JOHN TAYLOR: ABSTRACT VOICES

JT - Gallery Window 2018

ABSTRACT VOICES

Jeannie Avent Gallery, East Dulwich

 

There’s a certain persuasion about digital platforms. Despite their omnipresence and commonplace presence in our everyday lives, the prevalence of images on-line still gain some sort of elevated credence. Our computers and other digital devices place virtual galleries in our hands.

I first discovered John Taylor’s work on Instagram (or was it Twitter?) last year and have followed his work with increasing interest. Little more than a week ago a tweet alerted me to his latest exhibition and, even on an iPhone screen, where the diminutive 9X5cm portal presented a 5X5cm image, I was especially struck by the combination of abstract, minimalist compositions in ‘Nine Collages’. This was the necessary bait to coax me along to the Jeannie Avent Gallery.

JT - Nine Collages 26.5X21.5cm each Acrylic & card on board
John Taylor – ‘Nine Collages’ (26.5X21.5cm each). Acrylic and card on board.

In this small but light and uncluttered gallery space (just the one room of a former corner shop) these works that I initially sought out lived up to my expectations. Seeing and experiencing the ‘real thing’ was even more satisfying than the initial digital representation, particularly in the context of the exhibition that was something of a mini-retrospective. The ‘Geometric Incidents’ that make up ‘Nine Collages’ are relatively small works, but they combine perfectly in this grid-like configuration (maybe four would work fine as well, but 12 would be too many). As they are so small there’s a suggestion of intimacy in these collages. Initially, the implied spatial play is confined and locked-in, but after a while the flat colour-forms take on a teasingly monumental impact and reveal a more expansive, architectural sense of structure that suggests asymmetrical order in apparent arbitrariness. The shapely and geometric forms in these collages could have been a pared down version of a number of the more complex works on show that do not deny, but celebrate, some indebtedness to Ben Nicholson and the abstract wing of the St.Ives School.

JT - Sense of Occasion 40X50cm collage & acrylic on canvas
John Taylor – ‘Sense of Occasion’ (40X50cm) Collage and acrylic on canvas.

For example ‘Sense of Occasion’ features a modernist exploration of space on the picture plane. In this instance the visual play is typically both contained and fixed but with indications of a larger scaled environment of planar forms. There is enough information to suggest an interior arrangement on a tabletop and an airy opening (on the right hand side) where the grey forms bring in breathing space for the viewer’s imagination. A central window or mirror-type rectangle might suggest a head and shoulders – or a large goblet or other vessel. It probably doesn’t matter which, but this virtual and implicit content humanises the potentially anonymous abstract configurations.

JT - After Barcelona 34X41cm Acrylic & collage on card
John Taylor – ‘After Barcelona’ (34X41cm) Acrylic and collage on board.

In another work, ‘After Barcelona’, these interspatial collusions also reveal Taylor’s predilection for a spatial harmonics that, through restraint and clarity, speaks quietly, though insistently. The constrained and limited palette of colour combinations is carefully juxtaposed (rather than undermined) by mildly surprising colour appearances. In this composition the light blue vertical strip, with a wavy edge, evoked my own abstracted memory of Barceloneta; and the brown structures suggested the tight alleyway spaces and tiled roofs of the Gothic Quarter. Or maybe there are suggestions of wooden furniture or tables in a small bar. This Hodgkinesque response, triggered by both the composition and the title, demonstrates that the personal is transferable, yet inevitably transformable.

On further reflection, particularly with access to this imagery after leaving the exhibition (another plus point with regard to digital reproductions), further looking and contemplation of Taylor’s paintings and collages confirms his talent for creating visual harmony. Interestingly, there is also a subtle sense of melancholia (ennui is too strong a term). Is there a positive, or amiable, form of melancholy? Are these the Abstract Voices alluded to in the title of the show? The works will have to speak for themselves, through the filters of the viewer’s personal experiences. Emotional responses to people and places have not only made the work – but are passed on.

Geoff Hands

All images © John Taylor.

LINKS

“The ongoing development of my work continues as I constantly revisit, revise and explore abstraction. In my most recent works I have allowed my paintings to become their own voice.  Simple shapes are used in a very simplified or modernist way. 
I believe that by following my emotional response to the process of abstraction I am responding most genuinely to myself and my integrity as the artist. This is a challenging and sensitive process, a process with which I feel an increasingly emotional and confident connection.”

http://www.johntaylorpaintings.com

Additional images and information also on-line at:

http://www.rowleygallery.com/Artist-John-Taylor.aspx

and

https://www.jpartconsultancy.com/artists

An interview with the 650mAh curators

650mAh
Tabitha Steinberg and Ella Fleck are the co-curators of ‘Sorry I haven’t been’. After the successful opening I emailed the following questions to them:
Did you choose Brighton (Hove, actually) for any particular reason?

Brighton has a vast artist community that we were excited to engage with in a new way. We knew we wanted to do something in an untraditional gallery environment. We wanted to engage with the problems traditional art spaces are facing today and look at how we can work around that in a productive and critical way. We were lucky in being able to approach a friend who owns a vape business based in Brighton and ask if he would be interested in housing our gallery and he was. We’re very happy to be engaging in contemporary art outside London and it’s great that more contemporary art spaces are opening around the UK. There are also lots of galleries opening in coastal cities/towns – in Margate, Newgate Gap (which is in a Victorian toilet block on the beach) will open next year and Maureen Paley’s summer space Morena di Luna is just around the corner from us in Hove. Brighton also offers a very open perspective which is welcoming to artists with more experimental practices and ideas –  something we always support. There’s a sentimentality for both of us as well as we have had family here and spent a lot of time here as children. One of us (Tabitha) also studied at Sussex University. 

 
How did you locate the Mist Vape shop – it’s an unusual location for a gallery space?

As we say, a friend owns Mist and we were very fortunate that he was interested in our project. We see the fact that it’s located inside another business as a positive rather than a hindrance (which you can probably tell from the vape heavy design on our website). Of course, we’re trying to work around the lack of available space (especially in London) today but we’re also really into the unusual collaboration between this commercial business and our non-profit space. The vaping business is a really current phenomenon and it is interesting to see how such a contemporary business interacts with contemporary art. It raises questions about how art functions today, in terms of commerciality and commodity and how adaptive art and artists must be.

Do you have plans to organise more exhibitions in Brighton & Hove (and/or elsewhere)?

Yes. Currently, we are situated inside Mist Vape Shop for the foreseeable future and have an ongoing programme. Our current show with Jack Lavender closes on 16 March. We can’t say too much yet but our second show will open around the beginning of April and will be a group show of artists working at an intersection between art, clothing and fashion.

I first became aware of Jack Lavender’s work in Cura magazine in 2014; and later saw his work at Frieze London (2016) and his work clearly has a spirit of experimentation. Are there new developments in Jack’s work on display in this show?

Jack has always worked with sound, collage, drawing and found objects but in Sorry I haven’t been he has really pushed this into more of an installation rather than individual works – something he has not really done before. He has used his materials to construct an environment. Many of the themes are carried over from ongoing ideas in his practice, like objects imbued with memory, souvenirs and junk and this weird sense of spirituality that comes from such things. In 650mAh, he has constructed a space where you feel both like you’re looking into the future and looking back at the past and though this sense is similar to his show at BALTIC, the execution is totally different and new. He has also collaborated with Dul Fin Wah to make a full soundtrack for the exhibition which he has not done before. We always encourage experimentation in whoever we are working with. It was very natural for us to open with Jack as much of his work and aesthetic interests overlap with the aesthetics of the vape shop.

How would you describe the relationship between Jack’s visual content and audio collaborator, Dul Fin Wah’s sound pieces?
Jack and Dul Fin talked a lot about the installation and what type of feeling they wanted to have in the space in relation to ideas of memory and dreams. They discussed how a car could function as a vehicle to retrieve lost memories. Some of those conversations happened in a car. While it was important to have conversations around the themes of the show, Jack wanted Dul Fin to be able to take these ideas and generate something without limitations.
So the artwork is a catalyst for the soundscape?
We wouldn’t say that the soundtrack and Jack’s objects are separate from each other. They are more parts of the same thing. It’s the relationship between the physical work Jack has made and the audio work Dul Fin has made that make Sorry I haven’t been.

Coming from left-field: The future for the arts, in a broad sense, seems to be one that will specify and encourage more collaboration and cross-over between forms of expression and individuals. Maybe in line with positive notions of free access (including non-gallery spaces) and a meltdown of power-based hierarchies in a Post-Capitalist reaction to the Neo-Liberal agendas of the so-called free-West. Does this strike a chord for 650mAh?

We think it’s striking a chord with everyone currently but it’s another question as to whether anyone knows what to do about it. We’re being told that everything’s in turmoil (especially in the UK) but who knows what all of this will mean in 20, 50 or even 100 years? We’re not sure about the meltdown of power-based hierarchies – in actuality, is this happening at all? We guess cryptocurrency is the most likely way out towards free access and decentralisation but so was the Internet. 

Well, we live in exciting times! Thank you – I look forward to the next show at the Mist Vape Shop.

 

 

 

Jack Lavender
Sorry I haven’t been 
20 January – 16 March 2018 
www.650mah.com/sorry-i-havent-been.html
650mAh
Mist Vape Shop
41 Western Road
Hove, BN3 1JD
Instagram – @650mahhhhhhhhhh

JACK LAVENDER: Sorry I haven’t been

650mAh Project Space

Mist Vape Shop, 41 Western Road, Hove, BN3 1JD

20 January to 16 March 2018

004 - JL

Walk from Brighton into Hove. Enter the Mist Vape Shop. Edge carefully through the throng of guests – are they here for the show, the vapes or the beer? Continue to the back of the room, turn the silver handle, push open the door and enter the exhibition.

What might you expect?

Is this a carport or a funeral parlor? A shrouded form, about the size of a small charabanc, takes up most of the floor space. Is it really a car? A waterproof, protective car protector covers the squarish, stolid form. Nothing moves, but it does not look heavy or monumental. A sheath of sorts creates a sense of mystery – but it has a feeling of commonplaceness about it. The perverse pleasure of not lifting the sheet to see what’s underneath overpowers any attempt to take a peep. Strange contradiction.

003 - JL

At each end of the greyish form two vaguely eye-like slits might be considered as a sad and a happy cartoon face. From the world of theatre it’s comedy (Thalia) and tragedy (Melpomene). Both were daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. The latter was (is?) the Greek Goddess of Memory. Have we met before?

Standing on top is a singular, thin Chinese figurine. He’s certainly not Greek – but appears ancient nonetheless. Is this a shrine? He is anonymous, but strangely sentinel. He has authority. People giggle.

Around the form that is approached with an attitude of unexpected awe, the air is coloured purple and is comfortingly atmospheric. The LED monochrome light source from the floor produces a deep violet to lavender, misty dreamscape. The space around the form is rendered airy and cushion-like. It’s an eternal dawn or an evening twilight.

006 - JL

An ambient soundtrack created by audio collaborator Dul Fin Wah! emanates from the centerpiece of the installation. What we see, hear and feel is one integrated whole.

Are memories dream-like?

The artist Jack Lavender is here; along with Tabitha Steinberg and Ella Fleck the co-curators. We’ll talk later – I want to form my own interpretation of this event. But I don’t want to understand. I want to take a ride: destination unknown.

Sorry I haven’t been? Pleased I went.

Geoff Hands (20 September, 2018)

001 - 650mAh Flyer.jpg

Links –

See more of Jack Lavender’s work at: https://theapproach.co.uk/artists/jack-lavender/images/

Hear Dul Fin Wah! on: https://soundcloud.com/dul-fin-wah

 

PHOENIX RISING

Preview for

H-A-R-D-P-A-I-N-T-I-N-G

at Phoenix Brighton

10-14 Waterloo Place, Brighton BN2 9NB

Preview night: 12 January 2018
Open: 13 January to 11 February (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays)
001 - Phoenix front - photo by M Stoakes
Phoenix Brighton (Photo – Mike Stoakes)

In preparation for writing a review of the H-A-R-D-P-A-I-N-T-I-N-G exhibition at the Phoenix gallery in Brighton, Ian Boutell allowed me a sneak preview of the some of the work as it was being arranged for display. As might be expected there was still much to do just four days before the opening event, but the essential decisions on placement of the many works had already been decided after a couple of days of ‘tweaking’. The signs were good for what might prove to be one of the visual arts highlights of 2018 in Brighton as good quality, contemporary painting is lacking a regular stage in the city.

Habitual visitors to Phoenix Brighton will probably be well aware of its history since it was established by a group of artists in 1992 with the primary aim of providing low cost studio space. Today the Phoenix has charitable status and is the largest artist run space in the South East of England, providing workspace and opportunities to share experiences for over 100 hundred local artists, designers and craftspeople. Situated near St. Peter’s Church, barely ten minutes walk from the beach (to the south) and a little closer to the main rail station, Phoenix Brighton provides studio spaces, short-term project space for community groups and supports a gallery and education programme. This brings together professional artists and the general public in a friendly and creative environment – but even more is being done to forge additional and meaningful associations.

Although well known as one of the major visual arts venues in the city (in addition to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Fabrica, ONCA, Coachwerks in Hollingdean and the University of Brighton, Faculty of Arts in Grand Parade) in many ways, the Phoenix Brighton is still an evolving institution with huge potential. With a view to taking the organisation to another level, last year the trustees appointed Sarah Davies as Executive Director to develop the range and scope of existing resources and to further develop a well-established public profile. This will clearly be a demanding task, but various developments (including the Exhibition, Spotlight and Forum programmes) are already enabling the Phoenix to engage the resident artists and visiting arts professionals with positive public engagement, enabling the charity to maintain one of its central aims.

002 - Ian Boutell – Composition 1, Hazard tape on board, 20cm x 20cm
Ian Boutell

For example, H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G will link the Exhibitions programme to the now regular Spotlight initiative in which Phoenix artists showcase their work and professional practice with opportunities for the public (and the other resident artists) to ask questions about any aspect from the daily life of the artist (thereby demystifying any pre-conceptions) and the conceptual basis of their work. The next Spotlight will be based around a tour of the show with five of the exhibiting artists: Ian Boutell, Philip Cole, Stig Evans, Johanna Melvin and Patrick O’Donnell. The artists have advertised that they will be discussing their practical working processes and what motivates the creation of their work, as well as exploring shared themes and affinities as painters. The selection of work will, in effect, aim to provide a visual forum for a wide-ranging and potentially rigorous dialogue around what might be considered as ‘non-expressionistic’ (or ‘controlled-gestural’?) abstract painting. We shall also see if the ‘show and tell’ session raises questions, and provides answers however tentative, concerning the continuation (some might say, re-emergence) of abstract painting vis-à-vis the pluralistic range of media and formats in contemporary art – or even of the so-called ‘death of painting’. At least that’s my assumption.

009 - Stig Evans - Ravished-image-ultra_420
Stig Evans

Interestingly, in H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G the temptation to exclusively show work by Phoenix artists alone has been avoided by inviting three other participants. Of particular interest for followers of hard-edge abstraction is Tess Jaray RA, who is represented by Karsten Schubert in London. There will just be one of Jaray’s works on show (a screenprint, ‘Minuet’ from 1967, which was at the framers when I visited), which I am expecting to provide an historical touchstone for the exhibition – despite not being a painting. The two other guests are London-based, Johanna Melvin and John Bunker. Melvin is primarily a painter (with a printmaking background), whilst Bunker works in a collage process with painted and printed papers and other materials. I do not know if there is an agenda here, but future collaborations with similar institutions around the country are possible – or even further afield if the Brexit decision plays out as less negative and narrow minded as it appears.

012 - John Bunker
John Bunker

I briefly mentioned the Forum events above, and linking this exhibition to a recent Phoenix event was the Curating: a Concept in Transition forum. This was a day formed of presentations, group discussion and debate, “…designed to explore the new possibilities that emerge when artists, researchers, curators, educators and their publics join forces to examine and re-specify what a gallery can be, what an artist is and how the borders between curating and creating might be tested and stretched.” (See link below.)

The four resident artists/curators in H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G (Ian Boutell, Philip Cole, Stig Evans and Patrick O’Donnell) have demonstrated, in a small but meaningful way, that distinctions between creating and curating are now overlapping. This is not unusual nowadays as curatorial practice merges with studio practice as two aspects of a contemporary artist’s life. Undoubtedly there will be many reasons for this, including limited access to commercial gallery opportunities; the influence of professional practice educational imperatives in higher education; and an inherent social-engagement agenda that motivates artists to share their practice in a positive community spirit that runs counter to some negative aspects of modern life. They also provide evidence (as if it was needed) that a range of professional expertise exists within the Phoenix studios that will, undoubtedly, continue to be nurtured by the Phoenix as an institution, which has the potential to lead the showcasing of contemporary visual arts in the city, not just for a local audience but for the many visitors who visit this unique coastal resort.

007 - Ian Boutell
Ian Boutell

To quote David Garcia (Vice Chair of Phoenix trustees), this show should go some way to supporting the current aims of the “Phoenix (as) an organisation in transition… Phoenix wants to think again about how we programme and use the gallery… The more recent shift in the role of curator will influence programming too, curating itself has become democratised, everyone is able to engage with personal curation projects such as ‘curating’ their Facebook page, also the function of the artist in relation to a curator should be explored.”

015 - Patrick ODonnell
Patrick O’Donnell

Well, here’s the exploration – not only of curating but also of painting – which is better than any digital or virtual format. H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G is the real thing, and I very much look forward to reviewing the exhibition for Abcrit after it opens. (Link below.)

Hard+Painting+eflyer

 

ABCRIT REVIEW

https://abcrit.org/2018/01/20/93-geoff-hands-writes-on-h_a_r_d_p_a_i_n_t_i_n_g-at-pheonix-brighton/

Abcrit 93

SPOTLIGHT
Monday 22 January, 6:30 – 8: 30 pm (doors open at 6 for drinks). Free, please email sarah@phoenixbrighton.org to book your place.

Spotlight-Jan22

 

LINKS TO EXHIBITORS:

Phillip Cole

004 - Philip Cole
Philip Cole

Stig Evans 

008 - Stig Evans
Stig Evans

Patrick O’Donnell

020 - Patrick ODonnell
Patrick O’Donnell

John Bunker

014 - John Bunker
John Bunker

Johanna Melvin

024 - Johanna Melvin
Johanna Melvin

Tess Jaray

 

 

LINKS TO GALLERIES/ORGANISATIONS:

Phoenix Brighton

https://www.phoenixbrighton.org

https://www.phoenixbrighton.org/events/forum-curating-a-concept-in-transition-2/

University of Brighton

http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/whats-on/university-gallery

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/brighton/

Fabrica

https://www.fabrica.org.uk

ONCA

https://onca.org.uk

Coachwerks

http://coachwerks.org/gallery/

Karsten Schubert

http://www.karstenschubert.com/artists/74-tess-jaray/works/

Abcrit

https://abcrit.org/category/geoff-hands/

 

 

 

WHERE ARE WE NOW? Uwe Henneken: The Teachings of the Transhistorical Flamingo

At Pippy Houldsworth, Heddon Street, London.

(From 8 September to 21 October 2017)

All images, ‘Courtesy the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery’.

Uwe Henneken_The teachings_2017_Pippy Houldsworth Gallery_Installation (3)_300dpi
Uwe Henneken at Pippy Houldsworth – Installation shot.

The last time an extraterrestrial was spotted in Heddon Street, Ziggy Stardust had arrived from Mars. It was 1972 and the hippy-trippy ‘60s were well gone. But, where the imagination was required, Sci-Fi (even when glammed up for rock ‘n’ roll) was still creating a futuristic mythology for audiences and the promises of other lands were appealing, if only someone might lead us there. Escapism, perhaps, but visual artists and writers (poets and story tellers especially) have always enlisted and augmented their imaginations to extend the boundaries of the sensible and balanced mind-set. Historically, this is the role of the Shaman in a multitude of guises and cultures and the notion of a purely rational consciousness is surely too much of a limitation to account for the scope of the mind.

Enter: Uwe Henneken. In reviews from previous shows, and from the press release for this exhibition at Pippy Houldsworth, much has been said of the shamanistic nature of Henneken’s fictive world of diverse characters and settings. His first solo show in London presents eight canvases, all completed this year. Entitled, The Teachings of the Transhistorical Flamingo, the exhibition showcases deceptively challenging imagery for his expanding audience. The work offers fascinating portals into a strangely familiar world – but where the inhabitants are out of the ordinary. Henneken’s troupe of exotic, cartoon-like or flamboyant beings, some glowing with inner energies, seems to either beckon the viewer, or a second character in the painting. The relationship of the viewer to the imagery is either one of invitation to imagine, perhaps in a dream-like state; or to encourage and provoke a more probing desire to make sense of the evidence presented.

Henneken_A Lesson in Polarity_2017_H8755_300dpi
Uwe Henneken – ‘A Lesson in Polarity’ (2017)

Displayed slightly away from the central space of the gallery, but seen first on entering the exhibition, is ‘A History Lesson in Polarity’. This is the only landscape format canvas in the show and Henneken’s influences may have been affected by Paul Gauguin’s paintings, such is the sense of synthétisme in the implied narrative and settings. For example, at least three characters are subsumed into this rocky landscape (others are suggested with some sketchy use of pencil and paintbrush) and the figures and the environment merge as one undifferentiated fiction. Looking for something to make sense of, the animal on the left suggests The Lion King atop a rocky prominence, but the translucently white, big-eared creature opposite stares as if mesmerised. Overlaying the horizon line that might depict a raised escarpment, the young girl who will reappear in other paintings floats above an orange shape that might depict a field or a drawing of a bison from an ancient cave painting at Altamira. I don’t really have a clue – because the clues don’t add up. The lesson is a process, not a definitive statement of facts. Dream on.

As in the paintings that follow, the more you look the weirder it gets as a sense of initial comprehension is undermined by the various characters and beings who occupy these external spaces. A glance at the works before investigating close up immediately reveals a variety of environments. The inhabitants give them a narrative function integrated with the figures – even though these meanings might be unfathomable or deliberately open to interpretation. The various backdrops might be recognisable from personal experience (holidays abroad perhaps) because the scenery is not so otherworldly: starry night skies, mountainous vistas, rocky desert outcrops, and woodland or forest environments are earthly delights. These places provide the kind of theatrical or cinematic settings that we find in classic fairy tale illustrations from the past and popular, animated, children’s films for a more screen-engaged audience today.

Uwe Henneken_The teachings_2017_Pippy Houldsworth Gallery_Installation (5)_300dpi
Uwe Henneken – ‘Kin’ and ‘Transhistorical Waterfall’ (both 2017)

In ‘Kin’ and ‘Transhistorical Waterfall’, appropriately hung side-by-side, the two figures appearing in each could be located in far away locations that are new to the viewer. An implied exoticism, most especially in the latter composition, where the colour and visual style shifts between a post-impressionist, illustrative and cartoonesque style, is sensed in the (possibly) masked and wild-eyed creatures. These two wonderfully colourful, but unidentifiable figures, stand either side of a narrow V shape parting of trees. Just beyond is a waterfall and in the far distance a youngish human visage peers out from the cliff face – but it does not feel like a joke or play on words. The viewer is invited to approach, delving into the jungle simultaneously, into pictorial and imaginative space. What appears delightfully decorative, slowly takes on a nightmarish feel – it will freak you out.

In ‘Kin’ [2017] a pair of wide-eyed creatures, arranged (on first reading) in a Mother and Child pose from the Early Renaissance period, merge into the Spaghetti western landscape. Incongruously, mum wears a pair of spotted tights and a red-gloved hand reveals the child’s face to be a flower head, not a plump infant. Their facial features and body hair merge into cloud and frilly costume alike. As with ‘A History Lesson in Polarity’ discussed above, my visual and mental confusion seems to increase rather than clarify. Why are the characters exploding in bubbling, billowing colour? Am I hallucinating in the desert? Or is the implied viewer who must complete the story on LSD?

Henneken_The Art of Jumping Timeline_2017_H8815_300dpi
Uwe Henneken – ‘The Art of Jumping Timelines’ (2017)

What might be a mediaeval castle in, ‘The Art of Jumping Timelines’ (the largest work here) also suggests the modern urban cityscape, where we could assume a band of party revellers are winding their inebriated way through the streets. But two foreground figures suggest another reading. A young male leads a taller figure away, out of the picture framed setting. Both wear strange headgear, suggestive of exotic animals and ancient cultures. Whatever the implied narrative, Henneken leaves it to the viewer to transcribe the imagery into some kind of understandable tale – albeit aided or mystified by the various titles.

Henneken_A Meeting at the Desert Shore_2017_H8813_300dpi
Uwe Henneken – ‘A Meeting at the Desert Shore’ (2017)

Some images look complete, whilst others appear to be still in progress – ‘A Meeting at the Desert Shore’ is a case in point. The two foregrounded figures are ’coloured in’, as is the sunset and reflective surface of the lake backdrop. In between, the sketchy landscape appears to be reserved for the forlorn but glowing figure that observes the rainbow-girl and the Moomin character that gaze at each other. This latter personage might look quaint and child friendly at first, but closer inspection reveals a penis-like red serpent with three testicles hanging between his legs. This contradictory figure also holds a three pronged spear, or trident, which points down to the ground. If it’s a weapon it comes across as symbolic and ceremonial rather than menacing and its colouration from the sunset or the rainbow figure further diminishes foul intent. Perhaps two worlds are depicted here: one of colour, the other drained of unnecessary flamboyance.

Henneken_A Call_2017_H8807_300dpi
Uwe Henneken – ‘A Call’ (2017)

Above a woodland scene in, ‘A Call’, flower-like stars appear amongst the woodland forms. They could be imagined as fruits from the trees or as stars beyond the earth. A sickly yellow mist cuts across the base of the huge blue trees. One tree has been felled, its purple roots transformed into claws that imply danger in this eerie setting. Placed on a pathway that leads into (rather than out of) this space for the imagination, stands the child from three other works on display, including ‘Space in Space’. As if against the light, in both of these particular paintings, she is almost featureless, flat and blue and has the same emanating glow that might be protective in some way. The stars revealed within her body shape in the latter painting are missing in ‘A Call’, but at the end of the curvaceous pathway is a golden light, which must be her destination. Whether she gets there or not might be up to the viewer to imagine.

Henneken_Space in Space_2017_H8814_300dpi
Uwe Henneken – ‘Space in Space’ (2017)

In ‘Space in Space’ this cut-out figure appears to float in outer space whilst looking towards an implied planet or cosmic portal. The globe-like form to the left of centre is created by the Ouroboros – a serpent that bites its own tail – that symbolises the cycle of life and death in many cultures. The blobs of white paint within the inner circumference of the sleeping snake, its one visible eye closed, creates a planetary form – or an implied multitude of planets – and the white moon-like shapes are repeated within the human figure. Around these forms some of the stars resonate like wild flowers, creating a sense of animation. In this painting the notion of being at one with the cosmos (we are stardust after all) is implied. Contradictorily, because the meaning of the painting (including the title) might be the most obvious in the exhibition it might be limited by this degree of clarity. Obscurity or an implied, but unexplained, exegesis suggests a broader potential of meaning so that it is not fixed and holds more potential for the imagination.

As a phenomenon, the subject matter of Henneken’s paintings will surely appeal to an audience already interested in the likes of Rui Matsunaga, Raqib Shaw, or Chris Gilvan-Cartwright. A surreal, illustrative, narrative-heavy trait that enlists rather than rejects the past in contemporary practice appears fecund, alive and well. So, given the burgeoning problems of the world, whoever and wherever we are, we all may wish to escape somewhere at times. The shamanic spirit in any art form may not provide clear answers – but questions might prove more useful given our individual natures. That we experience inner and outer worlds simultaneously, and that the imagination is universal and timeless, might go some way to grasping the many potential meanings of Henneken’s paintings.

A final thought – in more recent times, the artist formerly known as Ziggy Stardust, asked: “Where are we now?” How apt.

Geoff Hands (September, 2017)

Note: Henneken adds his imagery to the shamanistic tradition that Professor Michael Tucker has examined in ‘Dreaming With Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth Century Art and Culture’. Tucker investigates the visionary and super/mythic-consciousness of the Shaman in world cultures – and especially in relation to the modern artist. (The book is out of print, but is easily available on Amazon.)

A HISTORY LESSON? – Paulo Nimer Pjota in Hove

‘The History in Repeat Mode – Symbol’ at Morena Di Luna, Hove

Open Saturday and Sunday from 12pm to 6pm. Until 15 October 2017.

So, the word on the street was true: Maureen Paley really is in town – or ‘Hove actually’, as the locals like to say. The gallery, named Morena di Luna, is Wolfgang Tillmans’ nickname for Paley and the renowned East End gallerist has further established her presence in the city as Maureen Paley was previously involved in the HOUSE 2016 event when, in partnership with the University of Brighton, Gillian Wearing’s ‘A Room With Your Views’ was presented during the annual Brighton Festival.

002 - Morena Di Luna front door

This inaugural exhibition at 3, Adelaide Crescent presents the Brazilian artist, Paulo Nimer Pjota, in a Regency town house that is situated in a prime location on the seafront. Pjota previously had a one-man show at Maureen Paley in Herald Street in Bethnal Green in 2016. The works displayed in Hove are similar to those displayed in London, and these additional works further establish Pjota’s reputation as fast developing name in contemporary practice – especially in the field of what is now labeled ‘expanded painting’ or ‘Post Medium practice’. The so-called expansion of course is into sculptural and installation-type manifestations of painting, where the space of the viewer is often encroached upon by physical elements in the artwork. The paint itself is not hierarchically superior to any other medium in use – and, likewise, the image becomes an object too.

In this exhibition the most immediately obvious intervention in the space is as much on the walls as on the parquet floors of the two main ground floor rooms. Pjota has used both acrylic and oil paint on canvas (another support is metal), which is conventional, but the paintings ‘hang’ unframed and feel like intrusions into a traditional domestic space that, historically, is designed to accommodate an oil or watercolour in a guilt frame.

024 - Pjota - Garfield
Paulo Nimer Pjota – ‘Garfield’ (2017)

Whilst still on the subject of the wall, a few of the cartoon-type images appear to have escaped from the paintings and appear in unlikely places. A teenager’s bedroom might be implied and the imagery could appeal mainly to a younger audience. For example, whether in the implied painting space, or let loose from the restrictions of the artwork, we see Garfield the cat; a grinning Halloween smiley face; a sad face; Pocahontas; and Skeletor from Masters of the Universe in various locations throughout the show. This creates a sense of a subliminal reference to a Gothic tendency in contemporary visual culture where the fictive but everyday becomes scary, even in the child-centred aesthetic of the cartoon (Garfield) or by twisting the sentimental or superficial lightness of the Smiley face, in what has become an emoji icon in an all pervading digital culture.

(Note – see Gilda Williams’ ‘The Gothic’ from the Whitechapel Gallery’s Documents of Contemporary Art series for a collection of writings examining this ‘Gothic’ phenomenon in art today.)

019 - Pjota - Skeletor 2017
Paulo Nimer Pjota – ‘Skeletor’ (2017)

Other imagery in Pjota’s work includes the representation of fruit that is commonly seen on walls, shop windows and, of course fresh fruit at the supermarket – whether in Brazil or other countries. This apparently innocent category of imagery in commercial visual culture – which takes on an indigenous identity – is juxtaposed with more traditional and non-European imagery too. For example, the Priestess Medusa from Greek mythology, shares the same space as modern, commercialised images of fruit in both ‘Black Paintings part 2’ and ‘Vacaciones in Europe’. This latter work, a diptych, has previously been exhibited with the two panels switched from left to right, casually subverting any fixed arrangement. The pink panel has a painterly area in the top left hand corner, but may be no more than an area used as a smeary palette. The over ripe bananas and a forlorn pineapple might reference traditional still life painting – but look quite unappetising. They are merely display objects, unfit for human consumption.

018 - Pjota - Vacaciones in Europe 2017
Paulo Nimer Pjota – ‘Vacaciones in Europe’ (2017)

In ‘3 reis magos part 2’ what look like three pre-Columbian mask images are presented, one in the centre of each of the metal sections of the triptych. The historical reference here might be to the Fortress of the Three Wise Men near Natal in Brazil but circular, geometric, contemporary glyph-type symbols bring the imagery into the present day, as if someone from the invisible hoard of street ‘artists’ have intervened in the gallery setting as a change from the high street. Eight melon or nut-like forms are casually arranged on the floor – they seem petrified like fossilized vegetation.

013 - Pjota - 3 reis magos part2 - 2017
Paulo Nimer Pjota – ‘3 reis magos part 2’ (2017)

The largest work in the show, ‘Black Paintings part 2’ appears to represent an aerial view of a four sided pyramid, with three heads from a mixture of world cultures. The five labels at the bottom seem to be passing through, as is indicated by a sixth symbol that is applied to the wall outside of any notion of the picture-plane. In front, and on the floor, are five resin cast basketballs. The colour gives them a melon-like appearance but the Nike sportswear symbol reduces the name of the Greek goddess of Victory to a graphical ‘tick’. It is not only the post-modern artist who appropriates – the mythological past is available for exploitation by big business too.

008 - Pjota - Black Paintings part 2 2017
Paulo Nimer Pjota – ‘Black Paintings part 2’ (2017)

In ‘The History of Colonialism’ several versions of Smiley faces are torn or turned upside down to invert the smile. Is this a visual joke or a sad reflection of notions of freedom or happiness? I guess it’s up to the viewer to decide. The four large water jugs, one on its side, another with a missing handle, seem to allude to something lost – but not in a nostalgic sense as the forms look infinitely reproducible. Pjota’s graffiti-artist past is referenced by a handwritten comment – “THIS GUYS TURNED MY CONTINENT IN BAD VIBES BABE” – which was written by a visitor to his studio in São Paulo. Pjota is as seriously irreverent about his own imagery as any other, offering another element of irony as he is clearly committed to his practice and his modus operandi as an urban artist.

005 - Pjota - The History of Colonialism 2017
Paulo Nimer Pjota – ‘The History of Colonialism’ (2017)

Are such facile, commercial interventions giving the finger to high-culture? The purposely-ironic contradiction here is that the contemporary art gallery is the epitome of such elevated status. Pjota’s engagement with the viewer seems to be one of presenting visual information from a world in which hierarchies have broken down and ‘history’ and ‘culture’ (high or low and interchangeable) are available as ‘product’, as much as a lesson to be learned. Images and objects from any era are indigenous artifacts of sorts. The ethnographic visual representations and symbols of modern cultures are as loaded as those from way back in history. In repeat mode? Maybe, time will tell.

 

All artwork images: ©Paulo Nimer Pjota courtesy Maureen Paley, London & Morena di Luna, Hove

A STUDIO VISIT: LOUISE McCLARY

DOING A GOOD THING IN ONE PLACE

Louise McClary is a native of Cornwall and is well known for producing evocative landscape paintings with an emphasis on colour, linear rhythm and an effective use of chiaroscuro. Her work is informed, geographically, by the Lizard Peninsula and from her own expansive garden developed with her partner, Matt Robinson. With a Quaker background and an interest in Buddhism her practice is more broadly, and politically, affected by vital ecological concerns.

McClary’s paintings are held in many private collections in the UK and USA, and several galleries represent her, including Artwavewest in Dorset. I travelled to Cornwall in the summer of 2016 to see the latest developments in her painting. On this occasion, I was left alone in the Caervallack studio at her home in St Martins, near Helston. In retrospect, this was a mini-writing residency, lasting just two hours or so. The subsequent realisation, and gestation, of this text took a further nine months to complete.

‘Doing A Good Thing In One Place’ not only constitutes an experiment in a form of reviewing a body of work, but also attempts to connect with the spirit of McClary’s painting that accompanies the visual into the metaphysical. Like the works in the artist’s studio, a text can be speculative, where language trips and meanders: extracting questions rather than answers. And, unlike a more ‘journalistic’ review that is written with some urgency to meet a deadline, the prose poem, with many possibilities for form and content, demands time to dig deeper into the relationship between the visual and the written form.

010 - LMc Large canvas in studio

 

DOING A GOOD THING IN ONE PLACE

(Louise McClary’s painting studio, Summer 2016)

 

In the silent studio

From the comfort of the sofa

Ambient sounds add a contingent counterpoint

To the visual contemplation

 

An invisible fly

Buzzing

Then birdsong from outside

One thing

 

After another

Then all is fused

Searching for a narrative

Interpretations of an imagined Eden emerge

 

Ominously, as questions are raised

The various hortus conclusus

Offer small vistas that perplex

And the canvases become portals

 

To lush gardens and intimate landscapes

Places of the cycle of life, death and re-birth

An immersive experience manifests strangeness and mystery

Germinating the numinous space of the imagination

 

All is energy where, incessantly,

The growth machine hums quietly and

Fixed liquid colours flow and dissolve into painterly mists

Suggesting forms, solid or ethereal

 

Echoing the Caervallack garden we walked in this morning.

The paintings reveal a spirit of place

Where seeds are sown

In the wind and the rain

 

In the light and dark hours

Forming a slow burn,

That engages with tacit, sympathetic looking

Igniting an increasingly restless gaze

 

Revealing the phenomenal

As event and material form.

 

*

After the downpour

The quietest place

Is now bursting from within

Evolving into a critical mass

 

The inner sanctum of the studio

Takes on an ever increasing sense of disquiet

Where the paintings toil against idealised notions

Of the picturesque landscape

 

Composing chaotic meanderings

Weaving disorderly diagonals

To celebrate impermanence

And new patterns in nature

 

In rhythms of visual energies

Variegated carpets of colour

Form a series of undulating nets

And structure can appear definitive

 

But with capricious qualities

A sense of change persists

Yet symmetry prevails, and

Balances are built

 

On quirkiness and uneven growth

Presenting an entangled domain

A liminal threshold

To be realised and entered by the observer

 

In patches of colour

Extracted from keen or dreamy observation

Intimate recollection or intuition

As spaces and forms are constructed

 

Guiding the eye purposefully

As the best paintings do

Forming a nucleus –

A Cubist-like configuration of pictorial space

 

The images are provocative

Allowing the indicative flatness

Of a particular kind of visualisation

To reject logical, selfish perspective

 

Wherein the viewer is never exhausted by variety

As the scenarios oblige active participation

To see through the dark glass

That clouds perception.

 

*

An alchemical process

Combines time

With visual experience,

Creating new territory

 

On the largest canvas

A crimson river, winding

Travelling across the multi-faceted surface

Via the twist and turn of a round headed brush

 

Ending in a single leaf-like form

And adjacent,

A scumbled light green

Suggests a leafy branch

 

A linear limpid overhang

Gesturally applied, reaching

Forward into space

Towards the viewer

 

Alternatively, a wall, a rock, or a tree form

Holds the two-dimensional plane and

Impedes the eye by occlusions

To send the looking on alternative routes

 

Backwards then forwards

Pushing and pulling an elasticised space

Where new thresholds open out, extending dimensions

Then to enfold, pinpoint, into small voids

 

The enclosing backgrounds

Which turn into foregrounds

In grey, gentle lime-green, or raw umber

Surfaces over-layered

 

By snail-slime white weaves

Forming entangled pathways

Mapping journeys

Towards a terrain without borders

 

Although this initial confusion requires time to digest

It is meditatively resolved

Prompting a still gaze

That gives way to accumulative scanning

 

Taking in detail, colours, shapes, textures

Then simultaneously, all variety is resolved

By the orchestration of content

To produce harmony and wholeness

 

Making relationships of contrasting colour fields

Skeins and linear strands

The mind’s eye feeds eagerly

As new configurations are constructed

 

And surprisingly

This conjured revelation

Comforts a poignant moment

Of potential loss and devastation.

 

*

On the studio sofa

A book has been discarded:

 

A page is randomly, or fatefully, opened

Skimming the lines a comment is noticed where the author has written:

“…doing a good thing in one place”

To fortuitously acknowledge the purpose of McClary’s labour

 

Where suspended and reconsidered decisions

Loosen into gestural outcomes

Offering a lingering sense of things falling

Apart, fractured

 

And where final images may not consciously conspire

To state anything profound

A metaphor of The Fall is coaxed from the imagery

Pricking the conscience, so subtly

 

A cryptic pathology bears itself

Of protest in the face of

Induced pandemonium

Divined in this localised subject matter

 

But the wild places are fighting back

By way of persistence

Becoming abstract, deregulated, burgeoning forms

In an enhanced cartographic language.

 

*

A warning is embodied

By skilful applications on the canvas surfaces

In a budding galaxy of small

But insistent, landscapes

 

These incomplete paintings reveal evidence

Of momentary skirmishes

Apparent dead ends

And chaotic entanglement

 

But, actively and obstinately

The paintings astound and seduce

With an indulgent palette

And chiaroscuro indulgence

 

From atmospheric islands of colour

Scumbled into deep shade pools

Leading to luminous passages of light

Making the compositions

 

Immediate and inevitable.

The imagery become fixed

Sieved through a relentless process

Realised in painterly configurations

 

That declares an ecstatic dance:

Seeing the moves, in silent rapture.

 

004 - LMc sofa

 

Note:

The book on the sofa – ‘Buddha Mind, Buddha Body’, by Thich Nhat Hanh. (Parallax Press, 2007)