patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Macaulay

Interpreting the Abstract: Pareidolia at Pluspace Coventry

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Pareidolia is a special case of apophenia: the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. Having spent years in operational management I have been subject to numerous examples of apophenia, the most common being when a manager sees a dip in performance figures, interprets it as a sign of some lack at the individual level and decides to “take action,” a pep talk or a telling off, and then, when the stat’s show an ‘improvement’ the next day, ascribes the ‘change’ to his or her actions. In fact the data was random, both before and after the intervention. No change took place, just variation within a stable system.

With pareidolia a vague visual stimulus is perceived as something clear and distinct, like the horrifying face I always saw within the pattern and folds of my bedroom curtains when I was a child, or that image of Mother Teresa in a potato I was amused by this morning. Something more than the pattern is read-in, or projected. Jesus in the bacon dripping is a personal favourite. (For me, it’s so convincing I suspect it’s a hoax.)

In writing recently about the paintings of Lisa Denyer, I said that the viewer ‘completes’ the paintings in a similar way to “gazing into a fire and seeing one’s own imagined universe”, which I think is to encourage pareidolia. It’s not quite the same as seeing something that isn’t there, an hallucination,. If we distinguish, within the act of seeing, three separate actions: observation, interpretation and judgement, an hallucination takes place at the observation stage, whereas pareidolia is linked more to interpretation. Both seem to involve the imaginary, possibly in hallucination it is unconscious whereas in pareidolia it is conscious.

Ralph Anderson, Cut Out, Image by courtesy of the artist

Ralph Anderson, Cut Out 738, Image by courtesy of the artist

When I’m looking at Cut Out 738 by Ralph Anderson, I am not hallucinating the drips of paint that are also cut out of the ply wood of which the work is constructed, they are really there, and palpably so. Pareidolia kicks in when I  start to read the curved line toward bottom right as a letter “c” and the green diagonal brushstroke as a forward slash above which is an “i”, i over c, sounds like a vaguely Lacanian sign for something. I check it out with others who didn’t see it until I mentioned it. Perhaps there are degrees or levels of pareidolia, in which case this is low level, not Jesus-in-the-bacon-fat, full blown pareidolia. it’s possible that the artist intended for me to at least question whether these works are signs for something, or possibly even signs that signify only themselves.

In Louisa Chambers‘ painting  Balance 1, I am imagining some alchemy, the forms recalling, for me, laboratory instruments upon a table or work bench and the colours are fire. There’s a believable space in which some unknown drama is being enacted, unknown because it’s not quite figural enough to figure out what’s happening, other than the placement of colour-shapes, so I do what we all do in lieu of adequate information, I make stuff up, or rather I employ my powers of association in order to make sense of what I see.

Louisa Chambers, Balance I, 2013, acrylic on card, 16 x 22 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist. Image by courtesy of the artist

Louisa Chambers, Balance I, 2013, acrylic on card, 16 x 22 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist. Image by courtesy of the artist

David Manley‘s wonderful oval shaped black and white painting on aluminium, Martin Beck, seems impenetrable, I am struggling to read anything into the six semi circular shapes, subtle scuff markings and clearly drawn white lines, on a glossy black surface. Pareidoliac images form more easily where there is an abundance of indeterminate markings, in other words in works that are “painterly”, and even though here the black ground is far from unmodulated, it’s not painterly enough for pictures to suggest themselves. The painting is more object than image, more so even than Ralph Anderson’s “is it two, is it three dimensional?” piece. Knowing that it is from Manley’s Black North series, inspired by Scandinavian Noir doesn’t lead me to find images, other than the oval shape itself and the hardness of the decorated surface. The sense I have is of being confronted by something that is attempting to occupy my personal space, in fact I can be more specific now, it’s a shield, equally aggressive as it is defensive. And it’s only now that I realise that something similar to pareidolia is taking place after all.

Left: David Manley, Martin Beck. Right: Ralph Anderson, Cut Out 738, My snapshot

Left: David Manley, Martin Beck. Right: Ralph Anderson, Cut Out 738, My snapshot

With Phoebe Mitchell‘s Comfort, there being little formal structure and much painterly gesture, there’s ample opportunity for Pareidolia, almost an open invitation to read-in, not that much different than looking at Rorschach ink blots, if it weren’t for the fact that Mitchell’s work has many more times the beauty, and I don’t think that’s a projection. Similarly, in her other tiny painting here, and also in Rachael Macarthur‘s Untitled, what’s being presented is artfully vague enough to encourage the viewer to free-associate.

Phoebe Mitchell, Comfort, 2013, oil on board, 17 x 14cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Phoebe Mitchell, Comfort, 2013, oil on board, 17 x 14cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Should we distinguish between intended and unintended pareidolia? Is it part of an artists skill to direct the viewer to see what the artist wants, and to prevent ab-interpretations? (I am reminded of Adolph Gottlieb, in relation to his pictographs, if he discovered that one of his signs was actually existent in a past culture he would drop it from his repertoire.) However, sometimes an artist’s intention is for us to see things that s/he did not specifically intend, and I think that’s where Gottleib got to later on. The surrealist practice of decalcomania also seems like a good example of this attitude.

Left: Jack Foster, Untitled, Right: Phoebe Mitchel, Untitled and Comfort. My snapshot

Left: Jack Foster, Untitled, Right: Phoebe Mitchel, Untitled and Comfort. My snapshot

Jack Foster’s Untitled poses questions of interpretation that are more conceptual perhaps than others here. I experience far less free-association in pondering the inverted head on a green ground and I engage in a more linguistic attempt to interpret what is being presented. There’s little by way of free-association also in my own painting Hexagon Colour-Spread (BGRYMC), but the emphasis is more perceptual, the way the viewer constructs colour and shape is what’s being explored, the shifting gestalts also bringing attention to the pre-linguistic processes of perception.

Left: Louisa Chambers, Balance 1, Right: Andy Parkinson, Hexagon Colour-Spread (BGRYMC). My snapshot

Left: Louisa Chambers, Balance 1, Right: Andy Parkinson, Hexagon Colour-Spread (BGRYMC). My snapshot

The link between percept and memory construct is I think what is emphasised in the vulnerable little painting by Rachael MacArthur, shapes only just distinct enough to become forms but never enough to become anything specific. I like the pairing of this hesitant image with the more forceful and the largest painting here: Paradise (Yellow and Grey) by Ellie MacGarry, a painting that seems to exult in the perception of colour, showing how it changes as two colours cross, creating a third that is at the same time both and neither of the other two. Clashes of hue create lots of optical buzz and a lively space that keeps opening up and then bringing me back to the painting’s surface.  The drawing is simple and confident, looking like there was little room for error, as if the artist got just the one chance to place this series of lines, or this marvelous expanse of grey. (Speaking to her, I find out that I am wrong about this and that other versions exist underneath the surface.)

Left: Rachael MacArthur, Untitled, Right: Ellie MacGarry, Paradise (Yellow and Grey)

Left: Rachael MacArthur, Untitled, Right: Ellie MacGarry, Paradise (Yellow and Grey). My snapshot

Colour appears also to be a preoccupation of Frances Disley, in her three-dimensional painting Figure, especially in its power to dissolve form as much as to describe it, and to mislead even, creating events out of the absent shapes that are cut out of the surface and either discarded or added back on in a different place, along with cut-outs of digital prints or spray painted bits of foam. The piece has something theatrical about it, looking vaguely like an object from a science fiction set, Star Trek perhaps, a rock that might also be a creature, but that all along is clearly made from cardboard, or is it?

Frances Disley, Figure. Image by courtesy of the artist

Frances Disley, Figure, Image by courtesy of the artist

How we interpret abstract paintings, and the strangeness of sense-making, seems to be what Pluspace curator Matthew Macaulay is exploring by bringing together the work of these nine artists in the exhibition Pareidolia, which can be seen on Saturdays and Sundays at 50 Bishop Street, Coventry until 14 September.

“About Painting” at Castlefield Gallery

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About Painting at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, curated by Lisa Denyer, is an exploration of contemporary abstract painting, featuring eight artists including me. I hope it’s acceptable to review an exhibition in which I am a participant. The artists are : Claudia Böese, Louisa Chambers, Lisa Denyer, Terry Greene, Matthew Macaulay, David Manley, Andy Parkinson and Anne Parkinson (no relation). It is an honour to be associated with this group.

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Window of Castlefield Gallery with my own painting “cover” on the wall below.

The gallery, which is this year celebrating it’s thirtieth year, looks out onto Castlefield and Deansgate rail and metro stops. Today at the opening, on such a warm and sunny evening the place has something of a continental feel to it. The colours of some of the paintings, warm hues against a pristine white backdrop, add to this sensation.

Installation shot, my photo

Installation shot, my photo: On wall: paintings by Lisa Denyer, Louisa Chambers and Claudia Bose, On floor: paintings by Claudia Böse Lisa Denyer and Matthew Macaulay, including painted stones by Lisa Denyer

In the upper gallery, works by Terry Greene, Anne Parkinson and Louisa Chambers kick off the show, and already what I am noticing is the variety of approaches. Greene’s paintings are intuitively arrived at, through a process of trial and error, in a context in which it is difficult to define what an “error” might be. In a way it’s painting as problem-solving, as opposed to puzzle-deciphering, where I am thinking of problems as having multiple correct answers and puzzles as having just the one correct answer. And whilst this could perhaps be said of all painting, for me, Greene’s work gives particular emphasis to this aspect of the medium. Colour/shapes are added and responded to and then, according to some internal logic, some are wiped away with a cloth and then something different laid down in their place. The residue of previous configurations shows through the final arrangement. It would be an overstatement to say that the painting makes itself, along the lines of a self-organising system, but I bet it feels that way to the artist, proceeding by continually asking the painting what it wants to become. Neighbouring Grounds wanted to become a ground only, surrounded by other grounds that might also be standing two dimensional figures gathered around a portal when the central area is an absence. When the central area becomes a positive shape then I can divide the action in half diagonally from top right to bottom left, the other shapes joining together to form a warped frame with the three shapes touching the top and left edge receding in space whilst the shapes along the bottom edge and right hand side push forward. Three shapes opposing three others forming an irregular hexagon in the centre.

Terry Greene, Neighboring Grounds, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 35x25cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Terry Greene, Neighboring Grounds, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 35x25cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

In Anne Parkinson’s approach to painting most of the decision making takes place before the paint is laid down. A system is described according to particular rules, though I am unsure whether I am working them out correctly, perhaps due to the multiple ways we have available to us of classifying our experience. In Expansion,  nine paintings on unstretched canvases are pinned to the wall in a grid formation, I see a row of three rectangles above a row of four rectangles, above a row of two rectangles, but my brain fills in the ‘blanks’ to find three rows or four with spaces. Each individual painting similarly has three rows of four rectangles, that could be read as single brush strokes, with units missing, no one arrangement ever repeated. On the top row, one of the paintings is simply a black monochrome rectangle, yet I cannot help but read it as an ’empty’ grid now that I have become conditioned to see the grid format. I am recalling Boolean algebra, or digital information theory, where either a 0 or a 1 is the carrier of ‘meaning’. Yet the colour and subtle irregularity of paint handling is decidedly analogue.

Anne Parkinson, Expansion! 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 95x114cm, my snapshot

Anne Parkinson, Expansion! 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 95x114cm, my snapshot

If this analogue/digital contrast could be stretched to suggests a theme of something akin to “Technology vs Primitivism” I could claim to find this theme running throughout all modern and contemporary art and certainly it would be a way of codifying the paintings in this show. I feel sure this dichotomy is actually present in the paintings by Louisa Chambers, though I acknowledge my propensity to over-interpret.

Paintings by (left to right) Terry Greene, Andy Parkinson, David Manley, Louisa Chambers and Terry Greene

Paintings by (left to right) Terry Greene, Andy Parkinson, David Manley, Louisa Chambers and Terry Greene

There are four wonderful paintings by Chambers here, two from her Flatland series, one from her Rotation series and one from her Two-Foldness series. I love her use of colour and the way the images shift and create multiple readings, only one of which can be held at any one time, creating a sense of movement as well as a shifting of space within an essentially two-dimensional framework. Patterns are established and then interrupted, and figuration is suggested and then suspended in a continuous loop. The images have a cartoon like appearance, reminding me at times of TV graphics, and when I find figuration it is often technology or machinery in a landscape that comes to my mind. Issues of playfulness (and its difficulty) within a technologically determined world seem at least alluded to.

Louisa Chambers, Sound Reflector, 2012, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 70x60cm, my snapshot

Louisa Chambers, Sound Reflector, 2012, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 70x60cm, my snapshot

If in my viewing of Chambers’ paintings today it is image that I am most aware of, in David Manley’s and Lisa Denyers paintings I am reminded that a painting is also an object. In Manley’s delightful small canvases here, he explores a theme based on a proscenium arch that he first began using many years ago, and to which he has recently returned. The colours are inspired by light and colour of Cornish coastal villages, beaches and coves and the scale is small, miniature even, so that what their presentation as beautiful objects is what I see first, the fact that some of these tiny canvases are painted all the way around the sides increases my perception of them as things, also noting that the colours look particularly vibrant along the top, recalling the experience I often have when working on a painting horizontally, the amazing colour I see when the work is flat dissipates the moment I lift the work to view it vertically on the wall. Manley has maintained this colour vitality by continuing the painting around the edges and especially along the top.

Paintings by David Manley, my snapshot

Paintings by David Manley, my snapshot

Denyer’s paintings on stone are quite evidently objects. In these three dimensional paintings she brings attention to the stone rather than simply decorating it. There is an element of adding something that wasn’t there before, especially in the colours she uses, and there is a definite process of ‘doing something’ to the stone, but I am put more strongly in remembrance of Michelangelo’s strategy in relation to his Prisoner sculptures, where he claimed to draw the forms from within the rock rather than imposing them from without. In bringing my attention to the stones I notice that they are not at all in their natural state, they have already gone through a lengthy process of being quarried, built and demolished. If moments ago, I was thinking in terms of the opposition of digital vs analogue, extended to technological vs primitive, I am now thinking about the natural vs the artificial, which might actually be a subset of the other opposition already referred to.

In Denyer’s two dimensional paintings I am once again impressed by the refinement of the carefully made object, as well as by the textures of the surface when she uses found plywood. I think I have said before that I find both affirmation-and-denial of materiality going on here.

Lisa Denyer, Cube, 2014, Acrylic on found plywood, 28x31cm, my snapshot

Lisa Denyer, Cube, 2014,
Acrylic on found plywood, 28x31cm, my snapshot

I like that in her curation of this exhibition, Denyer has chosen to display the work in interesting ways. Some of her own paintings as well as some of Claudia Böese’ and one of Matthew Macaulay’s are propped against stones or displayed on plinths, emphasising their materiality. I am also very impressed by the way she has lit my own paintings so that the surface detail that is so difficult to show in a photograph, becomes easier to see.

The charming paintings by Böese here, are varied in style, some are “hard-nosed” abstraction exploring process in grid like arrangements whereas others approach figuration, based on Chaïm Soutine‘s paintings of flowers, often it’s frames and edges that she seems interested in. I sense that this links to metaphorical ‘content’ both about painting and about the psychological experience of feeling “on the edge” of something.

Claudia Böse, Relocation (I), 2010, Oil on board, 36x30cm, My snapshot

Claudia Böse, Relocation (I), 2010, Oil on board, 36x30cm, My snapshot

Matthew Macaulay’s paintings seem to have taken a near-monochrome turn as haptic mark-making and resultant images are unified using a larger swirling gesture, recalling the act of “whitening out” that builders or shopfitters might use on a large window or a vacant storefront. The gesture at once connects to a painting that is urban, vernacular, and largely unconscious. At the same time the colours he employs seem far removed from whitening. In this wonderful painting Living in a Daydream for example the overall red glows with an assertive energy. Its energy is all vision and image, whereas its gesture is more texture and material.

Matthew Macaulay, Living in a Daydream, 2014, Oil on board, 40x40cm, my snapshot

Matthew Macaulay, Living in a Daydream, 2014, Oil on board, 40x40cm, my snapshot

In my own systems oriented paintings, I may appear to be doing the opposite of Macaulay, who’s affirmation of colour and energy I might even be attempting to obliterate as I cover fluorescent coloured designs with a diagonally oriented chequer pattern. Actually, it’s what remains after this process that interests me, the way that colours show through, as well as, and perhaps more importantly, the way that when faced with a black and white pattern, and taking time to look, we involuntarily invent colours of our own.

Andy Parkinson, Contra Check 2, 2014, Mixed media on PVA coated paper on canvas, 50x50cm

Andy Parkinson, Contra Check 2, 2014, Mixed media on PVA coated paper on canvas, 50x50cm

About Painting is at Castlefield Gallery until 29 June 2014.

Evidence of a systems based process can be found in Andy Parkinson’s paintings. The checkered overlay has been adhered to a florescent ground, all but blocking out the underlying hues. However on closer inspection, vague forms and subtle colours come through from underneath. The optical illusion brought about by the contrasting black and white checkering creates the appearance of more colour in turn.

A similar repetition of motif is utilized in the work of Louisa Chambers. There is a sense of fairground and fantastical landscape in her vividly coloured paintings; it’s not surprising that contemplation of alternative universes has been instrumental in the making of these pieces. Imagery in the work references castles, monarchy, and the futuristic. These paintings bring to mind a kind of strange, robotic fairy tale.

David Manley’s intimate paintings are representative of a relatively new way of working in contemporary abstraction. Their miniature scale and clean simplicity invites closer inspection. They are the result of investigations into fundamental form and restricted colour, inspired by place, structure and an architectural interest, with particular reference to the proscenium arch.

The works on display by Anne Parkinson centre around pre-planned systems, and experiments in the properties of colour. There is an emphasis on polarity of hue, allowing a visual complexity to manifest when pared with simple mark making. The paintings were made to be shown together, so although each component is small in scale, the repetition in their display creates an impactful and responsive visual series.

The paintings of Claudia Böse show careful thought and process-led considerations around form in her exploration of the medium. Böse focusses on contained areas created by framing devices, inspired by the domestic and every day life; screens, table mats, and windows amongst others. These paintings incorporate influences from place, history and nature, creating a new interpretation of these ideas through an abstract language.

Matthew Macaulay’s playful use of paint is reflected in the titles of his work. An exciting energy is conveyed in his gestural brush stokes and mark making. Macaulay’s work is simple whilst being nuanced. His paintings celebrate colour and imbue a sense of impact, drawing on influences from art history, and reflecting his own experiences to produce something new and joyful.

Experimentation and risk taking are evident in the work of Terry Greene. However, careful consideration of form and structure is equally apparent. Traces of the painting process reveal themselves in the multitude of layers that can be discerned in different aspects of these pieces. Investigation, and a full exploration of the medium have occurred here before arriving at a tension that feels right.

Lisa Denyer’s paintings show a strong interest in materiality. The found plywood she chooses as support adds compositional details in the grain and irregularities of the surface. Simple shape, excavation and subsequent covering of colour are prevalent themes in Denyer’s work. Residual landscape associations are apparent, as well as references to architectural structures and cosmological depiction.

– See more at: http://www.castlefieldgallery.co.uk/event/launch-pad-about-painting/#sthash.b78Jnzbw.dpuf

Evidence of a systems based process can be found in Andy Parkinson’s paintings. The checkered overlay has been adhered to a florescent ground, all but blocking out the underlying hues. However on closer inspection, vague forms and subtle colours come through from underneath. The optical illusion brought about by the contrasting black and white checkering creates the appearance of more colour in turn.

A similar repetition of motif is utilized in the work of Louisa Chambers. There is a sense of fairground and fantastical landscape in her vividly coloured paintings; it’s not surprising that contemplation of alternative universes has been instrumental in the making of these pieces. Imagery in the work references castles, monarchy, and the futuristic. These paintings bring to mind a kind of strange, robotic fairy tale.

David Manley’s intimate paintings are representative of a relatively new way of working in contemporary abstraction. Their miniature scale and clean simplicity invites closer inspection. They are the result of investigations into fundamental form and restricted colour, inspired by place, structure and an architectural interest, with particular reference to the proscenium arch.

The works on display by Anne Parkinson centre around pre-planned systems, and experiments in the properties of colour. There is an emphasis on polarity of hue, allowing a visual complexity to manifest when pared with simple mark making. The paintings were made to be shown together, so although each component is small in scale, the repetition in their display creates an impactful and responsive visual series.

The paintings of Claudia Böse show careful thought and process-led considerations around form in her exploration of the medium. Böse focusses on contained areas created by framing devices, inspired by the domestic and every day life; screens, table mats, and windows amongst others. These paintings incorporate influences from place, history and nature, creating a new interpretation of these ideas through an abstract language.

Matthew Macaulay’s playful use of paint is reflected in the titles of his work. An exciting energy is conveyed in his gestural brush stokes and mark making. Macaulay’s work is simple whilst being nuanced. His paintings celebrate colour and imbue a sense of impact, drawing on influences from art history, and reflecting his own experiences to produce something new and joyful.

Experimentation and risk taking are evident in the work of Terry Greene. However, careful consideration of form and structure is equally apparent. Traces of the painting process reveal themselves in the multitude of layers that can be discerned in different aspects of these pieces. Investigation, and a full exploration of the medium have occurred here before arriving at a tension that feels right.

Lisa Denyer’s paintings show a strong interest in materiality. The found plywood she chooses as support adds compositional details in the grain and irregularities of the surface. Simple shape, excavation and subsequent covering of colour are prevalent themes in Denyer’s work. Residual landscape associations are apparent, as well as references to architectural structures and cosmological depiction.

– See more at: http://www.castlefieldgallery.co.uk/event/launch-pad-about-painting/#sthash.cu1kId2m.dpuf

Evidence of a systems based process can be found in Andy Parkinson’s paintings. The checkered overlay has been adhered to a florescent ground, all but blocking out the underlying hues. However on closer inspection, vague forms and subtle colours come through from underneath. The optical illusion brought about by the contrasting black and white checkering creates the appearance of more colour in turn.

A similar repetition of motif is utilized in the work of Louisa Chambers. There is a sense of fairground and fantastical landscape in her vividly coloured paintings; it’s not surprising that contemplation of alternative universes has been instrumental in the making of these pieces. Imagery in the work references castles, monarchy, and the futuristic. These paintings bring to mind a kind of strange, robotic fairy tale.

David Manley’s intimate paintings are representative of a relatively new way of working in contemporary abstraction. Their miniature scale and clean simplicity invites closer inspection. They are the result of investigations into fundamental form and restricted colour, inspired by place, structure and an architectural interest, with particular reference to the proscenium arch.

The works on display by Anne Parkinson centre around pre-planned systems, and experiments in the properties of colour. There is an emphasis on polarity of hue, allowing a visual complexity to manifest when pared with simple mark making. The paintings were made to be shown together, so although each component is small in scale, the repetition in their display creates an impactful and responsive visual series.

The paintings of Claudia Böse show careful thought and process-led considerations around form in her exploration of the medium. Böse focusses on contained areas created by framing devices, inspired by the domestic and every day life; screens, table mats, and windows amongst others. These paintings incorporate influences from place, history and nature, creating a new interpretation of these ideas through an abstract language.

Matthew Macaulay’s playful use of paint is reflected in the titles of his work. An exciting energy is conveyed in his gestural brush stokes and mark making. Macaulay’s work is simple whilst being nuanced. His paintings celebrate colour and imbue a sense of impact, drawing on influences from art history, and reflecting his own experiences to produce something new and joyful.

Experimentation and risk taking are evident in the work of Terry Greene. However, careful consideration of form and structure is equally apparent. Traces of the painting process reveal themselves in the multitude of layers that can be discerned in different aspects of these pieces. Investigation, and a full exploration of the medium have occurred here before arriving at a tension that feels right.

Lisa Denyer’s paintings show a strong interest in materiality. The found plywood she chooses as support adds compositional details in the grain and irregularities of the surface. Simple shape, excavation and subsequent covering of colour are prevalent themes in Denyer’s work. Residual landscape associations are apparent, as well as references to architectural structures and cosmological depiction.

– See more at: http://www.castlefieldgallery.co.uk/event/launch-pad-about-painting/#sthash.cu1kId2m.dpuf

About Painting coming to Castlefield Gallery in June

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About Painting

Claudia Böse, Louisa Chambers, Lisa Denyer, Terry Greene, Matthew Macaulay, David Manley, Andy Parkinson, Anne Parkinson

Curated by Lisa Denyer

Venue: Castlefield Gallery, 2 Hewitt Street, Manchester M15 4GB
Preview: Thursday 19th June 6–9pm
Exhibition continues: Friday 20th June – Sunday 29th June 2014

Terry Greene, 'Adventures in Naples' 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 35x45cm

Terry Greene, ‘Adventures in Naples’ 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 35x45cm

“The aim of art, so far as one can speak of an aim at all, has always been the same; the blending of experience gained in life with the natural qualities of the art medium.”
– Hans Hofmann

About Painting is an exploration of contemporary abstract painting. The exhibition documents systems based, highly structured pieces as well as those demonstrating a freer and more spontaneous language.

Painting is about being in the moment, exploring the properties of the medium to their full potential and allowing investigation into the multi faceted characteristics of paint. Abstraction is an engagement with the fundamental nature of the world through perceptive means. It is ambiguous and open to interpretation. It doesn’t pertain to any single subject, and has the capacity to represent a multitude of thoughts, feelings and visual stimuli.

Painting continues to be relevant because it is not convoluted or arbitrary, but honest and immediate. The painting process is reliant upon intuitive processes and the discovery of new possibilities. It involves being responsive, analytical, and fully engaged with the materiality of the medium. Dialogues, synergies and tensions are created, and polarities of colour explored on a given surface, often evoking a sense of recognition.

Every experience a painter has informs the making of work, just as the viewer brings their own knowledge which informs interpretation. In this exhibition, the viewer is invited to consider the decision making involved in the creation of a painting in terms of a series of significant events that align to form the compositional whole.

About Painting is part of Castlefield Gallery‘s Launch Pad exhibition programme.

Painting Too at Harrington Mill Studios

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Painting Too, at Harrington Mill Studios, forms part-two of a duo of shows about abstract painting, demonstrating that, to quote its curator David Manley: “current abstraction is in rude good health”. If part-one, featured that strand of abstraction that foregrounds a “formal” as opposed to “informal” approach, part two concentrates on the other strand, work that is looser in execution, more “provisional”, “casual” “informal”, more Romantic than Classical, or possibly even, more Dionysian than Apollonian.

Installation shot, from left: Lisa Denyer, Rachael Pinks, Terry Greene, Matthew Macaulay. Image by courtesy of HMS

Installation shot, from left: Lisa Denyer, Rachael Pinks, Terry Greene, Matthew Macaulay. Image by courtesy of HMS

The most provisional are Vincent Hawkins playful paper cut-outs and paper folds that might be the biproduct of some other process, as if the paper that he was resting on has become an event in itself, rather than being discarded it is presented as uncomposed image, unconscious design, a strategy similar to that of displaying a used artists’ pallet as a painting. I love their simplicity (of sorts) and audacity, and the challenge they pose to my preconceived ideas about what a painting might be. The folded works bring attention to the way a painting might be more a construction than a composition, and even though I started out thinking of these as ‘provisional’ or romantic my distinction already breaks down as I see connections to the constructivist tradition, which for me adheres more readily to the classical pole.

Vincent Hawkins, Untitled. Image by courtesy HMS

Vincent Hawkins, Untitled. Image by courtesy HMS

Rachael Pinks‘ works on paper, made from pages torn from second hand books and painted, are more consciously constructed than Hawkins’. I feel invited to get up close and study them, and as I do so I find detail that fascinates me just as I might do if I was viewing a miniature. I read them as abstract miniatures, a notion that would have been unthinkable say twenty years ago. This seems to me to be one of the things that makes them contemporary. In this show, they are simply attached to the wall, unframed, bringing my attention to the slightly irregular shapes of many of them, emphasising the way they have grown into being, if not quite organically, rather in a dialogical fashion, in conversation between artist and material. That they are grouped so closely together also highlights the off-straight edges and the relationships between pieces.

Stephen MacInnes’s decorative 12″ x 12″ paintings on paper from his ‘long series’ are also organised together for maximum effect, creating an impressive tiled wall of arching forms. Works that might have looked casual take on an architectural quality.

Stephen MacInnes, selection from the Long Series. Image by courtesy HMS

Stephen MacInnes, selection from the Long Series. Image by courtesy HMS

Rachael Macarthur‘s small works on paper, again unframed and simply attached to the wall, seem closer to Hawkins in their nearness to the provisional or at least casualist approach. Seeing Tabula Rasa again confirms my appreciation of this piece, I continue to feel surprise at how something so slight can have such an impact. There’s a lot more going on in Russia, there is more drawing, and like Pinks’ little paintings/collages there are landscape associations, but they are residual, the sense I have is that the more the painting attempts to capture a memory of something, the more it resembles only the process of attempting to recall.

Rachael Macarthur, Russia. Image by courtesy of the artist

Rachael Macarthur, Russia. Image by courtesy of the artist

Terry Greene‘s paintings have a casualness about them too. They look like the paint was applied quickly, perhaps in an attempt to prevent the conscious mind from interfering too much in the process, yet with time gaps between painting sessions, creating for the artist opportunities to study them, to reflect and even to forget, whilst for the eventual viewer, layers of underpainting slow down the resulting image. I hesitate to say ‘image’ because these small paintings have so much materiality about them, the paint often over spilling the edges of the canvas. It occurs to me that the tension that is created between quick graphic image and slow build-up of material is a large part of what I am finding so interesting in Greene’s paintings.

Terry Greene, The condition of things which they have finally settled into, 2013, acrylic on canvas stretched over hardboard and stretcher, 12 1/4" x 9 1/4". Image by courtesy of the artist

Terry Greene, The condition of things which they have finally settled into, 2013, acrylic on canvas stretched over hardboard and stretcher, 12 1/4″ x 9 1/4″. Image by courtesy of the artist

Something similar is going on for me in the paintings on plywood by Lisa Denyer. Their materiality is both posited and negated in the diaphanous quality of the resulting form. The word ‘image’ seems even less appropriate in that each piece looks so little like a picture of something other than space, and ‘object’ seems equally wrong because of the immateriality of the washes that the eye perceives more as gas than as liquid, despite the carefully crafted wooden support.

Lisa Denyer, Cross, acrylic on plywood, 30cm x 25cm

Lisa Denyer, Cross, acrylic on plywood, 30cm x 25cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

There are four confident paintings by Matthew Macaulay on show here. Two of them are painted on table tops, which lends them a solidity and a presence that seems to transform confidence into authority, especially so in the magnificent Thinking about Painting, 2103 (see installation shot above). Whilst the linear landscape format and the bold gestures in strong colour, for me recall Ivon Hitchens and Howard Hodgkin, there is something entirely contemporary in the experimentation with support and the unorthodox approach to ‘composition’, it might even be an anti-composition, approaching a cataloguing of visual statements, that resists, at least for a few moments, forming into a picture.

Painting Too is on at Harrington Mill Studios until 24 November, Viewing by appointment Tel 07891 262 202

Form/Function at Piccadilly Place Manchester

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When the awards are handed out for services to abstraction, Lisa Denyer and Matthew Macaulay should get big shiny ones for continuing to bring interesting contemporary abstract paintings to engaging city centre venues outside of London. At Form/Function they bring together work from ten artists in a difficult space, an unoccupied office block at Piccadilly Place, Manchester, that works many times more than perhaps it should do, and the sense of it working, against all the odds, increases as I pay attention to each piece. Perhaps it’s the fact that the artists were asked to respond to the space, and its subverted functionality, that makes the show so successful.

Karl Bielik, Arrow, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of Lisa Denyer and the artist.

Karl Bielik, Arrow, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of Lisa Denyer and the artist.

The rich greys in Karl Bielik‘s “Arrow” seem to echo the greys of the walls, without blending into them, and there is enough natural light to see the subtle rhythms in the image as spatial passages between roughly painted figures opens up. A luminous yellow/green area underneath a layer of grey shines through to the surface. Above it a white painted area has a hardness about it and the spaces within it start to resemble the kind of space you get in a rock or mountain formation. It’s just enough to evoke landscape without attempting to represent a landscape, in the same way that a poem or a song might evoke an experience without actually describing it. Then the shapes seem more to connote a stage, the kind that children might make from furniture draped with a white sheet. That a grey/brown shape towards the right hand edge could be read as having an edge like the edge of a sheet of paper adds to my “home made stage” fantasy. But studying the rest of the painting ultimately denies these associations and I become aware of my active participation as an interpreter, that what I “observe” turns out to be a projection. And this engagement of my own epistemological processes is, for me, one of the attractions of abstract art.

Terry Greene 'The world is a hankerchief' and 'Mi casa, su casa'

Installation shot showing Terry Greene, ‘The world is a handkerchief’ and ‘Mi casa, su casa’. Image by courtesy of Lisa Denyer.

The two paintings by Terry Greene feature painted lines on canvas, with accompanying events. They are nearer to ‘geometrical’ than other paintings of his I have seen, whilst in continuation with other of his work, he employs a method of making multiple iterations, arriving at a final form as if by thinking aloud, previous versions, becoming a part, even if as shadows, of the completed whole.

Paintings by Brendan Lancaster appear almost to grow out of the wall, mortar and other markings in the environment could be tracks or drips of paint from one of Lancaster’s canvases. However, the pictorial space in the paintings contrasts with the flatness of the grey breeze blocks. In Snag, a portal almost gives view of a world beyond the canvas but also continually brings my eye back to the painting’s surface. Long brush strokes produce curving bands, recalling a morbius strip, tracing a route that creates a shallow cubist space at the right hand edge, but leads into something approaching illusionistic three dimensions just above the centre. My attempts to make sense of what might be “out there” are frustrated by the reappearance of the wall-like surface toward the left hand side.

Brendan Lancaster 'Snag'

Brendan Lancaster ‘Snag’. Image by courtesy of Lisa Denyer

There are wonderful little paintings on paper here by Rachael Macarthur, one posted to a concrete pillar functions as a marker, alerting me to the possibility that the pillar could itself be a painting of sorts, having circles inscribed into its surface along with an accidental smear of paint. I suspect that it is the minimalism (I mean it in an informal sense) of the art work that leads me to notice what’s around it, and to include it in my experience of looking at the art. However, it is also the art works difference to the environment that becomes heightened. The stark utility of the surroundings contrasts with the uncertain functionality of the paintings.

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Installation shot: Rachael Macarthur painting on paper on pillar in foreground with Brendan Lancaster and Terry Greene paintings on wall behind. Image by courtesy of Lisa Denyer.

Sarah McNulty‘s paintings share with the others here an interest in minimal form as well as an experimental approach to image making. I get the feeling that her paintings invent themselves under the general tutelage of the artist. I wonder if the choice to place the painting ‘Foil’ on a concrete brick was influenced by the Plane Space exhibition at Worcester Cathedral in 2012, where one of her paintings was similarly situated. Having seen that show I cannot help but make the connection, and to note both similarities and huge differences in the type of space being inhabited.

Sarah McNulty 'T.' and 'Foil'

Sarah McNulty: ‘T’., oil on linen, 61x 50cm (left) and ‘Foil’, oil on panel, 50x50cm (right). Image by courtesy of Lisa Denyer

Lisa Denyer‘s paintings, once much more geometrical, these days approach diaphanous veils of carefully mixed colours, bursting into arrays of amorphous shapes, evoking landscape, and more often sky or space-scape, like miniature milky ways, . And the process of seeing them has similarities to the act of looking into the night sky and constructing images from constellations and clouds.

Lisa Denyer, Billow, 25x30cm. Image by courtesy of the artist.

Lisa Denyer, Billow, 25x30cm. Image by courtesy of the artist.

By now, I am used to seeing paintings by Matthew Macaulay propped up against a wall (at Meditations) or on a shelf (at Treatment) so it should be no surprise to see them here placed directly on the floor where there situation has to be taken into account when looking at them. In fact there is something vaguely humorous about their placing, so that although I shouldn’t be surprised I am, and I smile. That I get taken aback slightly seems right to me. In other arrangements of paintings by Macaulay interesting relationships between small paintings are set up, such that a novel way of organising separate images, becomes the art work. Arranging the paintings becomes drawing. Here the relationship with the immediate context rather than with other paintings could be seen as part of the work.

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Painting by Matthew Macaulay. Image by courtesy of Terry Greene

By far the most difficult wall to deal with in this exhibition is the one with the shiny insulating material and Macaulay dares to place a tiny painting of his against it, as if to challenge us to notice it. Next to it is probably the largest painting in the show that just about competes with that wall, a marvelous oil on canvas by Joe Packer entitled LizardDays, a tree-like image with barely anything happening in the ‘leaves’ and lots of painterly events crammed into the ‘trunk’ space. Daubs of contrasting colours appear to float in mid air, sometimes serenely and at other times frantically, beneath a vast green canopy.

In front are three raised platforms, displaying over 20 small images on paper by Phoebe Mitchell. They form a delightful collection that functions as an artist’s book (I might have said ‘sketchbook’, except that they are much more refined than sketches), each individual piece worthy of prolonged viewing whilst also looking good as an arrangement.

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Back wall: Joe Packer and Matthew Macaulay, front: Phoebe Mitchell. Image by courtesy of Lisa Denyer

Melanie Russell‘s attractive new paintings are characteristically high in colour, with a synthetic quality, abstracted from “real life” observation (apparently, these have a relationship to power lines) they have become explorations of the kinds of spaces that hard edge bands of colour distributed over flat expanses of colour create.

Installation: Terry Greene, Matthew Macaulay, Melanie Russell, Karl Bielik. Image by courtesy of Lisa Denyer

Installation: Terry Greene, Matthew Macaulay, Melanie Russell, Karl Bielik. Image by courtesy of Lisa Denyer

Lisa Denyer’s three dimensional painting on a piece of stone salvaged from a soon to be demolished building is perhaps the biggest surprise for me in this show. It is clearly painted from the outside, yet with little if any evidence of brush work, the colours look like they are pushed or stained into the surface. Enhancing the undulations of the existing form, I could imagine that the colours, rather than being applied, are drawn out from within. Its an old discarded stone, transformed, made precious, but also in another sense quite unchanged.

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In a domestic environment this and other of the forms in the exhibition, might function as decoration, (in my view a more worthy function than is often allowed), but not here. These forms don’t really adorn the space and make it more beautiful, they are too small for that, and the space too imposing, but they do make it more interesting, and seem to highlight aspects of the environment that I would quite literally have overlooked. The exhibition also poses questions about the what, the how and the why of painting, in other words about how abstract painting functions as well as what its function might be.

Form/Function, curated by Lisa Denyer and Matthew Macaulay, continues at Piccadilly Place Manchester until Sunday 22 September
Exhibition open: Saturdays and Sundays 12 – 6pm, or by appointment. Contact: lisadenyer84@hotmail.com

Rachael Macarthur paintings in the Meditations show at Pluspace

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I posted recently about the excellent exhibition Meditations curated by Lisa Denyer and Matthew Macaulay at Pluspace, Coventry, showing paintings by Karl Bielik, Lisa Denyer, Rachael Macarthur, Matthew Macaulay, Sarah McNulty, Phoebe Mitchell, Joe Packer and Melanie Russell, on until 7 July. I said little then about four charming paintings on paper by Rachael Macarthur, and I cannot resist returning now to say more about them.

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On entering the gallery space it is Macarthur’s paintings that I come to first, and to begin with I don’t really know what to make of them. Mostly I perceive them as figure on a ground paintings, particularly the first two, Tabula Rasa and Voyages Grand, but also to a lesser degree the others, and whilst I find the overall colour of each piece attractive, there is something about the figures that I find, if not ugly, then certainly awkward.  Is it perhaps that they seem inchoate or even malformed? As I get into a conversation with myself about what they are I realise that I am enjoying them a lot, and it occurs to me that the slight awkwardness prevents them from veering into the territory of the “merely decorative”. They could be experiments in form, the drawing looking like it came from the inside out, as if the shapes evolved from within the painting process rather than being imposed from the outside by the artist’s hand.

Tabula Rasa, looks like a red/terracotta ground was laid down first and then an image was allowed to generate itself almost unconsciously by applying brushstrokes, lighter in tone than the ground and in impasto, towards the centre of the paper, resulting in an abstract portrait. It could be a head in ¾ view.  I can imagine the artist working, holding the paper in one hand and painting with the other, or perhaps resting the paper on the floor or a table and rotating it as she works. Believing I can see finger prints along the left hand edge reinforces this imagined scenario.

Rachael Macarthur, Tabula Rasa, 2013, acrylic on paper. Image by courtesy of the artist

Rachael Macarthur, Tabula Rasa, 2013, acrylic on paper. Image by courtesy of the artist

The painting is audaciously simple, yet any more work on it would be too much, it would become something else, and the purity of the image would be lost. Similarly, to transcribe it into paint on canvas or into a larger scale would be to lose the spontaneity and directness that seems to come so easily in this format.

In Voyages Grand Macarthur appears to have followed a similar method, an image painted atop a layered ground. This time the central image, a rounded triangular figure is darker than the light blue/green ground that it is difficult not to read as sea or sky…

Rachael Macarthur, Voyages Grand, 2013, acrylic on paper. Image by courtesy of the artist

Rachael Macarthur, Voyages Grand, 2013, acrylic on paper. Image by courtesy of the artist

…except that it is so self evidently paint, no effort being made to specifically describe sea or sky. The association is in the colour and perhaps in the way the light shines through it like sunlight from behind storm clouds.

In comparison with Tabula Rasa the central shape, also made up of impasto brush strokes, this time in grey, and concentric, whereas it is eccentric in Tabular Rasa, appears to float. Both of these are pictures, yet it is unclear what specifically they are pictures of, and I think it is the attempt to work them out that both gives pleasure to the viewer and at the same time creates a certain amount of discomfort. It’s a bit like waking from a dream and vainly trying to recall it. Parts of it come back for a moment and then are gone again. Or to stretch the analogy further I could say that attempting to make sense of these pictures is like attempting to interpret a dream. Gregory Bateson describes dreams as “bits and pieces of the stuff of which we are made. The non-objective stuff” pointing out that “the dream contains no label to tell us what it is about” likening it to “an old manuscript or letter that has lost its beginning and end, and the historian has to guess what it’s all about and who wrote it and when – from inside it”. In this sense I think these pictures have a dream like quality and didn’t Freud identify dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious”?

The third painting Keep Your Shadow is arguably more complex than the first two, in that the one central figure is replaced with a cluster of figures and there is overlapping and containing of figures one over another or one within another. The figures seem to be the result of applied colours being allowed to find their own boundaries rather than drawing shapes that are then “coloured in”.

In both Keep Your Shadow and Split Mimic, there is more ambiguity between figure and ground than there is in the first two pictures. In Split Mimic an indeterminate green ground, looking more like thin air than solid mass, supports a solid looking ochre “V” at the lower edge. Above it, or rather behind it, a red figure emerges appearing to stand within the space rendered by the green coloured ground. And then in front of everything else a swarm of outlined shapes, or perhaps a school as they are vaguely reminiscent of fish, hovers, seemingly in motion, progressing from left to right.

Split Mimic

Rachael Macarthur, Split Mimic; 2013, acrylic on paper. Image by courtesy of the artist

In relation to this picture, it is easier to describe the relationships between the various elements than it is to describe what those elements are, again recalling Bateson on dreams saying that “The dream elaborates on the relationship but does not identify the things that are related.” Aren’t we back in that distinction between process and content?

In another of my lives I sometimes lead groups in guided fantasy, and I have learned that this works well when I stay out of content, engaging only in process instructions. For example, if I instruct a group to “in your imagination, find a safe place to rest, paying attention to what you see hear and feel in that safe place” each member of the group will supply their own content. Some people will imagine themselves on a beach in the warm sun, and even then all those beaches will have different features, others will be indoors somewhere and others may imagine themselves in the countryside, the supplied content differing with each individual. If I make the mistake of indulging in content the experience will be impaired. Say in a further instruction I suggest they feel the warmth of the sun, the fantasy will be broken for all those whose safe place was indoors and their experience will be diminished.

Of course, in making these parallels I am speaking metaphorically about the experience of looking at these paintings. I am not saying that the same thing is going on, and I am not even sure that my speculation throws any light on the experience, though I do think that, at the risk of lapsing into anti-intellectualism, it has some affinity with the idea expressed in the exhibition notes, of presenting paintings that are supposed to be “meditated on and enjoyed with the senses” rather than understood.

Meditations is showing at Pluspace, The Meter Room, 58 -64 Corporation Street, Coventry, until 7 July 2013. (Open Friday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm or by appointment by emailing matthew@pluspace .com)

(Bateson quotes are from Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson, University of Chicago Press, 1972, 2000)

Meditations at Pluspace Coventry

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I have, from time to time, complained on this blog about how rare it is to see abstract paintings outside London. Not today! Meditations, a lively show of paintings by eight artists “working within a predominantly non-representational vocabulary”: Karl Bielik, Lisa Denyer, Rachael Macarthur, Matthew Macaulay, Sarah McNulty, Phoebe Mitchell, Joe Packer, Melanie Russell is showing at Pluspace, smack bang in the middle of Coventry city centre.

The exhibition notes quote John Hoyland “Paintings are there to be experienced, they are events. They are also to be meditated on and to be enjoyed by the senses, to be felt through the eye. Paintings are not to be reasoned with, they are not to be understood, they are to be recognized.”

Meditations is a fair title for a show of paintings that are more to be “meditated on” than “reasoned with”, more to be “enjoyed” and “felt with the eye” than “understood”. It could equally have been entitled Experiences or Events as Matthew Macaulay acknowledges in his Collection of Events, a series of oil painting on panels of sometimes slightly differing size or shape and leaned against the wall, mostly in sequence with one panel placed in front of two others partially obscuring them, and one placed partly behind another.

Matthew Macaulay, Collection of Events. 2013, Oil on Panel

Matthew Macaulay, Collection of Events. 2013, oil on panel, image by courtesy of the artist.

I find that I am “reading” the work a panel at a time, from left to right as I would a text, so themes of language and communication come to mind, and then I am recalling that excellent article by Alan Gouk where he disputes the notion (borrowed from Lacan) that painting is “structured like a language”. This particular painting may not be structured like a language, but it is structured very much like a sentence. The syntax could be rearranged and it would have a different “meaning”, the word best defined according to the well known systems dictum: “the meaning of a communication is the response you receive, rather than the intention you had for it”.

There is something urban about Macaulay’s painting. It reminds me of how a shared space like a city centre, whilst being consciously built, because there are multiple players involved also develops unconsciously, in a way that almost resembles organic growth, evolving and changing. In our conversation, Macaulay emphasises the temporary nature of the gallery/studio space. This temporariness seems to be echoed in both city centre and painting. Many of the shops are empty with whited out windows and even the ways in which the whitening is applied seems to carry through to Macaulay’s painting: gesture and movement becoming object, for contemplation.

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installation shot courtesy of Matthew Macaulay

For me, the most meditative of the works here is the tiny diptych by Lisa Denyer, Untitled 2013, (seen far left in the above installation shot), where at normal distance I “feel with my eye”, each panel, as if each one is presented to each of my eyes, such that the negative line of the wall space between them seems to project forward and glow. At least that’s what happens as I view, with a light trance state beginning to develop. The other painting by Denyer (far right in the installation shot) evokes night time sky and constellations, the dark ground at the lower edge suggesting ground as in ‘floor’, with one undefined colour/form anchored to it on the left hand side whilst another towards the top right appears to float. There is more directed accident in these two paintings than in Denyer’s more geometric works, but the landscape associations are a constant.

In the three paintings by Melanie Russell, the associations appear to be more about food, they look edible. Macaulay comments that they have some of the attractiveness of a sweet shop and I agree. We mean it only in a good way, but it could be taken to be a bad thing. I am reminded of my own thoughts towards a painting I was working on recently where the support was a chocolate box lid. We used to use the label “chocolate box”  to mean sweetly decorative, trivial or sickly. Russell seems to be playing with this in making paintings that are structured like a dessert.

Melanie Russell, Massive Meringue Pie, 2013, oil on panel, image by courtesy of Pluspace

Melanie Russell, Massive Meringue Pie, 2013, oil on panel, image by courtesy of Pluspace

Playful they may be, but they are not lacking in seriousness, operating perhaps as visual metaphors for the tension between indulgence and discipline, freedom vs control, unconscious vs conscious, or to use Stephen Gilligan‘s distinction, “essen” (to eat) and “fressen” (to pig out).

I wonder if these connect to a further distinction we could make in regard to abstract painting between the analogue and the digital. I think I have in mind something similar to David Sweet‘s “rough finish of 20th century canvases” vs ” the uninterrupted texture of photography and screen based media”. Whilst much of what is on show here seems to relate more to the former than to the latter I could speculatively suggest that there is at play an attempt to integrate the two. Might the title of one of Phoebe Mitchel’s paintings, Smoke Screen, even allude to this: the uninterrupted texture of the screen, itself a product of gestural ‘smoke’?

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Phoebe Mitchell, Smoke Screen, 2013, oil on polyester. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

Her Untitled 2013, is even more nearly a monochrome than Smoke Screen, yet is itself comprised of multiple semi-transparent layers of colour. Sarah McNulty’s Green T, also very nearly moves into the territory of the monochrome yet, far from being unmodulated, is made up of circling gestures, similar to the whiting out of shop windows alluded to earlier.

Her Portrait II, like Joe Packer’s Vorticist. D. Baby, vaguely resembles a portraiture of sorts, taking me back to the quote with which I started, Hoyland saying that paintings, like people, are to be recognized rather than understood.

Rachel Macarthur’s four oil paintings on paper are informal, gestural, arriving-at-form in the process of paint application, and there is gesture and painterly dialogue in the three wonderful paintings by Karl Bielik. Bite has a trio of irregular white triangles that zig zag horizontally across the centre not unlike clothes on a washing line or bunting, their rhythm echoed by other more or less triangular shapes in green above and below, between them creating eccentric negative shapes that push forward, shifting alternately between figure and ground.

Karl Bielik, Spy, 2013, oil on panel. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

Karl Bielik, Spy, 2013, oil on panel. Image by courtesy of Pluspace

Spy looks like the support could once have been the lid of an old school desk, the hinges are still attached and the ground might be the distressed varnish upon which I imagine that Bielik has painted his main motif, a series of lozenge shapes in a net formation. I have the sense that I am looking through it to the picture plane and also looking through it to memories of lifting my school desk to create cover for an illicit conversation with a friend.

Meditating on paintings can elicit this kind of age regression, bringing to mind memories and associations that may have been long forgotten, and in this evocation of youth, amongst these new abstract paintings (all less than than three years old and most of them made in 2013) I get the impression that abstraction could still be in its infancy, as if Bielik’s Curtains that cleverly close the show also, at the same time suggest future openings.

Meditations is showing at Pluspace, The Meter Room, 58 -64 Corporation Street, Coventry, until 7 July 2013. (Open Friday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm or by appointment by emailing matthew@pluspace .com)