As Such And In As Much As: TIM AYRES at PM/AM, until 4 April 2016

I wrote this painting sitting by my muse; Until it runs clear; Sad, I hadn’t realised that I’d died; The beautiful thud; I’ll wait for you here; I am not in love (no, no); Revealing certain softened forms; Sing then… These are titles of paintings not included in Tim Ayres’ exhibition of paintings at PM/AM, a very short walk south from Edgware Road tube station in the direction of Hyde Park.

Words are, exponentially it seems, everywhere. William S. Burroughs likened words (language) to a physical and viral infection. Words, as thoughts, scripts or as speech, occupy and filter through the inner and outer worlds we all inhabit. In verbal discourse, words can be whispered, delivered calmly, or bellowed ferociously. Often formed in print, and increasingly in digital form, words are virtually ubiquitous. Thinking about thoughts could drive you crazy. So, at arms length, on the page, the iPad or the Kindle, there’s a distance that enables the reader some objectivity. Likewise, words on canvas could similarly, at eyes length, offer some handy detachment.

Ayres’ painted words and phrases may have been sourced from overheard conversations, the radio, or, out of the blue, they just popped up in his mind in a seemingly casual way. In a recent email exchange to get the back story on As Such And In As Much As, Ayres referenced his profound love of music, lyrics and the influences of the recorded song: ‘I love the synthesis of music and song text. Music is the colour; the song text is the image. I keep thinking of the word ‘timbre’ – the timbre of an instrument, or a voice. It’s a timbre that I’m looking for in my work.’

Tim Ayres 'Linger' 2015
Tim Ayres – ‘Linger’, 2015

Historically, the visual lexicon of painting seldom requires words as formal, visual content. There are notable exceptions that become memorable of course, such as Rembrandt’s Belshazzar’s Feast (1636-8) in the National Gallery collection; or Roy Lichtenstein’s Pop masterpiece, Whaam! (1963), a visitors’ favourite at the Tate Modern. My impression is that text as image in contemporary art is increasing despite the notion that artists paint what cannot be expressed in words. But in Ayres’ paintings we can consider the words as formal, visual content in the same way that colours, marks, textures and shapes are. This work offers the viewer the intriguing combination of text as image, where words are concurrently literal and abstract. At first glance Ayres’ paintings appear visually uncomplicated, which in a way, they are. Images are created, either with words, in the Eurostile Extended 2 font, or constructed from a rigid, or collapsing, linear framework. The visual information invites a reading and interpretation beyond face value. We are purposely not being told everything and must bring or make our own interpretations from the typographic or linear image content in conjunction with the painted elements.

Culturally, we are so attuned to the image/text conjunctions that feature in advertising that initially I wondered if the word content in the range of paintings would capture a viewers’ attention more immediately than other aspects of the works on display, but in fact it was the colours that made the first visual hit. The colour impact in all of the paintings, especially the strong pinks, reds and various blues that Ayers has chosen, creates continuity in colour contrasts to hold the visual diversity of the whole show together.

The silvery orange in Dead Is Easy, (2015), applied with a wide flat brush in glazed layers, forming a skin over the canvas, is as luscious and sweet as the fruit itself. At 195X130cm the work felt like a commanding human presence in terms of its physical size. Another image with strength in colour and paint application is, I’m Pregnant, (2015), consisting of blue letters on a red foregrounded colour-field overlaid on a blue ground that emerges at the lower edge of the canvas. How do we read this? Were the words originally spoken or texted? It’s all in lower case – but there is no exclamation mark to suggest elation. Could this be a celebratory announcement or a moment of despair? Pregnancy testing kits show blue or pink indicators – so do the colour combinations reference chemical colour coding and the fateful outcome? It’s a fragmentary statement, as are the other word images. The various titles give little away and offer overheard or half-recalled quotations up to interpretation.

Tim Ayres 'Dead Is Easy' 2015
Tim Ayres – ‘Dead Is Easy’, 2015

There is no obvious context, which counterpoints a vacuum of sorts, and hence a possible dialectical reading of the work. A combination of the telematic (from the computer and contemporary) in relation to the haptic (related to hand-painted, gestural and evoking tradition) creates a tension. In what has been called Post-Internet Art (a term formulated by the artist Marisa Olson in 2009), many contemporary artists are appropriating images through or with digital technology in order to celebrate, undermine or exploit its presence. In the visual relationship between the modern Eurostyle typeface and the otherwise pre-Internet, painterly, faux-expressionistic surface I have a sense of an artist, with an instinctive, even Romantic, sensibility. The evidence for this is revealed through colour, albeit with a slightly reserved handling of paint. The paint treatment is successfully aligned to an anti-intellectualising decision making process that reveals itself in the almost offhand, witty or droll text casually, though carefully, integrated with the painterly backgrounds.

This text element is made from a vinyl-lettering stencil that is computer generated and machine made, but is not necessarily applied in contrast to the process of painting. Ayres has explained that: ‘Stencils have to be ordered and there’s an element of only getting one hit at it when it comes to it, so there’s a lot of mental preparation involved on the run in.’ This has changed my initial sense of the text content as imperatively mechanical, for even here there is the possibility of mishandling in applying the words during the painting process.

There is also a dominant visual and abstract sensibility in all of these works. They are non-figurative, non-perspectival, and concerned with the process of painting in addition to offering intriguing visual propositions. They stress surface and the materiality of the paint medium. Art historically, this approach to painting has antecedents in post war, New York School, Greenbergian, aesthetics. But in Ayres’ paintings there is a minimalist, detached, non-autographic presentation of the visual content: evidence of information (pictogram and digital text) for life in the new millennium?

All of the paintings in the show consist of forms, not only words, applied on top of layers of acrylic paint that opens them up for translation and meaning. Or no one meaning, but the potential of several? This is often a feature of poetry and songwriting, where improvisation or spontaneity, with a flow of words and sounds, is enough to create something persuasive, but with avoiding the obvious.

On a biographical note, Ayres had an inclination to be poet when he was much younger. Interestingly, two paintings at PM/AM feature the word poem: Poem (EPT), (2015) and another, smaller, mirror image: Poem (AK/AB), (2014), about a third smaller at 70X50cm. The larger work is coloured a hot, sexy, pink, whilst the other is dark grey. Both stress the double syllable of the word po-em, but the smaller work presents a mirror image of the word and has a sinister feel.

Tim Ayres 'Poem (EPT)' 2015
Tim Ayres – ‘Poem (EPT)’, 2015

Replying to a question about his early interest in being a poet, Ayres replied:

‘I’d like to avoid this question… but in all honesty, yes, I guess so. But it’s not fulfilment, it just transpires. It was never schematic or tactical. It’s an organic process, evolving as one moves through one’s self. Looking back, one sees key moments in one’s activity and can say ‘oh yes’ and ‘of course, that makes sense’ about one’s practice. But you can’t project that sense or understanding forward. I guess that’s half of the fun of it. That all said, I don’t consider myself a poet.’

Ayres, born in Hastings in 1965, now lives and works in Amsterdam. He was born into a generation adapting and developing to the post-industrial, information age. With the advent of digital technologies and the questioning of painting as a dominant fine art medium, to the post-modern artist, sound, words, images and even time/duration are tools, materials and mediums. A supposed equality was proclaimed between all media and disciplines and any ingredients were deemed available to reconfigure and present ideas in an interdisciplinary conjunction. For example, the choice to present, or toy with, an ironic disconnection with language and imagery is suggested in Ayres’ paintings. However, Ayres eschews an overriding theoretical basis to his practice and rejects labels such as Linguistic theory, Semiotics, Critical Theory – or even Post-Internet.

Commenting on his post-graduate experiences: ‘When I first arrived in Amsterdam at the Rijksakademie, at the end of the ‘80s, the place was abuzz with post-modern discussion and I dipped into that, probably as a reactionary move against what I’d been shown to see as the old fashioned modernism of my education in Britain. New clothes, a new wardrobe to wear, a shift in identity in a new environment.

‘You know, the artwork as a text, simulacrum, the end of the pursuit to be original and even, oh dear, that painting was dead… So this is what I mean about ‘concepts back when’. Clothes suit us and then, perhaps in time, they stop suiting us. So no, I don’t align myself to any theoretical or critical style or basis.’

I asked him if, from a technical or thematic point of view, how he starts a painting?

‘Technically? I’m using a glazing technique, so there’s a notion that the first layer is of equal importance to the last. So, a layer of paint (is applied) to step outwards with. That first layer will be crucial in the voice that I think I want the painting to have later. Maybe like a harmony that will perhaps be audible, if only barely, in the final mix.

‘Thematically? The painting starts itself when it sees itself in the mind’s eye, mostly long before the painting starts.’

Tim Ayres is a painter, not a poet, and what the artist chooses to communicate non-verbally, is delivered exclusively through the medium of paint, his primary and un-literal, material. This visual content includes a paradoxical sense of the word or phrase, which is as visual as it is literal when made the subject, or figure, in a painting. But these are not adumbrated poems, making haiku look long-winded. The imagination should be present, or invited to a painting (or a poem) otherwise there is little of value.

In the Tom Tom Club song, Wordyrappinghood (1981) ex-Talking Heads member, Tina Weymouth, sings:

  ‘Mots pressés, mots sensés,

  Mots qui disent la vérité, mots maudits, mots mentis,

  Mots qui manquent le fruit d’esprit’

Which translates as:

‘Hurried words, sensible words,

Words that tell the truth, cursed words, lying words,

Words that are missing the fruit of the mind’

The last line from this verse (the three lines rhyme better in its original French) suggests that any word, or expression, can possess a rich, even latent, potential.

Tim Ayres’ word paintings remind me that every remark may have poetic nuance, even from a non-literary, everyday utterance.

Tim Ayres 'Oh My Well God Fuck Yeah' 2015
Tim Ayres- ‘Oh My Well God Fuck Yeah’, 2015

PM/AM is at 259-269 Old Marylebone Road, London NW1 5RA:


Video of Tim Ayres in his studio:

Word A Day: 2015

Throughout 2015 I wrote a word each day in a diary to form a poem:


Word a day: 2015

Disciplined thoughts cram,
Overlap, in staccato pulse

Slip function counters in beat,
Walking after all

Fly, sing,
Treasure the moment

Often change, seldom sleep
Collapse years to now

Always is beautiful for the blossom bloom
Raw, undefined by seasons

A flow that appears, appears.
A moment infinite

Returning inward, but
Instantly un-thought, superseded

Time travellers, constantly measuring,
Trace carefully, remember detail

For what increases,
Occludes self reflection

Denounces notions of progression
Living in a recurring disappearing

Solid and formed, detail pinpoints illusion
Not knowing, not empathy

Love benign:
Still but dynamic torque

Good turn away,
Interpret as cause without reflection

No understanding to intervene,
Finished somehow

Flying, apparently,
Doubt, push anything

Withdraw, submit
Anticipate the drive

Futuristic emptiness,
Potential that evades

Torn, fragmented, undercurrents
Time is nonsense tangled deep

Energies translated by necessity
Switch in unison


Reboot, go, repeat
Go, rest not fathom

Leave quickly,
Presuming changes

Inconspicuous and charlatan moments
Structure in deep

Flotsam gestures,
Voice particulars

Floating froth articulates chaos
Clearly, paradox instigates

So liquid: Time,
One mass

Dense with potential

Bleached future,
History never reached

But theory moves
Granted with ease

Stop soon, word is out.
Apply soon

Whispers engage thought,
The long is a whisper too

Elements of potential entertain repetition
In staccato

On conclusion, contradiction
Woven, assimilated

Base for another departure
Low view awe

Made to spike at least

Space spirit sliding
Switching sea sourced sensation

Change living

Cognitive defeat, only not mobile
Ask again

Speakers mute,
Love rain

Audio scratches
Blanket deep soundscape

Continuous redeeming fuses
Expertly guiding everything

Dream content on vacation

Stumped by waking
Purblind, gross, ineluctable and scrambled

Punishment avoided
Examined writings affect and indulge function mode

Erratum: image as mediator
Objective and composed seeks facture for now

Model of understanding
Critical birth

Organise the text
Divulge doubts

Bitter, crowded, disturbing
Yet purposeful labour

Apropos: trivial journeys
Safely negotiate

Where mindfully remembered
Negotiate surprise

Trawl and peer,
Sense what is structured

Visit with open arms.
Might there mostly develop a sensation nomad?

Constantly agitating
Weighing up patterns

Viral skeins
Exponential by design

Ordered chaos

Listen: sunlight blesses the shoreline
Where movement is

Where time distils connected events
Walking in line, immersed discipline(d).

Scan 1

“Are you still looking for a Cézanne?” Merge Visible: New Digital Paintings by Dennis Loesch

Merge Visible: New Digital Paintings by Dennis Loesch
PM/AM Gallery, 259-269 Old Marylebone Road, London

Dennis Loesch_Merge Visible_Instal_lo19.jpeg

Despite the variety of media and means available for artists to make their mark upon the world, or add another object to it, painting will not go away. In recent weeks, for the London-centric art viewer-visitor, ‘must see’ lists would surely have included the extremely painterly and mightily abstract, John Hoyland: Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 (Newport Street Gallery) and the supreme and breathtaking Frank Auerbach (Tate Britain) exhibitions; and of course Frieze and Frieze Masters in Regent’s Park. Just before the recent spate of shows, the Sonia Delaunay and Agnes Martin exhibits at Tate Modern, in contrasting ways, would have revived (if needed) a battery re-charging of the potentials, and achievements, of abstract painting. With such major events filling the diary of necessary distractions (especially from the daily routines of studio practice, if you are an artist) smaller shows, or venues less well known, can be overlooked.

So, at the start of four days of consecutive gallery visiting, culminating at Frieze Masters, I headed for the mid-show breakfast event of Merge Visible: New Digital Paintings by Dennis Loesch at the PM/AM gallery, a newly renovated space located on the Old Marylebone Road, where the artist would be present. This venture, to introduce mostly German based artists to the UK, has been set up by Patrick Barstow (London) and Lee Colwill (Berlin), handily coinciding with many critics and collectors being in town for the Frieze events.

Berlin-based artist Dennis Loesch, who was trained in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts at the Städelschule in Frankfurt has not exhibited in the UK before and from the press release for Merge Visible we learn that Loesch’s imagery from this, and previous projects (not restricted to painting), present an engagement with “display management” and that he has a “fascination with the digital”. We also read that this recent work “Reveals a new discourse for the artist that investigates the interplay, temporal connections and history between digital imagery and classical painting technique”.

Dennis Loesch_Merge Visible_Instal_lo31.jpeg

The general nature of this introduction was no doubt useful for introducing Loesch’s recent work to interested parties, but, when I met him, he commented that he did not want the press release to explain his work in too much detail. Though highly articulate, Loesch purposely gave little away in conversation as he wanted the viewer to respond with what he called their “first view”: that is, to the work itself, with no prior explanation to frame or influence an interpretation or understanding. (He did acknowledge that all viewers would, of course, have varying degrees of art historical awareness to affect the experience of engaging with the work – and it seems to me that this would, further down the line, be crucial to a better contextualised reading of the work.)

Post Internet Art?
It’s worth saying that I was drawn to visit this show, via receiving the press release and seeing his work on-line (how else?), because the apparently abstract imagery is derived, to some significant degree, from digital sources: but I could not really connect with the work from digital reproductions and felt that I really did need to see the originals – a decision most useful as the paintings are made to be experienced ‘in the flesh’ and not in a purely digital environment as some ‘Post-Internet Art’ might be. In fact, I wonder if this work teasingly almost becomes a form of post-Internet art? Critic, Brian Droitcour’s definition as “art being made in the context of digital technology” (see ‘The Perils of Post-Internet Art’ in Art in America) would appear to consent to this. But Loesch’s approach, to producing paintings in this instance, might be more accurately defined as Conceptual and/or Post-Painterly. If there is an element of teasing (my interpretation), I mean it in an ironical sense of requiring the work to be experienced as materially painting (by various means), and as continuing the long tradition of painting as we understand it, but in relation to the non-material, digital environment.

This personal interest was also abetted after seeing the small but suitably differentiated survey display, ‘Painting After Technology’, at Tate Modern where I was especially fascinated by Wade Guyton, Sigmar Polke and Christopher Wool’s imagery and means of production. It could be that overt contemporaneity is essential for some painters in the sense that the new technologies in image manufacture, appearance and dissemination (Walter Benjamin’s, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, is of course a key text) are programmatically allowed to impact on their practice – though I would argue that Auerbach’s daily record of his interaction with painting his portraits and urban street views are as contemporaneous, and empirical, as you can get.

In Merge Visible (note: Merging Visible is a Photoshop term for an action to fuse together, as one layer, a number of visible, overlaid images which makes them inseparable) the digital sources, or references, are not so obvious – a conscious ploy I assume – as not even pixilation was mimicked that one might see in, say, Dan Hays’ ‘Colorado Series’ (where the pixilated rendering in oil paint is crucial of course). Loesch’s paintings are exquisitely made, with brush marks applied with precision, and ink-jet layers are added to each composition in a variety of configurations and colour schemes, part-covering the various ‘brush marked’ surfaces. For the digital printing to be applied perfectly the surfaces are carefully prepared and this attention to immaculate production is carried through to the final gallery display in smart, well engineered, aluminium frames. All, this might suggest, is mere surface – and digital depth is shallow, despite an approximation with traditional painting.

Dennis Loesch_Merge Visible_Instal_lo24.jpeg

My deeper reaction to the show, one that prompted questions that should be heeded but do not necessarily provide clear-cut answers; or reactions that are not definitively for or against, set me on a train of thought that I suspect will sustain me for some time yet. Synthetic, processed images (I’m trying to avoid the gendered term ‘man-made’) intervene and negotiate with the perception, representation and meaning of the physical and emotional world around us but, in this burgeoning era of digital technologies, many of us will quite possibly spend more time looking at and negotiating with a digital screen than in looking at original paintings, prints or photographs (that is, physical images, for even mass-consumption type pictures such as newspaper or magazine photographs are now virtual, or digital, too). One could expect therefore, for digital technologies to affect and influence contemporary painting in execution, form and content – for better or worse.

From the text provided by the Tate (curated by Mark Godfrey) for the aforementioned Painting After Technology display the explanation is given that: “Many of these artists are also concerned with working within or against the established traditions of abstraction… If gestures were usually assigned to an expressive artist, can a gesture be faked, or non-assignable? Artists also ask what other models of abstract painting can be retrieved, and look back over the history of painting to rediscover mark-making processes that may be associated with artists out of fashion…”

The referencing of abstraction is interesting here, as mark making and individual characteristics of gesture are questioned (post-De Kooning, I presume); and, secondly, a Post-Modernistic trait to revive, or appropriate, is referenced as a testimony to painters who have been superseded by the Minimalist/Pop generations (I speculate, again). In briefly discussing ‘Untitled (DIN)’, 2015 Loesch referenced what he termed the duktus that was so crucial an element in the realization of the work. The duktus, or touch, is a characteristic style, script or brush mark that traditionally might reveal the author of a work. Loesch employs a highly skilled assistant from his team to produce these literally backgrounded, non-figurative flourishes of loose pattern-like configurations, presenting flatly brushed, linear meanderings of colour. But rather than having a particularly expressive, individual characteristic, the hand painted simulacrums of abstract-like application possess a flat, undemonstrative, digital ‘touch’ that, paradoxically, might be anonymous, even when executed by brush and hand in the long-established ‘haptic’ sense.

Dennis Loesch_Merge Visible_Lime Window_2015_lo6.jpeg

In ‘Untitled (DIN)’, ‘Lime Window’ (2015), and other works by Loesch, the hand painted brush marks are subsequently located behind the various UV-inkjet printed, meandering weaves or geometric shapes of light blue, lime green or other colours, and modified by these virtual brush or stencil-like shapes that have been rendered with a mouse or pen on a drawing tablet in Photoshop (or some similar program). These painted areas are typically part obscured by the printed digital interventions applied on top (the literal foreground) that act as portals and semi-translucent or solid shrouds.

Despite the implications of the apparent digital-disconnect from the physicality of conventional painting tools, an actual, but somewhat removed, digital rendering tool, which never comes into contact with the actual canvas surface, has been legitimately employed. Thereafter, colour shapes are applied ‘by proxy’ by a digital printing machine having been created, earlier, by the intervention of the mouse mat or tablet. The so-called virtual/digital becomes real, materially – challenging definitions of authenticity and, paradoxically, creating the hyperreal.

Certainly, in the main series of works that dominated the display at PM/AM, one sees a kind of sampling of the gestural and abstract, creating pleasantly colourful, abstract-pop-paintings that are rendered as almost flat, referencing a reproduction aesthetic: The flat print of the ubiquitous imagery (say) of advertising, or the glassy smooth-screen digital interface, might suggest that a kind of degenerated image is the result, usurping and transforming the proto-image (the painting) to a state of bland nothingness or ‘mere’ digital decoration or re-framing. I wonder, too, if Loesch’s activity as a ‘painter’ approaches a situationist posture – critiquing traditions of easel painting and being fetishistic in sexing up, with seductive technique, the non-living, objectness of a painting? Or, is this post-painterly, cool? It’s almost (I’m not sure) emotionless – but I am affected by the visual frisson. Are these pseudo-paintings (made by a real-life artist, albeit with his technically expert assistants)? Are the works quotations of a sort – planned, rendered and delivered in a post-Rauschenbergian, anti-expressionist, neo-Pop-ness? Also, do I detect a certain wry humour? How have my various reactions been stage-managed? Are the painted marks truly, but tritely, meaningless?

However, there is a neat tastefulness about these paintings, which might signal a philosophical meditation on the relationship between analogue and digital. Digitally low-res information results in a degradation or subversion of the image (digital image files are not physical, concrete things like analogue negatives and prints) and the new arena for images seems a less secure environment (especially when your hard drive crashes and you have no back up); but the colourful digital screens and wavy cancellations are, superficially at least, more than satisfactory at that “first view” – perhaps because the eye can be mislead by initial appearances. Therefore, does Loesch’s juxtaposing of combined painted and printed surfaces question the nature of the engagement with paint to produce a dystopian vision for painting, where the digital introduces a veil of superficiality, despite the production of a beautifully crafted, lush, surface? Actually, nothing is really hidden as the final, merged, ‘image’ presents a self-reflective dichotomy in the real presentation of images of nothing.

Or, conversely, is there a positive revivalism, for abstract painting at play here? The works have a sophisticated and engaging visual impact that I find hard to dismiss. They look good on the wall. So, is the truth somewhere in between – in a state of limbo? Perhaps these sort of unanswered questions are what Loesch wanted his work to generate? In some circumstances, questions avoid answers – especially where the work might actually be provisional (to coin a phrase).

Some of my comments and reactions so far may have become overstated and I could be walking a tightrope above a chasm of ‘artspeak’ indulgence, but a selected example from Loesch’s Merge Visible series would certainly fit well with the premises of the ‘Painting After Technology’ exhibition at Tate Britain, and a larger survey in the future surely would have to include something from Loesch’s studio.

Whilst taking a break in the Reading Area at Frieze London, I picked up a copy of Art In America magazine (October 2015). This edition features Barbara Rose’s ‘More Is Less’ article published 50 years ago, an important art historical document for a definition of what became known as Minimalism. Rose proposed that “ABC art” was an attempt to define a zeitgeist that had given rise to expressions of “blank, neutral, mechanical impersonality” and that, “One might easily construe the new, reserved impersonality and self-effacing anonymity as a reaction against the self-indulgence of an unbridled subjectivity, just as one might see it in terms of a formal reaction to the excesses of painterliness.”

These words might be applied to many examples of, so-called, post-Internet art, although Loesch reacts to Minimalism’s desire to be rid of pictorial and traditional content by doing little more than morphologically referencing mark making (kind of), framing, and organized illusionism through pictorial or planar space. There is also a mechanical, perfunctory edge to the work, which perhaps questions authenticity in the age of digital media, where appropriation is endemic and the simulacrum is mistaken for the real.

As with many examples of abstract painting, rightly or wrongly, non-figurative manifestations will beg the question: What are we looking for/at/into – and why do we need to? I think Loesch’s work does this; and we may find many answers.

Post Script
If I might indulge in conjoining two comments I overheard in a conversation between two young, chic (female) collectors (or gallerists) at Frieze Masters, a few days after visiting the PM/AM gallery: “Planet Earth to Victoria: Are you still looking for a Cézanne?” I was reminded of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical essay on Paul Cézanne’s self-doubt, uncertainty and lack of self-confidence (‘Cézanne’s Doubt’). From the self-conscious sense of modernity formulated, unwittingly, by the ‘Father of Modern Art’, notwithstanding the legacy of Duchamp, perhaps all painters (abstract or otherwise) remain indebted to Cézanne’s revolutionary achievement for painting (and sculpture, film, literature…). This might help to frame what Loesch and the greater, extended, family of contemporary painters, still strives for:
“…Cézanne was always seeking to avoid the ready-made alternatives suggested to him: sensation versus judgment; the painter who sees against the painter who thinks; nature versus composition; primitivism as opposed to tradition… Rather than apply to his work dichotomies more appropriate to those who sustain traditions than to those… painters, who initiate these traditions, he preferred to search for the true meaning of painting, which is continually to question tradition.”

Certainly, the traditional is now challenged by the digital revolution that will shape the future of painting: and Loesch (and many others) are responding enthusiastically.

Geoff Hands (October 2015)

(All images should all be credited to Erik Saeter Joergensen)

This article was first published on: AbCrit

SERIAL THRILLER: Bridget Riley, The Curve Paintings 1961 – 2014 De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea

Bridget Riley-3

Bridget Riley, The Curve Paintings 1961-2014 installation at DLWP.

© Bridget Riley 2015. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London

Even an English flâneur may have imagined being on the Côte d’Azur in this heat, pausing on the Promenade des Anglais, to admire the view. On an outstandingly bright summer morning, if you looked south from the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea towards France, the sea and brilliantly dazzling sky dissolved the field of vision, eschewing aerial perspective. Space had flattened; somehow, confirming the shifting nature of perception as optically realised and, therefore (or thereafter), re-conceptualised, re-seen, rather than diminished without the culturally acquired safety net of perspective.

Bridget Riley might be categorised as a ‘classic’ abstract/geometric painter, whose practice engages with image making that, autobiographically, encapsulates her perfectionist tendencies. Her methodological practice is invariably characterised by tightly controlled, sensuously schematic, repetitive and minimalist, optically demanding imagery. She’s a serial, visual, thriller – of the highest order.

I am here today, as part of a small posse of writers from the press, to look at a selection of paintings and prints that explore Riley’s fascination with the curve. Petite and agile, Bridget Riley, one of the internationally most acknowledged British artists of the twentieth century, generously and energetically informs and entertains. In what approximated a subtle balletic performance, she is self-assuredly poised, both physically and intellectually, to address those present with great enthusiasm and vitality. Her explanations are as exacting and precise as her imagery and her confidence is assured.

My sense is that behind this apparent coolness, regularity and control in her work an engagement with the world as it is experienced (hence the opening paragraph), both visually and physically, continues to inform her whole oeuvre. Readers of Riley’s collected writings, cleverly titled ‘The Eyes Mind’, will be aware of her early visual and tactile childhood memories of the sea and sun. Confirming the particularly visual contingency of her paintings and prints, the non-perspectival experience of the sea front panorama referenced above was echoed and confirmed in Bridget Riley’s own words: “Pictorial space has to be about something on a two-dimensional surface, in which pictorial space happens by pictorial thinking… perspective is by no means the only way.”

A sense of the closeness of France was also fortuitous: “French and early Modernist art was clearly about perception… a connection with that line of looking.” Engaging with the works on display in this retrospective collection, and turning to scan her audience frequently, to explain the practical, formative training that her particular form of abstraction partly derives from, she referenced her traditional art school training in drawing from the figure: “Drawing can develop your insights – drawing is a tool that can open up the world.” But Riley also explains that the history of art (especially the painting tradition) creates influences, and visual language systems, as essential as the daily practice of planning, and making, work. From considering the spatial investigations of Cézanne and her journey to abstraction, via an interest in Cubism, she references Bonnard and Matisse to illustrate her defining interest in line and colour. Art historical knowledge, and a constant meditation on the rich history that informs her concepts and her entire output are consistently made clear, for there are many: “Respected and admired artists from the past and we can learn from them… according to [our] temperament.”

In explaining her burgeoning practice, as a young, aspiring artist in 1960s London, she says: “It was a sort of statement… I learnt to draw when I went to art school… I was taught to make figure drawings… I was very interested in colour… basic colour relationships… I would look at Matisse… How would Matisse be able to make that? From tonal painting, colour lightened and darkened… there had been an immense adventure in modern art… I went to work for J. Walter Thompson and in the lunch hour I went down to the ICA and Cork Street to listen to lectures by David Sylvester, Laurence Alloway and [Roland] Penrose…”

Her audience is captivated by now; she continued: “The development of modern art was halted by the two wars… I went to look at an exhibition of Futurists… (Visits to the Venice Biennale and Milan are mentioned too) … there were important and interesting things in it… abstract thinking… I carried on with making my own abstract work… instead of abstracting from things seen out there in reality… Bonnard and Matisse could do much more than Mondrian had done… I started from a line, what a line can do, a square, a circle… when I altered, changed or distorted something that was familiar to people… I found ways of making things active…”

Riley’s ability to clearly elucidate her practice as an abstract artist par excellence, and her measured use of a precise language, to objectively explain and describe the carefully selected examples from her Curve paintings, provided a simple exegesis of practice that absorbed the audience. That she believes that painting is still relevant was clear: “Painting is an incredible discipline and a great art form.” And again she emphasised tradition: “All my experiences [with the] figurative is a huge help in knowing what a painting needs if it’s to develop.”

Riley’s articulateness matched the refinement of her paintings. She drew the meaning out of the works, confirming the evidence presented to the viewer’s attentive mind. But her work is not purely cerebral, as the physical engagement and geometric coordination within her work is truly embodied: and not only in the eye. The sense of flow in the paintings echoes the movement of the human form and the environment that we occupy. Most especially, lines and angles of orientation are designed to evoke pictorial space: “Vertical had to bear the stripe… lead to the plane… the painting is very transitive… Verticals allowed one to have a rhythm, to contrast it with the curves.”

But, there was a period of 17 years of an insistence on the horizontal in her prints and paintings (1980-1997). This revelation had to be re-visited. Of the return to the curve she states, “the curve is more open to amazing changes than the straight line.” Again, Riley confirms her appreciation of the line, learnt from life drawing as a student, and that “The contrapposto is like frozen movement… The curve is so elastic and changeable.”

In discussing ‘Lagoon 2’ (1997) she admits that she was: “Trying to get the curve back”. And paradox is readily admitted: “Contour suggests a flat volume…” This elegant painting (quite large at approximately 1.5 X 2 metres, but absorbing visually, and not at all imposing) has the feel of a dense forest of colour-shapes, which is neo-Cubistic: Cézanne through Matisse’s eyes. Or, as Riley discloses, is based on the notion of her idea of looking at Matisse looking at Cézanne.

Superficially, Riley’s own personality, and temperament, as a painter appears less sensual than Matisse. But a flattened painterliness, where autobiographical marks are repressed, still allows colour and line to dominate with the joie de vivre we associate with the French master. The surface quality in Riley’s paintings is typically one of relentless smoothness, but colour sensation is still paramount.

In ‘Rêve’ (1999) contrasts and harmonies work with and against each other with a colour scheme of blue/green and cream/yellow. In ‘Painting with Verticals 3’ (2006) and ‘Rajasthan’ (2012) there is a pronounced sense of purposeful movement across the surface. In the latter, Riley describes the “march of the greens”, as this organic colour comes alive amongst orange, red, grey and white.

Bridget Riley’s abstract art is clearly modernist, but notwithstanding her traditional training as a painter (she still produces cartoons for her paintings), her work successfully combines a strongly characteristic feature of line through disegno (drawing) with form as colore (colour) to attain a synoptic temporality: intimating a psychogeographic relationship with space through physical positioning and perception; and a sense of time and rhythm integrated in and through the intrinsic properties of the images. The association of colour and line, especially the curve, is sensuous at a visual and an intellectual level. If this interpretation is correct, it might suggest that a purely non-objective abstraction is a fanciful notion – because contingency is unavoidable, so long as human beings continue to make art.

Geoff Hands


De La Warr


Painters Table

A lasting impression after the show: Vivarini and Richter at Moretti Fine Art – Frieze Masters 2014

Santa Caterina d'AlessandriaVivarini – Santa Caterina d’Alessadria

It is sometimes said that there are too many images in the world, particularly in this great information age. Visiting both Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters in Regents Park, London this autumn certainly enabled us to indulge in mixing the past and the present in a particularly concentrated and carefully selected celebration of some of the highest quality and thought provoking examples of fine art from many countries, cultures and eras. Now, of course, we move on to more great venues and exhibitions that reveal the seemingly exponential nature of the visual arts. Despite the endless production of works of art, contemplating the many forms of practice from all ages confirms the universal, humanistic nature of the plastic arts that often combine mystery with a visualised clarity of thought.

As with all art fairs, something will linger in the memory for longer than the duration of the event. From Frieze Masters one of our abiding experiences that we are still recollecting and discussing was the fascinating triptych presentation by Moretti Fine Art of Antonio Vivarini’s, ‘Saint Catharine of Alexandria’ (‘Santa Caterina d’Alessandria’) hung between Gerhard Richter’s two slightly smaller abstract paintings (‘Abstract Bild’ 454-4 and 454-5). Moretti had shown this same combination at the Biennale des Antiqaires in Paris a few weeks ago and this was a decision well worth repeating for a new, and broader, audience.

The reading of painted, European, images made some 500 years apart will be oriented to a stylistic contrast for it is sometimes impossible to separate art historical knowledge from perception. When first confronting these three small paintings, we were compelled to look at and to read what was instantaneous: The iconography and well-known story line in Vivarini’s painting, and the medium-specific, painterly, abstract, materiality of Richter’s pair of canvases were immediately obvious, The clever, but simple, juxtaposition of these works on the Moretti stand immediately set up a figurative/abstract comparison that could, potentially, construe a dialectical opposition, whether this was intentional or not by the curators. However, we found that these immediate readings could be reversed, emphasizing the surface, materiality and non-narrative features in the Saint Catharine; and the framework of a metaphysical abstraction in the potential of a less formalistic, Greenbergian, reading of the non-figurative compositions.

To some extent the work of both painters are paradigmatic: Vivarini’s style provides an example of Venetian late Gothic, albeit with subtle elements of the ‘new’ perspective and anatomically conscious scientific knowledge shifting the visual language from flatness to roundedness and the space of the world inhabited by the viewer. For example, despite the typically two dimensional halo, there is, in her crown, a hint of perspective that, with the three-quarters view of the portrait, ‘modernises’ St Catherine as a fellow human-being rather than as a symbolic representation. Also, Vivarini has attempted, although not fully realised, to depict the hand as structurally convincing rather than as a flat approximation or template. However, the gothic elements are pervasive, as a monumental St Catharine is set against a blank background (a Florentine master, such as Botticelli, would by now have included an architectural space) and the image, probably part of an altarpiece, was made for a church rather than a palace.

Richter Abstraktes Bild 454-4Richter – Abstraktes Bild 454-4

Ricter Abstraktes Bild 454-6Richter – Abstraktes Bild 454-6

Richter knowingly, and perhaps in an act of appropriation of style, presents an example of 20th-century abstraction: in this case, of the painterly and expressive kind rather than hard-edged and overtly systematic. The colour scheme is essentially rich and fiery – which, when associated, and seen, with the Martyr Saint Catherine, could be interpreted as pertaining to the spiritual desire of her faith. Yet it is this simple, blank backdrop that makes the visual link to the Richter paintings and to a sense of the mystery, and metaphysical meaning, of colour. The Italian master applies tempera onto a gold ground panel through which an orange-red spiritual space is enhanced by the close proximity of the oils in Richter’s paintings. The visual influence is reciprocated as the subtle green and flat geometric forms in ‘Abstract Bild 454-6’, to the right, echo colours and shapes in the St. Catharine. We also perceive a correspondence between the broken spoke that suggests piercing, and perhaps crucifixion (martyrdom), and the yellow diagonal in the bottom left-hand quarter of Richter’s abstract composition. In either case, each painter’s work is seen afresh because of this presentation.

There will, doubtless, be many more ‘readings’ and connections, convincing or not, between these paintings and it might be more significant that paintings from very different eras in the fine arts are capable of generating interpretations and opportunities for co-existence than for any specific links we are constructing at the moment. This potentiality in contemporary curatorship, to align art works from all periods and cultures to produce holistic meanings or conflicting debates, can only be proof that a notion of community speaks across the ages, making notions of the ‘modern’ and of ‘progress’ questionable.

Geoff Hands (October 2014)

Maintaining integrity: Pippa Young and Helena Clews

Pippa Young at Coombe Gallery and Helena Clews at Brown Hill Arts, Dartmouth

Clews 2013_01_04
Helena Clews – ‘Pitch’ (2012) Oil on linen. (c) Helena Clews
comfortably swaddled copy
Pippa Young – ‘Comfortably Swaddled’ (c) Pippa Young

A visit to Dartmouth in Devon (south-west England), however brief, will inevitably draw visitors interested in painting to some of the significant number of small art galleries that are a feature of the town. Many of the galleries are typical of those found at other English holiday resorts where the subject matter of the majority of the images that fill the gallery walls belongs to the Marine genre. Inevitably, the standards on display will range from one end of the quality spectrum to the other. Much of the work can be easily dismissed and contemporary works that might be found in more cosmopolitan centres, such as Cork Street in London, are rarely found.

However, two galleries that we came across exhibited works that maintained an impressive personal artistic integrity, rather than slavishly following a formula to produce mediocre, but saleable, images for the marketplace. Coombe Gallery included a number of portrait works by Pippa Young. She is a highly skilful painter who creates portraits that are intriguing in terms of possible meanings, or readings, and appear to reference Italian and Dutch portraiture (the great Venetian Giovanni Bellini most especially sprang to mind). The visual language of her practice is confident and communicates a narrative that is not slavish to realism but creates a great possibility for what might be termed a ‘magical conversation’ (an implied reference to the sacra conversazione of the Quattrocento). This discussion of meaning for the viewer will prompt thoughts and discussions about the identity of these singular characters, situated in anonymous spaces that reveal little or nothing about context, but are augmented by gestures and artefacts (for example, a sheep’s skull or piece of red cord) to imply a possible psychological, or subjective, interpretation. As a counter-point to the near photo-realism of these portraits, Young’s figures typically have blank areas of canvas where there might otherwise be hair or a headpiece. Also, fabrics rendered as flat are juxtaposed with the traditional perspectival language of realism.

At Brown Hill Arts, Helena Clews exhibited abstract works that revealed her interest in exploring “…the possibilities of painting in the liminal space between abstraction and representation”; and alluding, “to something that is difficult to define or identify clearly as a particular thing in the world, whilst at the same time being recognisable aesthetically as an ‘abstract’ painting.” Interestingly, this is Clews’ own gallery project and she maintains her practice of abstraction (albeit from the world around her) in a market that is not necessarily favourable to non-figurative art. For this stance, she is to be congratulated. At this early stage of her career the dangers of succumbing to more commercial demands on style and subject matter can be difficult to resist, especially in the environment of the holiday resort where the pseudo-Marine subject matter will dominate what is on offer. We were particularly impressed with Clews’ fluid painting style and a self-assured use of colour, economically employed as gestural marks with allusions to objects, space and atmospheres.

In both artists’ work there is an interest in visual language and visual communication at a sophisticated level. This is a factor they share in common with other contemporary artists, who can choose to reference the past, question matters of language and meaning, yet strive to construct their own voice and originality as painters.

Geoff Hands


Writing: Introduction




Alongside my painting practice, I have regularly kept notebooks in the studio. Some time after completion of the MA programme in Creative Writing at Sussex University I decided to write about art exhibitions. The initial impetus was to use the writing experience to clarify and develop my own thoughts about the creative process.

A more public opportunity to communicate these responses to looking at art (especially painting) was offered to me by Stefano Pirovano at Conceptual Fine Arts (CFA) in 2014.

Ruminations: Exhibition Reviews will essentially be posting responses to a wide range of exhibitions. Additional material from my personal writing will also appear from time to time.

Some reviews for Abcrit appear here, but most will remain exclusive to that website. For this opportunity, I thank Robin Greenwood.

Reviews for CFA remain exclusive to the CFA website.

Instantloveland, instigated by John Bunker and Matthew Dennis (May 2018), will also feature my writing; as will Saturation Point with thanks to Patrick Morrissey and Hanz Hancock.