patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Natalie Dower

1+2+3+4=10 is beautiful isn’t it?

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I don’t know why I find the simple sequence 1+2+3+4=10 beautiful, I just do. It doesn’t have to be ordered in a hierarchy for me to find it so, in fact I think I prefer it not to be, though a lot has been made of it presented in this way, just google tetractys and look at all the images. There are some wonderful paintings and constructions by Natalie Dower exploring the series non-hiererchically arranged. I think it is only when the sequence is arranged as in the diagram that we call it a tetractys (though I could be wrong about that).

Apparantly Pythagoras gave it mystical meaning and it has significance in the Kabbalah too (see this website for more information about these mystical associations).

It gets used in this hierarchical fashion in poetry too, in relation to the number and pattern of syllables. Sharmistha Basu explains:

The poetry form, Tetractys, consists of at least 5 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 syllables (total of 20). Tetractys can be written with more than one verse, but must follow suit with an inverted syllable count. Tetractys can also be reversed and written 10, 4, 3, 2, 1. These two combined together, that is 1,2,3,4,10,10,4,3,2,1 is called double tetractys, it can be further extended to triple or more.

and offers some good examples at window2mysoul.

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Written by Andy Parkinson

August 25, 2012 at 7:30 am

Natalie Dower: Constructive Line of Enquiry

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I wish I had seen the Natalie Dower exhibition Line of Enquiry at the Eagle Gallery in May. I became interested in her work after seeing the wonderful Fast track Through 44 points, at Lion & Lamb Gallery in June.

Well, I did the next best thing and bought a copy of the book that accompanied the show, published by EMH Arts London, 2012, with a preface by Mel Gooding and a text by Alan Fowler. I am enjoying it a lot.

Here’s a link to a summary with images at Abstract Critical, where in comments Alan Fowler says:

I find it fascinating that Dower – together with, among others, Jeffrey Steele, Peter Lowe and Gillian Wise – continue to carry into the 21st century an approach to abstraction which was prefigured 100 years ago by Kandinsky when he wrote in 1912 that he foresaw a time when the relationship between elements in a painting could “be expressed in mathematical form”, and concluded that “the time was approaching “when the painter would be proud to declare his work constructive

I also found this interesting podcast of an interview with Dower in relation to her paintings/constructions in the Government Art Collection. She comments on her artistic background, the notion of systems art, the Fibonacci sequence and the Dudeney Dissection. (It becomes clear that the interviewer is herself an artist, but I don’t know who it is.)

Chris Baker and Natalie Dower in “Double Vision”

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The Double Vision show at Lion and Lamb Gallery, Hoxton has a lot to keep going back for, and I have at least one other trip planned before it closes on 14 July 2012.

Two paintings I want to see again are Natalie Dower‘s Fast Track Through 44 Points and Metan by Chris Baker. Both paintings seem to position themselves in a continuing relation to Modernism, as opposed to a break with it, and I guess this may be true of all of the paintings on show here. Maybe this is to state the obvious, it’s abstract art after all. But Modernism breaks down into a number of traditions even when we are within the general term ‘abstraction’.

Chris Baker seems to draw from many of those traditions, and I am not always entirely sure that they are ‘abstract’ as figurative elements sometimes find their way in, though not so with Metan.  Is the title Old English? Others of his titles are similar. Could it be that the paintings reference an outmoded language, one that has lost its original meaning and can be plundered now for new ones?

It “draws from” quite literally, the lines seem excavated from a less than unified ground, or alternatively it is created by filling in the negative spaces allowing the linear structure to emerge. It is double in that it presents a strong figure/ground contrast, the light lattice like structure being figure against the dark ‘background’ that is actually ‘foreground’.  It is also double in terms of the divided space, the structure bisecting the canvas down and across the middle (more or less) as well as in numerous other ways. The structure looks arrived at through trial and error, like a form trying to get out of the otherwise monochrome surface, and in getting out it bends the space, so that the bottom half recedes, giving the appearance of horizontality, whereas the top half extends upwards giving a vertical appearance. The bottom half of the structure could be the shadow of the top half if the lines corresponded, which they don’t so that interpretation is discarded, but then it reasserts itself, only to be discarded, it’s a cycle, a system, in a way.

Chris Baker, Metan, oil on canvas, 75 x 60cm, image by courtesy of Lion & Lamb Gallery

I situate Natalie Dower’s paintings within the tradition of Constructivism and more specifically Systems art. One of the many things I appreciate about that approach is the unpredictable and un-work-out-able results that can be generated by logical means, or a pre-determined path. The great systems thinker Gregory Bateson’s question: “What pattern connects the crab to the oyster and the orchid to the primrose and all the four of them to me, and me to you?” seems to resonate with Dower’s aesthetic investigations, based as they are on the abstract pattern that connects all things. Mel Gooding recently said of her: “Like her ‘Systems’ comrades, Dower has worked in the knowledge that all nature – from the spiralling mechanics of the galaxies to the growth of a snail’s shell and the branching of a plum-tree – is governed by mathematical rules”. So when I look at the wonderful Fast track Through 44 points, I know that it is ordered by mathematical rules, I just don’t quite know what they are.

Natalie Dower, “Fast Track Through 44 Points”, 2008, oil on panel, 29 x 29cm, image by courtesy of Lion & Lamb Gallery

I approach it a bit like I might a puzzle, attempting to work out what is going on, except that I don’t care much for puzzles whereas I do care a lot for this painting and paintings of this kind. Possibly the title helps to solve it, though it could be a diversion. I am sure that the organisation of the line and points through which it passes as it journeys about the surface is not random, but I am unable to determine the rules for it. As I study the construction I feel sure that the ordering principle is staring me in the face but I just can’t see it. I realise that this may be saying a lot more about me and my slowness to catch on, than about the painting! Again the ‘figures’ (the bars and lines) look like they are the consequence of filling in the spaces with black, so that it is difficult to decide which are the positive and which the negative  shape, though I think we would agree that we read the black as space and the lighter tones as structure, until we don’t. The support is shaped, therefore some of the bars are ‘real’ rather than drawn. I like the difference between the constructed edges and the drawn edges, and that the image extends beyond the confines of the square, confounding its identity as image and asserting its constructed-ness.

These are wonderful things to view, and I am looking forward to making another visit soon.

The other artists in this exhibition are: Dominic Beattie / Isha Bøhling / Ian Bottle / Katrina Blannin/ Alice Browne / Simon Callery / Keith Coventry / Tom Hackney / Jumpei Kinoshita / Hannah Knox / John McLean/ Sarah McNulty / Neil Mendock / Mali Morris/ Jost Münster / Selma Parlour / Geoffrey Rigden / Dan Roach / Danny Rolph / David Ryan / Estelle Thompson / Julian Wakelin.

More from Double Vision

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The Double Vision show at Lion and Lamb Gallery, curated by Katrina Blannin and showing until 14 July 2012 is an excellent selection of paintings by abstract artists working today. I enjoyed every work in this show, so excuse me if I come back to it more than once, to comment about another painting or two.

My snapshot of Geoffrey Rigden’s painting “Erik” 2012, 30.5 x 30.5 cm

Geoffrey Rigden’s Erik reminds me of a painting I saw at the Hepworth Wakefield last year by John Piper: Forms on a White Ground, 1935. It may simply be that they both contain ‘forms on a white ground’ and that the forms could be people, even whilst so clearly not being. The connection is no doubt an entirely personal one. Seeing this Rigden painting triggered my experience of the John Piper, of how ‘big’ the little painting had seemed to be, and how strange. I love the informality of the geometry, its ‘painterliness’ and the playing with space. My eye gets taken into those spaces in the centre and the figure (three rhombus shapes combined) on the left appears to be in front of the one on the right (again, not really a figure so much as four black shapes that my eye groups together and interprets as a figure), that ochre square in the bottom left is definitely in front of the red/brown square, until suddenly the white space in the middle becomes figure, softer and slightly curved, which for less than a second might be a female figure, or a face. And then my eye rests on the odd little cluster of triangular shapes towards the top centre of the painting which could be a painting all of its own, a painting within the painting perhaps, and then the upper pointing triangle takes me up and around the whole again. I have no sense that this is “abstracted from” anything, yet it does have some connections to picture-making and composition that I think of as “figurative” even within the larger frame of abstraction.

I find less picture-making in the painting by Estelle Thompson.

My (poor) snapshot of Estelle Thompson’s “Look at Me Now and Here I Am”, 2011, Oil on Panel, 50 x 40 cm

I first saw paintings by Thompson at the Angel Row Gallery in Nottingham in 200o and I was so impressed by them that I could hardly stay away. I worked near there at the time, so visiting them became my regular lunchtime activity for the duration of the show. Those paintings were stripe paintings, quite spectacular, eliciting lots of optical excitation. They grabbed your attention in a way that the painting here does not. It is almost as if Thompson says “now I have done that successfully, what would its opposite be like?” this painting rewards my attention rather than grabbing it. It is double in that we very clearly have a top and a bottom “half”, there’s also the duality of black and white VS colour (black and white is a major sub current in this exhibition), or rather it seems to highlight how black and white behave as colours. The red, black and white “half” of the painting looks harder to me than the bottom “half” of yellow/orange and a peach/flesh colour. The fleshy area also looks softer than any other section in the way the paint is applied too. This seems to contribute to my sometimes seeing the bottom “half” of the painting as sitting forward of the top “half” and sometimes seeing the other harder shapes as framing the soft fleshy area. And then the black and red seem to join forces with the yellow/orange to create a form in distinction to the white and flesh colour that become its ground. I hope it is not too grand to say that when looking at this painting I find that I am thinking first about what a strange thing this is but then about what a strange thing I am, that I can find many different ways of seeing such a “simple” arrangement of colour/shapes.

Does the title Look at Me Now and I am Here refer to this conversation I am having with the painting and with myself? I am reminded of that cartoon by Ad Reinhardt where a viewer of an abstract painting in an art gallery is mockingly asking “what does this represent?” only to be answered by the painting “what do you represent?” but the experience is more gentle than that. It is more like that greeting of West African origin that I came across in an NLP workshops with Robert Dilts, where one person says “I see you” and the other replies “I am here”. Until we are seen by another we do not yet exist, and that seems to be what’s going on here. This painting exists when I pay attention to it, and it rewards my continued looking with visual pleasure.

The other artists in this exhibition are: Chris Baker / Dominic Beattie / Isha Bøhling / Ian Bottle / Katrina Blannin/ Alice Browne / Simon Callery / Keith Coventry / Natalie Dower / Tom Hackney / Jumpei Kinoshita / Hannah Knox / John McLean/ Sarah McNulty / Neil Mendock / Mali Morris/ Jost Münster / Selma Parlour / Dan Roach / Danny Rolph / David Ryan / Julian Wakelin.

Double Vision at Lion and Lamb Gallery

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The Lion and Lamb is itself a double vision: a bar and gallery, what a great idea! (in my earlier post I said it was in Shoreditch but actually the postal address puts it in Hoxton).

The Lion and Lamb is a unique opportunity for painters to curate painting shows: perhaps visual essays or a kind of platform where artists can examine current practices in painting, take works from their usual contexts and experiment with new juxtapositions.

‘Double Vision’ is the title of the current exhibition, curated by Katrina Blannin and showing until 14 July 2012.

It alludes to “notions of double layering in painting, whether material, compositional or theoretical”. It explores binary oppositions like figure/ground, surface/depth, symmetry/asymmetry and chance/system, oppositions that are, in a sense, combined or held together, which in language might be oxymoronic but in painting seems perfectly natural. I wonder if we might even say that holding together opposites and exploiting ambiguities in relation to them is what abstract painting does best. Although it is a very long time since I read Harold Osborne, I feel sure that one of his arguments was that quality in painting is largely to do with exploiting spatial ambiguity.

Maybe because I was looking for the Mali Morris painting it was the first thing I saw as I entered the gallery (with a pint of beer in hand). Like many of her recent paintings it is modest in size, but it seems less obviously to do with colour as the paintings she recently showed at Oriel Mostyn Gallery, until you get up close that is, which is quite difficult for me because it is high up and I am only just 5′ 6″ tall.

In my memory, but not in this snapshot so now I am wondering how much of my recollection is constructed, colour shines through the multiple layers of ground, and maybe through ‘figure’ too. Was the swirling white ‘ground’ added last, so that the figure is negatively constructed from what might previously have been the ground? That’s the sense I have. Also I think that the black is a layering of colours rather than black paint, though I could be wrong about that. I liked the way the show was hung, but I also wanted something to stand on so I could get a closer look at this one ( I should have asked). Even without entirely getting to answer my “how was it made?” questions the painting starts to work on me. I become fascinated by the layering, the information that seems both hidden and revealed, and by the “figure”, is it one or three? that seems to hover above a vortex, creating an optical space that is in one reading quite deep, and in another entirely flat.

my snapshot of Mali Morris painting: Degrees of Freedom, 2005, acrylic on canvas

Having recently read Katrina Blannin’s interview with Jeffrey Steele in Turps Banana (Issue 11), where there was also a little reproduction of her painting Pink, I was keen to see some of her work “in the flesh” and the painting here, a diptych, was a delight. The “systems” connection is clear, and she seems to share with Steele a commitment to painstaking execution of the work. It is beautifully done, and double in more than one way (doubly double): it is physically two paintings joined, and one is mirrored in the other along the central diagonal, with the tones and colours reversed.  Like the Morris there is spatial ambiguity: the lighter ‘figures’ in one viewing (it shifts) combine to form a ground which I start to interpret as space, almost as sky, as if I am looking up from an enclosed space (with buildings) and some strange thing, an alien vessel perhaps, is descending. Then it shifts again and I know for sure that this illusionistic referential reading is just that, one reading, that I would have to work hard to maintain. What interests me is that my eye/brain seems to want to make sense of it in this way, until the object before me seems to insist that I change my mind.

The Gallery information sheet had the lowest two rows of information missing so I don’t know the title of this particular double vision.

Likewise with the John McLean painting:

another small piece, higher in colour than many here, with black, which features quite a lot in this show. It is years since I saw a John McLean painting in real life (I have been looking at some reproductions recently in a very good book), and seeing this one reminded me that I have half arranged to go and see the one in the collection at the Whitworth. I met him once, when I was an art student and he came to see my work. I remember being mildly embarrassed by his enthusiasm for it, my friend dubbed it “an unqualified rave” McLean exclaiming over and over “this is f***ing ambitious work”. Looking back, I wish I had allowed that feedback from an artist I admire to become more productive in terms of self-confidence, which I lacked in those days. This painting is self-confident, seeming to assert the modernist tradition in abstraction, almost because it is out of fashion.

The other artists in this exhibition, and I will post another time about some of their work, are: Chris Baker / Dominic Beattie / Isha Bøhling / Ian Bottle / Alice Browne / Simon Callery / Keith Coventry / Natalie Dower / Tom Hackney / Jumpei Kinoshita / Hannah Knox / Sarah McNulty / Neil Mendock / Jost Münster / Selma Parlour / Geoff Rigden / Dan Roach / Danny Rolph / David Ryan / Estelle Thompson / Julian Wakelin.

It’s all good stuff, each work individually, and the exhibition as a whole-different-then-the-sum-of-its-parts, that I hope I get to see again before it closes on 14 July.