RICHARD GRAVILLE: New Paintings

WE LIKE THE TASTE OF CERTAIN POISONS

At NoHawkers Gallery, Rodhus Studios, Brighton

1st to 2nd October, 2022

Returning home from the Private View for ‘We Like The Taste of Certain Poisons’, I am compelled to write something immediately about this small but compelling exhibition of Richard Graville’s paintings at NoHawkers Gallery, which is situated in the Rodhus complex of studios and workshops in Brighton.

Richard Graville- ‘WIDE’ 2022 (60x120cm) Flashe & acrylic on canvas

Some sense of urgency (including the use of my iPhone photographs – so apologies to the artist) is due to the fact that the show is only open for two days and that if someone were to read this hurried review in time they might make it to see the exhibition. But another aspect of this impulse is due to my having spent a large proportion of the day preparing a teaching session, in which I shall ask my students to consider our shared human history of the landscape environment and might consider why this is still an interest for contemporary painters.

I had been re-reading Timothy Morton’s, ‘Being Ecological’, in which he posits the notion that:

“Picture postcards are descendents of what came before Romanticism in art, namely the picturesque. In the picturesque, the world is designed to look like a picture – like it’s already been interpreted and packaged by a human. You can easily see what’s what: there’s a mountain over there, a lake, maybe there’s a tree in the foreground…  this is pretty much what humans saw in the savannah millions of years ago. Having a body of water nearby and some shade (those trees), encircled safely by mountains where you know there is water descending to feed the lake (for instance), is pretty handy if you’re some kind of ancient human. The picturesque is keyed to a fundamental human-centred way looking at things: it is anthropocentric.”

This seems strangely fortuitous, for although Graville’s paintings would certainly not be identified as landscapes as such (though they hold that possibility for a viewer who might be so inclined to wear their landscape-tinted spectacles), some kind of deep psychological and ‘pre-historical’ possibilities are pertinent to Graville’s project within a minimalist, systems/coding kind of approach to hard-edged abstract painting.

Richard Graville – ‘SOLUTION’ 2022 (100x100cm) and ‘CLEAR’ 2022 (80x80cm) both Flashe and acrylic on canvas

The last time I saw a Richard Graville painting (in the flesh, as opposed to on Instagam) was in H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G_x2 (Part 1) at the Phoenix Art Space in Brighton at the beginning of 2020. I wrote then that:

“Even Richard Graville’s pair of canvases, ‘Blushing Phantom’ and ‘Red Banded’, that come the closest to accruing accusations of painterly abstraction, have an aura of careful, premeditated control. That they echo the similar stripes on the workforce vans outside the building is either unfortunate or reminds us that abstract art is everywhere.”

This was my personal, uninformed but simplistically and naively honest response to two rather satisfying paintings. We search for meaning, some allusion, illusion or just good old subject matter in paintings. It’s habitual. That the red and yellow stripes on the Highway Maintenance vans had any connection with the natural world, as in animal colouration and patterning, I must admit was beyond me at the time.

Richard Graville – Studio view

From this solo show of ten new works by the artist (plus several more in his studio on-site) an information sheet presents this comment:

“Humans were once able to navigate and track subtle clues in nature. Now flat signs in primary colours tell us which way to go and what to do. I continue down that path to see where it leads.” (Richard Graville)

Hence my connection with Morton’s view on the picturesque, in that we humans create systems of understanding to navigate and understand the environments we live in – as do the other animals. Morton’s observations reference a perception of the world from a clearly human viewpoint (the anthropocentric), although also in the book he makes it clear that a worm’s experience of an apple is somewhat different to a human’s. Nevertheless, on all sorts of levels, data is interpreted, via various access modes, to be acted upon.

A wall mounted information display adjacent to the exhibition room tells the viewer that animal colouration systems, categorized as aposematism, inform potential predators that an animal is poisonous, venomous, or otherwise dangerous. All animals (which include us humans), to some extent, live (and die) by preventing attack (or not). Data requires interpretation, which is a form of code, taking us back to the work of the artist.

Not that Graville’s works could be categorized as ‘landscape’, but various painted arenas (canvases) are presented for interpretation and contemplation. Sensory input, from the simple act of looking, enables the mind to process information that we categorise typically as colour, size, shape, texture and finish or sheen. Each composition is relatively simple and geometrical and often references (purposely or not) windows and road signs. The colour palette is always limited (sometimes monochrome), though sophisticated and astute enough to prompt some reaction from the viewer. Every work is immaculately and carefully composed, painted and visually constructed. I suspect that the paintings might feel different depending on one’s mood and known or unknown frame of reference at different times. If you can accept a minimalist type of simplicity, aligned to a deep interest in colour (for its own sake, never mind any aposematic coding or sign) try to see this show – or look out for the next opportunity.

Geoff Hands (October 2022)

Richard Graville – Studio view

Notes:

‘Being Ecological’ by Timothy Morton (quotation from pp.24/25 Pelican, 2018)

Links:

Guardian review –

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/20/being-ecological-timothy-morton-review

Richard Graville – https://richardgraville.net/shop (see good quality photographs of the works)

H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G exhibition review – fineartruminations.com/2020/01/30/hardpaintingx2-part-1/

Social media: Instagram – @nohawkers @richard_graville Hashtags: #certainpoisons

Also – The teaching session I was planning – https://hampshireart.studio/abstract-approaches-to-using-colour-acrylic-painting/

JULIAN LE BAS: New Work

A Lewes Artwave exhibition at Berwick Church

September 2022

Growing Rich With Looking

In a post-industrial revolution context the English countryside, for so long a subject for painters, can still be a strangely ‘other’ environment for so many. Nowadays this space we call the ‘countryside’ is a place of escape and rest, suitable for a day out or for a camping holiday. For the daily traveller going about their business the countryside is a fleeting arena placed in between centres of commerce and mass housing. Viewed from the train, bus or car window lack of access may even create tension. Despite being loaded with mythology, folk tales, notions of paradise (very much lost), agrarian history and, for the south of England in particular (arguably the birthplace of capitalism) a mode of enquiry for the contemporary artist continues on to the ecological crisis that now impacts our “green and pleasant land” (to reference William Blake).

Julian Le Bas is a painter, perhaps the contemporary painter, of the Sussex section of the South Downs and the adjoining coast. Le Bas bares witness to this typically splendid and beautiful geography of chalk hills and woodland as he engages with his, and our, local world on a journey that has been his indefatigable undertaking for over forty years. What lesson we might learn from his ongoing life-long project is that every day and every scene presents a seemingly revived landscape offering a new vista, and a fresh encounter, with the apparently commonplace. The landscapes from Le Bas are tirelessly offered up, renewed, for continuous engagement and revelation.

Paintings and drawings, made en plein air and in isolation as he travels alone, invite a congregation of onlookers in a small exhibition of paintings and drawings at Berwick Church for this year’s Lewes Artwave Festival. Le Bas’ paintings exalt and revere his subject matter – and how fitting that we see these works in a place of worship. This particular church might be considered a wonderful art installation in itself, purposely referencing the pre-Reformation model of the church as the historical forerunner to the ‘art gallery’, permanently containing murals by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, plus the recently commissioned altar reredos panels by Julian Bell.

The paintings and drawings from Le Bas, however, are secular in subject matter and intent but unequivocally express awe at the natural world. Le Bas is the epitome of the artist engaging in the role of shamanic consort, expressing the elevating metaphysicality of the everyday through the ordinarily magical presence of the landscape. It may take a leap of faith to accept such a purposely contradictory definition of this particular artist, but the work continuously appears to convey this sense of the uniqueness of the quotidian and the local which changes in appearance – not only due to time of day or season, but is subject to the artist’s own mood or degree of engagement at any particular time.

These paintings are of the moment – a duration measured in hours we might assume. Le Bas uses an English post-Impressionist palette where high key colour combines with earthy local colour. His engagement with colour reveals both a romantic and a matter-of-fact connection with the notion of landscape experience. But what does this mean if it’s a correct interpretation? I would argue that some exaggeration, a visual proclamation in his use of colour and insistent mark making, is intended to bring the viewer into the work and to remind us that the magical landscape is still a worthy and increasingly important genre – especially as it contributes to our burgeoning awareness of global environmental issues.

The personal capacity required of a contemporary painter, with an arguably dated assignment to record the landscape, and at first glance unshackled by what might be on trend at present, is necessarily blinkered to enable a deep focus on such a potentially numinous experience of landscape. A logical pragmatist, a post-modernist, might reject Landskip as relevant now (unless it provides a context for other, grander, socially and politically qualified narratives), but one role of the artist might still be to say: “look at what I have seen, see what is available to all”.

Or, to take most of the words of R. S. Thomas from the poem, ‘The Small Window’:

“… there are jewels

To gather, but with the eye

Only. A hill lights up

Suddenly; a field trembles

With colour and goes out

In its turn; in one day

You can witness the extent

Of the spectrum and grow rich

With looking…”

Like this poet, associated with the Llŷn Peninsula in north Wales, Le Bas is tuned in to the sheer visual experience of his own landscape, not withstanding its potential to transform our experiences. Le Bas reminds the viewer that this environment is bursting with colour as much as any city has to offer and that it has the indefatigable capacity to ‘move’ us and to provide space to think, to plan and reflect and to explore. On a trite level, even a small canvas of Le Bas’ in the urban home will break down the barriers between the town and the country; but also on a metaphysical level, based on concrete experience, a transformative understanding of the landscape environment is possible too. Perhaps usefully, we cannot seem to let go of our obsession with ‘the countryside’. Landscape as a genre, engaged with constantly by the Sunday painter and the obsessive, committed practitioner alike, persists in our culture – which is quite assuring.

Whilst there is a certain, expressionistic conventionality in Julian Le Bas’ paintings and drawings (which I say in a positive sense), the gestural yet restrained visual language, honed and perfected after years of hard practice and utter devotion, results in a compelling engagement with his subject matter. For some observers he may exaggerate colour and mark making at times, approaching a general expectation of abstraction, but this is the hook that pulls one in and presents the eye and mind with spatial conundrums of simultaneous senses of flatness and depth. The generally bold brush marks are laid in areas that intermix, overlap or abut, amounting to a distinctive patchwork of organic shapes. Local colour and colour in its own right – straight out of the tube, Fauve-like – or mixed on the canvas as well as the palette to create secondary and tertiary mixes, make a variety of colour combinations. Realised as mark and gesture as well as for their tones and values, these colour-shapes are at once based on responding to visual reality and to testifying to a daily practice that celebrates the act of painting, whatever degree of verisimilitude is sought. There is clearly an extrovert inclination in these paintings, revealing an emotional involvement steered by rigorous and disciplined draughtsmanship. This engagement with the physical qualities of medium, from compressed charcoal in his drawings to oil paint on canvas, Le Bas’ works are somehow a summation of perceived experience with an aspect that says, “look at this world around you and engage with your whole being”. This is very much a serious undertaking, where pleasure is often an outcome.

In Le Bas’ paintings the drawing content morphs, via the brush, into painted lines that delineate shapes and forms, often flat rather than rounded, but creating visual space on the canvas. Perspective is loosely reduced within the network of colour-shapes but an abstract, surface acknowledging, arrangement of colours and gestures there is also an essence of movement. The observer might detect a degree of improvisation too, as taking liberties with mark and colour is a strong characteristic in Le Bas’ work. The paintings are made from a totally immersive activity of looking at sections, and spatial passages where the eye has been lead in deep concentration, engaging with various parts, structures, surfaces and atmospheres that make up the whole. A ‘whole’ that actually includes the observer, for if the environment is captured in spirit, it also captures us. In these paintings there is a record of being that is symbiotic with ‘nature’ as, in a real sense there is no divide. If we learn to appreciate this environment, starting with the local, with what’s in front of us, we might start to protect it better and therefore see that Le Bas’ paintings are as relevant as any other contemporaneous projects that have a more immediately political purpose.

Philosopher and Ecologist, Timothy Morton has written:

“Somewhere a bird is singing and clouds pass overhead. You stop reading this book and look around you.” (‘Being Ecological’)

We might stop looking at paintings and look around too, but engaging with the art might be the doorway we need to see what’s in front of us.

Geoff Hands ( September 2022)

Links:

Julian Le Bas – http://www.julianlebas.co.uk/home.html

Sarah O’Kane Contemporary Fine Art – https://www.sarahokane.co.uk/julian-le-bas-gallery

Berwick Church – https://www.berwickchurch.org.uk

R.S. Thomas – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/r-s-thomas

Timothy Morton – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/20/being-ecological-timothy-morton-review

“STRANGE ATTRACTORS” – Paintings by EC

AbCrit.org gallery, London

5 June to 3 July 2022

abcrit.org gallery

“This work does not conduct itself with grand gestures. The best of these paintings make themselves felt intuitively and structurally by measures quite human. They progress carefully, in challenging jumps and starts. They are full of free and varied thought, without self-importance, working towards new and distinct states of abstract reality.” (Robin Greenwood, AbCrit website)

After seven previous shows this is the first exhibition in the newly extended abcrit.org gallery in Bell Yard Mews near the White Cube gallery, showing paintings by EC. There are 24 works on display ranging in size from 30x20cm to 122x92cm, with various permutations in between. Five are square and others portrait or landscape format. For such a range of disparity in dimension this collection literally hangs together in unison. There is a sense of the ‘series’ about the selection, yet every work has an independent status and can be viewed as a discrete piece.

The various titles are intriguing too. They read like a list of poems. For example:“Your Exquisite Manners (Frankly)”; “Unforbidden Pleasure Seeker”; “It Takes Patience to Make a Disaster”; “Yellow Swing Yellow Swing”; and “All Trajectories are Unstable”. Although “PUNK JAZZ”, the only work titled in capital letters, pays homage to a Weather Report track from ‘Mr Gone’ (1978) in which, at the start of the composition, Jaco Pastorius launches his bass guitar expertly into an unforgettable percussive jazz fusion frenzy that is, nonetheless, totally controlled. Rather like EC’s works.

EC – ‘Strange Attractors’ (90x75cm) 2014-22

These mixed media collages, that we can call paintings, are typically busy, boldly delivering overlapping patchworks of fragmented physical elements, purposefully destroyed then re-worked, but never distraught. Painterly fragments (as if) from the studio floor or bin, or from managed intentions to destroy previously made compositions, are sensuously positioned over the surface of supporting canvases. There is a visceral sense of chaos controlled, or rather, accommodated as the natural order of things prevails. Asymmetric balances and compositional nous bring these paintings into the current period of abstraction as a breath of fresh air. For this is serious stuff. Not content with employing pretty colours, punchy but vacuous vistas or harmonious and undemanding safe passages of expressive playfulness arranged for decorating an interior space, EC’s project engages with hard-earned visuality and an inherent depth of thought. The works truly engage and demand attention so honestly that you can detect joy and frustration combined. EC is one of those artists who are not distracted by the whims of fashion, socio-political issues, political correctness or commercial endeavour. This makes her work all the more engaging, as it constitutes a somewhat precarious road to travel upon that does not seek a ready-formed market position for safety.

EC – ‘Bias Interruptor’ 2022 (122x92cm)

Is EC’s project Dada-esque in spirit? Not so much anti-art (which Dada never was, of course) but anti-comfort: deploying the punk impulse to rock the boat (before it was integrated into the mainstream) when challenges are required to wake us from our stupor. From a first impression the viewer might wonder if this is a chaotic mess – though even chaos has a hidden pattern and logic. After all, why not explore and present ‘mess’? Chaos eventually controlled or simply halted at a stage of completion that is subjectively felt, has lead to these captivating and provocative works in “Strange Attractors”. Yet in a painting such as ‘Bias Interruptor’, or ‘Sanity Project (Radical Will)’, by giving some time for the paint smears and splatters seemingly applied by chance some careful looking, the open distribution in the former or the painterly concentration in the latter, actually read as carefully placed and subtly balanced compositions that reveal an expert eye and an adeptness for composure. There’s the punk irony, which hooks the viewer with clattering surprise but cares passionately after all.

EC – ‘Yellow Swing Yellow Swing’ (31x25cm) 2018-22
and ‘Swelter’ (40x30cm) 2019-21

Notably, the colour black appears in all of these works, holding things together akin to the lead scaffolding in stained glass windows. A disparate framework unevenly dispensed at times gives structure to hold the roving eye. Amalgamated into and alongside relief patchworks, dynamic structures, colour-as-paint (and vice-versa), these seemingly accidental and fortuitous juxtapositions make for engaging visual judgements that are anything but flaccid or disorganised. In the previously mentioned ‘Sanity Project (‘Radical Will’)’, a fragment of black (ink) text appears unexpectedly. Maybe it is an oblique clue of sorts. The title page from an edition of ‘Styles of Radical Will’, a collection of essays by Susan Sontag has possibly been torn up, discarded and disclaimed. I want to doubt it somehow (show some respect!): but here it is, peeping through the collaged detritus close to the centre of the composition as a potential manifesto statement.

EC – ‘Sanity Project (Radical Will)’ detail

In Sontag’s essay, ‘The Aesthetics of Silence’ she writes:

“… art comes to be considered something to be overthrown. A new element enters the individual artwork and becomes constitutive of it: the appeal (tacit or overt) for its own abolition – and, ultimately, for the abolition of art itself.”

The text and the concept have taken visual arts aside far too much and must be subsumed within the work itself, not held part in judgement. I wonder if EC’s mission is to toy with this radical notion that favours a changing resolution of “the human situation” (Sontag) as a form or manifestation of “spirituality” (Sontag, again) as an ironically playful project in itself, creating (or finding) some sort of order in chaos. Do these works employ the abstract absurdity of consciousness and self; notions of reality and worth vis-à-vis the creative impulse – and the concrete materiality that is abstract art? It all adds up to everything and nothing. But it’s something most refreshing and attractive.

EC – ‘Unforbidden Pleasure Seeker’ (30x30cm) 2019-21

Notes:

abcrit.org – Block K, 13 Bell Yard Mews, 175 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UW

Visit by prior appointment. Text your name and requested date and time to 07866 583629, for return. The entrance to Bell Yard Mews is opposite White Cube.

Links:

Instagram: @ec_ismyname and @abcritgallery

Susan Sontag – Styles of Radical Will

http://www.susansontag.com/SusanSontag/books/stylesOfRadicalWillExerpt.shtml

PERDITA SINCLAIR: Small Towns

Window Gallery, Phoenix Art Space

15 January – 20 February 2022

Phoenix Art Space entrance (Photo: Bernard G Mills)

Visitors will surely be intrigued by the spectacle of the colourful, carefully and skilfully painted oil paintings that join together under the title of Small Towns, an exhibition from Phoenix Art Space member, Perdita Sinclair. Usefully there are chairs spaced along the broad corridor that encourage people to sit and take stock too. Paintings (especially good ones) deserve prolonged attention rather than the perfunctory or passing glance.

A sequence of eight canvases begins with ‘Pineapple’, which at 165x125cm is the largest work on display. The title is suggestive rather than descriptive as it could just as well allude to a portrait as much as an exotic fruit. But more about titles and interpretations later, for what we do see before us is a figurative painting of a mound of litmus-test-type strips of variously coloured papers. Or are these tickertape off-cuts from the studio floor? They look like discarded fragments purposely gathered together and fashioned into something specific but just out of reach of a clear identity.  Also, it’s an inventory of sorts, as if a student painting class has completed a day of mixing colours and these are the results, a fairly comprehensive range of all six primary and secondary colours plus black and white. As an extension to the task of mixing the paints perhaps a still-life has been produced wherein the painted shadows form greys and other tonal varieties of the colours. There are some striped pieces too, including red and white that might be paper bags from a sweet shop. As interpretation creeps into observation of the image one might sense that the coloured papers are hiding something. It might be a pineapple, as the title implies, or a vertically held up thumb or even a portrait of sorts. Is the title a trick? Is our humour being tested? Has the artist literally set something up for the viewer to interpret as they wish?

Perdita Sinclair – ‘Pineapple’ (165x125cm) oil on canvas

Seven more paintings are to follow and questions persist. Each is clearly an original statement but all link somehow. Colour pervades, as does clarity of form and skilful rendering. Are these portraits or still-lifes? Do the generally blue/grey backgrounds suggest skies, distances, neutral space? Are these singular forms still or floating in space? There is no clear external context in the paintings; all content is essentially contained within the implied forms. But let’s not forget the artist and/or the viewer. Could these be self-portraits or mirrors – or both?

Perdita Sinclair – ‘One In Hundreds and Thousands’ (80x60cm) oil on canvas

If the viewer takes in the whole sequence from left to right there is some suggestion of a progression, or morphing, from a still-life type configuration to a portrait of sorts. After ‘Pineapple’, ‘One in a Hundreds and Thousands‘ appears to be a form floating in a sky-coloured atmospheric space. Within and around what might be locks of long flowing hair there are triangles of painted papers or thin card. Some of these fragments are painterly wet into wet renderings that could reference landscape based fragments or abstract compositions. The striped papers are here too. There is a sense of the organic and the geometric making some kind of union. Next, in ‘Along the Coast from Yarmouth’ a similar sort of composite form has come back to earth, or rather an ethereal sea with reflections or submerged forms.

Perdita Sinclair – ‘Along The Coast from Yarmouth’ (80x60cm) oil on canvas

A mixture of flat triangular forms, mostly airborne, and flat on the picture plane slightly undermines a traditional perspectival reading. Predominantly there is a shallow or tightly enclosed space created from the spatial arrangement of the entangled forms in the foreground. A snaking red, blue, yellow and white candy stick at the apex of the arrangement meanders down to, or up from, the base. It is also partly submerged. Likewise, the tricolour ribbon also winds its way from the bottom of the composition to the apex. An echo or reflexion of the red, white and blue form is placed behind this mysterious configuration to suggest some depth and a flattening simultaneously. Solidly rendered, yet flat triangles (X7 white, X5 red, X2 blue and X1 black – for it seems pertinent to count them) float around or penetrate the central mass/form. Unexpectedly, centre-left, a curvaceous form that might be fish or snake skin, or possibly a hand-dyed scarf on a slender shoulder, links top to bottom or head to torso.

‘Inbetween Castles’ is more grounded, and candy-type tubes employing the colours from the paper stripes from ‘Pineapple’ replace the vertical, elongated form of the hair. A flat triangle of colour at the apex of the form is possibly turning into a set-square. Read this more organically and the soft sticks of seaside rock might otherwise suggest intestines. It’s uncanny – by which I mean weird. But not grotesque or creepy weird; more like playful everyday, ordinary, artefacts being open to interpretation and association in the eye of the beholder.

Perdita Sinclair – ‘Inbetween Castles’ (80x60cm) oil on canvas

‘Lickerty Split’, the penultimate image in the sequence certainly does look like a glorious head of long hair. The title suggests doing something quickly, though clearly not the making of the painting. Take a look at Sinclair’s website and you will see that this painting, along with ‘Baskin in Obliquity’ displayed next to it, belongs to her Wave Theory series. Sinclair’s painting titles are fascinating. There is a mixture of deadpan humour and scientific awareness – as provided by this pairing. Natural forces are at work. The small town reference starts to make some kind of sense. Whether we live in a village, town or city we belong to relatively small communities after all.

Perdita Sinclair – ‘Lickerty Split’ (80x60cm) oil on canvas

This selection from Sinclair’s various series of painting themes and projects (she has also produced sculpture and installation events) not only provides evidence of her undoubted commitment to painting but also prompts an intriguing meditation and reflection on what we think and feel about ourselves and our immediate familial situations and the world around us. A brief explanatory wall mounted statement adjacent to ‘Pineapple’, primes and sets up an opportunity for the viewer to see where the imagery might take their expanded thoughts:

My work reflects what I perceive as the dichotomy between the way the human mind confronts complex and serious issues and, at the same time, deals with the trivial ephemera of our everyday lives. I am interested in contradictions and tensions in human nature, which often express themselves through our interaction with the natural world.

Small Towns is an exploration of life cycles within confined spaces. The work is inspired by the geographical restraints that we have lived with which paradoxically turbo charge the mind into thinking about distance, difference and alternate realities. (Perdita Sinclair)

Thereafter the viewer is surely connected with each work beyond the immediate visual impact of the intriguingly titled pictures. As much as we might long for the day that we can forget about the ongoing pandemic that has restricted us physically and geographically, an unexpected benefit might be that we start to appreciate and more fully understand our truly global ecosystem that relies on cooperation rather than unabated competition and nationalistic introspection. Or at the very least, we might take what is near as a fascinating take off point for the imagination. For Sinclair it might be the trivial bits and pieces that one’s children might play with vis-à-vis the bigger issues that concern us.. This is an interpretation of superposition (another of her series of paintings) in which something (or a system) can be in multiple states at the same time until it is measured. It’s certainly the case that if we take the suggestion of the portrait from these paintings we must ultimately place the notion of self or identity within an environment, which can be either physical or metaphysical… but perhaps this is a step too far.

Perdita Sinclair – ‘The Infinite Gobstopper’ (80x60cm) (Photo: Bernard G Mills)

Returning to Sinclair’s work, she does not break with tradition to assert contemporary relevance and context. Despite alternative practices and technologies, painting has much more to say or remind the audience of. At a simple level, subject matter generally splits into and expands the categories of the portrait, still-life or landscape – with, arguably, the addition of abstract art. At a more nuanced and deeper level paintings perform (even when undermining or questioning) within conventions of visual culture, including iconography, aesthetics and culturally shared systems of visual language. Of course, within and beyond the visual arts painting also has to contend with ever developing technologies, particularly since the invention of photography and, far more recently, digital systems and the financially speculative advent of the NFT. But painting persists and potentially slows us down, in a useful self-reflective way.

Walking home from the exhibition, in my own small town, I unexpectedly thought of the work of the 16th century Milanese painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a Mannerist artist, who created portraits from a piling up of natural forms, especially flora, vegetables and fruits. The ‘Arcimboldo palindrome’ may also be suggested, whereby the apparent reading of a work is changed, not by turning the canvas through 90 or 180 degrees as the artist ingeniously invented, but by alternative conceptual readings and understandings of an imaginative invention, or inventory, as presented by Sinclair’s work. Intriguing, indeed.

Perdita Sinclair – ‘Baskin in Obliquity’ and ‘Lickerty Split’ (Photo: Bernard G Mills)

Copyright © of paintings remain with Perdita Sinclair (all are oil on canvas)

Installation images are copyright © 2022 Bernard G Mills. All rights reserved.

Links:

Perdita Sinclair – https://www.perditasinclair.com

Phoenix Art Space – https://www.phoenixbrighton.org/Events/perdita-sinclair-small-towns/

Giuseppe Arcimboldo – https://www.theartstory.org/artist/arcimboldo-giuseppe/

Also see –

Perdita Sinclair interview in The Organ – https://organthing.com/2022/01/17/13-questions-from-organ-perdita-sinclairs-paintings-are-alive-with-appeal-with-deceptively-soft-ice-creamy-colour-theres-an-undertone-though/

IAN MCKEEVER: WEIGHT & MEASURE

Ian McKeever:

Weight & Measure – Prints 1993-2018

Young Gallery, Salisbury (8th Sept–27th Oct 2018)

A gallery above a council library seems an unlikely place to see an exhibition of prints by one of the most pre-eminent of British abstract painters. But Peter Riley, curator of the Young Gallery in Salisbury, has arranged an exhibition that constitutes the most comprehensive retrospective of Ian McKeever’s etchings, lithographs and woodcuts to date. All that were missing from the print category were his silver-gelatin photographic works, although two polymer gravure prints, which involve a photo-mechanical process, from ‘Eagduru’ (2015) were displayed.

Followers of McKeever’s career will know that, as with his various drawing and gouache series, the print output has been consistent in relation to his painting. The prints might be (mis)understood as extensions or preliminary exercises between painting periods, but the print editions stand alone too, forming coherent and independent bodies of work from well-defined periods of production. Not that the prints are necessarily unrelated to the paintings for the essential imagery of the prints are connected with the paintings in terms of sustained and evolving investigations into the visual dynamics of line, form and ‘abstract’, visual impact. So, if you love the paintings for their visceral and emotional effect, for prompting a meditative, slow pace of looking, and for following an authentic and active journey into a dialectically nuanced abstraction, the range of works in this exhibition will not disappoint.

001 - Weight & Measure poster at Young Gallery

The Young Gallery is divided into three rooms, and ‘Weight & Measure’ amply fills Galleries 1 and 2. Ideally the whole selection of prints would be distributed in one space to enable a manageable overview, but the extra wall space provided by Gallery 2 allowed for the rare showing of the monumental ‘Hartgrove Woodcut Monoprints’ made in 1994 with Hugh Stoneman. Printed on paper as strong as card (the sheets were originally reserved for Jim Dine), the four prints selected were pinned in line on one stretch of wall, unframed and benefitting from not having the glossy sheen of glass that can make viewing (and photographing) difficult, overlaying the surface.

The prints were made (or is manufactured a better term?) by cutting biomorphic, net-like shapes out of industrial plywood with a jigsaw. Coated with ink, the huge plates of thick laminate were passed through an etching press. The whole process engages a practicality of method and procedure, and an active awareness of the relationship between materials (wood, ink, paper) and process (cutting, placing, pressing), which is very much in keeping with McKeever’s association of the visual with the bodily and the corporeal. Most importantly, the combination of materials and processes leads to, and is lead by, an abstract visual aesthetic which transforms the medium and methodology into potent end results.

003 - Hartgrove Woodcut Monoprint No8 45degree viewpoint
Ian McKeever: ‘Hartgrove Monoprint No.8’

Even without a reflective layer, the black-on-black combination of printed ink impressions for ‘Woodcut Monoprint No.8’ required the viewer to adjust to a 45° viewpoint to make out the double layer of printing. This subtlety of surface, of ink and paper combining with the overall impact of a portcullis-like form fixed to the dark, flat plane not only invited an obligation to both stand back to take in and experience the pictorial space, but also to approach the picture surface as an immersive field to be visually traversed at close quarters. Smaller prints can function as objects one can pick up or leaf through in a portfolio, but these giant monoprints compel the whole body to engage, not just the eye and hand, as an architectural sense of edifice and entry might pull one in to its ‘space’. Conversely, the size of the works make the viewer more physically aware of height and width; density and vacuum; depth and surface. These palpable modalities are as just as consequential as intellectualised visual perception and abstract cognitive faculties. Or to put it more simply, the physical is the visual and the visual is physical.

The significant difference between printmaking and painting for McKeever lies in the experience of making the prints and the real time experience required for production. In the exhibition leaflet, quoting from his 2013 essay on Gunter Damisch, McKeever explains:

“To make prints (…) is to feel the weight and pressure of the moment. For the printed image is formed under pressure and is held in the moment. It is this difference of time, weight and feel which attracts so many painters to make prints. Providing as it does, precious respite from the incessant incertitude of paintings’ often meandering time.” [i]

004 - Ian McKeever, That which appears, 1993 Artists' collaboration 22 woodcuts by Ian Mckeever and poems by Thomas A Clark, Published by Paragon Press, London
Ian McKeever and Thomas A. Clark: ‘that which appears’

 

Another characteristic of McKeever’s vocation as a painter/printmaker has been his interest in, and engagement with, the written word. In the same gallery space as the Woodcut Monoprints, ‘that which appears’ (1993), which generated 22 woodcut prints to go alongside, around and be placed in relation to a sequence of 80 poems by Thomas A. Clark, was represented by 15 of the 32 double page spreads. This is a particular treat as The Paragon Press produced just 50 numbered copies of the publication and so they are unlikely to be seen in public.

Responding to Clark’s poems in this publication in Modern Painters magazine in 1994, the author Iain Sinclair commented: “He delights, as does McKeever, in being at a distance, taking in the whole spread, horizon to horizon, and right up against the lichen on the granite: in the same instant.” [ii]

This sense of the expansive and the more confined was demonstrated by putting these very different sets of prints together making for a fascinating juxtaposition. Turning away from the larger ‘Woodcut Monoprints’ in the room, the black graphical forms of ‘that which appears’ are much reduced in size, transforming sheets of paper into pages, taking the viewer into the text for a more intimate and cerebral experience. On one such page we read: “in a wide / darkness / the touch / of rain”. In the imagination, small droplets of water might spatter and impress upon the skin. But the darkness is a shadow form, in an actual but poetic space on the page. The reader can relate the text to the images or vice-versa, for these are not illustrations to merely visualise the poem. Both elements are constituted as ink on paper and as disparate but related manifestations of language/sign made ready to be read, and interpreted, as one is able or prepared for – in a format that becomes personal and intimate.

005 - that which appears - in a wide darkness text
Ian McKeever and Thomas A. Clark: ‘that which appears’

The same could be said for McKeever’s visual explorations throughout his engagement with printmaking (his first prints, lithographs, were made in 1984) – where conjoined qualities, such as weight and measure, are factors of process and materiality that result in a particular visual and tactile consummation. The compulsive moods of light and dark, flow and stillness, essence and particularity are implicit, to varying degrees in the prints. From series to series, McKeever repeats, develops, lets go and introduces new features.

006 - Colour Etchings installation
Ian McKeever: ‘Colour Etchings’ installation at Young Gallery

Moving into the larger Gallery 1, six or more print series were amply represented in part or whole and demonstrated this explorative journey. This included all ten ‘Colour Etchings’ (1996), works that were first shown at the Alan Cristea Gallery in Cork Street in 1997. The ‘Colour Etchings’ wall was as impressive and almost as impactful as the ‘Woodcut Monoprints’ already discussed, though more closely configured into two rows, one above the other, forming a larger rectangle. But these are black and white images. In the catalogue for the Cristea show McKeever is quoted by Pat Gilmour as explaining the reference to colour, “to feel a form’s aura, to make it luminous.” [iii]

That luminosity should replace or equate with colour is fascinating. On a simple level, luminosity means brightness but we know that with the right conditions light refracts into colour. Luminosity could also be considered as a lack of greyness – or darker tones. With varying degrees of contrast, McKeever creates grey tones from the combination of black ink on white paper to create and enable luminosity in the imagery. From constructing sometimes strong contrasts of black and white, with wiry grids and an inner rectangle with arms on each of the four corners of this shield-like form, the resultant ambient luminosity the aura is generated and appears within and around the proportionately large central motif.

008 - Ian McKeever, Colour Etching, 1997, (1 out of 10) paper size 69 x 53cm, Published by Alan Cristea Gallery, London
Ian McKeever: ‘Colour Etching’ (1 out of 10)

On the two adjoining walls in six frames were the colophon (a kind of title page) and five painterly ‘Sentinel’ (2005) lithographic prints, opposite five of the original nine etchings from ‘Between Space and Time’ (1998-99). The latter is a potentially significant series in that colour content appears as prominent as line, tone and form – although one of the two red prints and the orange print were not included here. This series was made in close proximity to the oil and acrylic ‘Assumptio’ canvases (just before and after starting the paintings, it would appear) and the ‘Pause’ gouache on paper series constituted the third and final stage of this cycle. In an interview with Jill Lloyd, in another classic Cristea Gallery catalogue for a show in 2000, the artist confirms the prints as a very direct forerunner to the paintings:

“Things are thrown up in the printmaking which allow me a much more direct access back into paintings and to taking them further than I could see by looking at the paintings themselves. It’s very symbiotic in that sense. For me printmaking has become invaluable as a counterpoint to the paintings.” [iv]

The prints were produced with Hugh Stoneman in Penzance, which would have necessitated a trip away from the painting studio in Dorset. This geographical remove presumably helps to create some degree of separation of procedure, although the psychic mindset for the whole two-year endeavour was as cohesive as the range of works produced.

009 - Between Space and Time 7 1998-1999
Ian McKeever: ‘Between Space and Time’ (7 out of 9)

‘Sentinel’, as the title implies, made for a commanding series of lithographs to confront the viewer, but any assertiveness was softened by the impact of the round cornered stone with the fine grain, mouldmade 270g BFK Rives paper. These prints cleverly delivered both subtlety and contrast of tone with imagery returned to and developed later on in ‘Assembly Etchings’ and ‘Six from Twelve’. So, although complete in itself, in retrospect ‘Sentinel’ is a taster of things to come.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ian McKeever: ‘Sentinel’ (1 out of 5)

The net-like weaves of organic structure in ‘Between Space and Time’ are also apparent in ‘Six from Twelve’ (2009), printed from three traditional lithographic stones, to make a set of six. The ‘Six from Twelve’ prints are quite pale if viewed from a distance and are somewhat problematic seen behind glass. But in close proximity the nets of grey strands, implicit gateways, and loose and fragile liminal doorways are as compelling as in any other series. Vertical buffers, in some instances displaced within the rectangular format, might represent form dissolving or becoming. These were the prints that I thought were not done justice by a typical exhibition wall display as they need more time for viewing, and their own unencumbered space, for the viewer to assimilate more adequately. The significance of ‘Six from Twelve’ is surely worth further investigation as they lead to the ‘Twelve Standing’ series of painting, where in a contrasting state, spaces become claustrophobic and black, red and white dominate. It might be that McKeever is still in the ‘Six from Twelve’ zone, as the painting series ‘Three’ (2013-2014) and ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (2014-2015) owe something to the lithographs, which indicates an ongoing presence originated in the prints.

012 - Ian McKeever, Six from Twelve, 2009, lithograph, (1 out of 6) paper size 56 x 42cm, Published by Hostrup-Pedersen & Johansen, Copenhagen
Ian McKeever: ‘Six from Twelve’

Contrariwise, an adjacent wall displaying all five of the ‘Assembly Etchings’ (2007) which are characterised by bubble-like forms and overlapping discs, extend rather than pre-figure the ‘Temple Paintings’ (2004-2006) en route to the ‘Assembly Paintings’ (2006-2008). The print in McKeever’s oeuvre is something more than a substitute for painting. Certainly one cannot divorce the prints from the paintings totally and ‘Weight & Measure’ confirms the symbiotic and collusive relationship between all of McKeever’s various bodies of work.

013 - Ian McKeever, Assembly Etching, 2007, (1 out of 5) paper size 51 x 38cm, Published by Alan Cristea Gallery, London
Ian McKeever: ‘Assembly Etching’ (1 out of 5)

In the last section of the exhibition another image/text series confirms McKeever’s interest in this literary art form. Some 24 years on from the woodcut and text combinations of ‘that which appears’, the series of lithographs, entitled ‘The Measure’ (2017), made in response to a sequence of poems by the American poet Peter Levitt, are displayed alongside the ‘Henge’ lithographs. These prints were also produced far from home in the Faroe Islands, which again facilitates a way of standing back, positively removed, from the central preoccupation with painting in the studio.

014 - Ian McKeever, The Measure, 2016-2017 Artists'collaboration 6 lithographs by Ian McKeever and 5 poems by Peter Levitt, Published by Steinprent, Faroe Islands
Ian McKeever and Peter Levitt: ‘The Measure’

A poem from ‘Stones of the Sky’ by Pablo Neruda was also translated for ‘The Measure’ sequence. The Neruda poem ends: “Before wind / stone was there, / before man and dawn: / Its first movement / the first movement / of the river.”

Here the juxtaposition of solid, seemingly immovable stone with the flow of water (or maybe ink for the printmaker and paint for the painter?) echoes visual qualities and tropes in McKeever’s work. The essentially flat and monochromatic colours (typically black, red and green) function as curtains or moveable sections in the recent prints which segue into ‘Henge’ (2017), a series of lithographs that follow paintings of a similar diptych format and, superficially at least, a colourfield/minimalist/abstract theme that reminded me of McKeever’s interest in Barnet Newman. ‘Henge’ also appears to have links to ‘Hours of Darkness, Hours of Light’, which demonstrates a shifting from one body of work to another where processes and media (including paper, canvas and wood as variable surfaces to work on with ink, paint or photographs) promises and prompts in a varying, ever-changing, morphology. Despite echoes and repetitions, the combinations can only increase the possibilities for more cycles of work in the various media and the importance of printmaking is duly espoused by ‘Weight and Measure’.

015 - Ian McKeever, Henge, 2018, lithograph, (1 out of 4) paper size 80 x 98cm, Published by Nutmeg Editions, London
Ian McKeever: ‘Henge’ (1 out of 4)

How do McKeever’s prints relate to his particular take on abstraction? All of this work looks abstract enough, from any stage of his career. Typically it appears to reference or be fed by personal (though not autobiographical) experience. In a concrete, material sense, whether we bare in mind his landscape references from the early days or from the ongoing allusions to the body in all manner of discussions about his paintings, a phenomenological framework appears pertinent. Not being well read on Husserl, Heidegger et al I now enter dangerous ground of course and I can only direct you to Wikipedia for a way into this area of philosophical theory and speculation. [v]

In the meantime we could rely on McKeever’s own explanations for his, and other’s, work. Returning to his essay on Damisch, he says of his printmaking:

“Perhaps the solution is not to look at the work as image-picture as such, but instead as evocations of thought or of simply manifestations of being in the world; as states of being.” [vi]

And, in his interview with Jill Lloyd, also referenced earlier, McKeever says:

“In a way I would see it as being a kind of post-abstract figuration. It is as if I’m trying to sense an image that is on the other side of abstraction and moving away from the abstract rather than towards it. I try to find a point where the prototype of this post-abstract figuration can be sensed lurking, ghosting. Where it’s suggesting a figurative edge, an edge of recognition.” [vii]

On one level ‘Weight & Measure’ provided an opportunity to look back at a quarter of a century of printmaking practice. To truly weigh up and measure McKeever’s various printmaking projects in relation to his painting the prints will ideally be shown again alongside his paintings in the future. For a debate, discussion and understanding of the continued development of abstract art we shall also have to take on board notions of post-abstraction figuration too.

Geoff Hands

All images © Ian McKeever.

Note: ‘Ian McKeever: Paintings 1992-2018’ will be displayed at Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, from 20 October 2012 to 13 January 2019

Links:

Young Gallery https://younggallerysalisbury.co.uk

Ian McKeever’s website http://www.ianmckeever.com/prints/

Alan Cristea Gallery https://www.alancristea.com/artists/67-ian-mckeever/

Paragon Press http://paragonpress.co.uk/works/that-which-appears

Ferens Art Gallery https://artinyorkshire.org.uk/events/ian-mckeever-paintings-1992-2018/

 

Endnotes: 

[i]McKeever, I (2013) ‘Bouncing Back’ in Gunter Damisch: Macro Micro. Vienna, Albertina, Snoeck, p26

[ii]Sinclair, I. (1994) ‘Released By Light’ in Modern Painters,vol.7 no.4, pp38-41

[iii]Gilmour, P. (1997) Introduction for Ian McKeever Colour Etching. Alan Cristea Gallery Ltd., London

[iv]Lloyd, J. (2007) ‘Between Space and Time’ in Paintings and Works on Paper. Alan Cristea Gallery, London

[v]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenomenology_(philosophy)

[vi]McKeever, I (2013) ‘Bouncing Back’ in Gunter Damisch: Macro Micro. Vienna, Albertina, Snoeck, p28

[vii]Lloyd, J. (2007) ‘Between Space and Time’ in Paintings and Works on Paper. Alan Cristea Gallery, London