abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘Simon Callery

At Lion and Lamb Gallery: Summer Saloon Show 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full list of artists included is as follows:

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

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


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.