34cm

In this painting the hexagonal motifs float in a space that I cannot help but see as deeper than the two-dimensional flat plane that I know it is and that the painting itself keeps reminding me it is, by the refusal to open up a window on the world of recognizable objects, almost as if I find myself at the moment where perception attempts to become cognition and the attempt is continually thwarted. Maybe that moment (which, following John Grinder and Judith DeLozier, I think of as similar to the state that Carlos Castaneda referred to as “stopping the world”) holds information for us, and abstract painting allows us to remain there for longer than we usually do. Those organic hexagons could settle, they could join in network-like formation, yet they remain perpetually frozen in that space-time moment of being just about to form.

Katrina Blannin’s marvelous paintings here look fully formed, yet in each one there is also a shifting, just when you think you’ve ‘got it’ the forms or gestalts shift and you notice a different reading, and then another, and another.

Even the fact that we so clearly have a series: diptychs exploring the same arrangement of triangles and rectangles in different colours, that change things remarkably, reminds me of the unfixedness of fixed things, or that within a rational order is infinite variety. I like seeing two of them here, and I hope for an occasion to see the whole series together. On seeing the first one, even in this small space, separated far enough from the other as to be unaware of its presence, my reaction is to wonder if it is the same one I had seen recently at the Double Vision exhibition at the Lion and Lamb Gallery. Even though I know it is not the same, the colours are different, I consider it possible that I am mis-remembering it. On seeing the second diptych here, I realise that both these two are different to the one I saw a few weeks previously. I am an identical twin and when my brother and I are apart we often get mistaken for one another, which could not happen when we are together. I think these paintings are like that.

In a similar way to the series reminding me that this one work is also a part of a larger whole, a system, this particular ‘hang’ sets up clear connections with the surroundings so that it is not just each painting that I am viewing but its relationship to a wider context. It would be difficult not to notice the beauty in the contrast between the copper colours in the wall and the blues in Blannin’s Hexad painting.

Similarly, the Sarah McNulty painting M (II), cannot not be connected to the environment when it is already placed on concrete before then being placed here in this space. Other paintings here sometimes have a pebble or a piece of wood perhaps, discretely placed beneath them to keep them straight, but these are not part of the painting whereas in the McNulty the medium is “Gouache on Linen on  Concrete”. The relationship between art work and plinth sounds like a concern more associated with sculpture. The object-ness of an abstract painting also brings this consideration to mind in painting and being in this space seems to emphasise that.

The painting Apostrophe by Karl Beilik seems to assert that abstract painting can evoke places and events, and that a motif might be borrowed from everyday text, yet in such a way that is ambiguous, are they “really” apostrophes or do they just look a bit like them?

Gwennan Thomas’s paintings are similarly ambiguous: forms that don’t quite form, bringing my attention to the way objects are formed or coded, before ever considering what they might mean.

The Paul Rosenblooms resemble cave paintings, marks etched into painted grounds, gestures and ritual again maybe, invoking a past much older even than Worcester Cathedral’s Norman origins, or of abstraction’s barely 100-year-old history.

On viewing these abstract paintings at Plane Space, I could easily begin to speculate on the status of abstract painting in contemporary art, for some already consigned to the crypt, painting being dead and abstract painting especially so, quite possibly in danger of becoming a mere footnote in its ancient history. Here in this crypt however, it seems very much alive, demonstrating its power to evoke and reveal, not so much the visual world outside it as the very coding of the visual.