#116. Chris Stephens writes on New Paintings by Pete Hoida

“Crucible”, 2011-2018, 97 x 219 cm

Pete Hoida, New Paintings is at the APT Gallery, Harold Wharf, Creekside, London SE8 4SA, 11 – 21 July 2019

In the 1950s, painter and critic Patrick Heron wrote about the artist Ivon Hitchens. There he noted a tendency in England to understand painting ‘primarily in terms of literature’, to respond first to ‘atmosphere’ rather than ‘pictorial qualities’, and to prefer realism or the theoretical nature of constructivism over the ‘sensuous’ tradition of Fauvism and Cubism. Hitchens, for Heron, was a rare instance of a British painter able to look the French sensualists in the eye. In addition, his painting was the most ‘distinguished’ British example of what Heron described as the ‘necessary fusion’ of the two main sources for any artist: ‘art and nature’, international and local.1 With pleasing alliteration, much of what Heron wrote of Hitchens can be applied to Hoida.

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#115. Robin Greenwood writes on “Past and Future Abstract”

Paul Cézanne, “Still Life with Apples in a Compote”, 1879-80

In the late 1870’s Paul Gauguin made direct contact with Paul Cézanne, possibly through the intercession of Pissarro, who seems to have had his fingers on the pulse of a number of important painters of the time. And though Gauguin, unlike Pissarro, maintained no intimate communication, his devotion to Cézanne’s work remained immense throughout his life. The respect was not reciprocated; yet, prior to their meeting, Gauguin had purchased five or six Cézannes for his own collection, much-prized works that were eventually sold off to pay for his debts in the 1880’s, when his bourgeois career collapsed; despite which, Gauguin recognised the importance and significance of these works. The angled knife on the table-top (Chardin?) was a spatial invention used by many artists to extend the flattened forefront space of the still-life’s subtle outward-ness towards the viewer.

This particular Cézanne painting, “Still Life with Apples in a Compote”, was Gauguin’s most valued, and was kept the longest, being a canvas that did much to sustain his own vision of what advanced painting might be, or indeed, might become. This was the Cézanne that stayed in Gaugin’s meagre Paris studio until at least 1893, an important painting for Gauguin to own. My theory is that it remains important in the ongoing development of abstract painting, and how we now might take it further than its early stages as begun by Kandinsky in 1910, or Malevich in 1915. The key to this is wholeness – making everything in the painting work together from edge to edge.

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#114. Tim Scott quotes from and comments on “But is it Art?” (OUP 2001), by Cynthia Freeland

Tim Scott quotes from and comments on “But is it Art?” (OUP 2001), a book by Cynthia Freeland.

“… Rituals of many world religions involve rich colour, design, and pageantry. But ritual theory does not account for the sometimes strange intense activities of modern artists, as when a performance artist uses blood. For participants in a ritual, clarity and agreement of purpose are central; the ritual reinforces the community’s proper relation to God or nature through gestures that everyone knows and understands. But audiences who see and react to a modern artist do not enter in with shared beliefs and values… Most modern art, in the context of theatre, gallery or concert hall, lacks the background reinforcement of pervasive community belief that provides meaning…”      (P.4) 

I am sure many of us have attended these ‘performance’ ‘artworks’ and  the above strikes me as eminently true.     TS

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#113. Tim Scott writes on New Sculpture and Direction, Movement, Space and Physicality; Robin Greenwood writes on Three-dimensionality.

Towards a New Sculpture: 2

Tim Scott writes on Direction; Movement; Space; Physicality.

Direction:

Far too frequently, direction has depended on ‘received’ form that is most often provided by manufactured preformed material, but can also equally be the product of shaping and forming any material by the sculptor. Historically, in sculpture, it was most often the bi-product of gesture, usually provided by the subject matter. In abstract sculpture this source disappears as being self-evident and decisions around it become crucial. The start, ‘from where’, and the finish, ‘to where’. of any sculptural part is of vital importance plastically. All too often it is merely a cosmetic decision that forms part of a composition that the various parts of the sculpture conform to. Direction is an expressive decision of intent which should have physical meaning and purpose and contribute to the plastic realisation of the whole piece.

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#112. Emyr Williams writes on Patrick Heron at Margate

Patrick Heron, “Cadmium with Violet, Scarlet, Emerald Lemon and Venetian: 1969”. Tate, London 2018 and estate of Patrick Heron. DACS 2018

Patrick Heron at Turner Contemporary, Margate.

The hanging of this exhibition has had a lot of column inches devoted to it. The paintings looked really good in these spaces and in spite of the missing traditional chronological reasoning did not compete or confuse. The spaces are not huge, so it is easy to move back and forth, cross-checking things if so desired. I failed to see what the fuss was all about. I understood there were themes but to be brutally honest I didn’t pay attention to them and proceeded to wander around and take each work on face value. The signature Herons (the “wobbly hard edged”) such as the huge “Cadmium With Violet, Scarlet, Emerald, Lemon and Venetian: 1969” looked immediately familiar and impressive. These works are characterised by their fully saturated higher-keyed primaries and secondaries straight from the tube, activated more by a literalness in the brushstroke rather than a painterliness per se. The brush being a markedly smaller than thought Japanese watercolour brush. Sitting uniformly on a white ground gives each hue the same reflective force. Complementary colours buzz optically against one another as their shapes flip-flop between positive and negative areas, à la Matisse’s cut outs. Heron’s optimism in an almost hedonistic colour, is supported by his wilfulness to drive each colour shape through to its conclusion in the same way as it was started – the brush scribble, more often than not. They have an insistency which, with hindsight, is possibly their undoing at times; in these works he seems to have put himself ahead of his own curve. By this I mean he understood fully what he was doing, not quite moving himself into the more profound areas of discovery – the speed of acknowledgment of each work’s merits is condensed into a shorter space of time. Colour will always surprise but they teeter ever so slightly into the realms of design (this is not to consider design in any pejorative way but to define its nature in terms of more predictive outcomes, for design has to have a preconditioned purpose at its heart).

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#110. Robin Greenwood writes about “The Art of the Real”, Then and Now

1968 MOMA installation of “The Art of the Real”

“Take a giant step…” as the great Taj Mahal once sang… or was it the Monkees: “Take a giant step outside you mind”?

In April 1969, as a young art student at Wimbledon School of Art in London, I went to see a big show of abstract art at Tate Gallery: “The Art of the Real; An Aspect of American Painting and Sculpture 1948 -1968”. This was very new and exciting to me back then, and in its way, as I will explain, it still is.

The show originated and was shown in 1968 in MOMA, New York, where it was devised and directed by E. C. Goossen, and subsequently presented with the help of the Arts Council of Great Britain to the Tate Gallery, London. Here is the opening to Goossen’s introduction:

“To propose that some art is more “real” than other art may be foolhardy. Yet many American artists over the last few years have made this proposal by the nature of their work. They have taken a stance that leaves little doubt about their desire to confront the experiences and objects we encounter every day with an exact equivalence in art. That they are shaping this equivalence by modifying forms inherited from the history of modern abstraction may or may not be an accident. Certainly there seems to be a growing distrust of idealism and its unfulfilled promises. The “real” of today as it is posited by this new art has nothing to do with metaphor, or symbolism, or any kind of metaphysics. It is not the ideal Hegelian essence that Hans Hofmann was invoking several decades ago in his essay, “The Search for the Real”. It does not wish to convey the notion that reality is somewhere else. Neither is it related to the symbolic reality Malevich thought he had discovered when, in 1913, he first isolated his black square on a white field. Malevich indeed had produced a real square, but he employed it as an element in the construction of a precariously balanced, ideal order with which he proposed to bring forth a “new world of feeling”. Today’s “real”, on the contrary, makes no direct appeal to the emotions, nor is it involved in uplift. Indeed, it seems to have no desire at all to justify itself, but instead offers itself for whatever its uniqueness is worth – in the form of the simple, irreducible, irrefutable object.”

The essay concludes five pages later, thus:

“The gradual divorce of the physical means of art from expressionistic associations has been accompanied by a distinct change in attitude towards what art should attempt. Expressionism, even at its most abstract, continued many aspects of representational art, and constructivism, despite its purist look, was basically nostalgic in its search for meaning through traditional methods of composition. The new attitude has been turning art inside out: instead of perceptual experience being accepted as the means to an end, it has become the end in itself. The Renaissance artist laboured over perspective in order to create an illusion of space within which he could make believable the religious and philosophical ideals of his time; the contemporary artist labours to make art itself believable. Consequently the very means of art have been isolated and exposed, forcing the spectator to perceive himself in the process of perception. The spectator is not given symbols, but facts, to make of them what he can. They do not direct his mind nor call up trusted cores of experience, but lead him to the point where he must evaluate his own peculiar responses. Thus, what was once concealed within art – the technical devices employed by the artist – is now overtly revealed; and what was once the outside – the meaning of its forms – has been turned inside. The new work of art is very much like a chunk of nature, a rock, a tree, a cloud, and possesses much the same hermetic “otherness”. Whether this kind of confrontation with the actual can be sustained, whether it can remain vital and satisfying, it is not yet possible to tell.”

E.C.G.

This, I think even in retrospect, was pretty good, and was the start of something important for me about how to make “abstract” art, and how to make it “real”. I had by then already abandoned any connections with figurative painting and sculpture of any kind.

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#109. Tim Scott writes “Towards a New Sculpture”

Tim Scott, “Liquefaction II”, 2018, plywood and card, laminated, 51 x 66 x75 cm

Towards a New Sculpture

As one arrives at old age, it becomes more and more apparent that what is of one’s time is – of one’s time; and that what is of the present is – of the present.  If one asks what is new, original and fresh in the art of sculpture, the one belies much of the other, and never the twain shall meet! Of the thousands of new sculptures being made by hundreds of artists everywhere, what genuinely shows any spark of new meaning and new purpose? If one bypasses what Clement Greenberg called ‘Novelty Art’, the labelling as ‘sculpture’ of art objects whose prime function is devoted to a social, philosophical, political, amusing, sensational, literary or phenomenological intent, amongst many more; then what was previously understood as constituting ‘sculptural intent’ is deemed to be no longer relevant.

Of course, there are still today many practitioners in the age-old function of sculptural expression, depicting the vagaries of the human body. Sadly, none have matched the grand finale of that domain as exemplified by Rodin, Degas and Matisse. For better or for worse non-figuration of varying intensities has led the way to a ‘modern’ sculptural art form.

Art survives through patronage and great art requires great patronage. Today’s patronage is from the museum curator/gallery dealers and their clients, the collectors. The one is subject to financial restraint and both to the vagaries of fashion and, most importantly, journalism and media publicity. ‘Sculpture’ is now a label for trendiness and fashion, not of an art form dedicated to those values previously understood to be axiomatic.

The price of an unwanted dedication to old values has to be marginalisation. The confrontation of that with an all-pervading worship of the popularisation of art as entertainment, from which stems the verdict of that same dedication being out-of-date, and dismissed as irrelevant, is inimical to upholding those values that are seen as qualitatively necessary to retain from sculpture’s past by a small minority of practitioners in order to innovate.

What, then, is the prime motivation for continuing to attempt to move the history-based ‘classical’ line of ‘modern’ sculpture forward from the positions and achievements reached by the end of the twentieth century?

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#108. Robin Greenwood writes on Anni Albers at Tate Modern: A Short Speculation on Greatness in Perspective

Anni Albers, untitled, 1941, rayon, cotton, linen, wood and jute, 56 x 116 cm

Anni Albers at Tate Modern until 27 January 2019. https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/anni-albers?gclid=Cj0KCQjwr4beBRDNARIsAGZaZ5eeerCTKiGTovocSOD-R_VC7YPB3oqrIYNmYEhM0vdBaykfFHx9AKwaAl3aEALw_wcB 

The story of Anni Albers’ career is now well told and there are currently plenty of opportunities to read about her development at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and beyond. She is now receiving the plaudits that are appropriate for the decades of innovative work that is displayed at Tate Modern, and so I see no point in repeating the broader story on Abcrit. In fact, I find some of the back-story tedious. What I want to try and do here is make an attempt at the value of her work as an abstract artist, and how it corresponds to or differs from more general discussions about abstract painting; And beyond that, how we might attempt to consider her oeuvre in the light of the long history of weaving and textile art generally. These issues are not easily unpicked due to ignorance and prejudice, not least my own, and I’m by no means an expert. However, having read a few reviews and texts after the show, mostly based on the rather prosaic standpoint of her life and career, what I miss, including from the writers of the Tate’s own catalogue, is not so much the issues related to art made by women and its devaluation, which is now being correctly and collectively re-evaluated; Nor do I miss Albers’ own significant labours to change the preconceptions of the so-called “decorative and applied arts” and the insensitivities of seeing these efforts as the poor relation to fine art; But no, what I find more annoyingly absent is a closer reading of the best of her individual works as abstract art in its own right. And let’s state the case early – weaving has a very long history of very great art, both abstract and figurative, and Albers joins with, and adds to, that history. As the catalogue rightly says, “Weaving is not painting. A wall-hanging is not a picture.” No, it is not, but it can be seen to be, on occasion, at least as meaningful and magnificent as painting, and sometimes more so. What is important is to recognise the differences and the values that dissimilar art offers, and in the case of weaving, not much has been said in acknowledgement of its very special case. There is a complex materiality to weaving which has its own particular interactions of space and depth, and with that comes a degree of partial three-dimensionality, to be experienced in-the-full, and not pictorially. This needs to be witnessed in front of the work itself, and explained, and felt in its special kind of wholeness and its own particular reality. This is true even when one cannot directly access the inverse side of the work, something Albers herself often prohibited. No matter, because you still get the feel of the bigger achievement. The physical encounter-in-depth with good weaving is rarely if ever to be experienced in the same way as painting, and a number of the works in this show would be greatly undervalued by being interpreted or appraised as “pictures”. I love painting, I love sculpture, and I love weaving and textiles too; they are all different.
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#107. Robin Greenwood writes on Ribera: Art of Violence at Dulwich Picture Gallery; and Mantegna & Bellini at the National Gallery

Jusepe de Ribera, “Inquisition Scene”, late 1630’s 

Ribera: Art of Violence at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, 26 September 2018 – 27 January 2019

https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/2018/september/ribera-art-of-violence/

Mantegna and Bellini at the National Gallery, London, 1 October 2018 – 27 January 2019

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/mantegna-and-bellini

 

Ribera: Art of Violence is the first show of work in the UK by the Spanish Baroque painter, draughtsman and printmaker, Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), and includes four significant large-scale paintings, plus numerous drawings and other works.

If you know anything of the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s significant permanent collection (not all of which is at any one time on view), you might be as surprised as I was, half way through the Ribera exhibition, where the parallel permanent collection rooms are glimpsed through a doorway, to find that one’s opinion of the latter works are strangely recast, as if all have been slighted, changed into second-rate and timid mannerisms. This cuts across expectations and is an odd and unnerving experience. Ribera, of course, has wrung these changes to one’s perceptions by the compelling brute-force of his extraordinary vision. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, not even in the works of Caravaggio, whose outstanding realism was instrumental to the development of Ribera’s mature style. Maybe in the history of art only Tintoretto exceeds him in the lavishness of his imagination. As to whether you can truly like these paintings, or stomach the subject-matter, each must judge accord to their own sensitivity; a more interesting question for me, concerning the inventiveness of his painterly organisations, is whether there is mileage in what at first seems a rather bizarre comparison with recent abstract art. Personally, I find such an evaluation hard to make, hard to take, yet difficult to resist, and ultimately exciting in its threat to what we call modern.

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