TANIA RUTLAND: Chip of flint – fragment of chalk

Tania Rutland: Chip of flint – fragment of chalk

Window Gallery, Phoenix Art Space, Brighton

2 – 24 November 2019

TR - Poster

‘Crowding the solitude’, ‘Ghost white path’, ‘Night’s first light’, ‘Silent reach’ and ‘Restless lane’ might be headings in a list of poems from a collection that constituted a volume of landscape inspired verse, but they are selected from the titles of drawings and prints from Tania Rutland’s exhibition at the Phoenix Art Space.

Another title, ‘Chip of flint – fragment of chalk’, makes reference to commonplace Sussex downland geological material that could have been gathered from her visits to Iron age Mount Caburn and Neolithic Cissbury Ring in East and West Sussex and is the intriguing title of this exhibition.

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Tania Rutland – ‘Chip of flint – fragment of chalk’ (28x21cm). Pencil and graphite on paper.

The very idea of a ‘chip’ or a ‘flint’ suggests the collection of a memento, a physical token from a walk, picked up to place on a shelf when home. Such an item might be revered as a memory of a time and place spent in solitude or with a partner or friends from a Sunday walk. The cultural pursuit of walking might be a form of escape from everyday life, most especially the ‘working week’. A leisurely stroll or demanding hike, especially in the countryside, can be rejuvenating and refreshing. It might also be consoling during a time of stress. A walk is healthy for both mind and body; and for a landscape artist a place for research, inspiration and hard work.

Though superficially a landscape exhibition, on reflexion, ‘Chip of flint – fragment of chalk’ is loaded with speculative and thought provoking possibilities enabling the visitor to take away the non-physical souvenir: not to be placed on the mantelpiece but constituted in the form of ideas to consider and discuss further and, ultimately, leading to environmentally focussed action.

From the very start of the corridor space Window Gallery, making a de facto antechamber, two wall-mounted assemblies of small, unframed, preparatory drawings make it clear that drawing is at the core of Rutland’s practice. As an introductory display, sufficient in itself as a stand-alone exhibition, the 28 studies make an implied proposition that drawing is still of paramount importance towards painting, especially in landscape art. Whilst an en plein air approach is also possible, the drawing in advance of the essential schema for a final painting, even without colour content, provides the opportunity for intense consideration of composition and content; and for revision of the essential rectangular format. Rutland’s methodical approach also develops the initial ‘sketch’ to a more ‘finished’ state and therefore requires a more prolonged period of execution. In this respect, the lengthening of time to make what might simply become no more than a preliminary part of production, adds to the inherent conceptual aspect of Rutland’s greater project, namely that of time and duration.

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Tania Rutland – ‘Untitled 1 (Fatigue of early light – Mist’s cover)’ (14x16cm) Preparatory drawing.

Annotated on half a dozen of these relatively intense drawings are more titles, including: ‘Ghost lines’, ‘Eroded slope’, ‘Frozen light’ and ‘Fatigue of early light’. Without mounts, but with clearly measured and demarcated perimeters for consequent development into paintings, these studies may have come straight from the studio wall in her Phoenix studio. This informality in presentation might have initially diminished an observer’s attentive reaction to these works, but throughout the opening evening many visitors could be seen both standing back to view each of the two groupings of drawings and then be observed stepping closer to scrutinise each image as if through a magnifying glass. In relation to time a second aspect, that of concentrated visual observation of various locations, loaded with evidence of human interaction in and on the land (and sea), also implied itself in the bigger project.

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Tania Rutland – ‘Ghost white path’ (200x150cm). Pencil and graphite on paper.

Continuing into the main display space the biggest piece in the show first greets the visitor in contrast to the small studies just encountered. The pencil and graphite ‘Ghost white path’ impresses not just by size alone (200x150cm), but also by a display of controlled elegance in mark making and an example of compositional skill in which the viewer might literally fall into this Downland vista. As a completed drawing, ‘Ghost white path’ is as consummate and exhaustive as a painting might be and therefore expands the notion of drawing as going beyond the supportive role that it often takes.

In this significant work the viewer will certainly gain a sense of the past and the present day in one hit. In the bright distance, where the intense light dissolves the sea from sight, the Rampion wind farm turbines that now dominate the view from the Sussex coast have been recorded. Whether these technological structures please the viewer or not, like the telegraph poles we may barely notice anymore, or the electricity masts that cannot always be buried beneath the ground, we will inevitably have to become accustomed to this burgeoning technology for generations to come.

The past and present (an ancient landscape and an off-shore development) combine in one monumental vista so that a viewer has to contemplate a challenging and controversial journey to the future in this era of climate change awareness and necessary proactive behaviour.

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Tania Rutland – ‘Mound duskily glowing’ (24x24cm). Etching.

Four monochromatic etchings are displayed next, including ‘Mound duskily glowing’, a title merging topography with time and light, which again suggests a poetic counterpart (a haiku perhaps) that may one day be written. In ‘Silent reach’, telegraph poles located in a flattened mid-grey rhombus in the central area of the composition leads the eye from foreground to mid-distance. The poles could be traversing alongside a coastal area, or trace a communications route a few miles inland, leading to the next village or town. Very few regions of this relatively small island will be without such evidence of human habitation, as if such evidence of technology was as natural a phenomenon as the trees.

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Tania Rutland – ‘Silent reach’ (24x24cm). Etching.

With a change of process and medium Rutland allows a weathered, washed-out look in the thinned ink layers transferred from the surface of the metal that she has etched with. For example, in ‘Selvedge edge’ the distant hills are visually subject to mist dissolving form, whilst rain falls as weather conditions change appearances. In the bottom section of the image fence posts create a small enclosure, a signifier of order and land ownership. A telegraph pole, like a crucifix, in middle ground, merges at its base into foliage. Dark parallel lines in the foreground, perhaps suggesting the selvedge edge of fabric for the title, foretell the flint seams in the set of the four ‘Flint Seam’ drawings that are to follow.

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Tania Rutland – ‘Selvedge edge’ (24x24cm). Etching.

These more minimalist compositions, ‘Flint seam 1, 2, 3 and 4’, are placed at the centre of the show. They are undoubtedly complete in themselves but may well hold the prospect for further development as abstract paintings. Each is placed behind a clear acrylic sheet, rather than mounted in a conventional frame. Like its counterparts, ‘Flint seam 2’ is composed of a series of vertically placed horizontal bands of smudgy, burnished graphite drawn on to a gesso (i.e. chalky) coated, paper ground. Within these thin, dark, cloud-like strata are more defined linear marks suggesting a compressed handwriting with a slightly nervous, quivering organic edge.

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Tania Rutland – ‘Flint seam 2’ (66x46cm). Pencil and graphite on gesso paper.

These often flat and smooth, mark-like shadow shapes are found in split flint nodules originating from sedimentary chalk that litter the farmland in Sussex and have been used as building materials for walls and buildings since the Roman era. Further back in time flint was fashioned as a Stone Age tool. But way beyond any human presence on earth they are a literal compression of geological time and materiality that seems beyond comprehension and may well suggest a natural kind of drawing. Dark and wave-like, these markings made from the chalk seabed reveal fissures of implied energy. As a form of visual poetics, the past is metaphysically now in these teasingly simple, but thought provoking and elegant drawings.

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Tania Rutland – ‘Crowding the solitude’ (28x21cm). Pencil and graphite on paper.

At what appears to be the end of the display, a group of five framed drawings (including the title piece of the exhibition) are presented in suitably mounted and framed studies that, like the etchings, read as ‘finished’ works. They include ‘Crowding the solitude’ which is a similar composition to the aforementioned ‘White ghost path’. In the mid-ground the land builds steeply to two bulbous hills; to the right on the implied horizon are the perspectival rows of 14 vertical masts from the Wind farm out at sea. In the space between the hillocks, and particularly on the left hand feature, is a meandering configuration of chalky pathways. The closer foreground is patterned by a gentle arrangement of subtle tones that visually pock mark the paper surface. The notion of the landscape as corporeal and libidinous is difficult to deny.

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Tania Rutland – ‘Flint’ (42x42cm). Pencil and graphite on paper.

The last of these five drawings is titled ‘Flint’. Initially it could be a drawing that goes unnoticed, such is the insistent or subtle presence of so many of the other works. One feature, however, hooks the gaze as one might head for the coffee bar and the prospect of seeing a painting from Tania Rutland. Within this rendering of what may be a recently ploughed and almost featureless field, a tiny but visually dominant grid-like structure interrupts the shallow curve of the land, just before the dark masses of a thicket of trees on the close horizon, revealed contre-jour, emphasising a sense of infinite space beyond. Its identity is a mystery: could it be a wooden or metal framework? From the bottom right-hand corner of the drawing a purposely trodden pathway leads to the unknown construction and it could be that the track across the field has been rendered into the surface by either animals or humans.

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Tania Rutland – ‘Remote dwellings’ (40x40cm). Oil on canvas.

Outside of the Window Gallery, but in a suitable display space that extends all of the exhibitions, one of Rutland’s oil paintings, ‘Remote dwellings’ is presented on a dark grey wall. This provides an example for those who do not already know her work and is now interestingly and more than adequately informed from seeing the drawings and prints. One painting is probably just enough exposure in this context and holds out the prospect of seeing a future exhibition of Rutland’s paintings.

Significantly, this work in the more ecologically minded attitudes of society today is made more potent by its combined references to the past, present and future. The human conquest of the environment is, of course, aided and abetted by the genius of technologies, open to interpretation and revision. The drawings and prints presented in ‘Chip of flint – fragment of chalk’ not only record and reflect the history of particularly special locations, but provoke the observer to contemplate the future too.

Geoff Hands (November 2019)

All images © Tania Rutland

Links:

Tania Rutland’s website – http://www.taniarutland.com

Phoenix Art Space – https://www.phoenixbrighton.org/events/tania-rutland/

Rampion Wind Farm article from The Guardian –

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/11/brighton-rampion-wind-farm-turbines-renewables

BLACK FIREWORKS: Mike Edwards

Black Fireworks: Mike Edwards

At Window Gallery, Phoenix Art Space, Brighton

5 – 27 October 2019

“He came home from the war with a party in his head and an idea for a firework display.” (‘Swordfishtrombone’, Tom Waits)

Poster at night
Phoenix Window Gallery

One of the earliest Black Fireworks paintings (‘Black Firework Painting’ – not exhibited here) was produced on 20 January 2017. Nearly three years later Mike Edwards has created a distinctive body of work throughout September 2019 from which eleven of the 30 paintings form the centrepiece of this show, plus three associated works. A potential benefit of a gallery at a studio complex is for displays to reveal explorations of new ideas and work in progress from the incumbents, rather than just exhibitions of fully realised periods from an individual’s practice. Arguably, any distinctive period of an artist’s oeuvre is still, in some way, a selection of work in progress but ‘Black Fireworks’, provides a fascinating departure by Edwards from his ‘bread and butter’ works. The change is not wholesale as there are undoubtedly connections with his earlier works, but current preoccupations and future possibilities have been examined and explored in what could turn out to be a preliminary body of work.

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Mike Edwards – ‘Black Firework Painting 03.09.19’ (40x30cm).

Edwards completed his September 2019 series of ‘Black Fireworks’ barely three days before the show opened – with framing still to do. Such a move may have been foolhardy or brave: either way the transitional nature of the collection provides an insight into the creative process that might often be overlooked by an audience expecting ‘the best selection’ from a body of work from a sustained period of time. It also provides a spur to other artists to revive their practice by encompassing the risk factor that may have lain dormant from their formative student years. This is not to suggest that ‘Black Fireworks’ is in any way reminiscent of an undergraduate’s body of work. It’s too sophisticated for that as, for example, the seemingly random splatters of black paint (burst from a paint filled balloon that might double as a fist or a cushion for comfort) that are repeated in the paintings are likely to have been washed off and reinstated, or carefully adjusted throughout the month-long project. There is also a distinct possibility that one or two ‘failures’ or unresolved compositions have been allowed to remain in the series (one of my favourites, ‘Black Firework Painting 21.09.19’) – though it’s all quite subjective.

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Mike Edwards – ‘Black Firework Painting 21.09.19’ (40x30cm).

In some instances elements from older works resurface, most obviously the personal iconography of the skull and the energy inducing zigzag motif. Some, such as ‘Black Firework Painting 04.09.19’, have an additional graffiti-like rendering. In this work the word ‘Paris’ has been daubed onto the blue-grey ground before the black burst of acrylic paint was applied. The imagery is further enhanced, and completed, with a neon-like rendering of a primitive human skull, complete with cast shadow to visually push the skull into the viewer’s space. Purposely or not, the dot over the ‘i’ in Paris doubles as one eye for the skull. There is nothing slapdash or random about this painting as it combines a rendering of informal lexicography with abstract, mark making, intensity. Referencing Paris also gives the work a specific historical dimension after a year of protest in the French capital and beyond and is granted a little more particularity by the choice of yellow (from the gilets jaunes) for the two lines that constitute the street-art type skull. Edwards loosely appropriates, as visual metaphor, the skull for the mind that thinks about the world and what goes on in it. ‘Black Firework Painting 04.09.19’ is a visual morpheme, wherein differing language systems combine successfully to produce a coherent whole.

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Mike Edwards – ‘Black Firework Painting 04.09.19’ (40x30cm).

Frustrations at the way things are, or how others act, can irritate. We might literally hit out at others, shout out loud or scream inside. In painting, especially in an expressionist vein, one option to the artist is to throw the paint at the canvas, constituting a deliberate act of unbrushworthiness (sic). This ultimate and totemic symbol of pent up frustration may well be the splatter that smashes against the barrier between the inside and the outside: self and society, me and you, us and them. These Black Fireworks are sneakily contradictory as they appear as a personal (visual) attempt to be integrated into the ever developing body of the artist’s work, but as active participants with some impatience and informality in addition to the well established degree of control normally associated with his work. For example, the inclusion of ‘Magna Carta’ and ‘Thrills, Skills, Kills & Ills’ shows evidence of Edward’s highly disciplined painting abilities. So too does ‘Black Firework Painting September 2019’, a 60x60cm oil painting on canvas that is both completed and undermined by the particularly aggravating intrusion of a weighty black splatter over geometric zigzags and a sublimely dramatic cloudy sky as theatrical backdrop.

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Mike Edwards – ‘Black Firework Painting September 2019’ (60x60cm).

The smaller and more speculative acrylic on board ‘Black Fireworks’ (which at 40x30cm suggest the page of a sketchbook or preparatory study) are a productive response to external circumstances, proposing a painting surface that constitutes both a resistant skin and a site for testament beyond simple materiality. It’s the contradiction of the material and the mental that might be both engaging (for the viewer) and frustrating (for the producer). Even as personal exegesis to attempt to come to terms with current affairs, ‘Black Fireworks’ undoubtedly reflects contemporary events and potential states of mind (depending on your personal point of view, of course) at a time when the shift to extremes in politics and the burgeoning ecological crisis leave so many people feeling guilty, helpless or angry. The capricious and volatile scenes that the digital interface of the TV, iPhone or computer screen (perfect formats for the fictive) that can equally entertain and distress an audience, now creeps into lived daily experiences in many forms including the pernicious Brexit argument, poverty and homelessness, exaggerated weather conditions, constant surveillance and party-political turmoil, notwithstanding the acceptance of such conditions as perfectly acceptable from some sections of society and government. This compelling work has the hand mark and effect of the personal and provides evidence of a genuine sense of the visual artist who feels that he must respond/react in some way to the violence and unpredictability of the times in which we live. It’s a political act. That reaction may ultimately be fruitless or self-centred, even though shared and made public. But this provides the frisson of creative danger that hopefully results in a successful outcome. In his own way, as a popular and successful  painter, Edwards makes a visual diary of sorts for the times we live in by using the metaphor of ‘black fireworks’, which paradoxically darken the sky, as oppose to illuminate it. These may not be paintings that sell as well as colourful and decorative popular-image-type paintings may often do – though here there is a contradictory polemic at work that is redolent of individual angst, but may well resonate more collectively and find space in personal collections that are more than superficial.

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Mike Edwards – ‘Black Firework Painting 19.09.19’ (40x30cm).

‘Black Fireworks’ may well constitute a period of transition – not necessarily to radically replace, but to refresh and invigorate an esteemed practice. These 30 little windows on to the world, including those not selected for the show due to space restrictions, through the non-digital medium of paint, initially stresses the handiwork of the individual who works with the seemingly chaotic explosive imprint of the painterly splash. Mediated by varying instances of additional images: the red lightening strike in ‘Black Firework Painting 19.09.19’, the scrawl that emerges from the black mess of ‘Black Firework Painting 29.09.19’, or the pin and balloon that remains in ‘Black Firework Painting 16.09.19’, indicate that this series clearly has plenty more mileage left to explore.

‘Black Fireworks’ are a History Painting of sorts, where facts vie with interpretation.

 

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Mike Edwards – ‘Black Firework Painting 29.09.19’ (40x30cm).

 

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Mike Edwards – ‘Black Firework Painting 16.09.19’ (40x30cm).

All images © Mike Edwards.

Links:

Mike Edwards – www.mikeedwardsartist.com

Phoenix Art Space – https://www.phoenixbrighton.org/events/mike-edwards-black-fireworks/

Tom Waits – ‘Swordfishtrombone’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDGhJtEsmj8

 

 

 

A TAPERED TEARDROP AT TERRACE GALLERY

A Tapered Teardrop at Terrace Gallery

The William The Fourth, Leyton

Curated by Karl Bielik

19 September to 25 October 2019

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John Bunker: ‘Shady Hill Fugue’ [2014-18]
It’s a warm September evening and on the big screens in the lounge bar Arsenal are on their way to beating Eintracht Frankfurt by a comfortable three goals to nil in the Europa League. Concurrently, in the rear annex of The William the Fourth public house located at the Walthamstow end of High Road Leyton, the reopening of Terrace Gallery has also kicked off. Both contexts demanded close scrutiny of the action, resulting in much delight and satisfaction at the final outcome.

Painter, curator and singer, Karl Bielik has selected this mix of artists to re-boot Terrace Gallery with a clear interest in abstract painting. ‘A Tapered Teardrop’ is the first of three group shows and these initiatives are to be welcomed, particularly in a climate where the artist as curator has become paramount in disseminating contemporary practice alongside the sometimes inaccessible and exclusive domain of the ‘gallery system’. It’s also fascinating to encounter an exhibition in a non-exclusive type of social space where the punters can socialise with the added option of visiting the gallery. Jo and Adam, the management team, are keen to make the Terrace Gallery part of the pub and not a disconnected add on and it will be interesting to see how this initiative develops with future shows.

There are 19 exhibitors, which constitute a healthy maximum for the space that is essentially one large room. With so many paintings on show there was bound to be a wide variety of approaches to image making on display, from the improvisatory to the meticulously planned and executed. To some extent the policy of one piece per person results in a series of de facto ‘calling cards’ and all of the exhibitors are well known contributors, to a greater or lesser extent, on the London art scene. Certainly, a (loosely knit) group show always has the potential to send the visitor off to see more by any favoured participant.

Should you view the works in sequence, from the implied start of the display you might turn immediately left on entering the Terrace space. Here, with some humour, Max Wade’s ‘Metronome’ appears to be throwing off what remains of a frame and a stretcher fragment, as a painted wooden limb gestures nonchalantly but pointedly towards EC’s ‘BOOM BACK’. This particular example from Wade’s studio has a sense of provisionality if you compare it with subsequent works made for his recent show at Sid Motion Gallery. ‘Metronome’ offers an impression of the unfinished, unrefined or abandoned, instigating a somewhat contained but punk-like sensibility that comes and goes throughout the show. Raw energy vies with measured and carefully nuanced processes, as each of the 19 paintings has to hold its own assured presence.

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Max Wade: ‘Metronome’ [2016]
Almost immediately I found myself mentally rearranging the hang, not because of any inadequacy, but because the possibilities for new relationships are a feature of an intelligently selected body of works, constituting a multitude of new connections and associations. By suspending a typical, orderly walk through, a scan around the space soon picks up the mix of geometric, hard-edged abstraction intermingled with more gestural, spontaneous, painterly compositions. The sequencing mixes up similarities and contrasts alike, and the more overtly geometric examples from Katrina Blannin, David Webb and Shaan Syed have to hold their own within a strongly gestural demographic. From this changed vantage point one might decide to mix up the order of engagement by flitting purposefully from one wall to another – seeking initial security in a sense of order and immediate connection between similar attitudes in the works. But (viewer beware) first impressions must be challenged too, for the sense of an inherent provisionality of some works was initially perceived (though none were overworked) but it was eventually evident that, say, Katrina Blannin’s ‘Piero 5 (P)’, or Gabrielle Herzog’s ‘Untitled (Offbeat)’ were offering more than the sum of their parts.

Another early reaction might be a desire to see more examples from any one particular exhibitor, depending on personal preference or familiarity with the various artists. In this instance I would have liked to have seen a larger example or two by John Bunker to break the monotony of a conventional, though efficient hang. (Although a solo show, ‘Faint Young Suns’ is opening at Unit 3 Projects space at ASC studios in November.) But on a more constructive note there is ample opportunity for experiencing the visual hit from all of the exhibits, including Bunker’s ‘Shady Hill Fugue’, which suggests a spatial constellation far beyond its 43.5x34cms. This busy and colourful composition takes collage (with its painted elements) on a physical as well as a visual journey almost as intensely as EC’s ‘BOOM BACK’ that might have been displayed alongside – but two boisterous children are best given space apart.

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EC: ‘BOOM BACK’ [2019]
‘BOOM BACK’ is somewhat typical of EC’s oeuvre, although she typically takes it to the max from a visual engagement point of view where distribution and layering is always uncompromising. At 20x25cm this is one of the smaller works in the show (although nothing is particularly big) but the inner space is maximal and the eye can take an engaging and meandering staccato-esque, psychogeographic journey in a sequence of 90°, stop-start, urban perambulations in this painterly, collaged environment.

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Katrina Blannin: ‘Piero 5 (P)’ [2019]
Blannin’s ‘Piero 5 (P)’ offers her usual impressive exactitude of application of medium and an immaculate geometric organisation of flat forms. As I studied this engaging work another viewer, visiting artist Will Stein, offered his observation that the image sinks rather satisfactorily into the patchy light and atmosphere of the space. It’s a feature of the installation of the whole show that the painted grey walls avoid the typical starkness of the white cube aesthetic and helps to integrate the works to provide some degree of consistency. This might partly explain why the neighbouring work by Karl Bielik lessens its contrasting juxtaposition with Blannin’s canvas. Bielik’s ‘Net’ might inadvertently be indicatively figurative as a stage-like scenario is occupied by two diamond-like forms that refer the observer back to the pairings of discs in ‘Piero 5 (P)’.

Bielik’s self-confessed unplanned approach to painting (as revealed in an interview for Abstract Critical in 2011) and his modus operandi of making paintings/images as a kind of performance, albeit on many canvases at one time, might be seen as a sort of magic act in which images are produced from a state of activity within the strict parameters of time spent exclusively in the studio. It’s certainly the case that the studio can be a lonely place where subjectivity can drown in introverted self-doubt or, conversely, emerge into the light from where, in a exhibition an audience can engage with the fruits of this curious labour. Indeed, the title of the show, ‘A Tapered Teardrop’ might constitute an unintended misnomer.

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Karl Bielik: ‘Net’ [2013-19]
I asked Karl Bielik about the title and he explained that “the title is a collage of many thoughts and things going on, I’d been listening to ‘Trout Mask Replica’ by Captain Beefheart a lot at the time of coming up with a name for the show. ‘Tapered’ crept into my notes, so teardrop just sounded good and I view it like titling an album and it fitted. So some automatic writing, mixed with stuff going on, and that’s what got thrown up. Then after deciding on that as the title, the words began to take on a different meaning, kind of how we all somehow make our sadness fit and work for and against us – to like the sadness, a measured sadness, a tapered teardrop. I mean we are all painters, not the most functional creatures…”

Bielik’s comment reveals a shrewd understanding of the creative process. Whatever transpires in the studio, maybe the flipside to apparent “sadness” is a quiet and positive contemplation – Bielik’s “tapering”. The paradox of the (apparently) dysfunctional is that it can work in tandem with a dynamic creativity, especially for abstract art that is concretely and psychologically located ‘in the world’ of experience and honest endeavour.

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David Webb: ‘Galata (Blue)’ [2019]
Also, I would posit that the external, social world often informs and seeps into works alongside the personal. For example, David Webb’s ‘Galata (Blue)’ is, on one level, a quiet and meditative affair depicting one flat white form on top another but is undoubtedly informed by his keen eye and relationship to places (including Galata – a village in Cyprus) as titles of so many of his other paintings often reveal. The human sense of balance, poise, lightness and weight, plus symmetrical and asymmetrical interrelationships between forms (geometric and organic), crucially relies on visual perception in his overall project. ‘Galata (Blue)’ possesses a 2D design aesthetic that nevertheless hints at the mass and three dimensionality of architecture. I was also fascinated by an easily missed small smudge of the blue acrylic paint that had thinly leaked from close to the apex of the triangular white base on to the rectangular shape above, as if to remind the observer that this is painting and not graphics. It also reminded me that all perception and thought is as sophisticated in simplicity of realisation as in sometimes necessary complexity.

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Shaan Syed: ‘Untitled’ [2016]
Shaan Syed’s ‘Untitled’ also posses an architectonic and environmental, ‘built environment’ characteristic, despite an enclosed colour scheme of blue, green and sunset orange that hints of nature and landscape. Yet I have a feeling that I could be way off the mark here. The perfectly flat white surface that accounts for the majority of the composition’s frontal area is made from a filler of some sort and hides a primer or hidden background that is revealed almost surreptitiously around the edges.

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Sharon Drew: ‘Flip & Curl 6’ [2019]
A more overtly figurative element however is strongly suggested in Sharon Drew’s ‘Flip & Curl 6’, where a wide, flat brush has formed a curly breaking wave from the seashore. Set against an orange/red loosely striped backdrop the resulting image foregrounds a more independent, organic graphic that, in her own words evokes “the sensation of light, colour, rhythm and movement in the landscape…”

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Kes Richardson: ‘Uncletomcobley’ [2019]
But associations with external subject matter are not always necessary or desirable. Kes Richardson’s ‘Uncletomcobley’ presents an essentially rectangular but jigsaw-like configuration, balancing a thinly applied, wobbly edged patchwork of colours. Figure-ground shifts create a shallow sense of space. The grid-like geometry is organic in nature rather than strictly formulated or measured out and it sits comfortably next to the Caterina Lewis and Mali Morris canvases. It would also be interesting to see this work next to Blannin’s ‘Piero 5 (P)’ as I find myself counting and comparing discs and squares from a ‘systems art’ perspective. On viewing ‘Piero 5 (P)’ for a second or third time I noticed the incredibly subtle tonal existence of grey on grey discs that reveal what is in effect a grid arrangement of 25 circular forms.

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Johanna Melvin: ‘Slipstream Dream’ [2019]
Johanna Melvin’s ‘Slipstream Dream’ straddles both camps of gestural and hard edge abstraction, as perhaps do EC’s and John Bunker’s hybrid collage/paintings. Though visually ‘busy’, the relationship between solid, flat forms (two bars of green and cream in this instance) and a deliberative and paced execution in the making seems apparent. If you know Melvin’s work already you will be aware that solid, flat shapes comingle within painterly arenas as forms shift between the positive and negative notions of space as visual experience.

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Stephen Buckeridge: ‘The Bringing Together of what has been Parted’ [2017-19]
The interstitial characteristics of space, the betweens as well as the withins, inherent in Melvin’s work makes an interesting juxtaposition with the overtly painterly and rich colours in Stephen Buckeridge’s, ‘The Bringing Together of what has been Parted’. But Buckeridge’s powerful and efficacious composition, which contains an element of collage and forms a challenging contrast with David Webb’s ‘Galata (Blue)’ which hangs alongside, suggests expansive proportions of territoriality despite the small size. The paintings are so different that neither interferes or segues into the other, yet each work has a similar characteristic of uncompromising boldness.

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Nicky Hodge: ‘Bereft’ [2019]
To varying degrees Nicky Hodge, Clare Price, Caterina Lewis, Sharon Drew and Mali Morris’ works add a luscious visuality that brings forms into more blended configurations. Hodge’s ‘Bereft’ is a restrained miniature colour field that might have been wrecked with the addition of another colour: it’s a brave decision. Likewise, Caterina Lewis holds back on the colour and knows how to not get carried away with overt enthusiasm for slapping on the paint.

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Phillip Allen: ‘deepdrippings (hypersensitive nose for the next new thing’ [2019]
Intriguingly, one of Lewis’ fellow exhibitors in ‘Stairway To Heaven: Abstraction Now’ (at Watson, Farley & Williams, presented by Coombs Contemporary until 18 October) Philip Allen, displays‘deepdrippings (hyper sensitive nose for the next new thing)’, just about the largest work in the show at 50x45cms. But the oil paint encrusted surface, tonally light and delicately coloured in pastel hues and frothily dense, is anything but slapped on. Despite the varied topography of the surface, the tactile nature of the work dominates visually, through the touch of the eye as if to conjoin senses. This sense of the bodily and the physical is also implicated in Clare Price’s, ‘This gossamer meniscus bomb’. On her Instagram feed the artist has described this as a “Fragile little painting”, which is revealing. A sense of a capricious, shifting and labile mode of thought and physicality appears to be directed by the work in a subtle use of acrylic that could be mistaken for watercolour.

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Clare Price: ‘This gossamer meniscus bomb’ [2019]
 Despite a diminutive 18x24cms, Mali Morris’ ‘Under and Over’ (the smallest work in the show) feels like it could be mural sized, possibly because three relatively large horizontal strokes of equally occluding, veiling and semi-transparent brushstrokes, set against three or four vertical gestures, dominate the ‘field’. In each corner of the composition almost similar green, crimson, orange and purple capsule-like markers lend an anti-clockwise sense of animation and a subtle kinetic force. An orange fingertip, to the right of the top centre edge, pins the image down.

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Mali Morris: ‘Under and Over’ [2011]
An apt grouping of canvases from Gabrielle Herzog, Henry Ward and Tony Antrobus emphasizes some similarities of a materialising structural integrity with a marked linear component, which suggests the potential of a future three-person show. It may be this drawing type component that gives these three canvases a sense of activity that has been stopped in its tracks. Herzog’s ‘Untitled (Offbeat)’ shares some affinity with Caterina Lewis’ reductive display of shorthand mark making that if it were a sound would be a whisper.

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Caterina Lewis: ‘(Untitled)’ [2017]
The slight heaviness of a black top edge to Herzog’s composition hints at the desire to fill the canvas that is often difficult to resist in making a painting, whilst the overpainted (formerly) black double triangle in the bottom half of the composition creates a counterpoint of deliberate negation to the black above. Despite its simplicity, the work increases in visuality the more time one gives it as a kind of ‘slow art’ component.

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Gabrielle Herzog: ‘Untitled (Offbeat)’ [2019]
Ward’s ‘Weekend’ also has this element of unhidden overpainting, which contributes to a sense of drawn deliberation, which is particularly emphasized by a thicket of leggy stumps drawn with oil stick in the lower horizontal quarter of the composition. The colour range is closer to Mali Morris’ palette, which suggests yet another potential combination, although an edginess in the application of paint and pictorial character makes ‘Weekend’ a suitable partner for Tony Antrobus’ ‘Untitled’, wherein a loose repetition of three blacked out uncompromising lozenge-ish shields, that release tail-like drips down the bottom half of the canvas, provide an echo from Herzog’s less emphatic painting. Antrobus’ linear motifs dance almost (but not quite) frenziedly over a background that suggests a history of earlier decisions that refuse to disappear. As with everyone else, you just want to see more.

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Tony Antrobus: ‘Untitled’ [2019]
On another day I may have discussed these paintings in a very different order and made alternative connections of familiarity or contrast between them. If you can visit for yourself, more the better, for after such commitment in the studio the works deserve to be seen, enjoyed and debated. Like the football fans back in the bar, we observe with our own biased point of view, where objectivity is always compromised by personal preference as we tell our tales of what happened that night.

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Henry Ward: ‘Weekend’ [2018] 
Links:

Venue: http://williamthefourth.co.uk

Exhibitors in order of display:

Max Wade https://maxwade.co.uk/

EC https://untitledpainting.wordpress.com

Stephen Buckeridge https://stephenbuckeridge.com

David Webb http://www.davidwebbpaintings.co.uk

Phillip Allen http://www.phillipallenartist.com

Nicky Hodge https://www.nickyhodge.com/index.html

Katrina Blannin http://www.katrinablannin.com/index.php

Karl Bielik http://www.karlbielik.com

Abstract Critical interview https://vimeo.com/24881576

Gabriele Herzog https://www.gabrieleherzog.eu/work

Henry Ward http://www.henryhward.com/paintings-2/

Tony Antrobus https://tonyantrobus.com/recent-paintings/

Clare Price http://www.clareprice.com/#home

John Bunker https://patternsthatconnext.wordpress.com/tag/john-bunker/

Kes Richardson http://www.kesrichardson.com

Caterina Lewis http://caterinalewis.com

Mali Morris http://www.malimorris.co.uk/index.html

Shaan Syed http://shaansyed.com/2018-2/

Johanna Melvin http://www.johannamelvin-art.com

Sharon Drew https://www.sharondrew.com

All images © of the artist

 

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU: Jesse Leroy Smith

JESSE LEROY SMITH: FORCE MAJEURE

Tremenheere Gallery, nr. Gulval, Penzance

25th May to 23rd June 2019

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In anticipation of his forthcoming exhibition in the impressive, oak framed Tremenheere Gallery I have been fortunate enough to see some of the ongoing developments in Jesse Leroy Smith’s recent painting practice. The final selection, overseen by independent art critic Sacha Craddock as curatorial advisor, promises to be rich in imagery and content.

On the artist’s Instagram feed in the run up to the show we read that visitors will experience an “Immersive frieze of paintings across both gallery floors with (an) arcade of collages, photographs, drawings and prints.”

This selection of work draws upon a decade of experimental projects, which is apt as I was first introduced to Leroy Smith’s paintings, prints and drawings about nine years ago when we were both participating (separately) in a Brighton Festival event. My first impressions of his work were two-fold, with the most immediate visceral impact being for the powerful visual presence of the mainly portrait imagery developed from observations of his two children. These I found discomfortingly transgressive in the sense of looking and feeling both human and idol-like, as if to undermine notions of pure individuality or sedate portraiture. The portraits were not necessarily of the children so much as from their lives. Physical poses, looks and gestures transformed them from individuals to archetypes, for in those early years life has an imaginative and theatrical edge constructed through play and enhanced with costume.

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Jesse Leroy Smith – ‘Leopard’ (2006). Oil on canvas. (166x144cm)

The other impression had less to do with the immediate impact of the image (though essential to it) but was one of great admiration for his application of drawing skills. I recall thinking that, unusually for many contemporary figurative painters, here is someone who can draw within the painting – that is within the methodology of the practice, assuredly and authentically aligned to concept and execution. Undoubtedly the talent to make a mark intentionally, especially with a difficult medium like paint, relies as much on the artist’s psychic experience as of the result of an academic educational training. The manual nuances of painting, and drawing and printmaking, in Leroy Smith’s work encompass qualities of a physical and visual confrontation with the visual subject as both materiality (e.g. see how the paint behaves) and mark (painterliness and linear qualities evincing shape as form). The weak images made by so many others rely on look alone and are ethically redundant. Not so here, for in the latter stages of ‘Force Majeure’, as an unplanned project relating to real life circumstances, it appears that this ability to develop the potency of the figurative image persists, with a rawness exploited to the point of near destruction in the drawing content. Empirically, if this is not a contradiction, Leroy Smith reveals the facts of the imagination.

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Jesse Leroy Smith – ‘Black Arrow’ (2007). Watercolour and ink on paper. (50x70cm)

The two standard definitions of the term force majeure can be compounded into one seemingly paradoxical interpretation by this exhibition. For unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract, and/or utilising irresistible compulsion or superior strength, might be summarised by a well-worn cliché: from adversity comes strength. Despite the trials and tribulations of juggling relationships, purposeful endeavor, and self-worth, the results are impressive and uplifting.

An individual’s circumstances are personal, but the consequences and reactions to adversity have an impact that operates on (and with) one’s immediate family and friends, or in the case of creative outlets, can be transformed into the relevant art form. With compulsion, a veritable strength if channeled positively, generates, creates and realises ambition. If there is one thing an artist needs it is strength in commitment to image making and to finding a voice that speaks truths, however confused, damning and disheartening at times.

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Jesse Leroy Smith – ‘Shaman on a Burnt Out Motorbike’ (2019). Oil on canvas panel with collaborative elements with Caleb Smith and Chris Priest. (155x180cm)

Interestingly, in a discussion with artist and writer Paul Becker, Leroy Smith has explained that the main focus of the show, a frieze of up to 18 paintings, his ten-year retrospective is a form of apologia:

As a parent, son, friend, lover, teacher we fail. Let alone the environment. This frieze is an attempt to makes sense of how we can’t cope with being human. For me, painting is a medium of doubt and speculation, what is smeared away is the potential exhilaration.”

Doubt and speculation… these states of being can haunt us all, especially when attempting to progress and develop ideas and to finding meaning through our visual arts practice. In the most recent imagery of the frieze we see many figures, often in a state of becoming or disintegration. If you have followed Leroy Smith’s development this is not necessarily a new development for the individual figure, especially in his impressive range of portraiture over the years. But here the scenarios feel speculative, as the surrounding landscapes expand to a more dissonant environmental space that could be read as dystopian. I prefer to regard these spaces as potentially mythological (echoing and reviving the past) or even futuristic, where lessons might be learned. The sense of time is Bergsonian rather than Cartesian: mobile and fluid, impossible to measure and avoiding an exegesis of fully-fledged facts alone that might induce stasis. A cinematic quality pervades the frieze imagery that induces a sense of an unraveling of time without conclusive certainty – such is the experience of real life.

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Jesse Leroy Smith – ‘Beauties and the Beast’ (2019). Oil on canvas. (140x155cm)
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Still from ‘La Belle et la Bête’ (1946).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The imagery is very open to interpretation. For example, in one panel the father-like figure could be a form of self-portrait (for the male painter) or a fictionalized ‘other’. Or perhaps acknowledges a loss of one’s own childhood for the responsibilities of adulthood. Alternatively, on a mythological level, is the monstrous, colourless, male figure the Bogey Man (or the Green Man) lurking both in the subconscious and in the forest? Or is this a Greek god: Apollo, Ares, Dionysus or Hermes? When I checked with the artist he revealed that the character is transcribed from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film, ‘La Belle et la Bête’ (Beauty and the Beast). From the IMDb trailer the epic lines: “Love can turn a man into a beast… Love can also make an ugly man beautiful”, add poignancy to looking again at Leroy Smith’s images. Certainly, the imagery from his paintings, prints and drawings continue an exploration of the poetics of the visual, where the formal and material qualities of the imagery subsume a narrative that is purposefully open to interpretation at a gut level. How else does one react to a mise en scène of psychological disintegration and ongoing, redemptive recovery? Might this exhibition represent a healthy period of change and of development – despite the sometimes fractured topology, where disembodied arms and lips, or the split-faced, mask-like vestiges inhabit these works?

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Jesse Leroy Smith – ‘The Erotic Impact of a pastel study by Delacroix on a teenage recurring dream’ (2019). (120x150cm)

And what of the animal parts? A bird’s head, a dog (domestic or wild, it may not matter), a pig, bears. We share this planet after all, despite our tendency to consider the world our own in anthropomorphic delusion. Soulful feeling is surely dispersed into all living things and the latent animism, however dispersed and distressed, envelops us all. Because all the world is (really not) a stage.

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Jesse Leroy Smith – ‘Lets kill the Matador’ (Song by East River Pipe) (2019). Oil on copper. (120x 90cm)

On a practical level, especially when considering the paintings, the medium is applied confidently, often generously but not necessarily thickly (though sometimes it is) but skillfully allowing the medium its own characteristics. This could be the flowing nature of thinned oils or an area of sticky mastication. Colour is as crucial as the linear/drawing content. Sometimes brash, though often subtle in effect, the colour creates the mood of spaces. Environments are liminal, characters pensive and ruminatory, though clearly part of the space and therefore the unfolding story. Literal, physical surfaces are visceral, compounding the mood. There is a confident interplay between the illustrative image and the qualities of the substance, its shapes, forms, tone and colour.

The sequencing of a frieze references storytelling of course, and from our Greek and Roman cultural heritage great stories and events are made public. In a modern context there is something of the poster too, whereby the format and sequencing of a display of paintings also becomes public in the gallery environment. But whereas the commercial poster is designed to clearly communicate, influence and bring attention to some circumstance or to graphically convey information, the richness of the narrative painting tradition insists on far more prolonged contemplation to enter the depths of novelistic truths and mythologies. The mystery must be shrouded in plain sight – must be emotional and experiential.

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Jesse Leroy Smith – ‘Take me to the mountain and I’ll swallow the requiem’ (2019). Oil on copper. (55x40cm)

Despite reflecting on personal upheaval over a ten-year period, Leroy Smith’s paintings appear to be in a state of becoming, as opposed to the fragmented and unresolved. Contrary to a notion of personal or cultural history compromised by circumstances, change is the nature of things (and events). There can be, and is, a sense of the transitional within completed compositions. If a figure or an environment in his paintings sometimes appears piecemeal we might read this as necessary shorthand, implying a sense of time and a developing narrative despite the retrospective nature of ‘Force Majeure’.

Jesse Leroy Smith’s images appear to be found through the process of making the work, rather than pre-planned. There is also something of the theatre and the cinema about the scenarios, whereby we can safely relate if viewing from a distance, outside of events. We might all connect with sometimes playful, or challenging, imagery of relationships with others and ourselves and with accepted or expected norms that are ideal more than actual. These various narratives may not be exclusively social or familial worlds but are also shared, universal, psychological constructs. It is in the nature of truly contemporaneous art, that it constantly revives itself in and for the present and through the eyes of the beholder. This explains the over-arching humanity and relevance of art from all eras. ‘Force Majeure’ promises to be a blockbuster.

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Jesse Leroy Smith – ‘Smoking Gun’ (2019). Oil on canvas panel. (160x140cm)

Links:

Jesse Leroy Smith http://www.jesseleroysmith.com

Instagram – @jesseleroy66

Tremenheere Gallery https://www.tremenheere.co.uk

Sacha Craddock http://www.sachacraddock.com

Paul Becker https://paulbecker1.xhbtr.com/THEKINKINTHEARC

IMDb – La Belle et la Bête https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038348/videoplayer/vi1008515097?ref_=vp_pl

A STUDIO VISIT: Kate Sherman

A Studio Visit: Kate Sherman – Coast

“A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter…” (V. Nabokov)

 

In advance of her forthcoming exhibition, entitled ‘Coast’at the ONCA gallery in Brighton (opening 20 June, 2019), I paid a visit to Kate Sherman’s studio in Ditchling, just seven miles north of Brighton. I had anticipated landscape-type developments from a previous show, ‘Rendlesham – New Paintings’ (also at ONCA), which I responded to back in November 2016. A lasting impression from that body of work was of being impressed with a highly skilful painterly photorealism applied to representing the superficial banality of a Forestry England location. Sherman’s treatment and presentation of the subject matter gave rise to brooding possibilities about memory and longing, fixed and transfixed by the eternal phenomenon of painting.

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Kate Sherman – Studio table.

This metaphysical treatment of the ordinary and everyday continues apace in the Coast series. Seeing the new work, both finished and in progress, also reinforced expectations of Sherman’s continued evolvement of painting skills, utilised to registering a certain kind of ordinary yet uncanny subject matter that might represent far more than what is initially perceived. Coast, the exhibition, will undoubtedly invite the viewer to contemplate a potentially loaded subject matter that will emerge from first impressions of commonplace imagery. But this deeper field of enquiry will again demand a slightly abstracted, subjective response to aspects of the everyday and the unremarkable in the way that she re-presents them. Sherman’s paintings demand a slow looking – not the snapshot glance that the photograph often presents. But what they ‘give up’ to the viewer will oscillate between the nebulous and the clear.

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Kate Sherman – ‘Coast 11’, 2019. Oil on board (60X60cm).

Sherman’s ‘drive-by’ house paintings do not explicitly present a series of coastal views, as there is no immediately obvious coastal scenery. An exception is ‘Coast 11’, where we possibly see a glimpse of beach sandwiched between two small vans. This slim portal may reveal the sea in the furthest distance; only the sky and sea is burnt out, overexposed in photographic terms, by a strong source of reflected light.

As for the potential inland vista of distant hills there is also little evidence, although the exception here might be ‘Coast 15’, which is a square format dominated by a parked caravan taking up at least 50% of the area of the composition. On the right hand edge, just into the top half of the mid-section, are two thin bands of grey. The bottom strip is the roof of a building and the top, lighter shape, could well be a strip of mid-distance hillside, toned down by aerial perspective. Or maybe it’s another rooftop?

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Kate Sherman – ‘Coast 15’, 2019. Oil on board (35X35cm).

The other paintings in the series suggest a looking to one side, or immediately ‘along the way’, en route to someplace or other. This lack of land or seascape views suggests the enclosed strip of the carriageway, a corridor of sorts, through the urbanised landscape. Here the mundane and the familiar, seen fleetingly as blurred, foregrounded swathes of tarmac, plus the odd picket fence, a section of the canopy of a tree and a variety of shadows, adds an aura of emptiness and anonymity – perhaps even loss or disappearance. For example, a number of vehicles (low budget cars, vans and caravans) appear as the main figures in the paintings, as there are no actual people or even animals, domestic or wild. These are matched in their dullness by drab bungalows and other unremarkable modern buildings generally enclosed by sections of public space, cut grass or monochromatic skies. We could be travelling the minor ‘A’ roads of southern England in a daydream or state of restrained, bearable ennui. These places, usually only glimpsed at mid-journey, are usefully fixed by the intervention of the camera in Sherman’s preparatory studies. Transformed into paintings, however, there might be more to the potentially humdrum and prosaic narrative.

In an interview with Jessica Wood (from Arts Media Contacts in Lewes), about these paintings, Sherman has explained that she “grew up on the coast in Dorset, and had quite an idyllic childhood by the sea. With this series I am trying to recapture some of the feelings of innocence and simplicity connected with childhood… There are also ideas around loss.”

So, this occlusion of the view of land and sea, where buildings and vehicles might block the view of a child returning to her routes (prompting the bored but yearning, “Are we nearly there yet?” soundtrack of many a long journey), could make some sense. Except that the artist is no longer a youngster, and she could be reflecting upon both an equally pleasing and poignant intermixing of emotions.

Time is certainly an element too. As the here and now is so impossible to pin down, only the past exists as something reasonably concrete (though surely the past is distorted by memory itself and can only be placed in the context of the present). That the artist, and by implication, the viewer, only see these types of empty but potent scenarios from the Coast series fleetingly, might suggest that, were it not for the ‘memory technology’ of the camera, such representations and views of places might be quickly forgotten or left unrecorded.

As we may recount, those early untroubled years that, ideally, most children have, may well have seemed like a golden age when time itself was stretched out into an almost endless ‘now’ – but from the perspective of adulthood we experience time as flowing faster and with greater urgency. This adds a tone of reversed premonition to the work, which activates and energises a feeling that we might sense in the subtle painterliness of the application and materiality of the paint. Message and medium are interconnected by varying qualitiesof light, colour, texture, composition and space, where content is associative and liminal rather than presenting a clearly defined narrative.

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Kate Sherman – ‘Coast 10’, 2019. Oil on board (35X35cm).

It’s also appears to be very quiet in these images; yet the silence of these physical ‘outside’ spaces and the mobile and immobile structures (homes, caravans and vehicles) that assign human ergonomics to a sense of place and space, might sonically echo or rekindle memories suggesting the fourth dimension of anthropic time. By this I mean the duration from the present to the personal past as experienced by reminiscence, or the unexpected surfacing of episodes of gentle trauma. In pictorial terms, the depth of distance is flattened and foregrounded, despite the occasional perspective and vanishing points of receding roads and orthogonal, architectural elements. There is a draining out of colour too and here the colour palette of Agnes Martin or Giorgio Morandi springs to mind, encompassing quietude and tonally meditative imagery. The Coast paintings juxtapose society’s urban clutter against flat, grey-blue skies, where greenery is controlled and piecemeal. This territory, viewed and reconstituted with cool restraint, makes for an agnostic, temporal and secular palimpsest in subjective Protestant tinctures.

Sherman’s reconstituted photo-album records urban dwellings that look somewhat off-track, where vehicles are often seen from the rear or in semi-private roads. These are places you might only visit if you had taken a wrong turn or you would only need to go to if friends or relatives lived there – or perhaps these are the real destinations, where the goal is to reach the people and not the picture postcard coastal resort.

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Kate Sherman – ‘Coast 8’, 2019. Oil on board (57X60cm).

Initially, the imagery reminded me of a passage from ‘Transparent Things’, Vladimir Nabokov’s 1972 novel:

“Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want matter to stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines! … A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, of the now, should please not break its tension.”

Nabokov’s quirkily written novella tells the story of the main character’s recollection of his four trips to a village in Switzerland over almost two decades. The author presents a journey through a kind of metaphysics of memory, where reminiscence is more than mere factual recall due to its subjective nature and has an immediate relationship to an immaterial sense of past reality based in time. Every object (a stone, a pencil…), or familial historical event, is loaded with known and unknown histories leading to consequences driven as much by chance or design as by desire.

In Sherman’s paintings for Coast, specific, personal history might be deliberately obscure or non-descript, as the author passes interpretation over to the onlooker, as if a potentially self-obsessed investigation is being deflected into a more shared experience. The thinned application of oil paint, gently hued and subtlety nuanced in interconnecting planes of conjoining perspectival and flattening shapes, acts as “a thin veneer of immediate reality” to evoke a response specific to a new witness.

As Sherman further explained to Jessica Wood:

“I want the viewer to respond to the experience or feeling in the painting, rather than a specific place; keeping it vague makes it more likely that something may trigger a memory and perhaps provoke an emotional response.”

These paintings also take the viewer on a journey of sorts, only this is a through the viewfinder snapshot revealing of the artist’s outings. Because of the blurring, indicating the observer’s speed in relation to the subject matter, and the predominant angle of view, there’s a sense too that the vantage point is from the side window of a car. In this sense, the commonplace is framed and composed, as a traveller would see it – not constructed or fabricated in the classical, 17thcentury landscape tradition from Claude Lorrain onwards. The cropped image, art historically, may owe something to Degas and his acceptance of the viewfinder framing of immediate reality for some of his compositions (e.g. see ‘Carriage at the Races’, 1872. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston); and throughout the 20th century to the burgeoning ascendancy of visual representation, and notions of realism, mediated by the camera lens in all its various manifestations and formats.

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Kate Sherman – ‘Coast 18’, 2019. Oil on board (100X100cm)

But Kate Sherman is not strictly a photorealist and a composition such as ‘Coast 18’, where barely hidden drips of paint disrupt the traits of photorealism, we see a painter (or rather, the work) in a positive, questioning state of transition. Coast promises to present a fascinating series of paintings; real physical images rendered by hand, that are not the result of a purely reproductive, mechanical or copying process. The attentive audience will become aware of a sense of time – not just in the time to patiently make and to craft the paintings in symbiotic relation to the source of the image from a particular mode of primary research, but to their own phenomenological experience of place and memory. In relation to photography, this almost expressionless painting may bare a greater verisimilitude to the veneer of the ‘real’, sparking personal and familial memory and associations enabling us to dig deep.

 

Geoff Hands (April 2019)

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Kate Sherman – Studio wall.

Links:

Kate Sherman: http://www.kateshermanpaintings.co.uk

‘Rendlesham – New Paintings’ review:

https://fineartruminations.com/2016/11/08/out-of-this-world-rendlesham/

ONCA: https://onca.org.uk

Jessica Wood at AMC: http://www.artsmediacontacts.co.uk

 

NOT MUCH? – DRIVING SCHOOL: David Bellingham

Driving School: David Bellingham

Main Gallery, Phoenix Brighton

19 January to 24 February 2019

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In the beginning was the Word… or was it the image or the object that enabled communication for the antecedents of Homo erectus? In terms of the evolution, invention and development of human communication (through shared language systems), how were thoughts as exclusively non-material manifestations related to things (signs and symbols) in the world? A sign cannot be a signifier devoid of meaning but it takes many forms. What role does art have in a world full of increasingly reactionary, fixed views and the post-modern impulse to mix things up? David Bellingham’s ‘Driving School’ prompts these thoughts – these ruminations.

Curated by David Shrigley, an element of wit and absurdity – with a dash of idiosyncratic character – might have been expected. For Shrigley fans, ‘Driving School’ will not disappoint as Bellingham’s visual/text/object works challenge and coax the observer’s intellect and sense of humour alike. The work is both fun and droll.

That Shrigley chose an artist who is not so well known is refreshing too. The exhibition title suggests that the viewer will be attending some kind of compulsory educational experience and the press release prepared visitors by stating that:

“Driving School offers lessons in unlearning and relearning, undoing and redoing and unmaking and remaking. To unlearn something is to take it apart, to relearn it is to put it back together examined and refreshed.”

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The works in ‘Driving School’, currently installed at Phoenix Brighton, pose many questions based on what is perceived as well as read. The newly refurbished gallery is transformed into a learning zone wherein the dynamic learning situation generates questioning from the viewer (the student), which the artwork (the teacher) facilitates. The installation (the lesson plan in action) of various works lets go of total control (didacticism) to allow for debate (welcoming the student voice). The goal here is not to obtain a diploma, but to carry on thinking and looking as reward in itself.

Of course, we know that the standardisation of the conventional driving school must be instructive, objective and specific, leading to fixed outcomes of shared, collective knowledge without room for modification of the rules. But this is an art exhibition and an implied post-academy visual arts curriculum asserts its strengths on antithesis and fluid thinking. All that is fixed, flows. Absurdity is celebrated where certainty and bafflement are equal partners for our binary thinking habits. Bellingham conjoins word, image and object as one. The viewer can take the works at face value or extrapolate at will. To varying degrees there is paradox in all of the works displayed, but all is concrete and tangible despite the conceptual framework that might define this visual field of enquiry.

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As the viewer enters the exhibition the first work encountered is ‘MATTER IN MOTION’, a wall text/drawing. It might be a super-enlarged photocopy of a sophisticated doodle. The work (as image) is made from thousands of near identical marks. It’s more than a doodle of course. The work is planned for this specific wall space as the whole wall is filled as a singular composition. Initially, the white letter-forms stand out against the background. But do the letters depict negative space, the space between or behind forms, or are the letters the foregrounded forms? Furthermore, is the phrase an object of sorts? Are the three words no more than 14 letters? Or should the drawn linear elements (albeit just the one sort) constitute a pictorial image? But this is a picture, of sorts, formed as an installation-type artwork on a wall. We simultaneously ‘read’ the words as image. The placement of the letters suggests time and motion too as the letters could be forming or displacing and deconstructing the words. The message is fixed on the wall but the implication is one of movement as the mind reacts to the visual dynamics.

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In ‘Driving School’ contradiction is an essential characteristic. The Hegelian interpretive method (thesis and antithesis leading to synthesis) enshrines contradiction as an essential model of thought and debate. But synthesis (in the form of these conceptual artworks) might remain consistently contradictory. For example, ‘A circle in the mind prompted by a circle on the wall’ prompts the chicken-egg conundrum – which came first? Is the ‘artwork’ in the viewer’s mind and on the wall simultaneously? Admittedly the art-object was on the wall before entering the gallery, but the viewer attends pre-programmed with the notion of a circle already formed in the mind. Where did the circle originate and is the idea of a circle innate? (And was it a perfect circle? Plato’s theory of forms/ideas tells us there is no such thing…)

db - a moment installation

If this is too serious and weighty some humour to lighten the mood is welcome. Many viewers smile on encountering a grouping of five apparent road signs. There’s ‘NOT MUCH’except ‘DIGRESSION DISTRACTION DIVERSION’in ‘A PLACE AMONG PLACES’and ‘A MOMENT AMONG MOMENTS’with ‘A SIGN AMONG SIGNS’. In poetic mode you can order the instructions in any order you wish and as the temporary road sign is a moveable object it might be permissible to engage physically with the work.

Or you can escape up a ladder into the roof space and beyond. For in the beginning was the Imagination…

db - ladder

 

Homework (Links and further reading):

Phoenix Brighton – https://www.phoenixbrighton.org/events/driving-school/

David Bellingham – http://www.davidbellingham.com

David Bellingham interview with Lisa Otty – http://www.davidbellingham.com/texts/pdfs/For_Wall.pdf

Make your own, many signs available here – https://www.uksafetystore.com

Note:

EDITION 1 (19 January to 17 February)

Also on display in the Window Gallery space at Phoenix Brighton is ‘Edition 1’ an initiative to promote the resident artists from the Phoenix studios.

Buy works here: https://www.phoenixbrighton.org/all-shops/edition-1-shop/

kiki stickl - second thoughts ii
Kiki Stickl – ‘Second Thoughts II’

SLAM-DUNK: JOHN BUNKER NEW COLLAGES

Slam-Dunk: John Bunker New Collages

Unit 3, ASC, Empson Street from 3-17 November 2018

26 - Slam-Dunk front door - (GH)

Collage has a significant 20thcentury history. Inspired by Braque and Picasso, Kurt Schwitters typically utilised “used tram tickets, bits of driftwood, buttons and old junk from attics and rubbish heaps” and, long before re-cycling was a conservation matter, applied his alchemical process effectively. Henri Matisse utilised painted papers and cut out the shapes required for his decoupage that extended his exploration of painting, particularly in his latter years. In the era of the Abstract Expressionists, Robert Motherwell raised the medium of collage (and particularly the Gauloises packet) to an aesthetic height where it became conjoined with painting. With Duchampian whit, and challenging categorisations between painting and sculpture, Robert Rauschenberg produced a huge body of collage and assemblage works (aka ‘combines’) with explicit social and cultural content, introducing ironic reference to abstract painting and contemporaneous subject matter. Matisse aside, an underlying spirit of Dadaism and with a nod towards Arte Povera, a particular type of collage can still exploit a direct embracing of materials from the urban jungle.

Within the visuality of collage as material and process, which still has an aesthetic and fiscal purchase (i.e. material value), it appears evident from John Bunker’s ongoing project that, in the broadest context, collage engages with an interpretation of social reality that has more political and economic discomforts than might be desired. Crucially, this reading is best experienced from being in the presence of the work, which is both visually abstract and embodied in the material specificity of a re-constructive process. Like painting, in the flesh the collages possess a life force that is compromised in reproduction – rendering any notion of duplication as anything close to satisfactory, almost null and void.

13 - JB - Vilja 2018
John Bunker – ‘Vilja’, 2018

One fascinating aspect of these new mixed media shaped collages (though the term ‘assemblage’ better categorises Bunker’s works as many of the parts are objects as much as surfaces) is that the base materials possess idiosyncrasies of substance and surface impossible to replicate on the ubiquitous screen. Materials and objects that had a previous life, used goods as it were, become fresh or new again as component parts of the subsequent artwork. So, in ‘Vilja’, one of twelve works presented in ‘Slam-Dunk’, items such as electrical cable, cardboard packaging or a printed poster are not those things anymore. Identity is reassigned to a very different functionality. Material hierarchy is certainly de-bunked.

In these works the deterioration of the physical conditions of found objects, street and studio detritus, are presented as if new and fresh; where for example, decomposition and fragmentation can be regarded as a primary state and not a proximate condition within a standard ontology of physical manifestations. So the various engineered metal components in ‘Tjádass’, one that may have functioned as part of a musical instrument, another as a sturdy wall fastening (replete with plastic rawl plug), survive destruction and redundancy in a form of re-incarnation. The connection with Schwitters’ synthesizing use of mixed media, which interchanged the material and the visual, is palpable in the ‘Slam-Dunk’ collages.

14 - JB - Tjaldass 2018
John Bunker – ‘Tjádass’, 2018

Twelve months on from Bunker’s last one-man show at Unit 3, the viewer is treated to these new works gathered together with quirky titles. For an Abcrit review for ‘Leave It’ in 2017, I had commented that, “I was reminded that collage is not a substitute for painting.” It was apparent that these collages were potent enough in themselves to stand alone from painting, albeit with similar characteristics – made for the wall; to be read by the eye across the surface, with various implications of spatial congress; shifting the visual interrogation from part to part; colours, shapes and surfaces refreshing the abstract mission; and prompting suggestions for personal interpretations on context or sufficing unadulterated visual pleasure.

‘Slam-Dunk (for Dennis)’, the largest work in the show that filled a whole wall, is something of a punk-mural as many of the various components are torn by hand, burnt and dishevelled. Though discarded, rejected and roughed up, the parts are now rescued and revived. But are the painted parts in ‘Slam-Dunk (For Dennis)’, a little disingenuous if they have been made to be unique collage components? Perhaps they are intended as simulacra of wastage from the production of other paintings/collages? Intermixed with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam, including found print, nylon string, fragments of plywood and plastic and cotton material of unknown origin, the inclusion of paint (industrial and artists’ quality?) might reference Rauschenberg’s expressionist painterly gestures – only now the paint might be a spill or composed bluntly from a cleaning of the brush, rather than a personalised action from the hand of a ‘master’.

10 - JB - Slam Dunk (for Dennis)
John Bunker – ‘Slam Dunk (For Dennis)’, 2018

All of the other works are much smaller (approximating 50 x 60cm each) and you can touch them with your eyes by standing close-to. Keeping your hands to yourself increases the visceral pleasure and tactile frisson of so many moving parts. Though nothing actually moves, except the viewer. Take, for example, ‘Fun Bobby’, which might suggest two dancers in full swing connected by a flash of red feather and white bunting. A wriggling line, with few breaks, starts with a ring at bottom centre, heads north-west into a patchwork maze then bridges east to a counterpart form that is characterised by a figure of eight, and a diamond framework placed over a black disc, overlapped in part by a second little shanty town of patches.

15 - JB - Fun Bobby
John Bunker – ‘Fun Bobby’, 2018

What is so impressive about the works in ‘Slam-Dunk’ is not only the inherent particularity of the stuff of the collages, but the selection and arrangement within the frameless compositions – the choreography as such. As with all of the works on show, there is visual dynamism in every composition. Bunker’s ‘expanded field’ of collage removes the omnipresence of the rectangle and eliminates the edge that preoccupies some abstract practitioners. The various colour-shapes echo spatial placements, propose latent moveability; physically conjoin, meander, occlude and reveal the specific abstract qualities that are somehow vital and fecund in an organic phraseology of materiality. Disjuncture is carefully balanced with ‘just rightness’, whilst visual rhythms unlock the still nature of the fixed parts and the condition of the arrangements are inherently organic, playing with a shift from the visual to the material and vice versa.

As installation, the wall behind each work in the gallery space, and the quality of light (particularly from the spotlights) that enhance low relief in millimetres, activates the collages, especially if the viewer approaches at close quarters. As is typical of Bunker’s collages, there is a painterly aesthetic at work in an agile distribution and handling of the materials. The works have edged towards resolution into an abstract condition that may well emulate painting, but still maintains the independence of collage in the same way that print is both independent of, but inextricably related to painting.

As medium and process, we might still debate the status of collage as an offshoot of painting (and sculpture in the form of assemblage), or as an independent medium. Current artspeak might label the kind of collage that John Bunker makes as ‘expanded field’ of painting. His work is certainly ‘painterly’ and I sometimes wonder what a new series of paintings would look like – although I would imagine that the canvas would simply get in the way.

In Bunker’s press statement for ‘Slam-Dunk’ a revived declaration from three years ago reiterates his contention that, “Collage allows me to constantly test the limits of what an abstract painting can be. I hope to find something like a new hybrid visual grammar in these clashes of matter and forms.”

This notion of hybridity is undeniable. So, is collage eternally bound to painting? The kind that Bunker cajoles and constructs from the detritus of the contemporary situation may well place his works in a broader societal context. Perhaps the medium is the message after all, especially if the collages predominantly employ the debris of the urban, suggesting a dystopian reading in its literal, material content. But if the various fragments appear to be resurrected from the waste bin or the gutter – places of superfluous cut-offs, rejection and abandon – the underlying message is a positive and uplifting one. For there is also visual refinement and elegance on display here. The viewer might also embrace the tangible qualities and materiality of the forms in Bunker’s collages in the spirit of Wabi-Sabi, a Japanese philosophy of beauty in imperfection, where the transient and imperfect is revered.

Or is this just too snowflake?

18 - JB - Plurabelle 2018
John Bunker – ‘Plurabelle’, 2018

 

All images are © John Bunker.

 

Links:
Schwitters quotation from ‘Kurt Schwitters: Collages and Assemblages 1929-1947’
https://abstractcritical.com/note/kurt-schwitters-collages-and-assemblages-1920-1947/index.html
‘Leave It…’ John Bunker: New Work (2017)
https://abcrit.org/2017/12/08/88-geoff-hands-writes-on-john-bunker-at-unit-3-london/