abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Kennard

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

Quick! Get Treatment at PS Mirabel

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The abstract painting exhibition at PS Mirabel Manchester is a treat, a sight for sore eyes as it were. But hurry, the last day you can see it is Saturday 9 March!

PS Mirabel is a new gallery space on the ground floor of Mirabel Studios and is open on Saturdays from 11am to 5pm or by appointment. So, having seen the write up of  the current show at Abstract Critical I made an appointment to visit.

Curated by Lisa Denyer, Treatment features the work of six contemporary abstract painters from across the UK:

Laura Jane Blake‘s delightful watercolour Fold Abstraction #2 unframed and simply pinned to the wall treats painting as an empirical means of investigating structure that seems to develop organically from a simple geometric starting point, the medium lending, as well as its translucent colour, also a looseness to what might otherwise seem too tightly formed.

Richard Ward‘s digital prints have a quality of light that, like watercolour, seems generated from the inside, similar to the experience of looking at a screen, possibly encouraged in the title Brief Encounter, recalling the 1954 film romance, but whereas that was black and white, set in the era of the steam locomotive, this image is in full colour and set in the digital age. Whilst including other references to the past, in the history of abstraction, particularly the photograms of Man Ray, these digital prints demonstrate what abstraction can be now and suggest what it could become in the future. After all, this is a show about the nature of abstract painting, the digital print being firmly placed in that category, as if painting could become, to quote Lisa Denyer in our conversation here “anything we want it to be”.

Mattise’s cut outs come to mind for me as a treatment of material that we think of as ‘painting’ even though the only painting was in the preparation of the paper prior to being cut. And if the paper being used was industrially coloured it would still read as ‘painting’, like the wonderful card on card works on show here by Neill Clements.

Neill Clements, series of cut-outs, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Neill Clements, series of cut-outs, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

They are individually titled, encouraging us to view each one in its own right and yet, seeing them in series like this, leads us also to treat them as parts of a larger whole, like a frieze or a cartoon strip. And they have some of the humour of a cartoon, almost like visual jokes, the one third from the right for example: Halloween. They also have tongue-in-cheek references to other abstract art e.g. Black Carl Andre…

Neill Clements, Black Carl Andre, 2012, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Neill Clements, Black Carl Andre, 2012, image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

…and figural associations e,g, Valley.

Neill Clements, Valley, 2012, card on card. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Neill Clements, Valley, 2012, card on card. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

The unavoidably associative quality of otherwise abstract images means that it’s both the definition of ‘abstract’ as well as the definition of  ‘painting’ that is up for consideration here, in a way that is humorous without becoming ironic.

Terry Greene‘s work contains some humour too, especially when viewed with the titles, as in An ever-expanding, loving, joyful, glorious, and harmonious universe, which might also have some irony in it. Titling abstract paintings is, I think, a better strategy for differentiation than say numbering them and although “Untitled” avoids over-influencing the viewers’ interpretation it makes differentiation impossible. So Greene’s titles are ambiguous and seem free-associative both for artist and viewer, (free association being a psycho-therapeutic treatment all of its own). The image reminds me of a portal, a window on the world, but one that thwarts the attempt to find a world out there. I am particularly impressed by Greene’s use of colour and the variety of the acrylic paint handling. In Cathedral the build up of paint at the edges, overflowing the sides of the support acts as a record of the process and invites the viewer to imagine how that process led to the realization of this particular image/object. The paint in That’s the sun in my hands, man! looks like it was squeegeed in opposite directions forming two impasto waves in the act of separation, revealing a ‘sky’ of almost indeterminable colour.

Terry Greene, That's the sun in my hands, man! 2012, acrylic on canvas. 12" x 16". Image by courtesy of the artist

Terry Greene, That’s the sun in my hands, man! 2012, acrylic on canvas. 12″ x 16″. Image by courtesy of the artist

Mark Kennard  in his treatment of paint employs more of a staining technique, the weave of the canvas showing through most of the time. Untitled is a near monochrome surface where the staining/brushing of paint has been interrupted creating a horizon line where an underpainted ground shows through and appears to glow. The whole surface has something of a glowing quality, and on closer inspection the paint looks thicker than I first thought, and has a gloss sheen to it. I cannot tell whether it is a varnish applied to the paint surface afterwards or whether the thick gloss quality is in the paint itself. I suspect it is the latter. However, the overall impression is of a lightness that may be my own ‘treatment’ in that it may be more optical than material.

Mark Kennard, Untitled, 2012, Oil on Canvas, Image by Courtesy of PS Mirabel

Mark Kennard, Untitled, 2012, Oil on Canvas, Image by Courtesy of PS Mirabel

Matthew Macaulay uses painterly mark-making in a variety of ways on different canvases arranged on a shelf, one canvas slightly smaller than the others and overlapped by those on each side, having the effect that I want to re-arrange them so I can see what is just out of view. But then all painting is like that isn’t it? There are other paintings included in the final version that are hidden forever underneath the final layer. In this arrangement the hiding is temporary, provisional, and the obscured detail could, theoretically at least, still be accessed. Reading the painting is more like looking at books on a shelf than it is like seeing a picture, there is little ‘image making’ going on here. The piece is entitled Coventry Construction, and invites a reading from left to right, where the mark making starts out simple and gets more complex, more layered and dense towards the right hand side, as if building up from scratch. It’s a construction, bringing to mind the constructivist tradition, yet some of the later marks are reminiscent of the more informal gestural abstract/figurative traditions, one canvas with Hodgkinesque marks and the final one more Aurebachian.

Matthew Macaulay, Coventry Construction, 2012, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

Matthew Macaulay, Coventry Construction, 2012, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of PS Mirabel

There’s a world of variety of abstract painting here in this modest sized space and my own malady, a deficiency of access to abstract painting outside London, is amply treated at PS Mirabel today.