patternsthatconnect

abstract art and systems thinking

Posts Tagged ‘The Indiscipline of Painting

Farewell Indiscipline

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Regular visitors to this blog will have noticed that I have been enjoying the exhibition The Indiscipline of Painting, International Abstraction from 1960 to now, that started out at Tate St Ives late in 2011 and moved to Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, in January 2012. Well, today is the final day of the show and bidding it farewell seems an opportune moment to reflect on what I got from visiting it many times.

The early Sean Scully painting East Coast Light 2, was a surprise to me. I like Scully’s work. especially the Wall of Light series, and that the earlier paintings look so very different to the more recent ones was more of a surprise than I expected. I was surprised by the surprise. I had read in Scully’s book Resistance and Persistence that this early work was “frankly illusionistic” and I saw a photograph of East Coast Light 2 in that book. But seeing it for real it is frankly illusionistic! much more so than in the reproduction. Seeing it here opposite the Bridget Riley Painting Cantus Firmus was interesting, as there are obvious connections and also differences. The space in the Scully is illusionistic in that it it opens up “inside” the painting, whereas Riley’s space is “outside”, between painting and viewer.

Sean Scully, East Coast Light 2, 1973, Courtesy of the artist and Neo Neo Inc.

Just down from the Scully, Karin Davie‘s lovely painting is highly gestural and though there is space “inside” or “behind” and “through” the gestural line, it is less illusionistic, much shallower than in East Light 2.

Karin Davie, Symptomania No 7, Image Courtesy of the artist

Richard Kirwan‘s painting Depth of Field seems also to be about what we might call “optical space”, a magnificent painting of the simplest motif repeated many times: an asterisk, possibly a reference to text and therefore to language and sign. Is our attention being brought to multiple footnotes? One of the experiences I have whilst viewing this, and many other paintings in this exhibition is the pure pleasure of seeing. Then my internal dialogue kicks in asking what it is that provokes that pleasure, seeking to ‘unpack’ it intellectually, to follow-up on the “footnotes”. So I read the catalogue, finding out more about the works and the patterns that connect them. At the gallery talk last Saturday with Bob Nickas and Alison Green (both who write in the catalogue), Alison Green commented on the many “back stories” of these paintings suggesting that the pleasure of looking at art includes learning those stories, and that it is not a solely visual experience. I think she is right about that, even though looking without knowing is immensely pleasurable. There seems something very playful about being amazed at how the asterisks seem to rotate. When you have seen the painting before you know it is going to happen but you are still thrilled by it when it does!

Richard Kirwan, Depth of Field, 2011, Copyright the artist / Galerie Hollenbach Stuttgar & Zurich

No Other Home by Daniel Sturgis, the artist who selected the work for this show, has a similar optical buzz, only more so. As I look, I notice my breathing change, almost a sigh, that seems to signal a change of state. Exhaling, my shoulders relax and I ‘take in’ the painting, puzzled by its structure and almost laughing when those chequer patterns seem to dance. Then I get fascinated by the blue discs, and getting up close I just cannot tell whether, for example, the disc on the right looking like it is balanced dangerously close to a cliff edge, and the other one slightly further in (almost immediately left), are the same physical colour, the surrounding colours making them look quite different to each other, or whether in fact they are mixed as different colours. However many times I step nearer and further away from the painting I am unable to verify which it is, though I suspect the former (and later, asking the artist, he confirms it).

Dan Sturgis, No Other Home, 2011, Courtesy of the artist / Galerie Hollenbach Stuttgar & Zurich

At the gallery talk Bob Nickas likened abstract painting to the Hitchcock film The Trouble With Harry, about a dead body that is discovered, hidden, buried, dug up and rediscovered etc, the trouble being that it just “won’t stay dead”. Painting, and specifically abstraction, have been pronounced dead umpteen times but the discipline (or rather the indiscipline, its status being highly contingent) just won’t stay dead.

This show, with 49 artists represented, gives me 49 reasons to continue making abstract paintings, or I learn 49 ways to do abstract painting now that it is dead, or I get to see 49 responses to what to do with abstract painting since its demise: possibly three ways of saying the same thing.

Sarah Shalgosky, Curator, University of Warwick, in her guided tour of this exhibition suggested that it was a “walk through the mind of Daniel Sturgis” and she also said that in bringing these works together they wanted us to have “visual fun”. Judging from the numerous conversations I have had with people at the gallery since the opening night, I am sure that I am not the only one for whom this goal was amply met.

Alex Hubbard “Horse Camp No. 1”

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At The Indiscipline of Painting show at Mead Gallery I am finding that it is the works that didn’t necessarily grab me on first viewing that I am becoming more and more fascinated with, now that I have been to see the show a few times. By the way, this exhibition can take many visits and still have lots more to give. If you’ve only been the once, go again! If you haven’t yet been, it’s on until 10 March 2012. If you just cannot get there at all then the catalogue is excellent.

Alex Hubbard, Horse Camp No. 1, Image courtesy of Simon Lee Gallery

Alex Hubbard is possibly known more for video and performance than for painting (?) and seeing the videos does seem to shed light on the painting as it is less a visual investigation, more a product of a performance. It looks like the horse-shoe/’C’ shapes were sprayed repeatedly at random through a stencil onto a yellow ground, the stencil eventually breaking down from overwork. Made horizontally (some of Hubbard’s videos have the appearance of tabletop paintings, reminding me of Leo Steinberg’s “flatbed picture plane“), a layer of fibreglass has been added, and coloured resin has been pushed into it, apparently you get about 30 minutes to do this before the resin dries. Hubbard has said elsewhere that

The mechanics of me pushing resin into the fiberglass before it dries becomes the gesture, one that looks painterly but is borrowed from the labor of making the thing.

Written by Andy Parkinson

February 14, 2012 at 8:45 am

Waltz, Quickstep, Mondrian and the Endurance of Abstraction

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Mondrian, a keen social dancer, disliked the Waltz. It was romantic, emotional, and the rise and fall and sway seemed to denote the curved line. He preferred the Foxtrot and the rhythms and figures that would later become the Quickstep, modern, all straight lines, abrupt changes of direction, obtuse angles and speed. I could imagine that some social dancers like Mondrian might have expected the new dances to replace the Waltz for ever. However, rather than one replacing another they all carried on being danced, side by side, as it were. Today, no longer new, the Modern Waltz, Modern Foxtrot etc continue to be danced.

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) Composition C (no.III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935 Oil on canvas, 56.2 x 55.1 cm Private collection, on loan to Tate © 2012 Mondrian/ Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International Washington DC

At the time (not long before Mondrian was in London painting, and dancing, with the Nicholson/Hepworth crowd),  I wonder if it could have seemed like abstraction might replace figurative painting. Now in the modern ‘modern world’ (metamodern possibly), both remain whilst newer art forms than painting are dominant. Like ballroom dancing, painting continues alongside more contemporary practices, and within the (in)discipline of painting representation and abstraction co-exist.

At the Indiscipline of Painting  exhibition at the Mead Gallery some of the abstract paintings on show question the relationship between abstraction and representation. The show as a whole explores the endurance of abstraction (arguably Mondrian’s invention), specifically concentrating on international abstract painting since the sixties. There is an international element to another abstract painting exhibition that opens in February: Mondrian//Nicholson in Parallel at the Courtauld Gallery where the relationship between the these two artists and their work is the theme. For a few weeks the Courtauld exhibition and the Mead Gallery exhibition will be showing in parallel, a short train journey apart.

Seeing them in parallel may give us a detailed view of abstraction since its early days, what has happened and what is now happening to it, especially now that we no longer think of the adventure in terms of linear progression.

At the Indiscipline show, Bernard Frize’s wonderful painting for example, has little continuity with Mondrian, other than its abstractness, neither in the way it looks nor in its attitude.

Bernard Frize, Suite Segond 100 no 3, 1980, Alkyd Urethane lacquer on canvas162 x 130 cmCollection of the artist, courtesy Simon Lee Gallery, London

Has Mondrian’s utopian purity been replaced by its opposite? Instead of painstaking corrections in the search for harmony we have a chance placing of colours skimmed from the top of the paint cans. Mondrian’s dislike of the curve was not shared by other early abstractionists, for Nicholson the circle starts to look like an image of purity, but not here. For Frize it even has a referent, the paint can. Also, long gone is the insistence on red yellow and blue with black and white, and whereas Mondrian and Nicholson thought of their art as ‘spiritual’ and somewhat lofty, Frize’s seems entirely ‘material’ and approaching the trivial. It is matter of fact, mechanical perhaps, yet not quite resigned or cynical. I still have the sense of searching, discovery and playfulness (or possibly gamefulness) that seems to me to be part of what makes abstraction continually new, interesting and endurable. In ballroom dancing, though the steps and figures of each dance were invented long ago, their repetition in each new performance continues to demonstrate the impossibility of repetition. Though I have heard it said that the ‘language’ of abstraction has now been invented, it is still very much alive.

Mondrian//Nicholson in Parallel is showing from 16 February 2012 to 20 May 2012, and The Indiscipline of Painting is at the Mead Gallery until 10 March 2012.

Abstract portraits?

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Dan Coombs has suggested that the abstract paintings of Tomma Abts are better understood “not so much as material objects in the abstract painting tradition but as surrogate people with their own personalities. Each painting is a portrait …of something that does not yet exist[1]“. Seeing the Tomma Abts painting at The Indiscipline of painting exhibition at the Mead Gallery, I was reminded of Coombs’ article. The painting is entitled Thiale, a first name I believe. The format looks like a portrait as does its size (48cm x 38cm).

Tomma Abts, Thiale, 2004, Courtesy of greengrassi, London

It draws us in for closer inspection, I mean for us to inspect the painting, not the other way around, though who knows, maybe whilst I am studying it, it is also studying me? And studying is the mode of viewing that it seems to elicit. Some of the other paintings in the show need to be simply enjoyed, breathed in almost, but not this one; it seems to require close attention or study. And studying it slowly reveals the slowness of its making as evidence of corrections and underpainting becomes apparent.

It isn’t the only ‘portrait’ here. There is also the much larger scale work by Moira Dyer entitled The Vanishing Self-Portrait. There is underpainting of sorts in this one, but hardly in the sense of ‘corrections’. In the Tomma Abts I get the sense of painstaking application and revision, until the ‘correct’ form is arrived at. The Moira Dyer seems more about following a pre-determined course, and quickly. Painted in 1990, only two years before she died at the age of 34, it is balanced on a small tree trunk, rather than hanging on the wall. I could imagine it having been painted right there, the lateral brush strokes in a pale blue/grey with a slightly bluer frame painted around the edge with one blue paint run on the left hand side, that has been allowed to follow its course almost to the bottom edge. The paint looks like it was erased rather than applied, the erasing of an image of the artist perhaps, yet the brush strokes and the dimensions attesting to the artists presence, and body. She was here, and this ‘image’ is what is left of her performance, the record of it hasn’t vanished.

And in looking at these abstract portraits I am reminded of the Clare Woods exhibition at Hepworth Wakefield: The Unquiet Head, showing until 29 January. As well as the large abstract landscapes, which themselves allude to figures in rock formations, there are some smaller works of rocks that are specifically presented as portraits, a series of Idol heads. And then there is a small painting on aluminium entitled Hollow Face, a portrait ‘read into’ the negative space, a hole, or a clearing, in a hedge or some shrubs.

Clare Wood, Hollow Face, (my photo)

This also vanishes, if ever it was there, or only there because we see the absence as a presence and see in that a face. The painting is already there in ‘nature’ but always only inside the imagination, a portrait of something that is both there and not there at the same time, a visual metaphor perhaps. The Moira Dryer portrait is of an event, a performance that once took place, now a nominalisation, whereas the Abts portrait is of a ‘personality’ that exists only because it has been painted into existence.

The Indiscipline of Painting: International Abstraction from 1960 to Now is showing at Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, until 10 March 2012.

The Unquiet Head is showing at Hepworth Wakefield until 29 January 2012


[1] Tomma Abts by Dan Coombs in Turps Banana, Issue Ten

The Indiscipline of Enjoyment

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This weekend The Indiscipline of Painting exhibition moved from Tate St Ives to Mead Gallery, a mere 120 mile round trip for me, so, after all the anticipation, I finally got to see it (well, not finally because I will be visiting many times between now and when it closes in March).

At the opening party a crowd of us had gathered before the doors were swung back at 6.30 on the dot and in we poured, seeing first the unmistakable Frank Stella painting Hyena Stomp and the gigantic Keith Coventry England 1938 (1994 -2011), as if to make the point that the show would feature international abstraction from the sixties to now.

I turned left, seeing the show ‘backwards way round’ gazing with dropped jaw at the brilliant Brillian Xanthinus Arborexcans by John Armleder, Primalon Ballroom by Mary Heilman, and finding my breath taken by Peter Davies’ Small Touching Squares Painting, reminiscent in its effect of a huge Seurat: the grandest scale made up of tiny dots, or in Davies’ case tiny squares, creating a massive ripple, a gesturless gesture.

Thinking of dots, the painting that I may have looked at longest, and over which I had a conversation with a small band of Italian students, was #16 – 1968 (Dot Painting) by Peter Young.

Peter Young, #16 - 1968 (Dot Painting), 1968, Courtesy of Kunstmuseum St Gallen, Formal collection Rolf Ricke

Unlike Seurat’s dots these do not combine to create an image, nor are they of differing colours that mix optically. Instead they are the same dark (black, I think) colour arranged so they are more or less of equal distance from each other, on a ground of white over pinks greens yellows and blues. Whilst the colours are perceived as shifting after-images, my eye cannot but trace circular patterns in the dots, moving and bending and not quite forming. I become aware in viewing it that I am actively participating in its construction, which I experience as playful enjoyment especially when for a few moments I turn off the dialogue (both external and internal) and simply look. Once the dialogue returns I have moved from thinking about what kind of painting it is to what kind of world this is that I actively construct even whilst appearing to passively observe.

Opticality seems an important sub plot in this show, and its’ not just the Peter Young or the stunning Cantus Firmus by Bridget Riley that I have in mind, there is also the early Sean Scully painting East Coast Light 2, the pulsating Auditorium by Dan Walsh, Depth of Field by Richard Kirwan, as well as the strangely photographic Flirt by Jane Harris and Untitled (fold) by Tauba Auerbach. Above all there is No Other Home by Daniel Sturgis who selected the paintings in this show.

Daniel Sturgis, No Other Home, 2011, Courtesy of the artist / Gallerie Holenbach Stuttgar & Zurich

The carefully painted chequer patterns have an optical charge all of their own and the fact that the two central layers one stacked upon the other are misaligned creates further visual excitation. The shallow space fluctuates and bends, partly as a result of the pattern and partly as a result of the colour. Even the space between viewer and painting seems animated as if the action truly resides in that optical place. Multiple experiences of visuality seem stacked in much the same way as the coloured or patterned bands in the painting are stacked one upon the other. The effect for me is slightly trance inducing leading to that enjoyable feeling of engaged relaxation. You could almost say that these are experiences that have no other home than in that odd discipline called painting, and specifically abstraction.

One painting here has no other home than Mead gallery, painted directly onto the wall by Francis Baudevin The Only Truth samples the cover for Paul Haig’s 12″ single of the same title.

Francis Baudevin, The Only Truth, 2010, Courtesy of Mead Gallery

“The title of the show The Indiscipline of Painting is a contradiction” said a woman standing next to me as we looked at the Baudevin “because these paintings are very disciplined aren’t they?” I agreed and I asked her if she was used to looking at paintings. She was not, having been invited along by a friend. She was clearly enjoying it, itself an indisciplined kind of discipline.

The Indiscipline of Painting: International Abstraction from 1960 to Now is showing at Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, until 10 March 2012.

The discipline of the indiscipline

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Very soon The Indiscipline of Painting exhibition comes to the Mead Gallery at the University of Warwick. Photos of the installation process can already be seen on the Mead Gallery Facebook page (they kindly said I could include one here).

It takes some discipline to get a show like this together!

Featuring work by 41 abstract painters from the sixties to now, it starts on 14 January 2012 and runs until 10 March 2012. As well as seeing the show you can also book a tour of the abstract paintings in the University of Warwick collection, attend a talk by Daniel Sturgis artist and curator of the show and join a symposium for an in-depth discussion of the origins and endurance of abstraction.

Written by Andy Parkinson

January 9, 2012 at 8:45 am

The Indiscipline of Painting at Mead Gallery in January 2012

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I am exercising self discipline resisting the urge to look in the exhibition catalogue for The Indiscipline of Painting that I saw in Waterstones, and bought and asked my kids to wrap up for me as a Christmas Present.

I had hoped to go and see the show at Tate St Ives, before then seeing it in Coventry at the Mead Gallery in Warwick Arts Centre, but St Ives is a long way, so I will wait until 13 January and see it for the first time at Mead Gallery. It is on until 10 March 2012, and it is near enough for me to see it once a week if I choose to do so (and I may well do)!

Warwick Arts Centre is part of Warwick University, and I had no idea that they had a collection of colour-field abstract paintings which are on display across the campus. I have booked a tour.

It’s only recently that I have been admitting my interest in colour field abstraction now that I am so unfashionable myself that I have given up caring about what is in or out of fashion.

There’s a bar in Nottingham called ‘Fashion’ and I used to like stepping into it and out of it saying “now I am in fashion” and “now I am out of fashion” (childish I know). It was the oscillating between positions that was so enjoyable.

Written by Andy Parkinson

December 22, 2011 at 8:45 am