patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Cogswell

Black Country at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher Hanlon, Cave, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 )

First Come First Served at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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