patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Mali Morris

Nine Painters, Syson Gallery, Nottingham

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I must have been nine or ten years old when my dad took me to the visitor centre at the yet-to-be-built nuclear power station at Heysham, Lancs, where artist impressions of the plant were accompanied by highly optimistic commentary related via head-phones. Many years later, in 1989, I saw the plant with my own eyes and it bore little resemblance to my memory of those artist’s impressions. There was a marked contrast between what was promised and what was delivered, certainly from an aesthetic point of view. There had also by now been a huge shift in public reception of nuclear power in general. After all, there had been the Chernobyl disaster and the Three Mile Island accident. Early optimism had turned into disappointment and foreboding. There was also the feeling that malevolent forces were at work (reinforced by the blatant lies that had been told about the economics of nuclear power around the time that Thatcher’s government privatised the industry). And maybe this narrative reflects another, the rise and demise of modernism.

Sean Cummins, Operator, 2016, acrylic on canvas, image by courtesy of the artist

Sean Cummins’s large painting Operator, (2016), here at Nine Painters, at Syson Gallery, Nottingham, recalls late modernist colour field abstraction and pop art, in this pared down representation of an operator in a nuclear power plant. However, this is not a portrait, the schematic representation of the face providing little by way of individual detail. And my interpretation of the sparse forms as the interior of the operations room of a power station arises as much from the title as from specific clues in the painting. Nevertheless, it does seem to posit both optimism, or rather a nostalgia for that optimism, and foreboding. Whilst the painting is all high coloured surface, there is also a sense of something awry beneath the surface.

I think something similar is happening in Steph Goodger’s wonderful paintings of coloured flashes on dark grounds that give way only gradually to figurative detail, and there is specific detail here, almost as if they could be portraits… of places. At first I find the attractiveness of the paint handling and the colour fascinating in themselves, seeing these as abstract paintings, until it dawns on me that these are night-time scenes of the makeshift homes of refugees in Calais.

Steph Goodger, The Twilight Kingdom III, 2017, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist

There are also paintings here by Goodger of boxcars. They are even more like portraits, I hear another viewer comment on imagining that all steam engines and carriages have faces and blaming it on Thomas the Tank Engine. At least I am not on my own.  I hear someone else remark “oh a steam train, how nice!” I don’t know how long it takes for me to realise that boxcars have had a more sinister use than for freight transport. The Nazis used them to transport prisoners to the concentration camps, and it occurs to me that these paintings allude to this something awry beneath the surface. The observed details are very specific to each “portrait” but the suggestions of human cargoes are general, creating a vague sense of unease.

There are undercurrents in the minimal figuration of Michael Simpson. A tiny painting, entitled Squint, (2016-17), is cleverly situated very high on the wall in the main gallery, and could have been cut out of his large painting that won the John Moores prize last year. In that painting a step ladder is pictured beneath a leper squint. In medieval times a squint was a small opening in the wall of a church that provided people with leprosy a way of peering in to see and hear the sermon without touching any of the congregation. Here at Syson gallery we are in want of a ladder. One of the judges of the 2016 John Moores Painting Prize, the artist Ansel Krut, speaking of the winning painting said that the artist “uses an almost minimal vocabulary to open up a world of great sympathetic imagination” and that the painting “touches on the nature of silence, on distance and on exclusion. But most importantly, it touches on the privileges of looking.” The same could be said of the tiny Squint painting on display here, and also of the equally tiny paintings of single cupboards or safes (?) with their doors open.

Installation snapshot of Michael Simpson, Squint, 2016-17, oil on canvas, my photo

Another of the John Moores judges, Richard Davey, is the curator of Nine Painters, here bringing together a rather disparate group of painters from within the UK, associated with either the John Moores prize or the Royal Academy. I asked him “why these nine?” his answer was close to “why not?”

Other figurative painters here include Gabriella Boyd whose colourful works on paper may also appear at first-sight to be abstract celebrations of colour and pattern and only on further viewing do erotic undercurrents seem suggested. (I worry slightly when I say this, in case it’s just me.)

Richard Kenton Webb also approaches abstraction, in that figurative motifs resembling parts of musical instruments, in greens, yellows and blues, rendered with a chalky, high-pigment oil paint made by the artist, float in a shallow, almost non-figurative space (there are clouds and a hill). Five big paintings in horizontal, almost panoramic format, are stacked one above another creating a wall of alluring colour. The set is entitled The Five Senses, (2015-17), each painting named individually, Smell, Taste, Touch, Sound and Sight, in keeping with Webb’s interest in synaesthesia. The paintings are impossible to photograph, and absolutely have to be seen for real in an exhibition space, highlighting the artist’s insistence that digital viewing has become a commonplace, against which, going to a gallery and looking at physical works has become more interesting. The digital represents our boring experience of the everyday, which is contradicted by the committed observation that painting engenders and that evokes all the senses at once.

Stephen ChambersThe Perfect Nude 1, (2010), is clearly a figurative painting but his command of colour makes a formalist reading of his work at least tempting. A temptation to which the curator has almost succumbed by placing it next to an abstract painting Eleventh Hour Squared 3, by Selma Parlour. Both artists make extensive use of cadmium yellow, for Chambers it is the floor upon which the nude rests, for Parlour it is more ambiguous. It could describe a section of wall above what could be read as a window, or rather the top left corner of a window, or maybe instead, a quadrant of a pyramid in bird’s eye view. Alternatively, it’s a yellow truncated triangle in an arrangement of coloured geometric or architectural shapes on a flat surface.

Selma Parlour, Eleventh Hour Squared 3, 2016, oil on linen. Image by courtesy of the artist

Reading Eleventh Hour Squared 3, (2016), as a flat surface becomes more difficult the more that shadows are perceived and the more the luminous blue square is perceived as sky through a window pane flanked by a brown frame, the primary image that I keep settling upon, until the pyramid reasserts itself. But then I am puzzled by the sense of this being a corner or a quadrant. In what context might one see only this part of either a pyramid or a window? Photography comes to mind, the camera frame characteristically cropping objects in this way. And there is something about the colour quality, thinly applied hues, with the white surface behind giving them brilliance, which is reminiscent of a photograph or a computer screen. The paint application, transparent films of oil paint, with no visible traces of the artist’s toil, also lends itself to this interpretation. If photography is “drawing with light”, then Parlour’s paintings are closely akin to photography. However, they are ultimately abstract because figurative interpretations, like the ones suggested above never quite work enough to arrive at definite conclusions. What might have been perceived as a window frame probably works best if seen as a picture of a painting, this one.

Similarly in Cloud II, (2017), although there is more of a depicted space, a kind of stage within which objects are situated, the objects are like paintings within a painting. In Parlour’s work it is as if the hint at referential content is always self-referential, always bringing us back to the painting itself.

Selma Parlour, Cloud II, 2017, oil on linen, image by courtesy of the artist

There may also be references to the history of abstraction, specifically post-painterly abstraction, or colour field painting, if not in the scale of the works, then in the artist’s choice of technique, in which the method of production is hidden by the method of production itself, the labour painted out or sublimated.

The paintings here by Eleanor Bartlett, on the other hand, wear their labour on their sleeves. Here we get much more painterly abstraction in robust materials like tar and metal paint on canvas that also looks heavy-duty. Their physicality is underscored by the repudiation of colour other than the natural hues and tones of the materials. Yet the small pieces Untitled #35 and #36, (2016), have a contradictory delicate quality, as if the loose geometric forms, rough squares or rectangles cut off along one edge, resembling pits in the ground, have transformed alchemically into precious metals.

Eleanor Bartlett, Untitled #35 and #36, 2015, tar and metal paint on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist

These two paintings are positioned right next to the tiny diptych by Michael Simpson of open-doored cupboards or safes, bringing to attention the formal similarities of the two pairs of paintings, even though they arise from quite different traditions and concerns. Curator Richard Davey seems fond of doing this, also placing larger paintings by Bartlett so they flank one of Goodger’s boxcars. Again, formal resonances between otherwise very different works are made apparent.

installation snapshot, Untitled paintings by Eleanor Bartlett, tar and metal paint on canvas, 2015, either side of Steph Goodger, Boxcar II, 2014, oil on canvas, my photo

If in Bartlett’s paintings base materials may sometimes appear to transform into precious metals it is in no way because the materials have to become form in order to achieve this. No, these paintings are physical presentations of the material displayed for its own sake. If they become something else they always do so whilst also staying resolutely material.

In Mali Morris‘s abstract paintings, although there is clear enjoyment of the materiality of the paint, it’s de-materialisation into colour and light is more important. And if the physical stuff of paint is transmuted into light, the artist’s toil is transformed into play. The paintings are joyous, fun even, but in the same way that in dance, much effort is expended in making it look easy.

Mali Morris, Together, 2011, acrylic on canvas, image by courtesy of the artist

In Together (2011), a central cruciform shape is suggested by placing rectangles of differing colours in the four corners of the canvas, over a gestural ground in magenta that also seems to float above other grounds or layers of colour, some darker and some lighter than itself. The four rectangles are flatly painted but semi-transparent. There is no doubt that they are resting upon the magenta, having been painted after it was set down. However, because they are painted in different colours they appear to occupy different planes, no longer simply floating above a ground that also appears to float, they enliven the whole space in a complex way that is difficult to describe in words. It is easier to point to it and say “this rectangle seems to occupy a space in front of this one”. The sensation of luminous colours creates a strange two-dimensional space that is anything but flat.

The artist Terry Greene recently brought my attention to a quote by Helen Frankenthaler where she says “it is light that counts above everything. Not coloured light, but colour that gives off light – radiance” and this seems highly applicable to the paintings of Mali Morris.

Mali Morris, Long Crossing (Six/Sixteen), 2012-15. Acrylic on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist

On the opposite wall, another painting here by Morris is Long Crossing (Six/Sixteen) (2012-2015), in which a loose zig-zagging line in maroon or alizarin crimson tacks horizontally over a scumbled ground of reds, oranges and pinks and in front of it, a further line, in yellow, zig-zags a vertical pathway ending with a left-pointing arrow head. I think I know which elements came first and last, and whilst I don’t really know this, my imagined sequencing of the gestures is based on visual evidence. The yellow line/marks, like the rectangles in Together, are clearly the top layer, the rest of the action taking place behind them. But colour doesn’t behave itself. Visual space and time can disagree and colour gestures that took place earlier can project forward as if they had been made later. The ground upon which actions are based can push forward for re-examination like the surfacing of long forgotten presuppositions. Time is required for events that were background to foreground themselves and return, and for certain colours or gestures to cluster together to form temporary figures like the central S shape that forms a figure of its own only until it gives way to other gestalts. These spatial shifts and temporary alliances of parts, that never compete with the whole, cannot be perceived simultaneously even though they are always already there, and even when I have viewed the painting for a very long time new gestalts can still surprise me. I am reminded of that wonderful line in that poem by John Donne where, punning on his own name, he says “when thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more”. In Morris’s work I continually have this sense that there is always more, that done deals are never once and for all, that decisions are continual “decidings”, not nouns but verbs, as if our future is not necessarily closed and could yet be re-imagined, which leaves me with a certain optimism, even if only for the duration of my visit.

Nine Painters, curated by Richard Davey, continues at Syson Gallery until 6 May

It includes paintings by: Eleanor Bartlett, Gabriella BoydStephen Chambers, Sean Cummins, Steph GoodgerRichard Kenton Webb, Mali Morris, Selma Parlour, and Michael Simpson

Approaches to Colour: KALEIDOSCOPE at Fold Gallery

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Working for a day in central London, only yards away from New Cavendish Street where FOLD Gallery’s summer exhibition Kaleidoscope, curated by Dominic Beattie, is on show, I get my lunch hour to go and see it. Having learned from the publicity flyer that the seven artists, Dominic KennedyMali MorrisBridget RileyJulian WildJames Alec HardySelma Parlour and Martin Maloney, work with colour in “radically different ways” each one presenting “a unique vision of how to liberate colour to stimulate and energise the viewer” I wonder if I can discover in my short visit what it is that they are doing differently with colour. 

Installation view, with works from left to right by Bridget Riley, James Alec Hardy and Julian Wild. Image courtesy of Fold gallery

Installation view, with works from left to right by Bridget Riley, James Alec Hardy and Julian Wild. Image courtesy of Fold gallery

I already know that in a work by Bridget Riley I will find a clear structure within which colour can do it’s thing, where individual colours will change in relation to each other depending on the specific juxtaposition and where the overall colour sensation will change, structure being essential not for control but rather so that the colour can achieve free play. So when I see the Riley prints here, About Lilac (2009) and One Small Step (2007), I get what I expected, but the experiencing of it is, as always, surprising.

In Selma Parlour’s fascinating paintings, there is also this freeing of colour by keeping the drawing precise, but with Parlour it’s more minimal. In Metapainting (One for Each Eye 1) 2015, Metapainting (One for Each Eye 2) 2015, and One for Each Eye 4 (2016), two rectangles of different colours, oil on linen, in thinly painted veils allowing the white underneath to shine through as in watercolour painting, are presented to the viewer as one rectangle for each eye. I take the titles as an invitation to stare, as one might do in a visual cognition experiment. Almost immediately after-imaging and merging of the two colours begins to take place, a hazy third colour sometimes appearing. In One For Each Eye 4, I start to see a rainbow in the white space between the two rectangles. I cross my eyes slightly which enhances the perception of the rainbow down the central divide. There is no doubt that my engagement with these paintings has its own unique quality, akin to experimentation, triggered specifically by what the artist is doing with colour.

Installation shot, with works, from left to right, by Dominic Kennedy, Selma Parlour and Julian Wild

Installation view, with works, from left to right, by Dominic Kennedy, Selma Parlour and Julian Wild. Image courtesy of Fold Gallery

If the attention I give to Parlour’s paintings has this quasi-scientific quality, that doesn’t seem quite so appropriate for the Julian Wild sculptures, though here colour is also used, at least in part, to reveal aspects that might otherwise be hidden. I think it is the case that in both these sculptures the “inside” of the object is demarcated by colour and re-positioned so it is “outside”. In Peeled (2015), a wonderfully polished stainless steel bar, presented horizontally on the gallery floor, is divided down the middle at one end and one half of the divided section is bent upwards and out and coloured bright red, whereas in Himalayan Balsam (2013), a bright pink colour is used to explicate the inside and outside-ness of a vertical knotted steel bar.

In Dominic Kennedy’s painting Slowly Fading Forms (2016), colour perhaps does the opposite of what it does in Wild’s sculptures. In the Wild sculptures colour makes explicit, along the lines of “colour coding” but with a much stronger emphasis on sensation than any code might exhibit. In the Kennedy painting colour dissolves form, rays from a summer sun dazzling rather than revealing. The sun is represented in the top left hand corner of this near seven foot canvas. In the rest of the picture the sun’s rays meet dissembling forms, all held within a shallow near-cubist space that hints at deeper spatial recession in the top right hand quarter. Forms and rays of light merge so it’s difficult to differentiate the two. Colour describes form only long enough to depict its dissolution, even whilst materially constructed in oil paint, oil stick, crayon and pencil, with wood, felt and pins stuck on here and there, yellow felt strips making up a slim frame around the image. Here colour represents and symbolizes, or does it go only so far as to suggest or connote that ‘beneath’ the illusory appearance of solid forms, all of matter is sub atomic flux?

Martin Maloney, Studio Flowers #47, 2016, oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

Martin Maloney, Studio Flowers #47, 2016, oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

There is perhaps more description of appearances in Martin Maloney’s Studio Flowers #47, (2016), but this painting is by no means an observational study. A bowl of flowers is undoubtedly represented, but in semi symbolic style. Taking a cartoon impressionist approach to depiction, blobs of pink are flowers and red diagonal bars are stems, with green dashes for leaves, emerging from a terracotta semi circle that must be a plant pot and all against the blue/green of the studio wall that also pushes forwards spatially to interrupt the rhythm of the red bars and green dashes.  The naming of colours comes to mind, how certain colours are so associated with certain objects or experiences that each is named by the other: orange, sky-blue, lime, lilac, green grass, fuchsia pink etc.

James Alec Hardy creates video installations using obsolete analogue equipment from TV studios, displaying arrangements of monitors as symbolic motifs. Here 160804 comprises eighteen VGA monitors forming an S shape that produces a negative cross above the centre, showing the same images on each screen but rotated physically in that the monitors themselves are different ways up. The images are generated by setting up feedback loops with analogue video processors. Without the use of cameras, or external input, obsolete analogue broadcast and editing devices, are connected in sequence, and manipulated in real time. Jerky changes of colour and image in the video are the result of the artist’s hand manipulating the devices. A computer is used only to digitise the video for playback purposes. A progression of colour and shape presented simultaneously by each monitor, fractal like, coheres into an overall image whilst continually changing, like a kaleidoscope. As what’s presented changes the overall ‘mood’ changes; I have the feeling that sounds are involved but I am not hearing any. I could have this completely wrong, but the sense I have is of something approaching colour/sound synesthesia.

Mali Morris, Second Stradella, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 198 x 214 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

Mali Morris, Second Stradella, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 198 x 214 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

The analogy with music is appropriate for many of the paintings here, and none more than Second Stradella (2016) by Mali Morris, even though only Hardy’s video installation shares with music the quality of being played over an actual time duration. Over six foot tall, not quite square, a grid of twenty rectangular colour cells taller than they are wide, some of which are divided by a curve creating two shapes of contrasting hue and seen together suggest a large circular shape competing with the grid formation, is the visual equivalent of a multiplicity of chords being sounded together. Yet all is not strictly simultaneous. Perceptual figure/ground shifts create change, movement and depth that are specifically two-dimensional. If one shape/colour stands out way in front of the others there must be quite a deep space here, but no sooner have I perceived it than it snaps back into its flat presentation, only then to make way for another cell, shape or gestalt to project outward or to recede. All this without the slightest hint of linear perspective. Not one of the colours here is the same as another, the curving pink triangles on the top row that look similar, are not identical. The one on the left is slightly darker, more saturated and shinier than the other. The blacks and whites are never actually black or white, and again none are precisely repeated. It is difficult to show this in a photograph but the two jade green/whites in the second row up are not the same colour, nor are any of the black/greys on that row. It’s difference within sameness and things never being quite as they seem that I become mindful of now.

The sameness in the exhibition is these artists involvement with colour, the differences are their particular approaches to it. The variety keeps me interested for longer than this lunch hour really allows.

Kaleidoscope is on show at Fold Gallery only until Saturday 27th August 2016!

Laurence Noga also writes about this show at the Saturation Point website

KALEIDOSCOPE

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exhibition-kaleidoscope

Curated by Dominic Beattie, KALEIDOSCOPE opens at FOLD Gallery London today, featuring  Dominic KennedyMali MorrisBridget RileyJulian WildJames Alec HardySelma ParlourMartin Maloney, seven artists who have each developed their own sense of the ‘right’ colour choice, liberating colour to stimulate and energise the viewer in radically different ways.

Though I won’t get there today, I do hope to see it, and write a review before it closes on Saturday 27th August 2016!

Summer Mix at Turps Banana Gallery

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Summer Mix at Turps Banana Gallery is their first salon-style summer show. I am delighted to be included in such company. The artists are as follows.

Jessie Browne, Rose Davey, Carlos David, Dan Davis, Matthew Draper, Stuart Elliot, Louise Evans, James Fisher, Kirsten Glass, Kate Groobey, Lewis Henderson, Sam Herbert, Günther Herbst, Reece Jones, Richard Kirwan, Hannah Knox. Rachel Levitas, Wendy McLean, Mali Morris, Andy Parkinson, Katie Pratt, Dan Roach, David Ryan, Kate Shepherd, Marianne Shorten, Damian Taylor, Alaena Turner, Joan Waltemath, Simon Willems, Mela Yerka, Neil Zakiewicz

My own little painting comprises two 12″ x 12″ canvases, a duo, or perhaps even better, a double or twins, as one is identical to the other, in terms of the process used for dividing each square. One of the things that interests me when the two are presented side by side, almost adjoined, is that what was edge becomes centre. The yellow line that, as edge, was almost unnoticeable, as centre becomes quite prominent.

Andy Parkinson, Duo: 92 division square 1 & 2, 2015, acrylic on canvas, two canvases each one 12

Andy Parkinson, Ninety-Two Division Square Duo, 2015, acrylic on canvas, two canvases each one 12″ x 12″

At the centre of the exhibition, and quite prominent, is a wonderful Richard Kirwan painting, Frame of Reference. It is as disorienting as it is strident, with flat dayglow colours arranged in bands, supporting white stencilled asterisks that appear to rotate. There’s a strange spatial thing going on but with absolutely no attempt to depict a place where something happens. There’s no picture here, but some of the asterisk shapes are closer to me than others, which seem more to recede, especially when comparing a set of asterisks on a different band of the same colour. I am looking now on the fifth row down in the central black band and comparing the two asterisks there with the two on black in the row above, quite a deep space seems to open up between the two sets. And this keeps happening as I look at other parts of the painting too. So there’s the illusion of movement and the illusion of space yet no illusionary scene within which a narrative might develop.

Richard Kirwan, Frame of Reference, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 137 cm. My photo.

Richard Kirwan, Frame of Reference, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 137 cm. My photo.

Crossings (Red), by Mali Morris, a smaller, slower painting, less strident than the Kirwan, has a rich overall red quality to it, even the yellow that acts as a ground for criss-crossing red lines seems to have red beneath it, shining through. If for a moment, we perceive the yellow ground as negative space then the lines that zig-zag, one horizontally, and one vertically, are positive figures, above or in front of it. However, the yellow pushes forward, no longer content to be ground, it seeks to become figure, and my reading of the space becomes more complex. Losing my initial sense of lines traversing a flat ground, I now perceive the yellow rectangle at bottom right to be way in front of the one diagonally opposite, but only long enough for the spatial relationships to shift again, so that the converse is now true. I am also becoming more aware of the fleshy pinky-orangey-red shape on the right hand edge pulling spatially forward of the crossing lines, suggesting that it may be part of another larger shape, which is itself obscured by the canvas edge, similar to the way in which edges sometimes crop figures in snap-shot photography. (There’s a lot more to be said about this delightful painting, which I hope to find time for at a later date.)

Mali Morris, Crossings (Red), 2014, acrylic on canvas 43 x 60 cm, my photo.

Mali Morris, Crossings (Red), 2014, acrylic on canvas 43 x 60 cm. My photo.

Whilst I think it unlikely that Morris is deliberately connecting to photography, there are other works here that may have a more direct link, such as Damian Taylor’s Untitled (in), which reproduces the inside of the metal support he uses to paint on, like a photocopy of the inside of a stretcher. The work takes the form of a white monochrome, very nearly a picture of nothing, a representation of itself in its blank state. Based on information from Taylor’s website, (rather than from sensory evidence I must admit, even though I am looking directly at the work), I think it is a resin cast of the inside of a folded metal tray. I can see smudges and incidental hand prints or dirt marks, and not much else. Is it a painting, a sculpture or a print? And are all paintings all three of these anyway? What, to begin with, looked very slight now becomes complex, first intellectually and then, as a result, visually. I do think it is that way around in this work. Though either way it is a fascinating piece, and I am totally intrigued by it.

Damian Taylor, Untitled (in), 2015, Pigmented epoxy resin, glass fibre, honeycomb aluminium, 69 × 48 cm. My photo

Damian Taylor, Untitled (in), 2015, Pigmented epoxy resin, glass fibre, honeycomb aluminium, 69 × 48 cm. My photo

There are other monochromes here too: Louise Evans’ Untitled (Russet), and possibly Stuart Elliot’s Untitled, may be best thought of in this category, as may Rose Davey’s Untitled pair of paintings and Dan Roach’s meticulously painted Homebound, which is not a monochrome in the sense of a potentially imageless coloured surface, but rather in the sense that there is one colour, white, on an unprimed canvas support. Here, overlapping layers of natural hexagonal cells, reminiscent of a wasp nest, create a swirling circular movement that becomes a vortex, deepening spatially the more I view it. In Rose Davey’s double painting each panel presents a blue rectangle bounded by a brown band, as if the blue were mounted on the brown. At first appearance the two panels are identical. However, like seeing twins and only gradually perceiving the differences, I start to notice that the two blues are not the same. It is actually Katrina Blannin who points out to me the possible changes in hue, yet it remains unclear to us whether it is simply that the frames are of different browns, one being nearer to yellow the other being nearer to violet, thereby creating different experiences of the “same” blue or whether in fact the two blues are physically different. My money is on the frames alone being different.

Left: Rose Davey, Untitled, 2011, acrylic and emulsion paint on plywood panels, 60 x 40 x 4cm each. Right: Dan Roach, Homebound, 2012, mixed media on canvas, 70 x 60cm. My photo

Left: Rose Davey, Untitled, 2011, acrylic and emulsion paint on plywood panels, 60 x 40 x 4cm each. Right: Dan Roach, Homebound, 2012, mixed media on canvas, 70 x 60cm. My photo

David Ryan’s Set 2 (c) also seems to have some doubling going on, this time within the one painting, in the repetition of rectangles that occupy different spaces, one in lime green, one in yellow ochre and one in white, as well as the containing rectangle of the support. The green appears to be an opaque “outer” whereas the ochre houses some internal happening or other, stage like in appearance, almost like a play within a play.

There is contrast in the ways in which different parts are painted: scumbled brushstrokes or gestural rhythms differentiating themselves from areas of flat matt colour.  The more clearly delineated rectangles cluster towards the top left quadrant of the painting, almost in conflict with the unformed-ness of the rest of the canvas, “we three against the world”.

David Ryan, Set 2 (c), 2015, oil on linen 25 x 30 cm. My photo

David Ryan, Set 2 (c), 2015, oil on linen 25 x 30 cm. My photo

James Fisher’s painting may look abstract, with geometric shapes in a non literal pictorial space. However, it contains clear representational elements, a fan, or a stairway, along with architectural cubes, suggestive of a fortress or castle ramparts alongside the natural geometry of plants, or animals, sponges perhaps and what could resemble a sea creature, at first I am thinking coral, then even a brain a heart or some other internal organ. There is imagery, and possibly some narrative that is hinted at, evoked, but only ambiguously described,  rather like in a dream, or a song or a poem. The work is named after the traditional Irish folk song Eileen Aroon. Could it be that a painting may evoke in a similar way to a song, and yet also be less fleeting, more fixed, possibly maintaining a beauty that does not fade?

James Fisher, Eileen Aroon, 2013, oil on linen, 52 x 57 cm. My photo

James Fisher, Eileen Aroon, 2013, oil on linen, 52 x 57 cm. My photo

When, like the dawning day
Eileen Aroon
Love sends his early ray
Eileen Aroon
What makes his dawning glow
Changeless through joy and woe
Only the constant know
Eileen Aroon

Were she no longer true
Eileen Aroon
What would her lover do
Eileen Aroon
Fly with a broken chain
Far o’er the bounding main
Never to love again
Eileen Aroon

Youth must in time decay
Eileen Aroon
Beauty must fade away
Eileen Aroon
Castles are sacked in war
Chieftains are scattered far
Truth is a fixed star
Eileen Aroon

Summer Mix is on at Turps Banana Gallery until 15 August, opening times Fridays and Saturdays 12-6pm

Painting past present

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There’s a wonderful exhibition at Laing Art Gallery, where eleven contemporary painters respond to paintings from the past in a visual dialogue. Some of the older paintings aren’t that old so it’s not always easy to tell which of the works are past and which are contemporary, after all paintings exist always in the present, and some of the ‘past’ painters in this show are still making new paintings today. Frank Auerbach’s Julia, painted as recently as 1987, hangs here alongside a delicious 2013 painting by Laura Lancaster, and there’s an untitled painting by Paul Huxley from 1974 alongside Sue Spark’s 2013 painting Drop Zone.

The oldest work is William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil, chosen by Emma Talbot. I wonder whether its first viewers would have been as familiar with its story, based on the Keats poem, as say contemporary audiences might be with the storyline of a popular film. Perhaps the title would have been enough to cue recognition of Isobella clutching the basil pot containing, beneath the soil,  the head of her beloved. For me, I had to to read the notes in order to understand that beneath all the ornament and sumptuous decorative surfaces, just as beneath the soil in the pot, lies a narrative of violence and despair, almost as if the decor in the painting, and indeed the painting itself, were a kind of sublimation.

Carpet Painting (Isabella and The Pot of Basil), acrylic on canvas, 2013. Image by courtesy of the artist

Carpet Painting (Isabella and The Pot of Basil), acrylic on canvas, 2013. Image by courtesy of the artist

Talbot responds with her Carpet Painting (Isobella and the the Pot of Basil), contemporising the decorative and narrative elements, and adding some of Holman Hunt’s story, who had made the painting shortly after his wife died, and based the figure on her. Talbot inserts or overlays cartoon-like captions or graphics, onto a patterned carpet design, of colour similar to the Holman Hunt. Here the violent content is above rather than beneath the surface, up front rather than behind, almost projecting into the real space of the viewer.

The other 19th century painting here is Newcastle upon Tyne from the East, 1898, by Neils Møller Lund, a portrait of the city from a specific vantage point, generalised by the impressionistic rendering, yet by no means strictly representing light as it falls on the retina. This painting, less modern than an impressionist painting proper, less critical, seems to me to rather glory in the magnificence of the city not withstanding its squalor, in something approaching an evocation of empire.

Neils Møller Lund, Newcastle upon Tyne from the East, 1898, oil on canvas, image by courtesy of Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, (Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)

Neils Møller Lund, Newcastle upon Tyne from the East, 1898, oil on canvas, image by courtesy of Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, (Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)

Perhaps that’s what Helen Smith’s 2013 painting of the same title attempts to erase. I could imagine that she started out with Møller Lund’s picture and painted over it until all that remains is the record of its erasure, a violent act, though what’s left is this rather beautiful veil, not unlike a colour field painting.

Helen Smith, Newcastle from the East, 2013, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist

Helen Smith, Newcastle from the East, 2013, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist

Helen Baker‘s wonderful Blocks on Green with Shelf, has lots of resonance with William Brooker’s painting of objects on a table exhibited alongside it, but the balance of abstraction to representation possibly goes in opposite directions. Brooker’s still life could also be seen as an abstract painting, whereas Baker’s abstract painting with a literal shelf, might also be seen as a representation of objects on a table or even a landscape, a village green perhaps or a bowling green, rather than, abstractly, the colour green.

Helen Baker, Blocks on Green with Shelf, 2012, acrylic on linen with plywood shelf. Image by courtesy of the artist

Helen Baker, Blocks on Green with Shelf, 2012, acrylic on linen with plywood shelf. Image by courtesy of the artist

James Ryan also plays with the literal versus the non-literal in Grid 1, painted in acrylic on checked fabric that looks at first like a trompe loeil effect but turns out to be real patterned fabric. Floating in a space in front of it we see a transparent geometrical figure, or cluster of figures, that alternates between being flat and being three dimensional, the whole painting also seeming to undulate gently. John Piper’s Town from Water Meadows, shown alongside it, also has some of the same shifting of space and oscillation between solidity and transparency of forms.

James Ryan, Grid 1, 2013, acrylic on checked fabric. Image by courtesy of the artist

James Ryan, Grid 1, 2013, acrylic on checked fabric. Image by courtesy of the artist

It occurs to me that the dialogue taking place here between these artists, past and present, includes an element of positioning in relation to Modernism, itself a past for the contemporary painters shown here but present or future for the others. So we have the pre-modernism of Edmund Blair Leighton, pretending, as Eleanor Moreton points out in the Gallery notes, that his medium is not paint, and Holman Hunt’s proto-modernism (in Clement Greenberg‘s view at least), and the early modernism of Winifred Nicholson, whose painting Evening at Boothby, is chosen by Mali Morris and exhibited next to her Due North, 2013. If Modernism in painting engendered an essentialist approach, asking “what is painting?” or even “what could painting be?” and Post Modernism answered “anything goes”, Helen Baker seems interested in a slightly different question when, in the exhibition publication, she asks “what is this fine art craft about?” When I look at a painting by Mali Morris, as with others here, it’s not so much what painting is, nor even what it is about that comes to mind for me, it’s more what painting does or can do.

Mali Morris, Due North, 2013, acrylic on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist

Mali Morris, Due North, 2013, acrylic on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist

In her recent paintings, and Due North is a good example, the structuring grid, which in previous paintings may have been implicit, appears to have become explicit, which in turn seems to provide an opportunity to introduce rectangular ‘figures’ that interact with the now familiar circular forms, except they’re only figures when they become such, other times they are gaps, portals, windows, negative spaces in the grid. They become positive forms that push forward of the grid when figure and ground shift in relation to each other. But they don’t press as far forward as the discs that I sense would hover in real space were it not for the canvas edge that just about keeps them in place. It’s this ability of paint to suspend colour only long enough to let it go, as if it had a life of its own, that I think Morris exploits. And the colour creates space that is literally two dimensional but optically not just three, but four dimensional, the shifting of the space being experienced over time and alerting me again to my own subjectivity, my active participation in constructing the world I see. That the light “emanates from the painting and expands the space” is something that also happens in the Winifred Nicholson painting and Morris specifically refers to it in the gallery publication. I could imagine that if she had learned it from someone she could have learned it here, from Nicholson.

Painting Past Present: A Painters Craft, is on show at Laing Art Gallery until 09 February 2014 and includes paintings by Frank Auerbach, Laura Lancaster, William Brooker, Helen Baker, Derek Hirst, Narbi Price, William Holman Hunt, Emma Talbot, Paul Huxley, Sue Spark, Louis James, Paul Housley, Edmund Blair Leighton, Eleanor Moreton, Neils Moller Lund, Helen Smith, Winifred Nicholson, Mali Morris, Victore Pasmore, Ali Sharma, John Piper and James Ryan.

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

Turps Banana 12

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Turps Banana, Issue Twelve is out!

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In the early eighties Donald A. Schon, in his book The Reflective Practitioner, brought attention to the gap “between the kinds of knowledge honoured in academia and the kinds of competence valued in professional practice”  and proposed an epistemology of practice he called reflection-in-action.

Turps Banana Issue Twelve opens with a brief editorial in which Marcus Harvey and Peter Ashton Jones quote from Issue Nine, where Gavin Lockheart asks Peter Doig about his approach to teaching and Doig suggests that rather than teaching anyone anything we have conversations and discussions. I think what’s implied is that learning somehow takes place in what we might call reflective dialogue. It’s not teaching (not in the traditional sense anyway) but there is learning, or at least the potential for learning to take place. The editorial creates a frame for viewing Turps Twelve as being about the relationship between painting and learning.  It occurs to me that painting is a particularly good site for reflection-in-action, a discipline in which thinking and doing are re-united (it could be argued that in a technological society the two are separated, and to such an extent as to become highly problematical).

So I find the theme of learning cropping up in one way or another in each of the conversations, articles and discussions.

Bernard Cohen in conversation with David Leeson, learns from paintings in the Flemish room at the National Gallery, as well as from meetings with Barnett Newman, from the danger and purity in European painting, from the paintings and writings of Paul Klee, from Kenneth Martin saying “It doesn’t matter what you paint so long as you build something”, from Rudi Wittkower at the Slade, from Pueblo pottery, Albert Camus and the Myth of Sisyphus.  Then there’s a short article by Cohen on Leonard Applebee about his influence on Cohen both as a teacher and as a painter, and how the two practices of teaching and painting are interconnected.

Lucy Stein and Alasdair Gray talk about the paintings of Carole Gibbons and again the subject of learning comes up, this time from peers, specifically Alan Fletcher, whilst at Glasgow School of Art, saying something to me about the relationship between influence, learning and teaching: “nobody he influenced became his imitators. He helped us teach ourselves”

Mali Morris interviews Geoffrey Rigden where we learn about the influence of jazz, the teaching of Hans Hofmann, what it means to be contemporary (what a great question, by the way), the influence of Noland and Louis in the early days as well as Milton Avery and Albert Marquet, also other less well known figures at the time like Adolf Gottlieb, for Rigden “still more pertinent and engaging than Pollock”. It’s like I am eavesdropping on a conversation by two painters and as a result learning about the paintings, about influence and about learning itself. Later as I reflect on what I read, I join the dialogue, in my imagination. ( That’s a study of my own that I would like to do: on the influence or otherwise of ‘internal dialogue’ in the painting process.)

My snaphot of Geoffrey Rigden's painting "Erik" 2012, 30.5 x 30.5 cm

My snapshot of Geoffrey Rigden’s painting “Erik” 2012, 30.5 x 30.5 cm at Double Vision, Lion & Lamb Gallery in 2012

Continuing the learning theme there’s a couple of pages about the Turps Art School taking applications for the studio programme September 2013 – August 2014 and the correspondence course October 2013 – September 2014.

Nancy Cogswell visits the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington USA to talk with painting conservators there, and we get part-one of the interview, which ends on the nearest thing I can imagine to a cliff hanger for this type of serial, getting into some really interesting territory, asking just the questions I’d want to ask like “are there certain paintings you prefer to work on?” “Does Moholy-Nagy use masking tape to get the sharp edges on ZII ?” “How much room for manoeuvre does an individual conservator have?” “Do you think of yourselves as painters?” and  “What kind of problems do you have with the colour field painters?” The interview ends with a consideration of how you learn to do something (like clean a Morris Louis) when there is no accepted way of doing it and how you gain empirical knowledge over twenty five years, surely a metaphor for painting.

Whilst the acquiring of empirical knowledge is still fresh in my mind I turn the page to find that  Joan Key is writing on The Empiric or Picturesque in the work of Amikam Toren. and whilst I think it likely that connections between articles may be accidental she seems to elaborate on the visual/intellectual processes of observation interpretation and judgment that were present ‘beneath the surface’ in other articles and started to become explicit in Nancy Cogswell’s interview.

One of the things I like in each of the Turps Banana volumes is the way the varied conversations interconnect, almost like they are themselves conversing with each other, so that it is this process of conversation, reported and imagined, that pleasurable learning takes place for the reader, and thinking of pleasure, the pictures are great!

( You can subscribe online at www.turpsbanana.com )