patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Selma Parlour

Nine Painters, Syson Gallery, Nottingham

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I must have been nine or ten years old when my dad took me to the visitor centre at the yet-to-be-built nuclear power station at Heysham, Lancs, where artist impressions of the plant were accompanied by highly optimistic commentary related via head-phones. Many years later, in 1989, I saw the plant with my own eyes and it bore little resemblance to my memory of those artist’s impressions. There was a marked contrast between what was promised and what was delivered, certainly from an aesthetic point of view. There had also by now been a huge shift in public reception of nuclear power in general. After all, there had been the Chernobyl disaster and the Three Mile Island accident. Early optimism had turned into disappointment and foreboding. There was also the feeling that malevolent forces were at work (reinforced by the blatant lies that had been told about the economics of nuclear power around the time that Thatcher’s government privatised the industry). And maybe this narrative reflects another, the rise and demise of modernism.

Sean Cummins, Operator, 2016, acrylic on canvas, image by courtesy of the artist

Sean Cummins’s large painting Operator, (2016), here at Nine Painters, at Syson Gallery, Nottingham, recalls late modernist colour field abstraction and pop art, in this pared down representation of an operator in a nuclear power plant. However, this is not a portrait, the schematic representation of the face providing little by way of individual detail. And my interpretation of the sparse forms as the interior of the operations room of a power station arises as much from the title as from specific clues in the painting. Nevertheless, it does seem to posit both optimism, or rather a nostalgia for that optimism, and foreboding. Whilst the painting is all high coloured surface, there is also a sense of something awry beneath the surface.

I think something similar is happening in Steph Goodger’s wonderful paintings of coloured flashes on dark grounds that give way only gradually to figurative detail, and there is specific detail here, almost as if they could be portraits… of places. At first I find the attractiveness of the paint handling and the colour fascinating in themselves, seeing these as abstract paintings, until it dawns on me that these are night-time scenes of the makeshift homes of refugees in Calais.

Steph Goodger, The Twilight Kingdom III, 2017, oil on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist

There are also paintings here by Goodger of boxcars. They are even more like portraits, I hear another viewer comment on imagining that all steam engines and carriages have faces and blaming it on Thomas the Tank Engine. At least I am not on my own.  I hear someone else remark “oh a steam train, how nice!” I don’t know how long it takes for me to realise that boxcars have had a more sinister use than for freight transport. The Nazis used them to transport prisoners to the concentration camps, and it occurs to me that these paintings allude to this something awry beneath the surface. The observed details are very specific to each “portrait” but the suggestions of human cargoes are general, creating a vague sense of unease.

There are undercurrents in the minimal figuration of Michael Simpson. A tiny painting, entitled Squint, (2016-17), is cleverly situated very high on the wall in the main gallery, and could have been cut out of his large painting that won the John Moores prize last year. In that painting a step ladder is pictured beneath a leper squint. In medieval times a squint was a small opening in the wall of a church that provided people with leprosy a way of peering in to see and hear the sermon without touching any of the congregation. Here at Syson gallery we are in want of a ladder. One of the judges of the 2016 John Moores Painting Prize, the artist Ansel Krut, speaking of the winning painting said that the artist “uses an almost minimal vocabulary to open up a world of great sympathetic imagination” and that the painting “touches on the nature of silence, on distance and on exclusion. But most importantly, it touches on the privileges of looking.” The same could be said of the tiny Squint painting on display here, and also of the equally tiny paintings of single cupboards or safes (?) with their doors open.

Installation snapshot of Michael Simpson, Squint, 2016-17, oil on canvas, my photo

Another of the John Moores judges, Richard Davey, is the curator of Nine Painters, here bringing together a rather disparate group of painters from within the UK, associated with either the John Moores prize or the Royal Academy. I asked him “why these nine?” his answer was close to “why not?”

Other figurative painters here include Gabriella Boyd whose colourful works on paper may also appear at first-sight to be abstract celebrations of colour and pattern and only on further viewing do erotic undercurrents seem suggested. (I worry slightly when I say this, in case it’s just me.)

Richard Kenton Webb also approaches abstraction, in that figurative motifs resembling parts of musical instruments, in greens, yellows and blues, rendered with a chalky, high-pigment oil paint made by the artist, float in a shallow, almost non-figurative space (there are clouds and a hill). Five big paintings in horizontal, almost panoramic format, are stacked one above another creating a wall of alluring colour. The set is entitled The Five Senses, (2015-17), each painting named individually, Smell, Taste, Touch, Sound and Sight, in keeping with Webb’s interest in synaesthesia. The paintings are impossible to photograph, and absolutely have to be seen for real in an exhibition space, highlighting the artist’s insistence that digital viewing has become a commonplace, against which, going to a gallery and looking at physical works has become more interesting. The digital represents our boring experience of the everyday, which is contradicted by the committed observation that painting engenders and that evokes all the senses at once.

Stephen ChambersThe Perfect Nude 1, (2010), is clearly a figurative painting but his command of colour makes a formalist reading of his work at least tempting. A temptation to which the curator has almost succumbed by placing it next to an abstract painting Eleventh Hour Squared 3, by Selma Parlour. Both artists make extensive use of cadmium yellow, for Chambers it is the floor upon which the nude rests, for Parlour it is more ambiguous. It could describe a section of wall above what could be read as a window, or rather the top left corner of a window, or maybe instead, a quadrant of a pyramid in bird’s eye view. Alternatively, it’s a yellow truncated triangle in an arrangement of coloured geometric or architectural shapes on a flat surface.

Selma Parlour, Eleventh Hour Squared 3, 2016, oil on linen. Image by courtesy of the artist

Reading Eleventh Hour Squared 3, (2016), as a flat surface becomes more difficult the more that shadows are perceived and the more the luminous blue square is perceived as sky through a window pane flanked by a brown frame, the primary image that I keep settling upon, until the pyramid reasserts itself. But then I am puzzled by the sense of this being a corner or a quadrant. In what context might one see only this part of either a pyramid or a window? Photography comes to mind, the camera frame characteristically cropping objects in this way. And there is something about the colour quality, thinly applied hues, with the white surface behind giving them brilliance, which is reminiscent of a photograph or a computer screen. The paint application, transparent films of oil paint, with no visible traces of the artist’s toil, also lends itself to this interpretation. If photography is “drawing with light”, then Parlour’s paintings are closely akin to photography. However, they are ultimately abstract because figurative interpretations, like the ones suggested above never quite work enough to arrive at definite conclusions. What might have been perceived as a window frame probably works best if seen as a picture of a painting, this one.

Similarly in Cloud II, (2017), although there is more of a depicted space, a kind of stage within which objects are situated, the objects are like paintings within a painting. In Parlour’s work it is as if the hint at referential content is always self-referential, always bringing us back to the painting itself.

Selma Parlour, Cloud II, 2017, oil on linen, image by courtesy of the artist

There may also be references to the history of abstraction, specifically post-painterly abstraction, or colour field painting, if not in the scale of the works, then in the artist’s choice of technique, in which the method of production is hidden by the method of production itself, the labour painted out or sublimated.

The paintings here by Eleanor Bartlett, on the other hand, wear their labour on their sleeves. Here we get much more painterly abstraction in robust materials like tar and metal paint on canvas that also looks heavy-duty. Their physicality is underscored by the repudiation of colour other than the natural hues and tones of the materials. Yet the small pieces Untitled #35 and #36, (2016), have a contradictory delicate quality, as if the loose geometric forms, rough squares or rectangles cut off along one edge, resembling pits in the ground, have transformed alchemically into precious metals.

Eleanor Bartlett, Untitled #35 and #36, 2015, tar and metal paint on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist

These two paintings are positioned right next to the tiny diptych by Michael Simpson of open-doored cupboards or safes, bringing to attention the formal similarities of the two pairs of paintings, even though they arise from quite different traditions and concerns. Curator Richard Davey seems fond of doing this, also placing larger paintings by Bartlett so they flank one of Goodger’s boxcars. Again, formal resonances between otherwise very different works are made apparent.

installation snapshot, Untitled paintings by Eleanor Bartlett, tar and metal paint on canvas, 2015, either side of Steph Goodger, Boxcar II, 2014, oil on canvas, my photo

If in Bartlett’s paintings base materials may sometimes appear to transform into precious metals it is in no way because the materials have to become form in order to achieve this. No, these paintings are physical presentations of the material displayed for its own sake. If they become something else they always do so whilst also staying resolutely material.

In Mali Morris‘s abstract paintings, although there is clear enjoyment of the materiality of the paint, it’s de-materialisation into colour and light is more important. And if the physical stuff of paint is transmuted into light, the artist’s toil is transformed into play. The paintings are joyous, fun even, but in the same way that in dance, much effort is expended in making it look easy.

Mali Morris, Together, 2011, acrylic on canvas, image by courtesy of the artist

In Together (2011), a central cruciform shape is suggested by placing rectangles of differing colours in the four corners of the canvas, over a gestural ground in magenta that also seems to float above other grounds or layers of colour, some darker and some lighter than itself. The four rectangles are flatly painted but semi-transparent. There is no doubt that they are resting upon the magenta, having been painted after it was set down. However, because they are painted in different colours they appear to occupy different planes, no longer simply floating above a ground that also appears to float, they enliven the whole space in a complex way that is difficult to describe in words. It is easier to point to it and say “this rectangle seems to occupy a space in front of this one”. The sensation of luminous colours creates a strange two-dimensional space that is anything but flat.

The artist Terry Greene recently brought my attention to a quote by Helen Frankenthaler where she says “it is light that counts above everything. Not coloured light, but colour that gives off light – radiance” and this seems highly applicable to the paintings of Mali Morris.

Mali Morris, Long Crossing (Six/Sixteen), 2012-15. Acrylic on canvas. Image by courtesy of the artist

On the opposite wall, another painting here by Morris is Long Crossing (Six/Sixteen) (2012-2015), in which a loose zig-zagging line in maroon or alizarin crimson tacks horizontally over a scumbled ground of reds, oranges and pinks and in front of it, a further line, in yellow, zig-zags a vertical pathway ending with a left-pointing arrow head. I think I know which elements came first and last, and whilst I don’t really know this, my imagined sequencing of the gestures is based on visual evidence. The yellow line/marks, like the rectangles in Together, are clearly the top layer, the rest of the action taking place behind them. But colour doesn’t behave itself. Visual space and time can disagree and colour gestures that took place earlier can project forward as if they had been made later. The ground upon which actions are based can push forward for re-examination like the surfacing of long forgotten presuppositions. Time is required for events that were background to foreground themselves and return, and for certain colours or gestures to cluster together to form temporary figures like the central S shape that forms a figure of its own only until it gives way to other gestalts. These spatial shifts and temporary alliances of parts, that never compete with the whole, cannot be perceived simultaneously even though they are always already there, and even when I have viewed the painting for a very long time new gestalts can still surprise me. I am reminded of that wonderful line in that poem by John Donne where, punning on his own name, he says “when thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more”. In Morris’s work I continually have this sense that there is always more, that done deals are never once and for all, that decisions are continual “decidings”, not nouns but verbs, as if our future is not necessarily closed and could yet be re-imagined, which leaves me with a certain optimism, even if only for the duration of my visit.

Nine Painters, curated by Richard Davey, continues at Syson Gallery until 6 May

It includes paintings by: Eleanor Bartlett, Gabriella BoydStephen Chambers, Sean Cummins, Steph GoodgerRichard Kenton Webb, Mali Morris, Selma Parlour, and Michael Simpson

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Approaches to Colour: KALEIDOSCOPE at Fold Gallery

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Working for a day in central London, only yards away from New Cavendish Street where FOLD Gallery’s summer exhibition Kaleidoscope, curated by Dominic Beattie, is on show, I get my lunch hour to go and see it. Having learned from the publicity flyer that the seven artists, Dominic KennedyMali MorrisBridget RileyJulian WildJames Alec HardySelma Parlour and Martin Maloney, work with colour in “radically different ways” each one presenting “a unique vision of how to liberate colour to stimulate and energise the viewer” I wonder if I can discover in my short visit what it is that they are doing differently with colour. 

Installation view, with works from left to right by Bridget Riley, James Alec Hardy and Julian Wild. Image courtesy of Fold gallery

Installation view, with works from left to right by Bridget Riley, James Alec Hardy and Julian Wild. Image courtesy of Fold gallery

I already know that in a work by Bridget Riley I will find a clear structure within which colour can do it’s thing, where individual colours will change in relation to each other depending on the specific juxtaposition and where the overall colour sensation will change, structure being essential not for control but rather so that the colour can achieve free play. So when I see the Riley prints here, About Lilac (2009) and One Small Step (2007), I get what I expected, but the experiencing of it is, as always, surprising.

In Selma Parlour’s fascinating paintings, there is also this freeing of colour by keeping the drawing precise, but with Parlour it’s more minimal. In Metapainting (One for Each Eye 1) 2015, Metapainting (One for Each Eye 2) 2015, and One for Each Eye 4 (2016), two rectangles of different colours, oil on linen, in thinly painted veils allowing the white underneath to shine through as in watercolour painting, are presented to the viewer as one rectangle for each eye. I take the titles as an invitation to stare, as one might do in a visual cognition experiment. Almost immediately after-imaging and merging of the two colours begins to take place, a hazy third colour sometimes appearing. In One For Each Eye 4, I start to see a rainbow in the white space between the two rectangles. I cross my eyes slightly which enhances the perception of the rainbow down the central divide. There is no doubt that my engagement with these paintings has its own unique quality, akin to experimentation, triggered specifically by what the artist is doing with colour.

Installation shot, with works, from left to right, by Dominic Kennedy, Selma Parlour and Julian Wild

Installation view, with works, from left to right, by Dominic Kennedy, Selma Parlour and Julian Wild. Image courtesy of Fold Gallery

If the attention I give to Parlour’s paintings has this quasi-scientific quality, that doesn’t seem quite so appropriate for the Julian Wild sculptures, though here colour is also used, at least in part, to reveal aspects that might otherwise be hidden. I think it is the case that in both these sculptures the “inside” of the object is demarcated by colour and re-positioned so it is “outside”. In Peeled (2015), a wonderfully polished stainless steel bar, presented horizontally on the gallery floor, is divided down the middle at one end and one half of the divided section is bent upwards and out and coloured bright red, whereas in Himalayan Balsam (2013), a bright pink colour is used to explicate the inside and outside-ness of a vertical knotted steel bar.

In Dominic Kennedy’s painting Slowly Fading Forms (2016), colour perhaps does the opposite of what it does in Wild’s sculptures. In the Wild sculptures colour makes explicit, along the lines of “colour coding” but with a much stronger emphasis on sensation than any code might exhibit. In the Kennedy painting colour dissolves form, rays from a summer sun dazzling rather than revealing. The sun is represented in the top left hand corner of this near seven foot canvas. In the rest of the picture the sun’s rays meet dissembling forms, all held within a shallow near-cubist space that hints at deeper spatial recession in the top right hand quarter. Forms and rays of light merge so it’s difficult to differentiate the two. Colour describes form only long enough to depict its dissolution, even whilst materially constructed in oil paint, oil stick, crayon and pencil, with wood, felt and pins stuck on here and there, yellow felt strips making up a slim frame around the image. Here colour represents and symbolizes, or does it go only so far as to suggest or connote that ‘beneath’ the illusory appearance of solid forms, all of matter is sub atomic flux?

Martin Maloney, Studio Flowers #47, 2016, oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

Martin Maloney, Studio Flowers #47, 2016, oil on canvas, 76 x 61cm, image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

There is perhaps more description of appearances in Martin Maloney’s Studio Flowers #47, (2016), but this painting is by no means an observational study. A bowl of flowers is undoubtedly represented, but in semi symbolic style. Taking a cartoon impressionist approach to depiction, blobs of pink are flowers and red diagonal bars are stems, with green dashes for leaves, emerging from a terracotta semi circle that must be a plant pot and all against the blue/green of the studio wall that also pushes forwards spatially to interrupt the rhythm of the red bars and green dashes.  The naming of colours comes to mind, how certain colours are so associated with certain objects or experiences that each is named by the other: orange, sky-blue, lime, lilac, green grass, fuchsia pink etc.

James Alec Hardy creates video installations using obsolete analogue equipment from TV studios, displaying arrangements of monitors as symbolic motifs. Here 160804 comprises eighteen VGA monitors forming an S shape that produces a negative cross above the centre, showing the same images on each screen but rotated physically in that the monitors themselves are different ways up. The images are generated by setting up feedback loops with analogue video processors. Without the use of cameras, or external input, obsolete analogue broadcast and editing devices, are connected in sequence, and manipulated in real time. Jerky changes of colour and image in the video are the result of the artist’s hand manipulating the devices. A computer is used only to digitise the video for playback purposes. A progression of colour and shape presented simultaneously by each monitor, fractal like, coheres into an overall image whilst continually changing, like a kaleidoscope. As what’s presented changes the overall ‘mood’ changes; I have the feeling that sounds are involved but I am not hearing any. I could have this completely wrong, but the sense I have is of something approaching colour/sound synesthesia.

Mali Morris, Second Stradella, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 198 x 214 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

Mali Morris, Second Stradella, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 198 x 214 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist and Fold Gallery

The analogy with music is appropriate for many of the paintings here, and none more than Second Stradella (2016) by Mali Morris, even though only Hardy’s video installation shares with music the quality of being played over an actual time duration. Over six foot tall, not quite square, a grid of twenty rectangular colour cells taller than they are wide, some of which are divided by a curve creating two shapes of contrasting hue and seen together suggest a large circular shape competing with the grid formation, is the visual equivalent of a multiplicity of chords being sounded together. Yet all is not strictly simultaneous. Perceptual figure/ground shifts create change, movement and depth that are specifically two-dimensional. If one shape/colour stands out way in front of the others there must be quite a deep space here, but no sooner have I perceived it than it snaps back into its flat presentation, only then to make way for another cell, shape or gestalt to project outward or to recede. All this without the slightest hint of linear perspective. Not one of the colours here is the same as another, the curving pink triangles on the top row that look similar, are not identical. The one on the left is slightly darker, more saturated and shinier than the other. The blacks and whites are never actually black or white, and again none are precisely repeated. It is difficult to show this in a photograph but the two jade green/whites in the second row up are not the same colour, nor are any of the black/greys on that row. It’s difference within sameness and things never being quite as they seem that I become mindful of now.

The sameness in the exhibition is these artists involvement with colour, the differences are their particular approaches to it. The variety keeps me interested for longer than this lunch hour really allows.

Kaleidoscope is on show at Fold Gallery only until Saturday 27th August 2016!

Laurence Noga also writes about this show at the Saturation Point website

KALEIDOSCOPE

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exhibition-kaleidoscope

Curated by Dominic Beattie, KALEIDOSCOPE opens at FOLD Gallery London today, featuring  Dominic KennedyMali MorrisBridget RileyJulian WildJames Alec HardySelma ParlourMartin Maloney, seven artists who have each developed their own sense of the ‘right’ colour choice, liberating colour to stimulate and energise the viewer in radically different ways.

Though I won’t get there today, I do hope to see it, and write a review before it closes on Saturday 27th August 2016!

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.