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abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Lion and Lamb Gallery

At Lion and Lamb Gallery: Summer Saloon Show 2014

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There are some wonderful paintings (etc.) on show at the Lion and Lamb Summer Saloon 2014. My particular interest is in the “abstract” or “reductive” work.

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Onya McCausland‘s double painting Attachment, two eliptical shapes, mirroring each other, one earth pigment on ply panel and the other earth pigment on aluminium panel, seems to extend the criteria of what we mean by “painting”, as does Simon Callery‘s Red Painting (Soft), an object that resembles a canvas bag more than it does a ‘picture’. Both these are engaging pieces of work, existing in that space between painting and sculpture, and leading me to wonder whether the further away from the traditional definition an artwork becomes, the more important it might be to identify it as a “painting” in the title. The boundaries and settled conventions are challenged, whilst also acknowledging that painting is in fact a thoroughly conventional medium.

Simon Callery, Red Painting (soft), 2014, distemper canvas linen threads screws and aluminium, 22 x 38 x 6cm. My snapshot

Simon Callery, Red Painting (soft), 2014, distemper canvas linen threads screws and aluminium, 22 x 38 x 6cm. My snapshot

What gets challenged in Painting by Telepathy by Biggs and Collings is more the viewer’s perception than the medium, not so much questioning “what is painting?” so much as “what is vision?” The image alters depending on the particular gestalt that is prominent for me at any moment, and if you were standing beside me, then you might be seeing a different painting than the one I am seeing. Multiple views are present in the one object at all times, yet they can only be accessed singularly, one interpretation must give way to another. As a result, I sense movement, and space, “real” movement and “real” space but of a strictly two-dimensional kind.

Biggs and Collings, Painting by Telepathy, 2014, oil on canvas, 38.1 x 38.1cm, my snapshot

Biggs and Collings, Painting by Telepathy, 2014, oil on canvas, 38.1 x 38.1cm, my snapshot

I am impressed by the beauty of it, even though that might seem like a rather old fashioned idea, by which I think I mean the fascinating surface, the particular sensation of colour and structure, as well as this experience of shifting gestalts. I find myself saying “wow” and only then considering what such a response might mean, as well as how specifically it was elicited.

It’s a different kind of beauty that I find in Floyd Varey‘s painting. The perception-altering experience I had when viewing Painting by Telepathy is absent. Instead I see something more object-like, more literal, more able to exist on its own without my participation: objectively present, if that were possible. I am still fascinated by the surface and its extension beyond and wrapping around the support, on the verge of becoming three-dimensional, the simple result of a particular process.

Floyd Varey, Fruit, 2002, oil and wax on canvas, 40 x 30cm. My snapshot

Floyd Varey, Fruit, 2002, oil and wax on canvas, 40 x 30cm. My snapshot

Would it be correct to say that in Painting by Telepathy it is more image than object that I am aware of, whereas with Callery and Varey, it’s the object that is more prominent? If so, perhaps there’s a similar conversation going on in Ralph Anderson‘s Summer Toiler, the literal materiality of the paint runs, suggesting a triple movement, from image to object and back again. At times these material gestures cohere into forms I recognise but that I think are my own projections, like the figure 2 that I keep seeing, above which is a division sign beneath a telephone handset. It may also be a projection when I see visual echoes of Frank Stella’s later paintings, in miniature.

Ralph Anderson, Summer Toiler, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 40 x 30cm, my snapshot

Ralph Anderson, Summer Toiler, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 40 x 30cm, my snapshot

Playing with the process of painting, and of abstraction, David Webb‘s now familiar Parcheesi form becomes star-like against a blue/green ground in one reading, or alternatively, a figure emerges from the negative spaces created by moving objects on different planes, much as on TV, when the Channel 4 ident comes into view.

David Webb, Parcheesi (Green), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 51cm. My snapshot

David Webb, Parcheesi (Green), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 51cm. My snapshot

Tim Renshaw‘s tiny, immaculately executed painting, on aluminium, entitled Notebook Architecture 10, is in one sense the simplest of things, two sets of vertical lines, yet it is also highly complex visually, especially in the altering spatial relationship between the two sets of lines, which are stripes towards the bottom edge but when I attend to the upper half of the image they look more like bars that have volume and depth. Space seems to open up between the two banks of lines or bars, a space that twists as I attempt to make sense of it. The groups of bars starts to read like doors slowly opening, suggesting also a deeper space behind them. Becoming aware of the title I start to think that they could be behaving something like the leaves of a notebook.

Tim Renshaw, Notebook Architecture 10, 2014, oil on aluminium, 14 x 18cm. My snapshot

Tim Renshaw, Notebook Architecture 10, 2014, oil on aluminium, 14 x 18cm. My snapshot

There’s a host of good work here,with tons of variety. If this is an indication of what’s happening in contemporary painting right now, then I think it’s looking healthy.  There are interesting conceptual and figurative pieces along with other abstract works that I cannot do justice to in the space I have. One Two Three, by Julian Wakelin seems to be as much about what isn’t there as what is, Rebecca Meanley‘s abstract impressionist landscape, an alluring riot of colour and gesture, almost coalesces into a pinky-blue monochrome, whilst Louise Hopkins’s Outlast, a sophisticated work on paper, economically follows or counters with pencil and watercolour the geometry of folded paper.

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Julian Wakelin, Matthew Musgrave, Vincent Hawkins and Jessica Wilson all show paintings that are daring in their sparsity, I’d say audacious if they didn’t also appear somewhat vulnerable, their modest size and their informality suggesting an alternative to the polished and the spectacular that sometimes seems to be our dominant cultural expression.

Jessica Wilson, Untitled, 2014, oil on linen, my snapshot

Jessica Wilson, Untitled, 2014, oil on linen, my snapshot

There are two charming process paintings by  Erin Lawlor Slip and Bite, wet on wet, and showing clear enjoyment of what paint does when you simply make a brushstroke. In Catherine Ferguson‘s Angels, a blue brush stroke  traces a curving line horizontally across a vibrant yellow ground, populated by pink swirling shapes, at once gestures and figures, kept in place by a jarring orange frame.

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I think I stay longest with Natalie Dower‘s wonderful little painting Seventeen. It’s just 35 x 35cm, a 17 x 17 square grid (my maths! I’m struggling to work out what the dimensions of each cell must be), in black, white, grey and green, again the simplest yet most complex of things, I’m approaching it a bit like I might a puzzle, attempting to work out the criteria for placing the parts, only five different elements in all: a light green square, a grey square, a blue/green square, a black square and a white rhombus set inside a grey square.

Natalie Dower, Seventeen No. 1, 2013, oil on canvas mounted on board, 35 x 35cm, my snapshot

Natalie Dower, Seventeen No. 1, 2013, oil on canvas mounted on board, 35 x 35cm, my snapshot

Whatever the rules governing their placement, I note that repetition is involved in the whole but that the relationships between the five parts in any one line is never repeated, in any direction. There is nothing random about the arrangement of these elements, even if I can’t actually work out how to state the rule, the formula if you will. And I absolutely don’t need it in order to see that what results is surprising and interesting, in contradistinction to what is meant when works are sometimes labelled “formulaic”. It’s a system, and one of the characteristics of a system is emergence, where “larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties”, so that the space created by the aggregation of single grey squares, or the generation of just one complete grey rhombus, itself not one of the five elements, are emergent properties of this system. The phenomenon of emergence is where surprises come from, that I think is a feature of a systems aesthetic.

There’s also something akin to emergence that takes place whenever you bring an array of disparate works together in an exhibition like this one at the Lion and Lamb Summer Saloon.

The full list of artists included is as follows:

Ralph Anderson, Dominic Beattie, Dan Beard, Kiera Bennett, Biggs & Collings, Michael Boffey, Britta Bogers, Simon Callery, Ad Christodoulou, Graham Cowley, Karen David, Nelson Diplexcito, Kaye Donachie, Natalie Dower, Cath Furguson, Hester Finch, Andrew Grassie, Steve Green, John Greenwood, Vincent Hawkins, Gerard Hemsworth, Sam Herbert, Sigrid Holmwood, Suzanne Holtom, Louise Hopkins, Dan Howard-Birt, Erin Lawlor, George Little, Onya McCausland, Declan McMullan, Damien Meade, Rebecca Meanley, Matthew Musgrave, Selma Parlour, Tim Renshaw, Kevin Smith, Benet Spencer, Neal Tait, Dolly Thompsett, Joel Tomlin, Floyd Varey, Jessica Voorsanger, Julian Wakelin, Richard Wathen, David Webb, Robert Welch, Simon Willems and Jessica Wilson.

The show continues until 30 August. Later it will travel to Aldeburgh Beach South LOOKOUT Project, Aldeburgh, Suffolk hosted by Caroline Wiseman Modern Contemporary, 20 – 21 September 2014.

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Rest at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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Taking a rest from my over-busy schedule, I arrive at the Lion and Lamb somewhat hot and bothered. I order a drink at the bar, get mistaken for a member of a darts team playing this evening, and enjoy a good mix of sounds old and new, as I make my way to the gallery in the back room, where the exhibition Rest, curated by Wendy McLean is on show. My other passion being Ballroom, Latin and Sequence dancing I note that the rhythm they’re playing now is a Rumba. The first beat is not danced it is “rested”, the hip settling over the standing leg before the step is taken with the opposite foot. It’s not really a rest at all, it’s the means to getting good hip action. So whilst little is actually happening in terms of a step, there’s a lot going on in terms of movement.

There’s a lot going on behind or within the minimal (not necessarily Minimalist) ‘events’ being shown here, and some of it I find disconcerting enough to disturb any rest I thought I might get.  I am recalling that Robin Greenwood once brought my attention to how unlikely it must be that Matisse actually meant it when he said that he wanted his paintings to be “similar to a comfortable armchair”, Greenwood saying “If you are comfortable with Matisse, I’d worry”.

I’m feeling mildly uncomfortable figuring out what’s going on in with Ben Cain‘s three dimensional piece entitled Private Dancer, in which two  MDF panels, trying their best to look like wood, lean against MDF covered blocks on which are placed an MDF (?) baton.

Ben Cain, Private Dancer, 2014, Sealed MDF, painted and lacquered. dimensions variable

Ben Cain, Private Dancer, 2014, Sealed MDF, painted and lacquered. dimensions variable. Image by courtesy of the artist.

Each panel is host to a fragment of text, one written on the front (well, I interpret it as a ‘front’ anyway), that reads “I’m your private dancer” no doubt a quote from the Mark Knopfler song, of the same title, made famous by Tina Turner, and the other on the back that says “the only thing your eyes haven’t told me is…” the rest of the text is obscured by the block but I finish the cheap chat up line in my head … “your name”. I’m thinking about the crassness of the MDF as MDF matching the statement “I am your private dancer” and the insincerity of the chat up line somehow reflected in the quality of MDF pretending to be wood.

Ben Cain, Private Dancer, 2014, sealed MDF, painted and lacquered, dimension variable

Ben Cain, Private Dancer, 2014, sealed MDF, painted and lacquered, dimension variable. Image by courtesy of the artist

I become aware that the surfaces are worked and I wonder about the similarities and differences between the labour of, for example, a carpenter and an artist, the materials here looking like they should be functional, yet serving no function except perhaps as makeshift signs themselves fragments, abstracted from a context that might provide meaning.

It’s only a few weeks since Cain’s exhibition Down Time at The Tetley, in which he explored themes of work and so called non-productive activity, and I find that here, viewing Private Dancer, it is to these themes that I address my thoughts.

Would it be correct to categorise this and other works here as “conceptual”? I certainly find that the experience of seeing them leads to increased conceptual activity or internal dialogue, partly perhaps because there is little happening visually, yet in a very different way to say a painting by Agnes Martin, where there is little to see, yet that experience seems somehow entirely ‘visual’.

Freyja Wright, Interior Sequence, 2013, oil on linen, each panel 60 x 90 cm, Image courtesy of the artist

Freyja Wright, Interior Sequence, 2013, oil on linen, each panel 60 x 90 cm, Image courtesy of the artist

Freyja Wright’s painting, one work comprising two panels, entitled Interior Sequence, show incidental scenes, by which I mean that there is little incidence: two meticulously executed domestic interiors with a figure (she looks a lot like Joni Mitchell). Although the forms are precisely rendered, it’s difficult to read what is taking place, I think because of the lack of action. Wright describes the events depicted in her paintings as “low key moments”, like when someone turns their head, reflected perhaps in a mirror or a pane of glass. For me, these images have the quality of snapshots taken accidentally. Possibly the figure turns from one panel to the next, or maybe the viewer has turned or a door has opened creating a counter reflection in the mirror, perhaps there are two different figures within the same interior. Whilst I have difficulty identifying specifically what has happened, one thing is certain, before ever seeing the title or noting that it is one piece of work, I am reading it sequentially. So now rather than snapshot photography it’s still frames of film that I could be recognising. Yet, presented in this way, as slowly painted images, abstracted from the context which might once have generated meanings, they now appear mysterious, opaque, lacking a coherent narrative, as if the very strangeness of the visual might be what is on offer for my consideration.

Nicholas John Jones, Le Scale Mobili (the escalators) (IT), 2011, oil on linen, 38 x 32 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Nicholas John Jones, Le Scale Mobili (the escalators) (IT), 2011, oil on linen, 38 x 32 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Three paintings by Nicholas John Jones, inhabit a conceptual space within the abstract tradition, though toying with figural associations, exploring themes to do with materiality, gesture, image making, and colour. The hues are soft, and the drawing hazy, especially in the charming little painting Le Scale Mobili (The Escalators), where I feel cued to recognise shapes or a vague scene of some kind, but that won’t actually come into focus. I wonder if the title might suggest a picture of something but a set of escalators is certainly not it, much too hard and synthetic, it might be more to do with the feeling of ascending.  I could imagine being on an escalator and taking in only the sense of moving upwards as opposed to bringing the fleeting sights to recognition. This experience is decidedly visual. Less to do with the strangeness of what might be decipherable “out there”, more to do with the sense of seeing without labeling, not necessarily an inwardly focused experience, it is visual after all, more like seeing before the linguistic descriptions kick in. Here it’s the opposite of internal dialogue that is elicited. Even if only momentarily, I am in a state of rest, jaw slightly open, breathing slowed, alternating between foveal and peripheral vision.

There’s a different alternating in relation to the two paintings here by Brad Grievson, in that both employ double images one situated slightly overlapping the other, and in each painting my attention alternates between the two images, looking for the differences.

Brad Grievson, left to right, Double Drawing (Camera Edge), 2014, and Double Drawing (Shadows), 2014. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Brad Grievson, left to right, Double Drawing (Camera Edge), 2014, and Double Drawing (Shadows), 2014. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

I am enthralled by them. Viewing the Jones paintings was more, if I dare use the term, emotional than the Grievson works, where my engagement has more of an intellectual quality, I might be tempted to make the distinction between ‘somatic’ for Jones and ‘cognitive’ for Grievson. My curiosity is aroused by his technique. Double Drawing (Camera Edge), and Double Drawing (Shadows) look like they may have been made with charcoal yet in each painting the ‘double’ is too exact a copy for them to be freehand drawings. I wonder which one, if any is the original, and I am asking myself whether one is a traced copy of the other or whether the two are ‘copies’ of a third image, as with printmaking. Turning to the gallery notes I discover that the images are transfers, though specifically how they are “transferred” is not stated, nor can I tell by studying the surface. Each transfer has a gloss sheen that stands out against the more matt white support. Little accidents seem to have happened along the way, a hair caught in the transfer here, or some damage to the surface there.

Ben Grievson, Double Drawing, (Camera Edge), 2014, Transfers on Canvas, 66 x 51cm, image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Ben Grievson, Double Drawing, (Camera Edge), 2014, Transfers on Canvas, 66 x 51cm, image by courtesy of the artist

I have written before about my own status as an identical twin becoming part of my reflection whenever looking at double images, my own transferred content, that clearly must be quite outside the artist’s intention. I also speculate on what an “expanded field” for painting might look like and I conclude that it must include printmaking/not printmaking  and drawing/not drawing. Perhaps these paintings occupy such a field. That one has the supplementary title (camera edge) gets me looking for an image and I wonder if I can see a face obscured by a camera in the moment of taking a photograph, perhaps not! Then I think that this could indeed be transferred from a photographic image. I recall that as teenagers my brother and I used to use detergent to transfer photographs from newspapers to cartridge paper. I believe the process used here is different, but the fragmentary abstract that resulted seems similar to what Grievson may be doing.

Ben Grievson, Double Drawing (Shadows), 2014, Transfers on Canvas, 66 x 51cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Ben Grievson, Double Drawing (Shadows), 2014, Transfers on Canvas, 66 x 51cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

If there is a source image it is perhaps simultaneously preserved and destroyed in the process of transferring it to canvas. Certainly a new thing results from the doubling of whatever the source image may have been. Again, we have this process of “abstracting from” that in differing ways is present in the other works here.

Rest was at Lion and Lamb Gallery from 20 June to 12 July 2014.

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.

This little painting is in Miami

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This painting of mine is included in the “show within a show” at the Art Basel satellite show Art Britannia in Miami Beach from 1 to 21 December 2013…

Andy Parkinson, Cover, 2013, mixed media on wood panel, 14" x 14"

Andy Parkinson, Cover, 2013, mixed media on wood panel, 14″ x 14″

I wish I was going too!

Written by Andy Parkinson

November 29, 2013 at 8:30 am

Art Britannia in Art Basel Miami Beach

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Art Britannia explores contemporary practice from UK with an emphasis on painting and craft. The exhibition features a ‘mini show within a show’, taken directly from The Lion and Lamb Gallery’s ‘Summer Saloon’ exhibition.

Art Britannia featured artists include: Charlie  Billingham, James  Capper, Gordon  Cheung, Freya Douglas-Morris, Brad Grievson, Sam Jury, Hannah Knox, Mary Ramsden, John Robertson, Guy Rusha, Dolly Thompsett, Rebecca Ackroyd, Eleanor Moreton, Henny Acloque and Grant Foster.

LION X LAMB artists include: Phillip Allen, Kiera Bennett, Simon Bill, Katrina Blannin, Juan  Bolivar, Claudia Böse, John Bunker, Jane Bustin, Stephen Chambers, John Chilver, Peter Ashton Jones, Dan Coombs, Ashley Davies, Mick Finch, Hayley Field, Benjamin Deakin, Kirsten Glass, Andrew Graves, Hans Hancock, Dan Hays, Mark Jones, David Leeson, Caroline List, Declan McMullan, Patrick Morrisey, Alex Gene Morrison, Joe Packer, Andy Parkinson, Dan Perfect, Daniel Pettitt, Clare Price, Fiona Rae, Andrew Seto, Francesca Simon, Lucy Stein, Michael Stubbs, Emma Talbot, Dolly Thompsett, Jacqueline Utley, Covadonga Valdes, Caroline Walker, Mark Wright, Freyja Wright, Michelle Ussher, Darren Murray

Curated by Ben Austin (London) and produced by Karelle Levy (Miami), Art Britannia runs from 1 December to 21 December 2013.

My own snap from Lion and Lamb Summer Saloon Show

My own snap from Lion and Lamb Summer Saloon Show

Written by Andy Parkinson

November 22, 2013 at 7:28 am

Sluice!

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Sluice flyer

Written by Andy Parkinson

October 17, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Black Country at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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Traveling this weekend from the Black Country, that beloved place in the Midlands, famous for its industrial heritage and the regional dialect, where I really did hear someone say “how am ya?” and see a children’s colouring book on sale for £2.99 entitled Colouring the Black Country (Lets See How Colourful We Can Make It), to the Lion and Lamb Gallery exhibition Black Country, curated by Nancy Cogswell, seems an odd enough co-incidence to mention it. In the exhibition the term has a more psychological meaning to do with memory, uncertainty, the dark unconscious, the buried and the hidden.

Two paintings by Gillian Lawler seem to reference dystopian science-fiction terrains where one might imagine that mining has resulted in not just subsidence but actual fissures in the earth’s surface. It’s just conceivable that they could depict real landscapes, the naturalistic style suggests as much, rather in the manner of certain Surrealist painters. And something approaching an updated Surrealism is the effect that the paintings have. They elicit a sense of unease, they disconcert, but only slightly, which somehow makes them doubly disconcerting. In relation to anxiety I have the impression that “less is more” especially seems to apply. There is something unsettling in attempting to work out whether the scene portrayed is “real” or fictional, whether to relate to the image as something abstract or representational and then the difference between the two becomes conflated.

Then I discover that the title of one of these paintings Centralia is named after a mining town in the USA that the artist plans to visit in November. The town has been burning underground since the 70s, built over coal mining deposits, sinkholes have appeared, creating fissures with thick dark smoke. All the inhabitants were urged to leave and only a few people still live there.

Gillian Lawler, Centralia, 40 x 40 cm, oil on canvas, 2012. Image by courtesy of the artist

Gillian Lawler, Centralia, 40 x 40 cm, oil on canvas, 2012. Image by courtesy of the artist

Nancy Cogswell’s wonderful painting Dopellganger II is similarly “both abstract and figurative”. I know that’s true of any painting (the famous Maurice Denis quote immediately springs to mind: “It should be remembered that a picture—before being a warhorse, a nude, or an anecdote of some sort—is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order”) but I have a heightened sense of it here. The horizontal bands of bright colour makes it highly reminiscent of an abstract painting somewhere between colour field painting and hard edge abstraction, and the precision of the representational drawing is close to being undermined by the paint drips and runs that become visible on close inspection.  This uncertainty at the formal level is mirrored in the content. Is it just me, or is there something eerie about a partially opened drawer, especially when you can’t see into it? C S Lewis seemed to be onto this in the children’s classic story The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Narnia could be accessed only if the wardrobe door was left ajar. As a child I remember finding this truly frightening. But what to make of two drawers open in mirror opposition? Some form of communication seems to be taking place, but thwarted if ever it had been possible in the first place. I get the sense of hidden content that remains hidden even in the attempt to communicate it to another.

Doppelganger II

Nancy Cogswell, Doppelganger II, 2012, mixed media on linen, 145x120cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Julia Hamilton’s paintings here also have an eerie quality. Both are black and white pictures of objects, one is a jar with a lid, a ginger jar perhaps, and the other is a jug or a chamber pot that has the blurred look a photographed object would have if it was shaken on exposure. And there is an analogue-photographic feel to them, one showing more evidence of paintwork, drips etc than the other. I am particular impressed by the way the image seems to form out of nothing or nowhere, as if it had been latent, in the canvas, and somehow ‘developed’ using paint.

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Julia Hamilton, Ajar 2012, oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

And that development could be seen as almost magical, a revealing of whats beneath, much as the surrealists attempted with automatic writing, painting as communication with the unconscious.

Julia Hamilton, Séance 2012, oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm

Julia Hamilton, Séance 2012, oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm

Chris Hanlon’s paintings are enigmatic, engendering a sense of something lost or forgotten, or covered over. Untitled, a picture of a curtain drawn around an object, looks funereal, like it might be hiding a coffin, or maybe only a theatre stage. It is familiar enough to be recognised as a curtain, yet unfamiliar, mysterious because we cannot access what might be covered. But then that’s what curtains do, they obscure. Here we have painting as a window on an obscured reality. We wait for it to draw back to enlighten, but it remains closed.

Cave, is a beautifully precise rendering of a fragment of cloth or paper, a crumpled surface that may once have ‘housed’ something else, a gift perhaps, but the thing it covered has now gone, so peering beneath it reveals nothing.

Christopher Hanlon, Cave, 2011

Christopher Hanlon, Cave 2011, oil on canvas laid over board, 40x25cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Richard Hoey’s Rent covers and reveals at the same time. Behind a slit in glitter encrusted fabric, is a photo of a crucifix, a combination of sexual and religious symbolism, opposing the sacred to the profane as well as questioning that opposition, whereas Reece Jones process driven, dark drawings of places reminiscent of cinematic locations carry an intense and absorbing psychological charge.

Rob Brown examines the way virtual reality penetrates the ‘real’. In Aldeburgh Arch and Chrome Limbo high colour abstract forms are combined with the hyper-real to create places that look plausible as illusionistic spaces, but that could only exist in painting, imagination or in digital media. They are artificial environments built on a sub structure of the natural, that for me act like metaphors for what in Chomsky’s terminology we might call “surface structure” and “deep structure”, abstractions in the sense of (continuing with the Chomskian language) generalisations, deletions and distortions, that serve to conceal the “deep structure” of directly sensed information. For Brown this is “akin to our relationship with dreams and the slippage that occurs when rationalising the unattainable and uninhabitable”.

aldeburgh arch

Robert Brown, Aldeburgh Arch, Acrylic on MDF, 40x38cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

What’s beneath the surface might be unpalatable “truth”, what’s on the surface is glossy and artificial. Painting here reveals its own propensity to decorate, to gloss over, to construct falsehoods. Indeed the children’s colouring book title may be apposite  after all: in colouring the black country, let’s see how colourful we can make it!

Black Country, is showing at The Lion and Lamb Gallery, Fanshaw Street, London until 5 October 2013.