#81. John Bunker writes on Jasper Johns at the RA

Jasper Johns, “Painting with Two Balls”, 1960, encaustic and collage on canvas with objects (three panels). 165.1 x 137.5 cm. Collection of the artist © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2017. Photo: Jamie Stukenberg © The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, 2017.

Some thoughts on Jasper Johns currently showing at the RA until 10 December 2017

https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/jasper-johns?gclid=CjwKCAjwmqHPBRBQEiwAOvbR88Sa4jxGkudrRyN933veJMQ0tgqisCHTVsDH76fYlpfgk3dEA6Vo5RoCvUQQAvD_BwE

The title of this show is ‘Something Resembling Truth’. These particular words have been hacked away from a longer ponderous statement by the artist and to get the ball of conundrums rolling in that all too familiar cold blooded Johnsian manner – you have to ask – what does that really mean? What ‘truth’ are we talking about here? A truth about painting? A truth about life? Surely all that ‘life’ business is just conjecture? And how do we go about ‘resembling truth’ or life or both? Is not this title just adding to an already monstrous scatter of ‘truisms’ and ever multiplying thick coffee table tomes full of puff? Just as a shaman scatters her bones, does not a twitter-feed sometimes appear a wreck of truisms, a random cast of signs and signals, warnings and affirmations, all back lit on our tablets with a tinge of desperation?

But the real shaman’s signs and emblems would have specific meanings. Interpretations of predicaments and predictions would then be based on such criteria as, where the chosen objects fell when they were thrown, in what combination: upside down, eschewed or perfectly aligned? Even the shadows they then cast could be ripe for interpretation by the initiated and knowing eye. And Johns gives us the continual recasting of reccurring motifs and signs upon the canvas – an apparent randomness of objects and images, some of which we all know and, in our own way, we have internalised. The paintings then seem to take on a sort of weight and seriousness of official insignia almost perfectly designed for the catch-all we call ‘Modern Art’, supplying it with its very own Johnsian coat of arms. Flag, target, crosshatch, skull, paintbrush and lightbulb for instance, in whatever combination is desired.

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#80. Paul Behnke writes on John Hoyland at Pace, N.Y.

John Hoyland, “7.11.66”, 1966, acrylic on canvas, 213.4 cm x 304.8 cm. © The John Hoyland Estate. All rights reserved, DACS 2017. Photograph by Colin Mills, courtesy of Pace Gallery

John Hoyland Stain Paintings 1964-1966 is at Pace, 32 East 57th Street, New York, NY 10022, September 15 – October 21, 2017

http://www.pacegallery.com/exhibitions/12883/stain-paintings-1964-1966

John Hoyland Stain Paintings 1964-1966 is the first in-depth exhibition of the painter’s work in the United States in 25 years.  Hoyland’s work is rarely seen on this side of the Atlantic and this marks only the third time I have been able to see works by the artist “in the flesh”. The first being at Flowers Gallery (NY) in the group exhibition The Independent Eye: Contemporary British Art from the Collection of Samuel and Gabrielle Lurie which featured a small number of works by Hoyland dating from the early 1980s through the early 2000s. The second was the stunning Power Stations mini retrospective in 2015 at Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery in London.

In 1964, at the age of thirty, John Hoyland (1934-2011) was awarded a traveling fellowship by the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation and with it traveled to New York for the first time. There he either met or renewed acquaintances with prominent members of the New York School including Barnett Newman and Helen Frankenthaler as well as the formidable critic Clement Greenberg, and several of the painters he championed as post painterly abstractionists – Kenneth Noland, Paul Feeley and Jules Olitski. These latter three artists had a considerable affect on the works on view here.

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#79. Emyr Williams writes on Space in Painting and Sculpture

Paul Cézanne, “The Garden at Les Lauves”, 1906

The qualities of abstract art – painting or sculpture –  are often pitted unfavourably against figurative art. Most art that I look at is indeed figurative. If I want to see great art, it will invariably mean going to see historical figurative painting. Of course I enjoy looking at abstract art and could not imagine making anything but abstract painting. Apart from the very occasional, idle foray into figuration – ‘sans le même désespoir’ – I have been at the abstract paint face, so to speak, for the best part of thirty years. I ponder the relationship between these two worlds frequently. What is it about Cézanne and Matisse, or Titian or Goya and so on that makes me continually return to their work – like going to a well for water?

There is clearly a chasm in time frames between abstract art and great historical figuration, which is able to call upon a massively larger canon of achievement, casting abstract art in the role of a veritable parvenu by comparison. I once wrote – as a throwaway really –  that abstract art must meet the challenges of figurative art on its own terms and not on those of figuration. I wasn’t exactly sure at the time what I meant by that!

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#78. Tim Scott writes on his new sculptures.

Tim Scott, ‘Song for Echoes III’, 2017, plywood

Rarely does a criticism/review/comment on one’s work give one food for thought which goes to the heart of one’s aims, concerns and intentions, let alone results in the actual piece(s).

The contribution to the Abcrit debate (Discussion on Abstract Sculpture, 27th June), from Tony Smart, achieved exactly this for me in relation to the sculpture series “Bridge of Echoes’ (I) as illustrated then. As a result of Tony’s remarks I was obliged to think much more clearly about the relationship of material (choice of) to the resulting building (of the piece) and its visual and physical effect (though this is always a prime concern for sculptors). In this case I had previously experimented with the use of sheet card, both in itself and mixed with plywood. It became clear (from Tony) that the compacted, dense, movemented relationships of the cut, folded stacked and glued pieces or shards of the material made a particular visual and spatial/physical impression, quite different to that which had previously resulted in steel or other materials that I had used. This ‘impression’, that Tony termed “pressure”, delighted me; I realised it was giving me something of extreme interest in terms of contributing to the sculpture’s total wholeness in and of space; avoiding what he so aptly called: “…a gentlemanly dialogue between space and material…”

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#77. Geoff Hands writes on Howard Hodgkin at the Hepworth, Wakefield

Poster for Howard Hodgkin: Painting India

Howard Hodgkin: Painting India is at the Hepworth, Wakefield, 1 July – 8 October 2017

http://www.hepworthwakefield.org/howard-hodgkin-painting-india/

We shall be rewarded, albeit poignantly, with no less than three exhibitions of Howard Hodgkin’s work in 2017. The NPG show, ‘Absent Friends’, has been and gone; ‘Painting India’ is currently on view in Wakefield; and the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath opens in mid-October with a display of works on paper, including prints.

For Hodgkin, Fate’s proverbial bus of arrival of events certainly came along this year. The first event, sadly, was the ultimate departure as we all mourned the artist’s death in March. Significant media coverage provided a fitting range of positive reviews of his career and of his achievements as a painter of emotions, with imagery often dominated by the impact of colour, permeating all commentary. The sometimes acerbic, but on this occasion generous Jonathan Jones in the Guardian proclaimed Hodgkin as “the finest colourist in painting since Mark Rothko”.

Utter nonsense, of course, but the attraction of Hodgkinesque colour usage has some credence, as combined with notions of colour as something powerful in and of itself there is an indefinable emotive appeal. Characterised by expressionistic painting gestures, the oil medium is applied in a way that becomes visually seductive and affective – though what those emotions are for the observer cannot replicate whatever they were for Hodgkin. Is ‘emotive’ the correct term to use here? ‘Emotional appeal’ sounds like a cop-out term for inadequate communicative terminology, but I am struggling to define and defend these clichéd words in relation to Hodgkin’s work. Best look at the paintings.

At The Hepworth Wakefield a selection of paintings from a period of 50 years of almost annual visits to India by Hodgkin are on display. Walking up the stairs to the main galleries a hand-knotted Persian yarn wall hanging (appropriately entitled, ‘Rug’) is displayed, but this medium does not prepare the visitor for how oil paint can deliver colour – so physically and so embedded in the materiality of paint.

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#76. Nick Moore writes on Gillian Ayres at the National Museum, Cardiff

Gillian Ayres, Cardiff installation shot from Gallery 2, l to r: “The Bee Loud Glade”, “Aeolus”, “Anthony and Cleopatra”, “Calypso”, “Ace”

Gillian Ayres at the National Museum, Cardiff, 8th April – 3rd September, 2017.

https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/9457/Gillian-Ayres/

‘I suppose I am always trying to find something. I’m always looking for it. This has gone on since I was fourteen – and now I’m eighty five.’

A life lived backwards – for this review I will try an experiment and follow the more complex journey of the exhibition as it proceeds from the eighties back to the fifties, rather than the apparently more logical way of chronology from early to late…

The overarching sense of this exhibition is of a celebration of a painter whose work is vibrant, energetic and ambitious, but perhaps, above all, someone who has lived in painting. Ayres’s rich colour and attack, especially in the vibrant later works, bring a sense of play and uplift to these spaces – a feast for the senses in all respects, with the faded smell of oil, the sticky, tactile surfaces, and enough colour to last a lifetime. It was a bonus to have seating in the galleries (though I found the bean bags challenging – not so good for getting up again!) as it encouraged us to stop and sit, and open up to the work. When given some time to engage emotionally with the paintings (and physically because of the material and the scale), the experience can lift us into ourselves in a visceral way. In the first two rooms I would suggest that you can almost hear the swish, slick and smear of the paint as it is literally handled onto the canvas like an extreme version of finger painting – for this is what it is, a primary engagement with material, the canvas sometimes so heavily loaded that it sags under the weight.

The exhibition embodies forty years of a life in painting, with more than half the works being lent from private collections, and so rarely seen in public. It starts with the two rooms of paintings from the 80s, then meanders through a room with a selection from the 60s and 70s, and ends with what many think is the high-point of Ayres’s output, that of the 50s. The basis of the exhibition is a celebration of her connection with Wales, hence the emphasis on the first two galleries, work made while living in an old rectory in the Llyn Peninsular and as an external examiner at Cardiff Art School, before moving down to the Devon/Cornwall border in 1987. Proceeding through the galleries made an interesting journey backwards through time, enabling different connections to be made and it was breathtaking to be presented with a whole room (and it has to be said in the most beautiful space) of the 50s paintings as the climax to the show.

‘I got unhappy with teaching in art schools and just resigned one day, lost my London mortgage and cut to Wales. I thought I’d paint like hell. I just didn’t worry’.

Our journey begins with the most recent paintings shown, and it is in these from the early 80s that Ayres hits her stride again, having left teaching, abandoned acrylics, moved to North Wales, and thrown herself back into to an engagement with oil, colour and substantial texture on an ambitious scale. The chromatic intensity that soaked the interior of Ayres’s studio was echoed outside it by not only a profligate garden, but the presence of guinea fowl and peacocks. In these rooms we are surrounded by a selection of the idiosyncratic, recognisable flow of high key painting that hasn’t stopped since.

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#75. Harry Hay writes on Simon Gardam at Fort Delta, Melbourne

Installation, Simon Gardam at Fort Delta, Melbourne, Australia

Field, an exhibition of new paintings by Simon Gardam, is showing from August 3rd – September 2nd at Fort Delta, Melbourne, Australia

http://www.fortdelta.com.au/fort-delta-events-and-exhibitions/2016/06/17/simon-gardam-201/

This is Simon Gardam’s second solo exhibition at Fort Delta in little over a year, and in such a small space of time his work has undergone some significant transformations. The addition to Gardam’s repertoire of stitching paintings together is but one reason for this, and certainly not the most important when it comes to determining just how these paintings go about engaging us in a way that is very different to the last few years. I think the most consequential factor for bringing about this shift lies in the colour and how it sits on the surface. Gardam’s colour is brighter now than it has been in recent years and that has a lot to do with the immediacy of its application. Traces of older methods are still evident as well, able to co-exist with these newer developments, all in all contributing to a diverse selection of works, with physical and spatial differences occurring across all the paintings in this current exhibition, Field.

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#74. Alan Gouk writes on Key Paintings of the 20th Century: a Musée Imaginaire (Part 1).

Paul Cézanne, “Ginger Jar and Fruit”, c. 1895

“First the Giants, then the pygmies.”   Elie Faure

I could have begun with a painting by Rubens, one of Cézanne‘s favourite painters, his Susannah and the Elders in Munich, or the Three Graces in the Prado, but that would have set us off on the wrong foot by confirming Cézanne‘s own estimate of himself – “how feeble I am in life “, said in relation to Manet’s “bold impasto”. However, when the National Gallery placed Cézanne‘s Grand Bathers beside Titian’s Diana and Actaeon and Rubens’ Judgement of Paris, he did not look feeble, and it was the Rubens that fell away first. What the confrontation confirmed was that it is not the succulent rendering of flesh, the atmospheric rendering of spatial illusion, nor the sumptuous handling of fabrics and the texture of appearances that counts, but the architectural strengths of the composition, the disposition of the major masses and the demands of their accommodation to the entire presented image, and the shape of the canvas , and that this can be created with a new economy of means, new and old, and an especial emphasis on “form”, form over the sensuous, form over everything. Cézanne goes on to build a monument to his feebleness.

And here is a contradiction, for how can it be that someone who said this of himself could prove to be the most powerful temperament in a century of powerful temperaments?

Emile Zola, a vocal champion of the movement in French painting he designated as “naturalism”, coined the expression — “nature seen through a temperament”. No one had a temperament more powerful and idiosyncratic than Paul Cézanne, of an intensity bordering the pathological, in his adolescent ferment, at least. (Perhaps it was just adolescent rebelliousness.) And he did not quite shed the phantasising of erotic torment that assailed him in youth, fuelled by his readings in classical literature, common to every well-educated schoolboy in France in the 19th century.

Underneath and parallel to the discipline instilled into him during his apprenticeship with Pissarro, there remained an erotic imaginative life which found expression in the many Bathers paintings, La Lutte D’Amour, a baroque turbulence in marked contrast to the strictness of his study after nature.

We are not all gifted with as strong a temperament, not all blessed with “equal temperament”. Some of us are in C major, some of us in B flat minor. Some are predominantly extravert sensation types, others are introverted feeling. Find out who you are. Be who you are, and not who you wish you were.

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#73. Geoff Hands writes on “Terry Frost: A Book of Ideas” at Belgrave Gallery, St. Ives

Terry Frost installation

“Terry Frost: A Book of Ideas” at Belgrave Gallery, St. Ives, was at 19 June to 15 July 2017.

Gaining access to an artist’s sketchbook can be a rare opportunity. Even the artists you know personally might be reluctant to let you leaf through their, sometimes, intimate visual journals. Belgrave St Ives (with the Terry Frost Estate) have gone a stage further than merely displaying a book in a vitrine for this exhibition. A large format sketchbook (46.5 x 37.5 cm) of Frost’s has been dismantled and 30 out of 50 or so pages have been surface mounted and framed. The workbook covers much of the decade from the 1970s to 1981 and followers of Frost’s career will recognise several of the artist’s favourite subjects, for example ‘Suspended Forms’, the ‘Sun and Moon’ theme, and the ‘Lorca’ series.

Seeing the main body of this work (paintings and collages) almost simultaneously in the gallery allows a general sweep of all of the images, as well as more concentrated looking at individual pages. Some degree of comparison is also possible and the curators have carefully placed images alongside each other that have some sequential or common features that link them together thematically. In a few instances, double page spreads from the book had also been kept intact and the most bold and impressive of these were pages 104 and 105, a painted maquette for the subsequent woodcut, ‘Two Loves for Tredavoe’ (1999).

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#72. Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe writes on Nancy Haynes at Regina Rex, New York

“the painting undressed” 2011, diptych, oil on linen, 18 x 40 inches (all images courtesy of Regina Rex Gallery)

Nancy Haynes: This Painting Oil on Linen was at the Regina Rex Gallery, New York, 7 April – 14 May 2017

http://reginarex.org/exhibition.asp?exid=576

 

These Paintings Oil on Linen

I don’t think I’d go quite so far as to describe Haynes’ practice as “a form of prayer,” but I can see why Ken Johnston would say that.[1]   She has always made paintings that are impressive because of the way they’re painted, but in her newest work she has realized more intensely the kind of depth and movement she has worked with for a long time.  The surface is more delicate, its relation—more exactly, its active non-relationship—to its support more subtle.

Each of the paintings in this group is made of a generally horizontal movement, which takes place in several stages but proceeds in all cases from lighter on the left to darker on the right.  At the top and bottom things happen that qualify this movement, altering the way we see space and movement by changing the color and the surface.  Where most of the painting is made of layers of thin paint applied with a foam rubber brush, Haynes uses a tiny watercolor brush to make the marks or surface interruptions at the top and bottom.  Nothing moves quickly but some affects seem to emerge, or appear, suddenly.

In 1988 I said in connection with one of her paintings that dark spaces seem closer to one than light ones and that therefore it was (is) very hard to judge the relative space between the dark and the not so dark, because it’s a relationship between degrees of envelopment. [2] There is no distance of straightforwardly describable sort, it would be like saying which part of the sky was closer to one than another. It starts at your eye—where the outside most obviously enters your inside—and goes on from there.  We look into it, and Haynes talked about “disappearing into the painting” when we met to talk about these new paintings.  What disappears into it?  The viewer I think, oneself.  Its interiority takes you over not when you’re not looking but when you are.

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