patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘painting

Coming Soon to HMS

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The Discipline of Painting, curated by David Manley, 6 Oct to to 27 Oct, with View on Saturday 26 Oct, 2PM to 5PM, at Harrington Mill Studios, Long Eaton.

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David Manley, Deadly Delicious at Tarpey Gallery

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At Tarpey Gallery, David Manley‘s new paintings on circular (sometimes oval) aluminium supports have a wonderful, shiny gold- leaf quality, a consequence partly of the support and partly of the method of painting in semi transparent layers of different colours. They remind me of icons, but bigger, and it’s diseases they represent not divinities, if indeed they are representations.  After all, the sensuality of the paint and luminosity of colour seem to be enjoyed in their own right, and I cannot easily verify their likeness to the specific viruses of their titles, because not being an epidemiologist I don’t often look at viruses through a microscope. So, I have little choice anyway, but to respond to each image on its own terms.

If I had not seen the title Smallpox nor made the connection to the deadliness of the Deadly Delicious series, it might have been only the deliciousness of this painting I paid attention to, with the informal handling of paint, but then also the careful building up of layers creating this hard, pearlescent surface. And there’s the vibrancy of the colours and the figural similarity to a bunch of grapes. It’s only as I look at the picture with “deadly” in mind that I start to wonder if the colours might be slightly too much, about to tip over into the fluorescence I might associate with dead things or deadly materials, the green of acid perhaps. It’s a feast of contradictions, seeming to celebrate the state of being “in-between”.

David Manley, DDA 1 - Smallpox.  Acrylic on Aluminium, 90cm d

David Manley, DDA 1 – Smallpox. Acrylic on Aluminium, 90cm d. Image by courtesy of the artist

Manley is interested in viruses “because they inhabit a place somewhere between living and ‘dead’ or dormant things”, almost as if they are analogous with the situation of the paintings as somewhere between abstract and representational. The circular shape is “in between” landscape and portrait, or perhaps neither landscape nor portrait, though the miniature portraiture tradition might provide a precedent for reading them as portraits. However, in contradistinction to miniature portraits, in Manley’s deadly delicious series each image gives the impression that it could be turned through 360 degrees and continue to work. This impression is, I think, reinforced by the horizontal ‘flatbed’ orientation of a virus seen through a microscope, the circular supports of the paintings already having supplied the cue to interpret them as petri dishes or lenses.

David Manley, DDA 5 - Swine Flu. Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm d.

David Manley, DDA 5 – Swine Flu. Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm d. Image by courtesy of the artist

DDA 5 Swine Flu is a diabolical image of coals in an eternal fire. It looks like what I imagine Swine Flu might feel like, not something I want to test! Just as I wouldn’t want to think of this image as a “point of contact” with the represented, as one might have done with a Byzantine icon.  Nevertheless, icons were images of the invisible and surely this painting is also an image of something that is invisible, at least to the naked eye. Except, strictly speaking, the source material for each paintings is already an image, a picture of a microscopic event, which is then flattened out and simplified, or ‘abstracted’ but not beyond recognition for a scientist familiar with the given virus. The colours however, are entirely the artist’s invention. One type of electron microscope operates only in black and white, Manley explains, adding that because the conventions around coloration remain somewhat open ended  “I took a decision right from the start that in this respect I had ‘carte blanche’ and have operated accordingly”.

David Manley, DDA 6 Sin Nombre , Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm. d.

David Manley, DDA 6 Sin Nombre , Acrylic on Aluminium, 90 cm. d. Image by courtesy of the artist

In DDA 6 Sin Nombre, the colours are rich blues, reds, ochres, and copper, their crisp edges contrasting with diffused colours in the blue ground, some of which may have been spray painted. And the ‘character’ of this painting (perhaps they are portraits after all) is quite different to The others. This one is calmer, cooler, less frantic than DDA 5 Swine Flu and softer than DDA 8 Measles.

I am interested in the fact that the source images are available to the artist only as a result of technology, and in the implied conflation here of art and technology. The words ‘art’ (‘techne’) and ‘technology’ share the same etymological root, surely. Yet the painterly style suggests ‘free play’, which may be akin to a more primitive approach, often in our thinking the opposite of the technological. In this respect I am reminded of the recent article in the White Review, Techno-Primitivism by Vanessa Hodgkinson and David Trotter, discussing a primitivism mediated by technology in the abstract paintings of Vanessa Hodgkinson and the writing of D H Lawrence.

DDA 8 - Measles . Acrylic on Aluminium, 49 cm. d.

DDA 8 – Measles . Acrylic on Aluminium, 49 cm. d. Image by courtesy of the artist

It may be the case that in a technological society an artist cannot not respond to technology in some way, even if that response is an unconscious one. David Manley is very conscious of the interplay between technology and the handmade that these paintings celebrate.  Jacques Ellul argued that modern art is an imitation of technology or a compensation for it.  The deadly delicious series seems to have elements of both.

David Manley, Deadly Delicious, is showing at Tarpey Gallery until 31 August

Cover (new painting)

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Andy Parkinson, Cover, 2013, mixed media on wood panel, 14" x 14"

Andy Parkinson, Cover, 2013, mixed media on wood panel, 14″ x 14″

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 15, 2013 at 6:23 am

Paintings by Susan Disley at HMS

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My ongoing quest to see abstract paintings north of London brings me today to Harrington Mill Studios in Long Eaton, where there are paintings by Susan Disley. There are also works by Rosie Kearton: photograms, etchings, collagraphs, related to walking in the landscape, very enjoyable, just that it’s the painting I have specifically come here to see.

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Like Kearton’s prints, Disley’s paintings are related to landscape, abstract landscapes perhaps, some more clearly connected to their starting point than others. It’s the ones that are the most ‘abstracted’ that interest me the most, pared down to almost no-thing, as if in a search for ultimate form.

Susan Disley is better known for her ceramics, and even if I had not known this I think I would still find something vessel-like in the forms she arrives at. Mr Blue Sky, shown in the installation shot above, has just three parts, a widened out, light blue “U” shape at bottom that is virtually impossible not to perceive as sea, but could also be read as a cup or similar container, cradling an earth-space that takes up most of the one meter square canvas, and a dark blue line at top that is probably the blue sky of the title. However, this blue strip is darker and heavier than sky. I find it slightly disconcerting.  Surely, in the normal scheme of things, light is up whereas dark/heavy is down. Here it is the other way around. The hint of threat contained in this inversion seems to create an element of seriousness without quite becoming angst. It’s abstract impressionism this, rather than expressionism (acknowledgements to Zak Braiterman for a novel application of this distinction). For the most part it is warmth and joy that the painting communicates, something like that feeling of well-being that comes over me on a hot sunny day. The central part of the painting, a muted earth colour, seems to reflect not just light but warmth back at the viewer.

Where the earth and light blue areas meet they form an indecisive edge, as if we can’t be sure where one ends and the other begins. In nature, boundary lines are fuzzy, but we go ahead and assign them anyway. According to George Lackoff and Mark Johnson, “When things are not clearly discrete or bounded, we still categorize them as such, e.g. mountains, street corners,hedges etc. Such ways of viewing physical phenomena are needed to satisfy certain purposes that we have: locating mountains, meeting on street corners,trimming hedges. Human purposes typically require us to impose artificial boundaries that make physical phenomena discrete…”

Susan Disley, Enclosure I, Enclosure II, oil on board, each is 35cm x 35 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and HMS

Susan Disley, Enclosure I, Enclosure II, oil on board, each is 35cm x 35 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and HMS

The boundaries in Enclosure I and Enclosure II, are more distinct than in Mr Blue Sky, the paintings appearing to be about the very act of demarcation. Contemplating these abstract images I am impressed by the beauty of the resultant forms and at the same time reminded of the political implications of land enclosure. Imposing artificial boundaries helps us to understand the world around us, and is also a means of exercising power. The birds eye view emphasises this for me, picture making here becoming similar to map making, again a means both of understanding and control.

Sue Disley, Landscape in Pink, 2013, oil on board, 1m x1m, image by courtesy of the artist and HMS

Sue Disley, Landscape in Pink, 2013, oil on board, 1m x1m, image by courtesy of the artist and HMS

We’re back to fuzzy boundaries in Landscape in Pink, and the interpretive cues are almost so generalised as to lose the landscape association, except that it is virtually impossible to lose, as if we carry it with us in our bodies. Even if there was no intentional link to landscape we would probably find ourselves making the connection anyway. We refer to the very orientation of the support as either “portrait” or “landscape”, hence artists such as Kazimir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt favoured the square format, incidentally Disley’s favoured format also, as if unconsciously she wanted to make the viewing of them as landscapes problematic.

As in Mr Blue Sky there are three areas: an “above”, a “below” and a large expanse between them, this time in warm pink, with other colours pushing through a scumbled light ground. Almost the opposite of the other painting: there’s a heavy dark grey below and light blue above, but if they relate to sea and sky or earth and sky I find it fairly difficult to read that way. More than anything else I think it’s a painting of space. It reminds me of a habit I like to indulge in of gazing into the mid distance. Someone usually asks what I’m staring at and I try to mark out the area of space in three dimensions with my hands: “that’s ridiculous you can’t be staring at that, there’s nothing there”. And it’s something similar that I think is going on here, as if the attempt is being made not so much to paint an area of earth as to paint the space above the area of earth, the space in the mid distance that has nothing in it. Or is it rather that viewing the painting triggers that experience? Because here I am staring and slowly becoming aware of the space between me and the painting. I get nearer so that I can see the brush strokes and the way the surface is constructed, inspecting the canvas edges where the colours underneath the unifying ground are more easily identified, and so it is the painting I am seeing rather than the space between us. Then, as I step back to make sense of the whole it’s that mid space again. The painting wants to be stared at in this way! And it dawns on me that it’s boundaries I am thinking about again, the boundaries within the painting, then the boundary between the painting and it’s environment, between the painting and me, and that is a very fuzzy boundary indeed. I find that I can identify with the painting and also dis-identify, I can be “in it” and “outside it” just by shifting my awareness subtly, in a similar way to the shifting between figure and ground that is part of what happens in these pictures. The painting is a container, but what it contains extends beyond its own boundaries, limited not so much by the edges of the canvas as by my own visual field.

Talking with David Manley, the curator of this exhibition, we note some of Disley’s influences, there’s something of William Scott in here, especially in the drawing, and I wonder if Agnes Martin’s use of muted colour might also be an influence. I think that Scott’s paintings seem to be much more about tone and Martin’s much more about hue and I attempt to characterise Disley’s paintings using the same categories, but come to no conclusion. I do find that I am influenced by them, as getting back to the studio I realise that I have filtered out the high colour in the painting I am currently working on.

Susan Disley – Rosie Kearton is showing at Harrington Mill Studios until 31 July, viewing by appointment email or tel: 07891 262 202

(The Lackoff and Johnson quote is from George Lackoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 1980, University of Chicago Press)

Meditations at Pluspace Coventry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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installation shot courtesy of Matthew Macaulay

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

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

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

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

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

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

smoke screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Systems at Lion and Lamb and William Scott at Hepworth, Wakefield

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I wish I was going to the opening of this show at the Lion and Lamb Gallery tonight.

Bick evite

I do hope to get along to see it before it closes on 15 June and, assuming I manage it, I will write about it.

In the opposite direction travel-wise there is also an interesting show starting up at the Hepworth, Wakefield this evening and I will be going along to that  (it’s much closer to where I live. If there was nothing in it as far as travel and cost are concerned I would be in a dilemma as to which one to go to).

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and I hope to write about this one too during the next few days.

At the Point of Gesture at the Lion and Lamb Gallery

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At the Point of Gesture opened at the Lion and Lamb Gallery on 23 February 2013 and runs until 23 March: curated by David Ryan it’s a show of abstract paintings and a video, by five artists Clem Crosby, Gabriel Hartley, Andrea Medjesi-JonesDavid Ryan and Alaena Turner , each in their different ways exploring the potential of gesture, materiality and improvisation.

Maybe the exhibition title suggests that the works are only just at the point of gesture, like the Andrea Madjesi-Jones painting, where gesture seems to be included in a wider pictorial strategy, or perhaps that they have arrived at the point of gesture having set out from some other place, Clem Crosby’s work, for example, coming out of the monochrome tradition to a reconsideration of the role of drawing. Then again, in Aleana Turner’s Secret Action Painting 3 gesture is as much implied as it is physically present.

A point could almost be the opposite of a gesture, I’m thinking of pointillism where all those dots of colour negate the action of the sweeping brush stroke, yet once the dots are aggregated gestures of a sort do start to emerge. In physiological communication, to point is to gesture, and now I have in mind Grunwald’s amazing Isenhheim altarpiece where John the Baptist points at the crucified Jesus. Here the gesture refers to another, and I wonder if that might also be the case with gesture in abstract (non referential) painting, the minimum reference being to the act of painting itself, surely one of the points of the current Painting After Performance show at Tate modern.

Gabriel Hartley’s spray paint over impasto brushwork seems somehow to simultaneously both dissolve and emphasise the gestural mark-making, such contradictions being possible in a painting, even if nowhere else.

Gabriel Hartley, Frack, 2013, spray paint and oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Gabriel Hartley, Frack, 2013, spray paint and oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Approaching action painting, the individual marks almost lose themselves in the one gesture that is the finished piece. Kelp is almost white and Frack is almost black, and it’s difficult not to read them as monochromes, even though that tradition usually implies the repudiation of the gestural.

David Ryan’s Fame in California/1964, a small canvas in orange and pink has a central ‘sculptural’ figure flanked by indistinct forms or brushmarks and overlayed (or wrapped around) with a roughly painted green motif.  In the top left hand corner a flat white rectangle asserts the painting’s edge, against which the rest of the action seems to recede in a pictorial, non-perspectival space. Because it is optical, the space is ambiguous, it shifts slightly and the pink and orange brush strokes or blobs and a line that traces the edge of the figure, now appear to occupy a place somewhere in between the white rectangle up front and the main form further back.   

David Ryan, Fame in California/1964, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 36cm. Image by courtesy Lion and Lamb Gallery

David Ryan, Fame in California/1964, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 36cm. Image by courtesy Lion and Lamb Gallery

I recall that I enjoyed seeing another David Ryan painting here in the summer of 2012, a lovely little thing in black white and greys, entitled Index. It had a white rectangle in the left hand corner, similar to the one on show today. In both works this ‘hard edge’ rectangle seems incongruous, as if, there, inserted into the picture, is another very different one, a monochrome again, a painting within a painting that has me consider what other kinds of picture this one could also have become.

In Clem Crosby’s Little Wing, magenta and black continuous swirling lines dance on a grey ground that looks like the result of all but erased previous versions of the loose network that forms the painted ‘image’. It’s difficult not to see it as existing in a kind of landscape, the loops at the bottom of the canvas suggesting a floor upon which the lines are ‘standing’, like a sculpture of string or tape.

Clem Crosby, Little Wing, 2012-2013, Oil on Formica mounted on Aluminium, 76.2 x 61cm. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

Clem Crosby, Little Wing, 2012-2013, Oil on Formica mounted on Aluminium, 76.2 x 61cm. Image by courtesy of Lion and Lamb Gallery

I attempt to work out where each swirl begins and ends. In an image there is no such thing as a start and a finish yet the brush had to touch the support somewhere first and lay off somewhere too, but those entry and exit points become difficult to identify. In tracing the action with my eye and brain I also have something of the sensation of following with my hand and arm, for all I know they are actually moving, like when feeding an infant I find that I open my own mouth. So I notice that I am at the point of gesture myself, as if answering an invitation to explore the theme of the exhibition, as a viewer and also as a practitioner of abstract painting. The exhibition poses questions, for me, about the role of painterliness, offering a kind of counterpoint to my own preoccupation with systems. Here, painting is physical and the design is improvised, whereas my own practice is more cerebral and pre-planned. It’s not that a systems approach precludes chance and gesture, Kenneth Martin comes to mind as does Mel Prest whose gestural line drawings produced in a totally non-random fashion have the appearance of something random or ‘felt’, and David Ryan’s work already addresses the relationship between construction and improvisation. However, this show opens up for me some interesting questions and suggestions for future practice are starting to form.

One of the stated goals of the Lion and Lamb Gallery is to provide an opportunity for painters to curate visual essays that examine current practices in painting, and for me this show delightfully succeeds in this intention.