Posts Tagged ‘Nottingham’
At first sight the works of Alex Dewart, Lindall Pearce and Marion Piper, currently featured in the exhibition At the First Clash at Surface Gallery, Nottingham, are highly dissimilar, a clash of styles and approaches whose relationship to one another is symmetrical rather than complementary. However, a Twitter comment by Gill Gregory suggests she finds as much confluence or convergence as collision. Perhaps as soon as disparate practices are brought together in a shared space the similarities and interconnections become apparent, even when it’s difference that we’re celebrating. In the excellent essay by Maggie Gray, which accompanies the exhibition, she proposes that these three artists find commonality in “their awareness and manipulation of surfaces”. I wonder if what unites them is the clash of opposites (and possible reconciliation) that occurs in each of their works.
In Dewart’s paintings, highly coloured flat patterns clash with illusionistic grey monochrome figures. The figures are context-less, appearing to have weight and volume yet they float in space against high colour backgrounds that clamour for attention. Elements of the pattern sometimes occupy positions in front of or on the same plane as the grey figures. In Pelle (Skin), a leaf motif breaks free from the ground and touches the left shoulder of an armoured figure. Visually there are cues to suggest that the figure is seated on a horse, even though there is no horse shown. Where the horse’s mane might be the pattern appears to push spatially forward of the figure, almost describing the horse’s neck.
I find myself searching for meanings that a context might provide, and in lieu of evidence I do what we all do in such situations, I make stuff up. So I consider the grey figures to be statues and I speculatively suggest to myself that, for example, Verdi sul Verde may show a statue of Giuseppe Verdi (really!) against a green floral ground, “Verdi on the green”, a way of being “green on green” that isn’t abstract in the sense of “non-representational”, but quite abstract in the sense of “levels of abstraction” i.e. as opposed to direct sensory experience. In other words, I am required to interpret, linguistically or conceptually if you will, in order to make sense of what I am looking at.
The kind of interpretation required when viewing paintings by Marion Piper is nearer to the pre-linguistic, or perceptual. The experience of ‘clash’ is between differing styles (e.g. painterly or gestural vs. geometric), as well as of competing interpretations of geometric gestalts. Rather than consciously thinking through potential meanings I just keep seeing the arrangement differently, sometimes seeing depth for example, and other times seeing flat shapes. It’s as if the interpreting takes place in the eye/brain, rather than in the mind.
I first saw paintings by Piper at the Crossing Lines exhibition, earlier this year at &Model Gallery, where I noted that in her Free Man series she appeared to be combining an organic, free-flowing, process with geometry. There’s some of that going on here at the Surface Gallery exhibition in her Or To series, where fluid grey markings (not quite poured, more like staining) clash with measured geometric shapes, but the clash is suppressed perhaps, in that it exists beneath multiple layers, only traces showing through. It’s almost as if the geometry has succeeded in bringing order to the more chaotic, near gestural activity beneath the surface. Or is it that those liquid gestures actually construct the hard edged structures, the outlines being “filled in” with paint whilst in this fluid condition? It’s difficult to tell. The process is evident but not enough to reliably reconstitute it step by step. I can guess at it, but I have little confidence that my guessing matches any of the events that actually took place on the canvas.
In Or To 9, illusionistic space is posited along the bottom edge, take the zig zagging triangles away and the alternate bars or stripes of light and dark grey no longer look three dimensional. The triangles lead us to see the stripes as mountain and valley folds, a concertina formation, with a light source from the left. At least two readings compete with each other in an unresolvable conflict. Though contradictory, we believe both interpretations are equally true, not simultaneously but sequentially, first it’s this and then it’s that and next it’s this again, perhaps reminiscent of wave-particle duality in quantum physics. Whatever reading we come to first, we have to concede that “the opposite is also true”.
In the works here by Lindall Pearce the clash is between artwork and arbitrary object, everyday objects being combined to produce highly attractive assemblages. They draw from the tradition of the “ready-made”, but in the end they are not ready-mades, there’s too much craft for that. It could even be that the tradition is turned back on itself by the reintroduction of facture. Nevertheless, the banal object never become so much an artwork that it loses its thingness, nor does the art ever lapse back into banal utilitarian function.
In Chroma Chameleon, adjustable shaving mirrors (I think) are arranged on a black and white striped, painted table top, the mirror glasses having been replaced or painted over, with coloured circles. Even though they do retain some of their reflectiveness they no longer function specifically as mirrors. They create an interesting array of angles, planes and colours and subvert the original purposes of both table and mirrors. Come to think of it, I am now doubting whether “assemblage” is the best label for this and other works by Pearce in this show. In an assemblage don’t pre-existing, unrelated objects get placed together? Yet it looks to me as if Pearce works on her objects and then also makes something else out of them, which possibly brings them closer to “constructions”. (In pondering this distinction I am following a conversation between Peter Lowe and Katrina Blannin recently reported by Blannin in a review at Abstract Critical.)
Looking at the works of these three artists, I think I discover resonance in their appreciation of clashes of opposites, whether two dimensional pattern vs. three dimensional figuration in Dewart, opposing gestalts in Piper or readymade vs. construction in Pearce. Furthermore, they seem unwilling to resolve the contradictions by favouring one position over another. Instead, they hold both sides of the argument in tension, and only then does some form of reconciliation take place. Could it be that the title of the exhibition would be better rendered with a comma after the word “First” so that it would read “At the First, Clash” (to begin with a clash and only then reconciliation)? Tongue firmly in cheek, if I wanted to give this a theological slant, following Karl Barth, I might insist that the divine “no” always precedes the divine “yes”, or if I wanted to sound more political I might echo that other Karl as well as that old band The Clash: “There’s got to be a Clash, there’s no alternative”.
At the First Clash is on at Surface Gallery until 12 July 2014
Mrs Rick’s Cupboard exists in a time warp. Once the teacher’s cupboard in a Nottingham primary school, now somehow out-of-place, functionless, in the corner of artist Craig Fisher‘s studio at Primary, Nottingham. No longer a stock cupboard, it serves as an exhibition space that seems larger on the inside than on the outside. At least that’s how it appears to me as I view paintings by Louisa Chambers in this setting.
And having created that filter for seeing the work, doesn’t the background of Tent resemble the interior of Doctor Who’s TARDIS, depending on whether you are seeing the spray painted circles as positive or negative shapes? When they are negative shapes, I have the impression that an interior space is being described, when positive then it’s a landscape I am seeing. This perceptual shift allows the painting to be viewed first in this way and then in that way and back again, but can never be seen in both ways simultaneously, though the painting holds both views. Perhaps the artist has something of this in mind, when she envisages the cupboard functioning as a Stereoscope, an optical device in which two separate photographic images that have been taken from slightly different viewpoints corresponding to the spacing of the eye, merge together to become a single three-dimensional scene. The device itself being an object of fascination, two flat photographs becoming three-dimensional only when the binocular viewer is brought into operation.
There are other ambiguities that come into play also in this charming little painting. In one viewing the tent figure itself hovers in space, whether the literal space of the support, or the illusionistic space hinted at by the horizon line. The main figure could seem to hover above the horizon or settle down onto the ground that the low horizon line suggests and/or it protrudes slightly in front of the picture plane, and then readjusts back into the framed space. Another alternating reading also asserts itself: the yellow undersides of the lower row of circles/spheres seem to be attached to the triangular figure almost as if they are its wheels, a reading that can be sustained when focusing on the centre of the base and that falls away when focusing more on the edges. The main figure can be interpreted as a vehicle or as an object like the tent of the title, and then fairground associations are triggered for me, in contrast to the Sci Fi associations when I am reading it is a vehicle: a Robot, a Dalek perhaps or a spaceship. All this is further complicated by the formal(ist) abstract ‘language’ of the painting, warning me not to read content into it at all but to see it only as a formal composition of shape and colour.
Unveil follows almost the same compositional arrangement as Tent, the space being divided more or less centrally by a horizontal, a vertical and by two diagonal lines, resulting in a positive double triangle shape situated in a negative double triangle space, resembling a pyramid topped by an inverted pyramid, the shape of a ‘double tetractys’. The space has more of a sense of different two-dimensional planes than Tent, becoming more of an illusionistic space in the upper triangular area, as if the flat inverted triangle has opened into a portal onto a three-dimensional space in which an impossible figure rotates. Comparing the two paintings the rotating geometrical figure corresponds to the geometrical ‘ring’ figure in Tent. Both add further spacial ambiguity to each whole. In Unveil, flag like shapes might be interpreted as bunting, adding to a celebratory mood suggested by the joyous colours, that could equally be menacing. I am back at the fairground again where the clowns could be both comedic and terrifying. Yet there are no ‘clowns’ here, no human figures, only coloured triangular and circular forms.
There’s something Kandinsky-esque about this painting. Again I want to refer to the formal ‘language’ but I am wondering if the word ‘technology’ might be better, the means employed being derived from the technology of modernist abstraction, and in so far as content is suggested, we have objects and landscapes that are neither natural nor societal but rather technological, which I think I also find in Kandinsky.
in Non-Stop Radio and Over the Hill the geometric shapes, like paper cut-outs waving in the air of an unspecified urban park landscape have been anthropomorphised, as if they were dancing figures, with wide shaping at the topline contrasting with the close contact at centre, narrowing down to the feet that look only just strong enough to support the swing and sway above. These constructions could exist only in a painting, whilst looking like they could be fabricated in three dimensions I suspect that an attempt to do so would soon show their impossibility.
Looking at them, I sense the artist’s enjoyment in imagining them, as well as in painting them, with the lightness of watercolour, the paint handling seems so congruent with these fluid geometries, precise enough, yet never uptight.
Timer could be a painting of a real object, something similar to an egg timer, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s an impossible construct, which again I would love to attempt to build. For a start, it looks much too large to be an egg timer, even without paying attention to the differing geometries of the four horizontal intersections. I know I am in danger of coming across like a die-hard Doctor Who fan if I say that it reminds me of the control mechanism of the old style TARDIS, but I just cannot help making that connection. I feel confirmed in my interpretation when I read in the gallery notes that “Chambers’ paintings present alternative universes where impossible science fiction/architectural structures comment on conflicts between our inner dream worlds and the technological robotic control on our everyday lives”. I’d go further and say that our “inner dream worlds” have been technologised, and Doctor Who could serve as an example of that.
Maybe it’s a response to the impossibility of the constructions within the paintings that has led to Chambers’ recent experiments in three-dimensions: Rotating Shape Side I and Side II, Shelter and Monument, all of which are here in the cupboard. Shelter and Monument are like nets in the moment of converting from two to three dimensions and Rotating Shape is literally that, a geometric painting on shaped card that can be both rotated and reversed (hence Side I and Side II). However even these constructible paintings have unconstructability in them, tessalating shapes, bending the space as they shift from one arrangement to another, introducing time as well as space into flat, motionless surfaces.
Although Stereoscope closed on 6 December, other paintings by Louisa Chambers can be seen at The Midlands Open at Tarpey Gallery until 11 January and at Crash Open Salon 2013, at Charlie Dutton Gallery from 11 December to 11 January.
I liked the way the geometric tile pattern seemed to race along with me and change as I walked at speed along Long Row East in Nottingham City Centre, early in the morning, on the first really warm day of this year.