patternsthatconnect

abstract art and systems thinking

Posts Tagged ‘Natalie Dower

Reflections on the Paintings and Constructions of Natalie Dower

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A recent show I wish I had been able to visit, unfortunately I never managed to get there, was Reflections, Natalie Dower, at Eagle Gallery. There’s a good review of it at Saturation Point in which James Campion discusses the selection of works, reflecting on some individual pieces, specifically the Spiral Track works (1984), Colour Spiral Track no.2 (19) and Jungle Sphere, (1988), and briefly considers Dower’s relationship to the tradition of Constructivist and Systems art.

The exhibition, drawing from Dower’s career of over 40 years, and presenting recent paintings hung in counterpoint to selected historic works, including a selection of intricate reliefs that have not been exhibited since exhibitions at the Curwen Gallery, would have been an invitation to reflect on the connections between works from the eighties up to the present day. Even without a visit, in surveying material available online (the Saturation Point review, an Eagle Gallery website summary, the catalogue with images of the work and an essay by Laurence Noga), I am immediately impressed by Dower’s constancy of purpose along with the way that the relatively simple numerical systems she employs have the power to generate their own forms, almost even without the input of an artist. However, there is an artist here, constantly making choices, experimenting, offering feedback, thus contributing to that larger system, of which each work is a part, a meta-system if you will.

Natalie-Dower-Travelling-Star-1996-Dudeney-Circle-1989

Natalie Dower, Travelling Star, 1996, oil on panel, 21.2 x 21.2 cm. Dudeney Circle, 1989, avonite, 31 x 31 x 4.5 cm. Images copyright of the artist, by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

Not actually visiting, I can imagine seeing the work, and I can also remember other works by Dower that I have seen before, like the one I saw here once at the Eagle Gallery, and where, in a conversation with the gallery owner Emma Hill, she noted the beautiful, subtly “faulted” quality of the painted surface. It wasn’t the charming oil on wood Hybrid from this show, but it so easily could have been. I now know enough about Dower’s paintings to guess that they share similar qualities. To really experience them however, does mean getting up close and seeing them first-hand.

Natalie Dower, Hybrid No. 2, 2007, oil on wood, 28.4 x 26 cm. Image copyright of the artist, by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

Natalie Dower, Hybrid No. 2, 2007, oil on wood, 28.4 x 26 cm. Image copyright of the artist, by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

In the excellent publication Natalie Dower Line of Enquiry Alan Fowler summarizes the distinctive features of Dower’s work, in comparison with other systems artists, as displaying “a greater lyricism, a more varied use of colour” as well as “a freedom from the strictly orthogonal imagery that characterized the work of many earlier constructivist artists”. I think the “faulted-ness”, specifically in the paintings, is part of what might be included in the idea of the lyricism of Dower’s style.

Some think of the slippage between concept and execution, especially when very slight, as in Dower’s paintings, as a particularly human trait (see comments by Richard Guest on a previous blog post, though referring to quite different content). I think they are right. However, isn’t pure abstract thought also entirely human? (Cogito ergo sum).

For too much of my life I considered “mental arithmetic” as an enemy, a bully to be avoided, because I knew I couldn’t subdue it in open conflict. I put it down to the method of rote learning that disagreed with me as a child, and to the threat of punishment for getting my multiplication tables wrong. That beauty could reside here was unthinkable. That was until I started to notice the pleasurable rhythm of “seven sevens are forty nine” or “six sixes are thirty six” (I may never know why “six fours are twenty four” and in fact most of the other lines of the poem, didn’t have quite the same swing and therefore weren’t as memorable). Then one day one of the clever girls in my class showed me a real table (I mean a matrix not furniture) that she had drawn and coloured-in rather attractively, numbering 1 to 12 along the top and down the side and displaying plain as day the multiplication tables, even making it possible to follow a line say from 4 along the top and 6 along the side and find in the cell where they joined the number 24. It was magic, and it was beautiful: epistemology and aesthetics combined!

I am in no way comparing this visual table with the look of Dower’s paintings, nor suggesting that her work is a demonstration of numerical or arithmetic processes, simply that the sudden discovery of the beauty of number, via the visible chart has some resonance with my experience of beauty in Dower’s art.

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Natalie-Dower, Spin Off, 2015, oil on board, 13.25 x 18.9 cm; Three Triangle Series: Five Colours 2015, oil on canvas, 43.5 x 43.5 cm. Copyright of the artist image by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

Is there in each painting and construction a physical manifestation of thought: logic apprehended by the senses, not so much “word made flesh” as perhaps number made material? I have written before about the highly pleasurable experience of attempting to recover the numerical system that spawned a particular painting or relief, and only sometimes thinking I may have succeeded. I do think this is an important aspect of viewing work of this kind, though it is by no means the only thing.

It’s Dower’s work that has me reflecting on the beauty of say a root 2 rectangle, or even a double square, and that’s when I am viewing a specific piece, and also when I am thinking about a work that I once viewed. The numerical system, now communicated, becomes available to my thought independently of the artwork, as if there were such a thing as a “realm of pure thought”. Now what had become material becomes immaterial, non physical, abstract thought.

Dower has said “I want the image to be able to attract and hold the attention of the viewer” her objects/images long since attracted my attention, and continue to hold it beyond the physical viewing of artworks. Nevertheless I do wish I had actually seen the show!

Written by Andy Parkinson

January 28, 2016 at 8:58 pm

Generator Discussion

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On the final day of the Generator exhibition, Duncan Brennan from Kaleidoscope Gallery, posed a few questions for discussion by the artists. Here is an attempt at recovering some of the conversation from notes. I wasn’t actually there. Think of it as an exercise in constructed memory. I have also taken the liberty of adding some thoughts of my own. I think that the questions alone are generative enough to be worth a post.

DB: How would you define the type of work in this exhibition?

HH: It is work that is created by using a mathematical or logical system

CP (from the exhibition introduction): artwork that is by nature ‘generative’, created once an artist cedes control to an external system or set of rules. The artwork thus results not from the wholly instinctive decisions of the artist, but is formed by objective rules or logical instructions that shape its process or material outcome.

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, acrylic on six canvases, total 77 x 79 cm

Andy Parkinson, Six Hexagons, 2015, acrylic on six canvases, total 77 x 79 cm

DB: Can you talk about some of the defining characteristics of generative work?

AP: In his 2010 paper Program, be Programmed or Fade Away: Computers and the Death of Constructivist Art, Richard Wright summarises Kenneth Martin’s division of systematic work into three types : 1) the completely predefined system which once set in motion can generate work independently of any further input from the artist. 2) a system that may be initially predefined but is then constantly altered through feedback, bringing into contact with other systems, the ‘program’ thereby being written in conjunction with the work itself. 3) the system which builds up from a primary act without any previous planning, like a self propelled aggregation of logical steps. The works in Generator may be closest to the first of these three definitions.

Charley Peters, Configuration #30,

Charley Peters, Configuration #30, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 25 x 50 x 3 cm

DB: What makes this different to other forms of abstraction, such as constructivism?

AP: I think it is situated within the Constructivist tradition, though that historical moment has passed. British Constructionist and Systems Group artists saw the need to abandon its utopianism and showed how art could be generated by a numerical or mathematical system. It is different from expressionism, which has been another strand within abstraction.

HH: Constructivism was /is a more political form of creation. Generative art has its own roots, the methodology and interpretatons are unique to the individual

Patrick Morrissey, Indeterminant

Patrick Morrissey, Indeterminant, 2011, Acrylic on linen, 6’ x 4’

DB: Would you agree that rules need to be constructive rather than restrictive?

HH: Everything in the world is generated by rules. Painting a landscape has rules that govern the outcome of what will be a recognisable presentation. Working in the constraints of rules or systems allows the artist to interpret data and input  in many ways. I use a system at work which plots the movement of the railways in graphic representation. I use the variations in the programme to generate  some of my own work, the patterns vary according to the input in spite of the fact that the system itself is governed or regulated by a computer.

Left Christina France, Right Hanz Hancock

Left Christina France, Equilibrium 1 and 2, pigment, archival digital print on German etching paper, 80 x 60 cm. Right Hanz Hancock, Untitled, 2015, mixed media, 51 x 51 cm

DB Can a computer make art?

HH: A computer can make extremely complex patterns/can create algorithmic sequences , it cannot make emotional decisions as to what looks good. That is down to human preference. I/we make sequences based on numerical systems, something working within the grid. Patrick created several works that generated themselves: a module was sent into rotation within a grid, in a concentric spiral and each module had a graphic relationship or difference to the positioning of the the other. However, because of the repetitive nature of the system, repeating aggregations became apparent, appearing almost at random within the matrix, i.e. the formation of pattern. This could then be sampled and magnified into groups and in turn, work was made from tha , a sort of generative mechanism or device to generate pattern.

JI: Yes, computers can make art but humans make computers. The computer is just a tool. An algorithm, performed by a computer, is just a mirror of a set of processes condensed in time and space. It is in this compression that the art lies.

AP: Your question reminds me of a story told by that great systems thinker Gregory Bateson, of a computer programmer in the days of big mainframe computing, who wanted to know about mind in his private large computer. He asked it, “Do you compute that you will ever think like a human being?” The machine then set to work to analyse its own computational habits. Finally, the machine printed the answer ticker tape style, as such machines used to do. The programmer ran to get the answer and found, neatly typed, the words: THAT REMINDS ME OF A STORY”.

James Irwin, Silicon Binary Progression (ii), 2014, HD video, monitor, media player, dexuob speed frame, MDF, 4 mins 15 secs

James Irwin, Silicon Binary Progression (ii), 2014, HD video, monitor, media player, dexuob speed frame, MDF, 4 mins 15 secs

DB: Has the computer changed the focus of generative art? Is the computer to generative art what the camera was to representational art?

JI: Good question and there’s probably the same analogue relationship between the computer and generative work, and the camera’s photographic image. It’s not that simple though. Using the computer is just one way of working generatively. It isn’t definitive of generative art.

HH: Human beings create programs by which the computer will create images, but the camera can only record the image which can then be manipulated both outside of the camera and electronically inside. The human brain has always generated images and pattern forming/art. The computers is a tool not a focus, as is the camera for human imagination.

AP: I have my doubts about that little word  “just”, as much as I do also about the idea of the computer as a tool. It seems to me that the computer, and indeed technology more generally, gets characterised as just a tool to make it seem smaller than us and in our control, like a spanner, a hammer or a paint brush, when in fact, as a system it obeys its own rules, and incorporates us into its usage. Nevertheless, in Generator it is the contemporary analogue, rather than digital, ‘programmatic’ that is being explored. The computer programme is often used as a metaphor for the human processes of thinking/doing, so we might wonder what the programme is for activities like walking, or breathing, or even attempt to codify neuro-linguistic programmes for performance excellence in any particularly field. In this exhibition the systems that generates the artwork are thought of as analogue programmes, which have clearly been around a lot longer than have computer programmes, but only now that we have the computer are we able to utilise the metaphor for thinking about thinking. I like the circularity of it.

Left, Mary Yacoob, Right Katrina Blannin

Left, Mary Yacoob, Modular Hakka House, 2014, ink and graphite on paper, 50.8 x 40.6 cm, Right, Katrina Blannin, blackgreyblackgreyblackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite-orange 50, 2015, acrylic on linen, 70 x 70 cm

DB: What characterises good generative art? Is it necessary to be either or both conceptually and aesthetically strong?

AP: I think Natalie Dower and Jeffrey Steele answer this best. Here’s Dower in an interview with Patrick Morrissey: “If the input that has generated the idea does not translate into valid visual terms I do not accept it.  I have had intellectually interesting ideas that I have had to abandon for that reason”. And here’s Steele in an interview with Katrina Blannin: “…something has good Gestalt or bad Gestalt — has it got a clear shape to it? I can look at one of my paintings and see whether it has good Gestalt or bad, and this has happened occasionally. A clear process of abstract thinking should lead to a satisfying visual Gestalt. I don’t necessarily “reject” or stop working on a project when this is not happening, but it bothers me, and I want to know what is going wrong”.

DB: Are you looking to formalise the human aesthetic?

JI: A human aesthetic is wide reaching and all encompassing. Defining a human aesthetic as work that shows signs of ‘the hand’if that’s what the question suggests, is too limiting”

AP: Maybe formal logic and formal linguistics, abstract languages, like mathematics, all pertinent to computer programming, have close connections to the formal ‘language’ of abstract painting.

DB: Does any of your work explore any of the hypotheses, the rules and processes of the scientist? Do you think generative art work like this can inform scientific study?

AP: I was going to say that whilst likely to have been informed by scientific study, the relationship is unlikely to be reciprocal, but then I remembered that some of the truly fascinating discoveries made in the last few decades in the science of visual cognition was discovered by map makers in the seventeenth century, so I guess you never know!

Generator print by MuirMcNeil (2015), edition of 400

Generator print by MuirMcNeil (2015), edition of 400

Generator: Systems Logic and the Analogue Art of Programming, at Kaleidoscope Gallery from 11 June to 11 July 2015, included work by Katrina Blannin, Christina France, Hanz Hancock, James Irwin, Patrick Morrissey,  Andy Parkinson, Charley Peters and Mary Yacoob.

From Centre at The Loud & Western Building

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From Centre, an exhibition of reductive abstract works, curated by Saturation Point and Slate Projects was on view at The Loud & Western Building, from 11 April to 26 April 2015 showing the following artists:
William Angus-Hughes, Rana Begum, Martin Church, Nathan Cohen, Rhys Coren, Natalie Dower, Judith Duquemin, Julia Farrer, Ben Gooding, Lothar Götz, Hanz Hancock, Tess Jaray, Silvia Lerin, Peter Lowe, Patrick Morrissey, Laurence Noga, Charley Peters, Richard Plank, Giulia Ricci, Carol Robertson, Robin Seir, Steve Sproates and Trevor Sutton.

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Installation shot, from left to right works by Laurence Noga, Patrick Morrissey and Martin Church. Image by courtesy of Slate Projects.

It’s an impressive line up, spanning several generations of artists, born in every decade from the 1930s to the 1980s, and making a convincing case for the growing relevance of abstract art in the UK.

Installation shot

Installation shot, works from left to right by Natalie Dower, Martin Church, Julia Farrer, Rhys Coren, Laurence Noga. Image by courtesy of Slate Projects

Thinking about abstraction’s continued relevance may require me to at least mention Zombie Formalism, (“Formalism because this art involves a straightforward, reductive, essentialist method of making a painting and Zombie because it brings back to life the discarded aesthetics of Clement Greenberg”), if only to suggest that the term, coined by artist -critic Walter Robinson, quoted in brackets above, seems to refer more to the market than to the art and may appear more pertinent in the USA than in the UK where alternative modernisms have sometimes held more sway than the version associated with Greenberg and Fried. It is Constructivism I have in mind, its UK variant Constructionism and the Systems Group, which for the artists at From Centre are more central than Abstract Expressionism etc.

The reductive (but not necessarily essentialist or straightforward) works on view at From Centre seem to me to be a genuine attempt at continued participation in a living, though contested, tradition.

installation shot

Installation shot, works from left to right by Julia Farrer, Robin Seir, and Tess Jaray. Image by courtesy of Slate Projects

In Dower’s 2013 Painting Polymorph, a subtle pink rectangle is halved down the middle, from which the central point of a pale yellow circle is found, and within that circle a white rectangle beneath an irregular black triangle are positioned. Or maybe there is no “above” or “beneath”, a rectangle within a circle is divided into three different shaped triangles, two white and one black. Alternatively, we simply have a rectangle divided into nine other shapes. The figures and their relationships are not random but calculated mathematically, the parts being strictly determined by the whole, to my mind the most elegant definition of a system. The painting has subtlety, serenity, beauty and a little excitement too, with its alternating views and the slight after-imaging taking place.

natalie dower polymorph

Natalie Dower, Polymorph, 2013, oil on canvas, 61 x 86.5 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist.

Other artists here who employ mathematical or numerical systems include Peter Lowe, a former member of the 1970s Systems Group founded by Malcolm Hughes and Jeffrey Steele. He defines systems in his work as “a way of communicating an intelligible idea in terms of shapes colours and forms, or an organisation principle that I predetermine and allow to run to see what the outcomes will be…” In his painting here, Triangles within a Dodecagon, he takes the regular twelve sided shape as its starting place and bases an equilateral triangle between two of the vertices, or along one of the sides. A second triangle is found by taking the base across three vertices, a third across four and a fourth across five. The fourth triangle being the last one that can be produced by following this process, is exactly central, each of its sides spanning four sides of the dodecagon. In the painting here the resultant figures are positioned on a square canvas, losing the surrounding dodecagon altogether. The colours, black, white and red create four planes: a white ‘background’, in front of which is a plane including the largest and smallest triangles in black, in front of which is the red triangle, in front of which is the white triangle. Of course they shift creating varying perceptual gestalts.

Installation shot, from left to right, works by Peter Lowe, Rana Begum and Nathan Cohen

Installation shot, from left to right, works by Peter Lowe, Rana Begum and Nathan Cohen. Image by courtesy of Slate Projects

There are shifting gestalts in Rana Begum’s painted relief, No. 317, the actual three-dimensionality of the piece, combined with the movement of the viewer results in multiple variations of form, whereas in Charley Peters’ fascinating painting Plexus we are presented with the illusion of flatness within an illusory three dimensional space.

In Giulia Ricci’s Order Disruption Painting there’s something strange going on spatially, the patterned repetition of a triangular motif creating something akin to a systemic field which breaks down in places as the pattern is interrupted, resulting in the appearance of wormholes or spatial anomalies that can also be interpreted as twisting forms caught in the net of the surface whilst at the same time forming that surface. For me, her work explicitly links system to visual pattern.

detail

Giulia Ricci, Order/Disruption Painting no.2, 2012, Laser engraved laminated board and acrylic paint, hand painted, 61 x 101 x1.8cm, Edition of 3. Image by courtesy of the artist

All the artists in this show, perhaps to varying degrees, share an interest in system and/or series. The two tend to go together when a numerical system is being explored. However Julia Farrer’s Knot in Time, seems more to be the product of an entirely empirical enquiry. In both approaches I think there is a search going on, not for the one definitive statement but rather for knowledge. The traditional notion of the masterpiece is challenged,  just as it seems totally out of step with our post-digital experience. With Farrer perhaps we have series but not necessarily system, with Laurence Noga I think we have both, but the system is more operational than mathematical.

Yet, each work in this exhibition does command attention as its own thing, perhaps the title of Carol Robertson’s painting Aura is suggestive of this. Whilst in the work different coloured bands surrounding a circle might be likened to an aura, I wonder if that famous Walter Benjamin opposition between mechanical reproduction and the aura of the single artwork is also being referenced. Paradoxically, the serial methodology both challenges and upholds the singularity of each individual piece: singular within series, one but not all.

There may exist differences in emphasis between the generations represented in this exhibition. Perhaps the older artists show more interest in structure in comparison to the younger ones who may appear as interested in the breakdown of order as in its establishment. Contrasting, say, the Trevor Sutton painting Christow with Giulia Ricci’s Order Disruption Painting, could reinforce this view, as might opposing the serene geometry of the Natalie Dower to the visual excitation of Patrick Morrissey’s work, or the stability of Sutton with the kinetic, off- balance effect of Morrissey (see image below), and I know I am going too far in contrasting the contained circularity of Farrer’s Knot in Time or Robertson’s Aura with the eccentricity of Martin Church’s Definitions (Study No. 3), because mostly what I am finding here is continuity.

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Installation shot, from left to right works by Trevor Sutton and Patrick Morrissey. Image by courtesy of Slate Projects

Without succumbing to the much too linear (non-systemic) notion of progress, I do want to suggest that these generationally diverse artists, in their shared commitment to an economy of means and a formal language, rooted in the tradition of constructivism and systems art, continue to develop this rich field of artistic activity.

Watch this space!


(There is an 
illustrated catalogue accompanying the exhibition, with excellent essays by Nathan Cohen and Laura Davidson and an introduction by Alex Meurice.)

Chance and Order at Eagle Gallery

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The Chance and Order exhibition at Eagle Gallery takes its title from Kenneth Martin‘s early 1970s series of works, that he later developed into his Chance Order Change series, magnificent paintings in my view. The show brings works from the 1960s and 1970s by the British Constructionist and Systems Group together with more recent works by artists who currently draw upon this tradition. It is a mystery to me that this incredibly rich field in British art has been somewhat overlooked, when the paintings, drawings reliefs etc. of Kenneth and Mary Martin, Jeffrey Steele, and many others in this grouping are among the finest produced anywhere in the world. That they are being appreciated now by more than a generation of younger artists seems absolutely appropriate.

NATALIE DOWER Root Two Spirals no 2 2014 oil on canvas 85 x 122cm

Natalie Dower, Root Two Spirals no 2, 2014, oil on canvas 86 x 122 cm. Image copyright of the artist by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

The two 2014 paintings by Natalie Dower are wonderful, both exploring the properties of Root-2 rectangles, which can be halved and halved endlessly and each time the rectangles will be of the same proportions. In these paintings Dower employs a rotating or spiralling movement to position repeatedly halved rectangles or triangles, (the triangles being derived by halving the rectangle diagonally), differentiating them using a nine colour sequence, in each reduction the triangle and rectangle shape share the same colour. There are nine moves, so nine colours are duplicated on two spirals tracks, one situating the triangular units and one the rectangles. On the first move the two units occupy the same area but in the subsequent diminutions the first two moves are in the same halves but then the track of rectangles curves inwards whilst the triangle track follows the periphery. The smaller scale units have priority over the previous, larger ones.  If I am not mistaken Two Spirals No.2 is the inverse of Two Spirals No.1, in the same colours, used in different order. I read somewhere that the colours are “muted”, but that’s not really my experience, white may have been added, they are not quite primary and not quite secondary colours, but to my eyes the colours are high, with turquoise, cerulean blue, orange and yellow contrasting with Payne’s grey, white and a neutral base. The logical relationship of shapes and the sequential ordering, is combined with the intuitive, in the form of two sets of choices: the system being explored and the colours used, an inventive fusion of chance and order that I am finding in each of the works in this exhibition.

Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change 1978 pencil and ink on paper 21.5 x 29.5cm (1)

Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change (2 Drawings),1978, pencil and ink on paper, 21.5 x 29.5cm. Copyright Estate of Kenneth Martin, Image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art, London.

There’s a rotational theme too in the Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change drawings, the paper having first been marked with numbered points, moving clockwise around the rectangle, the artist generated the lines by taking numbers, two at a time, at random out of a bag. A line was drawn between each successive pair of numbers as they were picked out. Chance determined the sequence and the number of parallel lines, the first drawn would have one line, the second two lines and so on. Change was initiated by rotating the drawing by 90 degrees and repeating the process for three rotations. The result is this intriguing network of lines which was then transferred to canvas. Order and chance may appear to be opposites, yet here their opposition is suspended, one being determined by the other.

Katrina Blannin, Diamond Light 50 (tonal Rotation with Pink/Green: Blue/Black Demarcation), 2014, acrylic on linen, 50 x 50 cm, copyright of artist by courtesy of Eagle Gallery

Katrina Blannin, Diamond Light 50 (tonal Rotation with Pink/Green: Blue/Black Demarcation), 2014, acrylic on linen, 50 x 50 cm, Image copyright of the artist by courtesy of Eagle Gallery, London

Katrina Blannin also employs rotation in her method, using the same double hexad starting point that has by now become familiar to regular viewers of her work, this time skewed to fit a square format, oriented to hang as a diamond shape, which is subdivided into triangles differentiated by a range of colours (yellow pink green red blue and grey) that get darker and then lighter in rotation. Narrow demarcation lines are also added. There is a sense in which the careful definition of parts leads to accurately separating flat areas of colour, yet they immediately set up fascinating, shifting spatial relationships that create ambiguity. I think of them oxymoronically as precisely ambiguous. There are three paintings in sequence here increasing in size from left to right: 50 x 50 cm , 60 x 60 cm and 70 x 70 cm.

Mary Martin, Drawing for Cross 1968, pen on paper 25.3 x 20.3cm

Mary Martin, Drawing for Cross 1968, pen on paper 25.3 x 20.3cm. Image Copyright: estate of Mary Martin, courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art, London

Mary Martin‘s drawing for Cross, a preparatory study for the magnificent stainless steel on wood relief that won the John Moores prize in 1969, is a diamond shape on a square. In the drawing Martin uses six iconographic figures, one for each of the six positions of her basic unit of a half cube, cut on the hypotenuse, faced with stainless steel, that she used in the relief. The half cube, placed in six different positions and and then arranged in a variety of sequences results in an amazing complexity of form, as demonstrated in this beautiful drawing. There’s a similar strategy being followed in Jeffrey Steele‘s outstanding Six sets of 7 x 5 half circles in cinematic rotation. It does “what it says on the tin”, yet whilst the descriptive title may sound somewhat prosaic, the visual experience is surprisingly poetic. And this is where I am supposed to say that their approach is not “mechanical” or “formulaic”, because we seem prejudiced towards those ideas, preferring instead the illusion of freedom. So I am going to say the opposite: it is formulaic, mechanical, digital (though not virtual), and that’s good! These drawings and paintings are totally contemporary, dealing with the issues of our day, without ever representing them or commenting upon them. What we are faced with in these works, precisely because of their programmatic or systematic formality, are the big, dare I say existential, questions to do with freedom and necessity, chance order and change.

Andrew Bick‘s OGVDS (Tilted Forward/straightened) v 5 is perhaps less systematic. Rather than numeric permutations of a single unit, we have more playful, serial variations on a theme, the theme being a particular grid arrangement that looks very different depending on changes to colour, texture, quality of mark and perceived depth. His work has been described as ‘gently disruptive and purposefully chaotic’, and it is easy to see this here. I like the gentle disruption in the spatial shifts as two large dark grey areas, an interrupted triangular shape at bottom left and a rectangular slab taking up nearly all of the right-hand half of the painting, first share the same literal plane and then snap into opposition, the larger shape receding in space in one interpretation, or jutting forward, in another, two orange irregular rectangles joining this game of push/pull, perhaps supporting the first interpretation slightly more than the second.

Andrew Bick, OGVDS (Tilted Forward/Straightened)V 5 , 2014, mixed media on linen on wood, 76.5 x 64.5cm, image copyright of the artist by courtesy of Eagle Gallery and Hales Gallery

Andrew Bick, OGVDS (Tilted Forward/Straightened)V 5 , 2014, mixed media on linen on wood, 76.5 x 64.5cm, image copyright of the artist by courtesy of Hales Gallery, London

The Martins, in common with many of the British Constructionists moved somewhat away from painting towards constructed reliefs, Jeffrey Steele on the other hand, and it would appear that this is also true of Bick, Blannin and Dower, have stayed with painting, In a recent interview with Steele for Turps Banana, (Issue 11),  Blannin asks him “Why is it important to develop …the historically charged process of ‘paint on canvas’?” In his answer Steele says “I have always wanted to try to justify the supreme importance of painting” contrasting the painter with the artist-as-manager who has works made in a factory, arguing that in the latter process “you lose the evidence of the ‘journey'”, adding that “for me the ‘journey’ is worth knowing and (its) traces… are important to see”. In every one of the works in this exhibition there is such evidence. Perhaps the show itself evidences the continuation of a journey, starting out with the British Constructionists and reaching into the future, an exploration rather than a repetition, yet quite possibly, ending as T S Elliot would have had it, where we started and knowing the place for the first time.

Chance and Order was on view at Eagle Gallery from 20 November to 19 December 2014

New Interview at Saturation Point

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Saturation Point is the online editorial and curatorial project for reductive, geometric and systems artists working in the UK. It grew out of the exhibition of the same title held in 2011, curated by Patrick Morrissey and Hanz Hancock. The site includes exhibition information, reviews, interviews and publications. Among other things, you can see a recent review of Vanessa Jackson: Rough Cut and Faceted, by Charley Peters and Fine Line: Concrete, Constructivist and Minimalist Art, by Laurence Noga, as well as new interviews with Natalie DowerJane Bustin and a very recent one with me.

Andy Parkinson, Hexagon With Colour-Spread (BGRYMC), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 12" sides

Andy Parkinson, Hexagon Colour-Spread (BGRYMC), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 12″ sides

You can also follow a link to purchase the book Natalie Dower: Line of Enquiry, and you can download the Saturation Point 2011 Catalogue. In my admittedly biased view, it’s a really interesting project. Don’t take my word for it, go check it out for yourself.

Written by Andy Parkinson

October 8, 2014 at 8:55 pm

At Lion and Lamb Gallery: Summer Saloon Show 2014

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

2014-07-28 20.32.32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full list of artists included is as follows:

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

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

Game and Play: Intuition/anti-intuition at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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The paintings by Anthony Daley, Caroline List, Laurence Noga, Katie Pratt and Raf Zawistowski on show at Intuition/Anti-intuition at the Lion and Lamb Gallery until 29 September 2012 have something of game and play about them. The word ‘play’ suggests an activity that is free, spontaneous, intuitive whereas ‘game’ connotes something with pre-established rules, and an activity that might resemble work more than play even though a game is quite clearly played, rather than worked.

Raf Zawistowski ‘West of Eden’, 2102, Oil and Wax on Canvas, 70x66cm

There is something about abstract painting that is playful. That dialogical approach to painting where the artist does not know what s/he is going to paint before beginning has a lot of play in it. Which is not at all the same as saying there are no rules. Even “anything goes” is a rule, and all behaviour is rule governed, we just might not know what the rules are. Then, there is another approach where the rules are much more explicitly stated and many more of the decisions about the work are made before the painting is executed. The former approach is improvised and the latter is pre-planned. The former seems more intuitive and the latter anti-intuitive.

Katie Pratt, ‘Jamerera’, 2011, Oil on Canvas, 180x210cm and Caroline List, ‘Microscopic Magnitude’, 2011, Oil, Alkyd, Gesso on Canvas, 110x110cm

On visiting the exhibition and reading that its title “refers to a shared approach through process and materiality” and that “a conscious strategy to subvert intuition is developed by an engagement with rules or games, often through self-imposed instructions” I can imagine that much of the approach these artists take is indeed shared. However, the degree of intuition or anti-intuition, play or game, varies from one artist to another. I don’t think that I am seeing anything here that is as pre-planned as say Natalie Dower or Katrina Blannin (whose work I saw when I visited last time). And even within this shared approach that deliberately follows rules, I struggle to work out what the rules are. And this is part of the pleasure of the show for me: I feel a bit like a spectator of a sports competition, the rules of which I do not know but seek to deduce by watching the game play out. Except that I get nearer to deciphering them when I watch the sport than when I see the paintings. It’s probably just me, but however long I study, I doubt I will fathom the rules. (Whilst I got a sense of this when looking at Natalie Dower’s paintings in that, when I was sure I had worked out what was happening I then discovered that there was much more going on than that, or that I was just wrong, at least I thought that I was getting somewhere, and most of the time I probably was.) Here I am less sure I am getting somewhere. Then, I realise that this too is a game. My experience as a viewer is both intuitive and anti-intuitive, I wonder if I would have been puzzling about the rules if I had not read about that strategy to subvert intuition, maybe I would have intuited them.

Anthony Daley “Like Loving under a Heavy Sky”, 2012, Acrylic on Canvas, 40x40cm and “Like Strolling in the Elements”, 2012, Acrylic on Canvas 40x40cm

Anyway, I am enjoying the puzzle as I view the evocative and lyrical paintings of Anthony Daley, Caroline List and Katie Pratt. Each containing allusions to a world outside of the canvas, although what is being celebrated is the painting process. List’s painterly marks, fluid in blues, whites and greys, sometimes a shiny lustre glaze and sometimes a matt white flurry, can’t help but suggest a seascape, possibly being viewed through the porthole of a ship. And I am making tree associations when I view the highly playful lines and gestures in Katie Pratt’s marvelous ‘Jamerera’. Daley’s “like” paintings invite metaphorical landscape readings, not just in their titles.

I am finding landscape imagery in Raf Zawitowski’s ‘West  of Eden’ and again I think the title confirms the association, but this time far from a lyrical evocation, I am reminded of the violence and ‘unnaturalness’ of nature. If the others made connections to earth and water now it is fire I am being confronted by. Then, in case I am allowing my intuition to over-indulge in associations the density of the surface (the paint stands about an inch from the canvas) brings me quickly to my senses, the look and texture of the paint as well as the smell, I can definitely smell oil paint, asserts the materiality of the painted object. C.G. Jung opposed “sensing” to “intuition” and I wonder if this distinction is relevant here, at least to the game I am playing of viewing these paintings.

The two paintings by Laurence Noga also bring me back to my senses, specifically the visual. That “colour underpins decisions” is clearest here. Yet the results of those decisions, that suggest control of the process, also lead to a disorienting effect in the viewer, as they must have done in the viewer/artist when the painting was in progress. It is as if the paintings assert the unpredictability of colour, however much you think you know about it.

Lawrence Noga, ‘In Between Violet and Green’, 2012, Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 62x162cm

whilst the process may indeed be anti-intuitive, the colour arouses not just visual excitation but also all kinds of intuitions, thoughts, associations, prompted by the experience of viewing but way out of the control of the artist.