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 oriental 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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

PETER DREHER: Ce n’est pas un verre!

Day by Day Good Day

Peter Dreher at The Mayor Gallery, Cork Street, London

7 April – 2 June 2017

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“What is abstraction? What is its purpose? Why does it not incorporate recognizable imagery? For two reasons. One is so it is neutral in its way. So it can be read equally… The second and even, especially now, more important is that it is a structure, a language that can be read out of context.” (Sean Scully, 2012)

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Peter Dreher – ‘Tag Um Tag Guter Tag’ Nr.1334 (Day), 1997

En route to attending a reading of extracts from ‘Inner: The Collected Writings and Selected Interviews of Sean Scully’ at Waterstones in Piccadilly, I had time to visit the Peter Dreher exhibition that was opening later that evening at The Mayor Gallery in Cork Street. I previously only knew of Dreher’s work from acquiring a copy of, ‘Peter Dreher – Just Painting’, (published by MK Gallery with Occasional Papers, 2014). Even in reproduction, Dreher’s studies of an empty but heavy, leaden-looking drinking glass placed on a flat surface have an engaging attraction for their apparent simplicity and matter-of-factness. In this instance, the reproductions are small and the paper glossy – which suits the reflective qualities of the glass receptacle depicted. But of course the ‘real thing’ is always different – for paint cannot (yet) be reproduced as facsimile. In the flesh, the carefully applied oil paint is not only textured by the brush and skilfully nuanced; it is also perceptively manipulated by the human hand and coordinated by the eye and the mind.

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Peter Dreher – ‘Tag Um Tag Guter Tag’ Nr.2642 (Night), 2011

At The Mayor Gallery, a small selection of Dreher’s 5000+ studies of the same drinking glass, typically painted in two sessions per day (since 1974), is presented on three walls. The sequence of 58 linen canvases are only interrupted by one barely noticeable corner break in the interior architecture, and the installation creates an integrated hang in a gallery space that is neither too large nor too small. The square format seating in the centre of the floor allows for contemplation of one wall at a time; but a slow, stop-start, walk along each horizontal expanse is ideal before the guests arrive for the Private View.

Initially, the observer might play at ‘spot-the difference’, but each painting is clearly unique. The sequencing is one of pairs; from the am/pm sessions that Dreher structures his typical painting day, providing a binary structure or mirroring of sorts; but in this arrangement you can look to left or right to make comparisons. At a stretch, you can compare any of the paintings, but each one pulls the viewer in to its own self-contained arena. A notion of non-identical twins, or an extended family portrait comes to mind, where the same faces will differ, despite a shared DNA. Or perhaps each image, an almost head sized 10X8 inches (25X20cm), is a self-portrait? But the inverted reflections in the glass do not reveal the artist’s face, although the evidence of his attentive gaze is clearly and astutely visible.

Each canvas could be considered a document of a visual manifestation of time, witnessing the lights and darks of both opaque and reflected surfaces in and around the glass, tabletop and backdrop wall. The surrounding but anonymous studio room, plus the external window view of a building, clouds and sky, adds a context or theme of the ‘inner’ and the ‘outer’ volumes of space that sends the eye in macro or microscopic directions.

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Peter Dreher – ‘Tag Um Tag Guter Tag’ Nr.1229 (Day), 1996

This is not photo-realist imagery (a painting made from a photographic print would look utterly different), but the pictures that appear to represent so many mundane moments have a snapshot quality. Thousands of observations within one sitting of several hours is not so much condensed, but expanded into the momentous grasp of a Cartesian endeavour to make an observed judgement reveal the complexity of the visual world. That Dreher admires Giorgio Morandi and Robert Ryman – and the serialist music of Philip Glass – is unsurprising. By comparison, Scully’s paintings might be too loud and vigorously constructed in comparison – though their works are similarly produced with reference to an inherently architectonic structure and the visual necessity of each unique image to travel beyond the literal.

In considering Morandi, Scully has written: “To see and to work. To paint in a way that was always virtually the same. Thus simultaneously to liberate the painting style which represented the subject without prejudice, as I would call it, and to read that subject as space, light, color and form.” (Sean Scully, 2005)

The same could be said of Dreher’s, ‘Every Day Is A Good Day’ paintings.

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Peter Dreher – ‘Tag Um Tag Guter Tag’ Nr.1491 (Night), 1996

Though I have co-incidentally brought Scully into a consideration of Dreher’s realist paintings, their respective achievements as painters may represent two sides of the same coin: where true value lies in a total commitment to painting – as substance and image. Both artists make paintings work making – and worth seeing. Therefore any argument about categorisation is superficial – or limiting.

Delving back into the ‘Just Painting’ publication, from his 80th birthday interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2012, Dreher referenced abstraction in painting: “If someone finds the painting of the glass abstract, I don’t mind, for the painter simply sets down islands of colour next to each other, intent on reconciling the islands or letting them contrast with each other. He doesn’t think about producing the illusion of a glass, and is astonished when at the end, the illusion of a glass is there on the painting. Thus, an abstract painting has come into being, in which one can also see as glass… Paintings are – and always have been – abstractions, colour surfaces on surfaces.”

Aficionados of abstract painting should not miss this show.

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HOW MANY ABSTRACT PAINTINGS DO WE NEED TO SEE IN THE WORLD, REALLY?

TESTING 1,2,1,2 UNIT 3 – A.S.C. Studios

(25 March – 2 April, 2017)

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The argument over Abstraction in art (especially painting) still drags on. In Elephant magazine, issue 29 (Winter 2016/17), the prestigious American painter Kerry James Marshall makes some interesting, if debateable, comments on “Abstract picture making” as little more than an “academic mode”. He claims that “The fundamental principle of art making is representation… There are quite enough problems to solve to keep you going for sometime. If you never succeed there, and you go to abstraction because it seems easier, you miss the philosophical and aesthetic questions involved. Besides, how many more abstract pictures do we need to see in the world, really?”

Though tempting, it would be too easy, and crass, to say that there are also too many figurative paintings in the world. There are probably far too many bad paintings of any classification. But there can never be enough good ones – which is partly what drives an artist on, if that’s not too romantic a notion.

A strangely contrasting point-of-view was made more recently on the (highly recommended) Two Coats of Paint blog. Sharon Butler, reviewing ‘A New subjectivity: Figurative Painting after 2000’ at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, makes the fascinating observation that, “In adopting imagery without direct reference to the objects that underlie them, the artists seem to be noting – indeed, demonstrating – the disconnected manner in which life is now lived. Fragmentation and detachment – a kind of existential abstraction – are the norm.”

Whether appropriated by some contemporary figurative painters or aligned with some sort of new figuration, where the painters “find everything to be a matter of images” (to quote Barry Schwabsky from the online catalogue for ‘A New Subjectivity’), Abstraction clearly and demonstratively engages with the problems of painting (and collage and sculpture) despite the surprising conservatism of Kerry James Marshall. Indeed, Schwabsky’s comment hits the proverbial nail on the head – for the result of Abstraction is always the image (2D or 3D) – which is, surely, the ‘thing’ we engage with in the gallery?

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Stephen Lewis – ‘Confluence’ (2017)

Take the current, but brief, show in Unit 3’s gallery space. Conceived of by John Bunker, Testing 1,2,1,2 gives a little taster of the current scene in Abstraction as a snapshot experience for the viewer. The comfortable 3:2 dimensions of the gallery (about 14X22 feet) introduced an appropriate containment for the display. If there was a temptation to show more, or larger, examples the impulse was well controlled as the exhibitors had approximately adhered to similarly sized works.

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Matt Hale – ‘Oilscape’

Bunker’s personal, professional and critical enthusiasm for Abstraction (and a genuine, open-minded, belief in the value of complementary and contrasting relationships in the abstract community) is speculatively explored. In curatorial mode, John Bunker invited six artists to invite a peer to forward a piece for the show. Hence, fourteen works are on display. No doubt, had the show been more conventionally engineered there might have been a tighter mix of materially similar works – confined to collage and painting perhaps. But the open-minded mixed-media characteristic of the selection as a whole pushed boundaries to include Matt Hale’s , ‘Oilscape’ (oil on gesso on board with plastic tube, engine oil/grease and rubber stops) and Nick Cash’s, ‘Drumming Part IV. 9 mins 47 secs 2″ @15ips’, which was covered by sellotape.

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Nick Cash – ‘Drumming Part IV…’ and Charley Peters – ‘Hard Edge/Soft Focus’

Intriguingly, the lone sculpture (Stephen Lewis’, ‘Confluence’) and the framed collagraph (Georgina King’s, ‘Threshold’) sit comfortably amongst the other twelve works. In fact the presence of a sculpture opened an imaginative door for future combinations of a constructivist and additive type of forming of image and/or object that would sit easily with painting and collage.

This sense of a building and overlaying process was conveyed in particular by two collages which happened to be placed opposite one another: namely Matt Dennis’, ‘Easy, Tiger’, which offered a more geometric counterpart to Bunker’s organic and busy, “Umwelt’.

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Matt Dennis – ‘Easy, Tiger’ (2017)
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John Bunker – ‘Umwelt’ (2017)

As he has been so pro-active, it is appropriate to say a little more about John Bunker’s contribution. There is an inherent passion and (positive) bloody-mindedness in Bunker’s wall-mounted collages that has benefitted from escaping the confines of the frame. This lends his work a sculptural/objectified sense of colour and shape as materialised imagery. His work presents, and holds, a chaotic frisson that is somehow controlled by the careful placement and juxtaposition of disparate elements of colour, shape and the revived materiality of potentially discardable ingredients. In ‘Umwelt’, a mixed media, shaped collage, a frame would be superfluous as the various sections visually hold together, whilst allowing the immediate environment of the gallery space to notionally ‘frame’ the work – if you should need it.

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EC – ‘Brouhaha’ (2017)

Also presenting a considered collision of fragments was ‘Brouhaha’ by EC (as she likes to be known professionally). Despite being the smallest piece in the show, this rectangular amalgamation of oil paint, acrylic paint, household paint, varnish and mixed media collage on canvas (then mounted on board) had that rare feeling of monumentality. ‘Brouhaha’ suggesting a maximalist indebtedness to the likes of Robert Motherwell: proving the point that bigger does not always mean better. As with Lewis’ sculpture, one wanted to see more from the enigmatic EC – and a combined show by these two artists would be fascinating to devise.

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Stephen Buckeridge – ‘We have expanded our space and intensified our time!’ (2017)

As already mentioned, half of the exhibitors had chosen a guest collaborator, but the works had not been programmatically paired up side-by-side, or opposite, one another on the four walls. There were however inevitable pairings to be made. Amongst the paintings there was a reflection of sorts between some images: for example, in Stephen Buckeridge’s, ‘We have expanded our space and intensified our time!’ and Karl Bielik’s ‘Target’, an affinity for a dissolving geometry and a shallow watery space, with some strong red visual punctuations in each, provided a kind of visual anchor (one of John Constable’s tricks of the trade) for entering each mini-environment.

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Karl Bielik – ‘Target’ (2017)

Another correspondence, of painterly contrasts in this case, between Lisa Denyer’s, architectonic, ‘Sands’, and Tony Smith’s more organic, ‘Magnitude’, was proposed. Where the pixelated but dissolving grid surface and multicoloured cross in the former could have somehow fragmented and morphed into the looser rivulets of curved meandering lines in the latter: the qualities of one emphasising the features of the other as a binary contrast of sorts.

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Lisa Denyer – “Sands’ (2017)
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Tony Smith – “Magnitude’ (2017)

Where a characteristic, (and maybe temperamental?), visual language appeared autobiographical, though unconnected, there was a ‘mapping’ or terrain-like association between Emyr Williams’, ‘RATS’ and Simon Pike’s, ‘Untitled’. Williams’ canvas had that colourful, painterly exuberance (with some texture paste added) which is a well-established feature of his work – whereas Pike’s immaculately controlled painting skills referenced a surface grid or net, overlayered by ordnance-survey type contour lines. One painting may have been waving, or undulating, to the other.

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Emir Williams – RATS’ (207)

Of course, there is no preordained or planned correspondence between any of these superficial pairings that I am making, but the conversations (of a sort) were made in a social context by the almost arbitrary coming together of a loose affiliation of like-minded people and their artworks. Old friends making new friends, as it were.

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Simon Pike – Untitled’ (2017)

Ideally, some future version of Testing 1,2,1,2 should be seen in a more prestigious space – although the gallery amongst studios provides a rare treat. John Bunker’s conception for a communal form of presentation and collaboration has created a prototype for a larger show, which expands on several previous exhibitions, revealing the broad and multifaceted range of Abstract art. Examples would include ‘Slow Burn’ (from way back in 1998 at The Mead Gallery in Warwick – featuring Mali Morris who attended the opening of Testing); ‘The Indiscipline of Painting”, curated by Daniel Sturgis in 2012; ‘Ha Ha What Does This Represent?’ (curated by Katrina Blannin and Francesca Simon in 2012); and ‘From Centre’ (2015), a Slate & Saturation Point Project which included Charley Peters who showed ‘Hard Edge/Soft Focus’ in this show.

Good abstract art is far from easy to achieve – and this exhibition presents various deliberations, findings and conclusions that should be seen by a larger audience.

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Charley Peters – ‘Hard Edge/Soft Focus’ (2017)

Note – Copyright of artwork is with the artists listed.