NIAGARA FALLS PROJECTS: ideal-i

James William Murray & Alexander Glass: ideal-i

at NIAGARA FALLS PROJECTS

Unit 9, 15 Lincoln Cottages, Brighton, BN2 9UJ (28 July – 3 August 2018)

Murray - Stood (2017) a
James William Murray – ‘Stood’ (2017)

Art galleries are constituted in various formats and serve different purposes for cultural and economic reasons. The, sometimes fleeting, artists’ run space can both compliment and challenge the major institutions and the commercial gallery system as a showcase for contemporary art. As reputations develop and a degree of permanence and visitor expectation is established, a day-trip to the London galleries could well take in visits to ‘alternative venues’ such as Bermondsey and Cell Project Spaces in addition to the established galleries. In Brighton we still miss the Creative Arts Centre (originally called Grey Area – founded by Daniel Pryde-Jarman and Alice White) just off the Queens Road. Typically, as non-profit organisations, such venues might be few and far between. But given the significant number of artists living in Brighton and Hove it’s a little surprising that more of these initiatives have not yet developed in the city.

But just 15 minutes walk from Phoenix– fast becoming Brighton’s premier contemporary space alongside FabricaNiagara Falls Projects presents James William Murray & Alexander Glass: ideal-i. The fifth exhibition in less than two years, regular visitors will have witnessed an evolving space that now has a new roof (hence the name of the venue). Founded by James W. Murray and Martin Seeds, their policy is to present exhibitions focussed on solo and two person projects with early career artists.

The term ‘project’ is one that many an (ex) art student will rejoice or recoil over. Arguably, fine art projects are more open-ended than their design lead counterparts as the end product might still suspend judgements over notions of full realisation. Another way to understand any implied contradiction is that a body of work might be finished, but its success is constituted in opening up yet more potential for further development. In the studio, project or headspace (all are interchangeable), questions are asked by a combination of thoughts, materials and processes. Solutions are starting points for further investigation; end results are constituted in form and material and, later, in the response (often private) of the viewer and artist alike.

Murray - Failed Circle 1 (2015-18)
James William Murray – ‘Failed Circle’ (2015-18)

For example: Murray’s ‘Failed Circle’ (2015-18) sculpture of steel and gold leaf was once contrived from referencing the circle of Leonardo’s, ‘L’Uomo Vitruviano’ (Vitruvian Man) drawing. Now the piece is sub-divided into four parts (and displayed here in two pairs). The two sculptures are placed outside of the building with other works from the show. ‘Failed Circle’ still has the potential to reassemble or to fragment yet further – and whether this happens or not, the viewer can ponder over the possibilities. Furthermore, notions of failure could be applied to the subject of the sculpture, or more pertinently, to challenging an ideal notion of the geometric proportions of the human figure (notably, in this instance, the male). This questioning of the ideal permeates, and conceptualises, the whole show. As the exhibition statement explains:

“Departing from Lacan’s psychoanalytical concept of the ‘mirror stage’, ideal-i brings together two artist’s unique approaches to questions of desire, fragmentation, and projections of the idealised self-image.”

This notion of the ‘self’ as questionable and misjudged has been inherent in what we call ‘fine art’ for so long that we might take it for granted. The self-portrait (Rembrandt, van Gogh and Picasso have achieved iconic status in this regard) is a perennial subject that every viewer can relate to at any and every stage of life. Gazing at oneself in the mirror (or via the ’selfie’) is a universal experience that has its origins and repercussions for a sense of ‘self’ and personal identity. So, with the French philosopher Lacan in mind, and his concept of the Mirror Stage, the objectification of the self as an identity constructed from others (e.g. parents and, ultimately, society), Alexander Glass’, ‘Reaching’ (2018), a hand print in a blue pool of epoxy resin, certainly shifted the focus from the material to the psychological. This work, minimal in nature, is a trigger. The original mirror is the pool of water that reflects an individual’s image – especially the face if the gaze approaches the surface of the water and the rest of the body and other people and surrounding objects leave the frame of reference. One might place a hand in the water to touch the image and realise it lacks solidity and is immediately fragmented and apparently dispersed.

Glass - Reaching (2018) GH photo
Alexander Glass – ‘Reaching’ (2018)

The exhibition catalogue also presents a quotation from Ovid’s, Metamorphoses:

“He fell in love with a bodiless dream, a shadow mistaken for substance. He gazed at himself in amazement, limbs and expression as still as a statue of Parian marble.”

As if to contradict this quotation, Murray’s ‘Untitled (Agamemnon & Argynnus) i’ and ‘Untitled (Bobby & River)’ (both 2018), framed and wall mounted graphite surfaces (applied to Carrara marble and beech wood, respectively) imply surfaces that should/might reflect. But all essentially absorb light, only reflecting a monochrome sheen of light that summarises rather than particularises surrounding surfaces or the gaze of a person/observer. The viewer is left to reflect upon a simple, minimalist geometry that, I suspect, represents love and friendship.

Murray - Untitled (Bobby & River) (2018)
James William Murray – ‘Untitled (Bobby & River)’ (2018)

Murray’s,‘Untitled’ (2018), presenting a paraffin wax handprint on canvas that has the proportions of a head and the vertical format rectangle of a bathroom mirror, also suggests the pre-historic, ritualistic, handprint on a cave wall (which, interestingly may have been made by women). Again, the image is bodiless although recording the surface of things. The weave of the cotton duck has its own origins in craft and the handmade (albeit via the technology of the loom).

Murray - Untitled (2018) handprint on canvas
James William Murray – ‘Untitled’ (2018)

All of the works maintain a presence that cannot be ignored. For example, although diminutive in size, Glass’s ‘Death of Achilles’ (2018), an acrylic and wood construction smaller than A4, seems to offer a private conversation to the viewer. The size of the piece makes it suitable to be hand held and the small wall-mounted plinth on which it is presented seems to offer up the image as if it were on a mantelpiece in the home. Carefully etched images of a towel hanging from an implied wall and a fallen (naked) Achilles combine and invite interpretation. The figure of Achilles is drawn (etched) carefully, although the immediate and unchangeable nature of the medium and the process forbids change and amendment that drawing on paper would more freely allow to create a more sensuous image of the body.

Glass - Death of Achilles (2018)
Alexander Glass – ‘Death of Achilles’ (2018)

A collaborative piece from Glass and Murray, ‘Broken Bits of Boy’ (2018), presents three fragments of paraffin wax torso laid out on a pillow with copper leaf. The sculpture is laid on the floor, rather than a conventional plinth, which might reference the bedroom floor and not the art gallery environment. Along with, ‘Stood’(2017) a silver-leaf embellished bathmat, the everyday and the domestic stage is a strong/forceful feature of the exhibition.

Glass & Murray - Broken Bits of Boy (2018)
Glass & Murray – ‘Broken Bits of Boy’ (2018)

But a broader social and generic public space (though confined to the male changing room with its homo-erotic implications) is implied by ‘Hang by the Pool (speedo #2)’ (2018), a bronze sculpture of Speedoswimming trunks. Another implication is one of nakedness, and the limpidity of the work could imply a more sexual connotation and humorous contradiction.

A physical notion of the self as portrait/facemask is explored in Glass’ ‘Cleanse & Repeat’ (2018) and ‘Peel & Relax’ (2018). Before making the connection with cleansing, peel-off, cucumber facemasks, I was pondering, by association, Greek theatre tragedy and comedy acting masks. The combined potentiality of the theatre of the everyday with classical, perhaps collective, memories and origins points to the inherent possibilities of reactions that could be activated or provoked by this and the other works in ideal-i. The exhibition is marked by a persistent visual poetics that combines images, found objects, material juxtaposition and ideas. The project is placed with a particular sexual orientation in mind but connects on a humanistic level nonetheless.

Glass - Peel & Relax (2018)
Alexander Glass – ‘Peel & Relax’ (2018)

It’s worth mentioning that a limited edition of five ‘Peel & Relax’ works by Glass are offered for sale for just £100 to support future exhibitions at this venue. Ideally, Niagara Falls Projects will be with us for many more years and will help to encourage other small collectives and individuals to share contemporary practice in venues that are not bound or defined by strictly commercial values. This is a project in itself, of course.

Geoff Hands

All artwork images are © of the artists.

 

Links:

Niagara Falls Projects – https://niagarafallsprojects.tumblr.com

https://www.instagram.com/niagara_falls_projects

https://www.facebook.com/niagarafallsprojects/

James William Murray – https://www.jameswilliammurray.com

Alexander Glass – http://www.alexanderglasssculpture.com

Bermondsey Project Space – http://project-space.london

Cell Project Space – http://cellprojects.org/home

Phoenix Brighton – https://www.phoenixbrighton.org

Fabrica – https://www.fabrica.org.uk

Jacques Lacan – https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/lacan/

 

TOMMA ABTS AT SERPENTINE SACKLER GALLERY

Tomma Abts at Serpentine Sackler Gallery

7 June to 9 September 2018

032 - Entrance to Abts at Serpentine Sackler b

 

After winning the Turner Prize in 2006 and providing the stand-out work in ‘Painting Now: five contemporary artists’ at Tate Britain in 2013-14, it has been interesting to see a presentation of Tomma Abts’ paintings from 2002-2018. The current exhibition at Serpentine Sackler Gallery has attracted ample media coverage and Adrian Searle, writing for the Guardian, has waxed lyrical in his four star review: ‘Like fans in the hands of animated Andalucíans’. Fellow Guardian critic, Laura Cumming, goes one better and gives the show five stars. Neither critic labels the work ‘abstract’ – although Cumming introduces the term with a denial of sorts when she concludes that, “…with metaphor comes a kind of lyrical philosophy, to the effect that no painting seen or made by human beings can ever be wholly abstract.”

But are these abstract paintings? They might appear to be so at first glance. But what category of the abstract are we viewing? Hard edge, geometric shapes of planar colour-forms, distinctively characterised by purposely limited but expertly rendered colour palettes abound that could have antecedents from Kandinsky to Bridget Riley. But there are perspectival, trompe-l’œil elements too. Not only indicated by folded forms and shadows cast by ostensibly unidentifiable abstract structures, but figure/ground relationships create definite illusions of spatiality. A sense of voids into which the viewer might be able to place a hand between forms, or know that there are extensions to these constructs occluded by other structures and facades, suggests the still-life genre. If these are figurative images, we are perhaps looking at forms we have not seen before – or at least not noticed in our immediate environment.

The subject matter of Abts’ paintings may not be obvious and whether we read or understand these enigmatic images as figurative or abstract is clearly open to interpretation. Reading available literature appears necessary and is understandable. Explanation and elucidation helps to unlock barriers to understanding apparently abstract, non-figurative works – even if a counter-argument to trust one’s own eyes and personal interpretation is tempting. Ideally, one should visit the exhibition and buy the amply illustrated catalogue or download the press pack that includes an essay by art-historian Kate Nesin. Alternatively, pick up a bargain priced copy of the exhibition booklet for a pound. Lizzie Carey-Thomas’ informative introduction sets the scene perfectly. With a little history and quotations from the artist she describes the practicalities of Abts’ production lucidly and adds a curator’s note that the artist had full control over selection and arrangement of the works for the show. By now you could also have read Luke Elwes’ recent Instantloveland article, ‘How to write about Tomma Abts?’ Accounting for many and various interpretations and explanations of Abt’s paintings, the article’s diverse references will set the reader off on a journey that will expand how the viewer might choose to frame the works. Elwes’ final sentence, “Their origins are obscure, and their forms are strange: such is the lure of the uncanny”, had me considering that fascinating term at the end. The ‘uncanny’ could well be applied to Abts’ imagery whether we see the works as abstract or not. There is a familiarity about the forms and configurations, although anything unsettling is subtle and notions of the abject might be a step too far. Maybe there’s a quirky Kafkaesquesense of never quite arriving at a final interpretation – but minus any surreal horror or underlying commentary on institutionalised society. Although an anonymous atmosphere in the work sneakily underlies the initially pleasantly colourful and pristine imagery. Emotions are checked by a tightly controlled application of paint.

On my initial arrival (I returned later for the curator’s talk), an unexpected source of commentary was gleaned from listening to a language teacher who was taking a small group of her students around the show. Her lesson plan was clearly geared towards terminology, and considering these canvases as abstract paintings enabled a focus on formal and descriptive terms that may have been complicated by overtly figurative works. Defining visual forms and its specific multi-lingual language from the written and spoken word made for a fascinating discourse that the students handled really well. All forms of language make connections and create communities, for language is ultimately social in its constructive and relational purpose.

Tomma Abts 019
Tomma Abts – ‘Schwiddo’ (2018)

“If you can define it, it’s not abstract…. Your minds are set for classical art… What’s the story?” Looking at ‘Schwiddo’ (2018) the tutor-cum-guide referenced associations that a viewer might already have. Chopsticks and two bowls were suggested, as the participants had shared a meal earlier. (Or was it a record player, raffia mats – or an aerial view of mown grass?) I wondered – is painting a class of fiction? But whatever the implied narrative, or the opinions of others, the viewer is obliged to use their eyes too – for this is an absolutely visual body of work that reminded me of Patrick Heron’s maxim when he explained that, “Colour is both the subject and the means; the form and the content; the image and the meaning, in my paintings today.” Invoking Heron, who made quick decisions for his imagery after long hours of premeditation, followed by purist exactitude in application and adroit decision-making, could be a long shot. But equally, colour is inseparable from Abts’ forms, albeit with tonal rendering that Heron would have rejected.

I also recalled the work of Helene Appel and Peter Dreher. They are not to be categorised as ‘colourists’ (and the Germanic connection is superficial), but the ability to apply paint with craft-like precision over extended periods of time, and to be able to modulate colour without resorting to brashness or garishness are cohesive factors in their disparate practices. We might also wonder about the personality of the maker of these paintings because they are obviously handmade and cannot be confused with the printed or the digital. Quietly meditative, with virtues of patience and determination to complete tasks expertly, might befit all of these painters.

At the Serpentine the curation is simple and Abts has resisted the temptation to fill every available square metre with a canvas. (She even left some drawings out that were originally to be included.) Abts’ expert ‘eye’ for spatial distribution and visual calibration is subtly manifested in the slightly different measurements of intervals (about 2 to 3 metres) between each painting and might be as important as the sub-divisions of space within the various compositions. Add the illusionism of overlaps, curves and shadows to the tastefully coloured Euclidian, architectonic still-life-type spacescapes and the scope for a non-organic visual aesthetics opens up endless, exponential possibilities.

Abts - Fimme 2013 cat 22
Tomma Abts – ‘Fimme’ (2013)

The work is not arranged chronologically but visitors were mostly starting at work no.1 – ‘Oeje’ (2016)  – and finishing 25 canvases later at ‘II’ (2018), circumscribing the empty central gunpowder storerooms in a clock-wise journey of stops and starts. There is so much diversity – you can’t get bored with this show. The work is immaculately produced – a trademark feature of Abts’ literally painstaking working process. If you want variety there’s nothing to gripe about as there is variation and all content is clear and well defined. The images have an air of neutrality, but not in a disinterested or impartial sense. There is a visual concreteness about what is detected within Abts’ compositions and a geometric sense of substance and tangibility about her environments that are not mini-worlds, but could be portions or segments of something/somewhere bigger. Meaningfully social and expansive, rather than restricted to the closed world of the studio (just as Georges Braque avoided the hermetic dangers of the atelier by making paintings that are still visually alive), intimacy still is embodied in these paintings. My hunch is that the fictive spaces and forms are shared and communal. There is a familiarity implied by the various forms and spaces. For example, in ‘Fimme’ (2013) there is a packaging or greetings card allusion (probably unintended); and in ‘Feke’ (2013), a modernist architectural vibe might be referenced (but isn’t). The various infrastructures are not anonymous or obscure. But I can’t quite place them.

Abts - Tedo 2002 cat 12
Tomma Abts – ‘Tedo’ (2002)

The structural geometry that pervades Abts’ imagery might be considered a form of Rorschach inkblot, testing the viewer’s imaginative capabilities.  But the variable content is embedded in and referencing the designed and constructed world of the collective-conscious, rather than the liquid submergence of the inner mind. Throughout the work the various environs, marked by simply coloured interstices and generally flat but concrete structures: straight and curved edges; overlapping and broken forms; zigzags or graceful rhythms. These characteristics of content are acquired and fabricated intuitively from a state of flux, of forming and deconstructing over months or even years in the artist’s daily painting process. What fills and constructs our personal and communal psyches? As viewers, participants in much the same geographic, cultural and social spaces as Abts, mental and memory models of the built environment, containing patterns and paradigms, are both physically extended around and, psychologically, inside of us. Under certain conditions, barriers dissolve, merging the actual and the metaphysical – is this the implicit story? Form and content, however mysterious or hidden in plain sight, is resolved. The contradiction is strangely, and uncannily, satisfying.

 

Links:

Serpentine Galleries:

http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/tomma-abts

Instantloveland: Luke Elwes – ‘How To Write About Tomma Abts

https://instantloveland.com/wp/2018/06/29/luke-elwes-how-to-write-about-tomma-abts/

HITTING THE STREETS (Photo Poem 1)

Hitting The Streets

 

Welcome to The Heart Today

Time Precious Squeezed

32 Lode Tilt

Keep calm ‘ay me Scented English

No Nothing on the glass Nothing

Keep tidy Dirty Good days

We Join Zeal

Soul pose Over Easy

About Mermaid goals & Great art

Best Are kind I love

Anon XX

001 - Welcome to002 - The Heart003 - today004 - Time005 - Precious006 - Squeezed007 - 32008 - Lode009 - Tilt010 - Keep calm011 - ay me012 - Scented English013 - No014 - Nothing on the glass015 - Nothing016 - Keep tidy017 - Dirty018 - Good days019 - We020 - Join021 - Zeal022 - Soul pose023 - Over024 - Easy025 - About026 - Mermaid goals027 - &029 - Great art030 - Best031 - Are kind032 - I love033 - Anon034 - XX

 

Hitting The Streets was a task set for the Foundation Diploma students from Northbrook Met (University Centre, Worthing) on a research visit to Brighton (May 2018). This also provided an opportunity for my own response to the theme.

TRANSFORMATIONS: SPACEMEN

Transformations: Robin Greenwood and Gary Wragg

At Linden Hall Studio, Deal

001 - Transformations poster

Heather and John Corley developed Linden Hall Studio into a gallery space in 2014 and a visit to Transformations provides a good excuse to get out of the city and head for the Kent coast. Gazing out to sea from any location enhances our physical groundedness (literally) and we get a reinvigorated sense of that weird but ever-present phenomenon called ‘space’. Extended space is curious because of our own limited human dimensions, from which we perceptively judge all immediate senses of distance, size and scale. Distant space can be observed with some sense of safety, even if temporarily, as threats draw near. Looking to the distant horizon, especially when the sea has replaced the land, can evoke a mysterious sense of future times and places. Close space, within arms length, holds love and fear in equal measure.

Spatiality in visual art, especially painting, also provides an extending experience for the imagination, and the trickery of illusion (aided by the sophisticated perspectival inventions from Masaccio and Quattrocento painting onwards) has permeated the reception and reading of painting for a long, long time. Likewise, abstract painting engages with this experiential, psychological and forcefully visual engagement with notions of space. Colour and linearity, to varying degrees, are often a component part of this spatial scenario and Gary Wragg’s paintings have demonstrated this over several decades.

008 - Wragg - O T B D G 2 Yellow - 2016
Gary Wragg – ‘O T B D G, Yellow’ (2016)

Sculpture is another matter, where form (involving volume, weight, mass and monumentality), rather than an abstract notion of spatiality, has dominated its production and development. Anthony Caro changed all that in the 1960s, with the fusion of material (typically steel) creating structure in space – as space. Robin Greenwood was a student of Caro’s at Saint Martin’s School of Art in the early ‘seventies and so a loosely woven School of Caro (from the New Generation and beyond) might still be discerned at times, despite the endemic plurality of late modernism/postmodernism that has created a mixed bag of avenues and cul-de-sacs for artists to explore.

Gary Wragg’s formative painting education was forged at Camberwell and the Slade Schools of Fine Art, respectively. Wragg’s abstract expressionist influences are clearly New York School (Jack Tworkov and Willem DeKooning spring to mind) but his paintings are unmistakably identifiable as ‘Gary Wraggs’ and reveal his personal relationship with the practice of drawing and Tai Chi.

031 - Wragg - TTC 3 Freedom of Movement - 2015:16 detail
Gary Wragg – detail from ‘T T C 3, Freedom of Movement’ (2015/16)

Wragg and Greenwood have evolved from the same generation and the Transformations exhibition, curated by Sam Cornish, provides a welcome combination of contrasting yet complimentary works. At Linden Hall Studio, the two exhibition floors are filled with natural and artificial light throughout the day. This light (as if it were a medium of the architecture) illuminates so effectively and is a feature of the gallery that presents the works exceptionally well.

005 - Transformations - Installation ground floor
Robin Greenwood – ‘Big Monmouth 138’ (2017) and ‘Aciris 131’ (2017)

For a first impression, two of Wragg’s paintings have been placed in the front windows to give a taste of what will be inside the gallery. Above, on shelves, are six of John Corley’s glass ‘muffs’, or cylinders, of coloured glass. These are not part of the show but also hint at the colour and light that is a major feature of Wragg’s canvases. Entering through a double door, two of Greenwood’s sculptures have been placed to either side of this initial space and are bathed in natural light from windows above, where a mezzanine floor opens up the gallery space. Four of Wragg’s large canvasses (plus a tight configuration of eight small compositions on card that are from the same series as the works in the window) immediately create an impression of qualitative choice and arrangement. Although the building was originally a chapel, there is a comfortable domestic scale to the space and a staircase that takes visitors up to the first floor, with two more sculptures and over a dozen paintings, including three more large canvases, further hints at this homely aura.

There is much to see (39 works in total) and the surprisingly roomy walking area on each floor allows the viewer to stand back to find the correct viewing distance for each work. Except where paintings are purposely hung together (essentially the smaller compositions), the indicative relationship between paintings and sculptures in adjacent spaces are neither forced nor dependent upon each other. In addition to the obvious contrasts between painting and sculpture, Wragg’s colourful and light (in tone) paintings, and Greenwood’s dark and heavy (in weight) sculptures, creates a balance rather than a confrontation between very different works. The larger canvases relate to the sculptures particularly well as they occupy similar characteristics of size and presence, though any links will be circumstantial rather than programmatically devised.

024 - Transformations - Installation upstairs
Robin Greenwood – ‘Kwoke 166’ (2018) and ‘Tree of Ornans’ (2013)

But whether intentionally or not, questions were raised in Transformations: Do we look at and experience abstract sculptures the same way as abstract painting? And are our expectations different? From this pairing for the exhibition both forms of abstract art contain a sense of rhythm and flow within their respective linear configurations. Each artist appears to work intuitively and without strict expectation of the final outcome in a spirit of freedom for what might transpire in the creative process. Both work in series (which can falsely suggest predetermined forms) and there is also a tactile sense of materiality of the mediums (of paint and steel) that counters illusionism and figurative forms. Greenwood and Wragg are committed abstract artists who have never waivered in their personal quests to develop visually emboldened works within the field of abstraction.

One distinction, which equates the viewer with the work (as much as the artist’s intention), might be in the way the work is looked at or apprehended. Greenwood’s sculptures, which are made to be engaged with visually, and experienced in the round, can be viewed either standing still and in movement. Momentary compositions, made from pausing to take in and consider the work, are endless as even the slightest readjustment of positioning changes how a three dimensional form is seen. In Greenwood’s sculptures there is a mysterious, subtlety aggressive, ‘Gothic’ persona to the works. This latter designation may be rather superficially attached, but the metallic darkness, the sense of weight and the uncompromising nature of hard metal, pertains to the uncompromising nature of the works, especially those suspended from the ceiling. Looking up at ‘Kwoke 166’put the bundle of steel (with a little wood and plastic) into stark contrast with the spotlights on the ceiling and felt quite menacing.

025 - Transformations - Installation upstairs with Kwoke 166
Robin Greenwood – Underside of ‘Kwoke 166’ (2018)

Returning to notions of spatiality, with sculpture that is big enough, the viewer’s own physical space is encroached upon. Is this where sculpture can surprise or unnerve the viewer? Like another being before them that activates real space – not just headspace. And as the viewer moves around the forms, careful not to walk into or too dangerously underneath, the changing compositional framing of looking can never rest. With the sculptures there is the issue of gravity too – especially potent for Greenwood’s suspended forms. But also of weight, which in ‘Tree of Ornans’, lifts defiantly from the level of the floor with dexterous and agile movement that is surprisingly lyrical, as the fragmented industrial component parts become gestural branches suggesting arms and legs. It is balletic and poised.

Interestingly, Greenwood’s three suspended sculptures contrast with ‘Tree of Ornans’ more than with Wragg’s paintings. There is a tighter configuration, in the almost head-like suspended sculptures. The allusion to the head probably has more to do with their positioning off the ground/floor (131, 138 and 166cm). The viewer meets these pieces head-on, rather than at knee and chest level with the ‘Tree of Ornans’. The physicality of the sculptures fixes the implied bursts and movement of stilled implosion/explosion and rotation. By contrast, it is the viewer who must move around the works. The viewer becomes the kinetic component in a spatial performance.

With painting there is an obligation to stand still, rooted to the spot. The viewer’s eyes, and sometimes the head, will move as the gaze surveys and wanders. Abstract (visual) space will take the viewer in to its implied space, with the flat canvas surface as counterpoint. Wragg’s paintings, typified by his signature gestural calligraphy, instinctive and freeform colour combinations, and (almost) dangerously undone configurations of marks and shapes, are always expressively lyrical. The kinetic features are in the painting’s virtual space. The viewer is a little more physically passive.

 

010 - Wragg - PL 5 - 2015:16
Gary Wragg – ‘P L 5’ (2015/16)

‘PL5’, exhibited downstairs and ‘OTBDG, 2, Yellow’, shown upstairs, are two works of Wragg’s that could be juxtaposed with the sculptures as there seemed to enough air around the gestural configurations to describe forms in space. Behind and within a freeform dance of linear gestures, Wragg creates a sense of shallow space. But in each work various colour patches, splatters and gestural swirls sit on the surface of the visual field to deny the illusion of concrete, representational form.

I suspect that, by convention, the viewer does not look at abstract sculptures in quite the same way as abstract painting because expectations are different. Paintings suggest physical, geographical distances and ‘otherness’. Because of illusionistic functioning (‘picturing’) and inherent subject matter (“what/where is it?”), painting is somehow conjured from virtual realities. But sculptures are more overtly, formally, here and now – occupying the viewer’s own physical space. Does the viewer meet a sculpture – and observe a painting? Whatever conclusions can be made, Transformations poses questions that do not have to be answered with certainty, just as abstraction is far from over as a major genre in contemporary art.

034 - Wragg - OTBDG 5 Red - 2016
Gary Wragg – ‘O T B G, 5, Red’ (2016)

All artwork images © Robin Greenwood or Gary Wragg

 

Links:

Linden Hall Studio – 

https://lindenhallstudio.co.uk/current-exhibitions-at-linden-hall-studio/

Sam Cornish discussing Transformations at Linden Hall Studio –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MYjVLdFjWo

Robin Greenwood –

https://robingreenwood.com

http://www.poussin-gallery.com/site.php?artist=15

Gary Wragg –

http://www.garywraggstudio.co.uk

BRETT GOODROAD: TOE BUOY

Brett Goodroad: Toe Buoy

At Phoenix Gallery, Brighton.

9 – 27 May 2018 (closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

001 - Goodroad - Phoenix poster

This is an exhibition that cannot fail to intrigue. American artist, Brett Goodroad, has produced a major sequence of small ink drawings and they are displayed in various sequences in the largest room at the Phoenix Gallery for the Brighton Festival. Inevitably, the available space dictates a splitting up of so many works. One wall holds 15 drawings (or are they paintings?) and another presents ten works. There are also two drawings in one corner and a temporary wall with four on one side but just one on the reverse. Another dozen framed works adds up to a total of 44, so there is much to see.

The arrangement has some chronological sequencing but the adjustment to the exhibition environment prompts a reading of the works both as a sequential narrative structure and as individual scenarios to be considered. This, as it happens, is appropriate for Toe Buoy. The implied linearity of the series (as in A to B or left to right) is given an added dimension, as the viewer is obliged to peer closely at individual works and can allow the eye to be drawn into monochromatic depths of inferred space. This tonal aspect lends itself to creating a sense of envelopment and atmosphere: a sense of place, albeit with some degree of mystery.

003 - Goodroad - Viewer.jpg

Placed in Goodroad’s virtual environments, the viewer must bring his or her own interpretation of events – or just take it in without the need for clarity of message. It’s a poetics of space that is presented, where one must ‘be’, rather than judge or search for specific meaning.

But of course, there is a context beyond the images. The artist is resident in San Francisco and is developing a reputation as a painter of landscapes. He works on his colour dominated paintings in his garden, in a local landscape that is often damp and misty. Of his painting he has said: “I want to handle colour like Ingres and end up in the Nabis.” This reveals Goodroad’s knowledge of art history and places him in a Modernist context (the Nabis acknowledged flatness in painting long before Clement Greenberg made it a dictum for painting).

To broaden his creative portfolio, Goodroad is also a writer. The exhibition title, Toe Buoy, originates from a poem that the artist wrote in 2015. In the exhibition leaflet the author has explained that:

This poem is one of a set of poems I have written over the past five years surrounding the fictional characters Elm and Aleen. The poems work around a central image of Aleen floating in an ocean and a boundary: the seam of water, the line making her contour. We see her toes, her skin drying in the air and the ocean taking it away from her.

The question is: Is Aleen about revery? Or of fish or mammals?

 Aleen and Elm were painters who became sick because image and physical presence grew too much. She wrote: ‘when the world became oracular ecstasy left evening’.

A bowl of boiling
Oranges
             The deduction
Of line

Or is Aleen about painting? About bringing things together: let things be air and water. How can one compose them to make them musical? Or their history, the raising colour: resting nude under a tree, a leafy wink.

‘Or, my lyrical elephant, carry a lover’.

Goodroad is clearly leaving his poetry open to interpretation, but a notion of reverie and submersion has dream-like connotations. Visual content in Goodroad’s writing appears to be Imagistic (revealing his interest in the Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker – an Objectivist, Imagist, Surrealist writer) and as might be expected translates into actual imagery in his primary role as a visual artist. In the quieter, visual medium of the painter, the unspoken but revealed can be as equally clear or obscure as the written or spoken word.

008 - Goodroad.jpg

In Toe Buoy the painterly ink drawings have a sense of a state of becoming – rather like the process of under or over developing black and white photographic prints that were once produced in the darkroom before the advent of the digital medium. Some of the drawings even suggest multiple exposures, or the merging of normally disconnected events in a dream-state. This oblique coming together of imagery is relational in a cognitive and personal sense – but holds potential for notions of the collective unconscious that the Surrealist writers and artists explored in varying degrees.

015 - Goodroad

From the natural world, through which Goodroad channels his depictions, his tonal use of ink shows that the surroundings are constantly in a state of flux and continuously evolving. Distilled from the artist’s imagination, these are not necessarily strange lands. The sense of place might be from Europe as well as North America. The first impression is of a disturbing Goyaesque ambience to the imagery. But these might be stills from a low-budget film noir genre movie rather than etchings from the studio of a European master some 200 years ago. The works also have an air of immediacy that is often characteristic of what is essentially a drawing process. Working with Japanese Sumi ink, a medium favoured by Manga illustrators, Goodroad is making imagery that harks back to the European tradition of narrative ‘in’ painting. The works suggest a roster of influences, from Tiepolo (especially his drawings) to Titian’s tonally adjusted chromatic range of chiaroscuro in figures and environments: or from Watteau to Surrealism via Constable and Romanticism to Frederick Edwin Church and the 19thcentury Hudson River School.

005 - Goodroad.jpg

It may only be coincidental, but an intimate sense of the landscape – suggestive of Jean-Antoine Watteau, working a century before Goya, who produced fête galante canvases depicting outdoor entertainment and courtship, especially figures in wooded landscape – came to mind. But the Toe Buoy imagery is claustrophobic for the most part, especially when watery depths are depicted. In his introduction to the exhibition on the opening day, Goodroad said that ‘mold’ worked well as an analogy for the work. From this surprising off-the-cuff remark his organic approach to image making, in paint or ink, becomes apparent.

014 - Goodroad

Sumi ink is a medium that dries matt, and on cold white Bristol board it lacks warmth. The imagery sinks in to the surface like they are secrets. Dark, indistinct and incongruous forms invite closer looking. In one particular image, initial obscurity reveals a naked figure in the gloomy shadow space.  (An old friend once told me that he only dreamed in black and white – now I begin to understand the experience.) The unconscious is inferred where a poetic off-the-wall surrealism meets a narrative of the physical and the psychological: mixed with love and fear, homeland and wilderness. It’s all strangely perverse.

013 - Goodroad - detail

Some images give have clarity. Others resist a reading or recognition. But not every image is located in the realm of the imagined. For example, one particular image referenced the Sun Dance Ceremony that the indigenous Plains Indians of North America once practiced. In this ceremony pain is tethered as an inducement to vision – and to healing.

011 - Goodroad detail a.jpg

In a 2015 interview with writer Claudia La Rocco, Goodroad acknowledged the curative potential of his painting practice:

“I make the paintings and see illness and religion. I see that I am trying to heal something through my process, and that the solving is a part of this.”

Perhaps this related to Aleen and Elm’s sickness as painters in Goodroad’s poem? This might sound fanciful, but if healing in all societies is necessary, perhaps we need the painters, or more broadly, the creative and imaginative outpourings of writers, performers and visual artists to counter our increasingly technological and digitally controlled and neutered society?

The sequence of poetic illustrations demands that the viewer takes part in the storytelling by prodding at their own imaginative faculties. If you visit the show take your time to look at the work with an open mind – the reward might not be immediately felt, but the imagery will linger long after, and you can invent your own narratives and acknowledge your own creative powers.

002- Goodroad - Shrigley talking.jpg
David Shrigley, Guest Director of the Brighton Festival, introducing Brett Goodroad to the Phoenix audience at the opening of Toe Buoy.

All artwork images © Brett Goodroad.

 

Links

Brett Goodroad’s website:

https://lifeofatruckdrivinpainter.wordpress.com/page/1/

Gregory Lind Gallery interview with Claudia La Rocco:

http://www.gregorylindgallery.com/news/reviews/artpractical_goodroad_0515.php

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