#85. Nick Moore writes on Frank Bowling at Hales, London

“Pouring over Two Morrison Boys and Two Maps II” 2016, acrylic on canvas, 306x184cm

Frank Bowling,  ‘Fishes, Wishes in Summertime Blue’  was at Hales Gallery, London, 8th September to 28th October 2017

Walking into this exhibition one is greeted by a large vertical painting, ‘Pouring over two Morrison Boys and Two Maps II’, on the wall at the far end of the gallery – deliberately placed I would say to draw us into the space. It is eye-catching, arresting and dazzling with its rich array of saturated colour; red, greens, yellows and oranges, yet there is much subtlety to be found alongside these more dominant colours and we are kept interested because there are more revelations each time we look. A web of colour would be a good metaphor – we are fixed and caught, mesmerised, in front of this pulsing canvas as it gradually eats into our senses and swallows us, engulfs us; but it also feeds us. It is made from six canvases glued, stitched and layered. From the two central vertical elements, the left a marbled complexity of yellow, ochre and red with swirls of blue, the right more heavily weighted with various greens drowning the yellows; from all four sides, runs percolate over rich, complex, saturated backdrops, all of which contain combinations of the same colours, but each ‘quarter’ has a different emphasis. The left has red runoffs over mauve and blue underneath the red screenprinted areas; the right has green runs over ochre and red screenprints; at the top, green runs both ways, up from the centre and down from a stained green area that sits horizontally on top of the ochre and orange ground; the lower area, a thin green ground with strong yellow and red patches has runs down only the left hand side. On first viewing, this painting seems to be balanced and symmetrical, but of course the more we look the more the symmetry is destroyed; in the top right by the diagonal green run; the red screenprint on the lower right; the yellow disturbance on the lower left.  Bowling is not afraid to set up geometry and then destroy it. Indeed geometry underscores most of the paintings in this exhibition; in some it is more overt than others.

‘Pouring over two Morrison Boys and Two Maps II’ is the centrepiece of the show and I was so drawn by it that I found it difficult to then set about the room in a systematic way, starting at the door and working my way round, and I found myself constantly referring back to this thing of beauty.

As Bowling says in the catalogue, ‘I am on the side of beauty, and beauty doesn’t stop still’… how apposite this is; this exhibition celebrates the way in which Bowling ever presses on, no matter what obstacles are in his way. He keeps reinventing, revisiting and reprocessing what some see as the tired medium of paint on canvas in fresh ways, mining his life, his experiences and the different approaches he has experienced to the work; it all comes together on the walls here. The show includes three of his ‘white paintings’, which are not white at all but a much more subtle use of layered colour; in ‘Ashton’s Swirl I’ and ‘Horsing Around’ visual rhythms are set up by the gel marks and engulfed objects that are rooted in it. The latter is a study in subtlety with its submerged colours and objects drawing us in to explore the scrubbed and stained whitened surface.

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#84. John Bunker writes on “Sea of Data”, at Unit 3, London

Installation, “Sea of Data”

Some Thoughts on Sea of Data Just Finished at Unit 3 London.

Most abstract artists I know use a digital camera as an archiving tool. Then they jump between social media platforms and websites to upload and promote their decidedly ‘analogue’ endeavours in the fine arts. Some may make a wink or a nod to the digital realm in a title or a blurry right angle or hard edged Day-Glo vertical in an artwork. But what if one starts to put this fast developing epoch defining technology at the very core of the creative process? It is one thing to mimic the look of the screen etc. It is quite another to make the computer the generator of imagery, of colour, of line- and all the other qualities we associate with the realm of abstract ‘painting’.

Ever since the computer’s earliest developments our cultural landscape has been littered with imagery to do with them. In fact there are a welter of cliches that permeate mass culture and high art concerning circuit boards, control panels, surveillance tech and the supposedly numbing effects of our image saturated consumer culture. Of course, recently, we have seen artists work that involves relational aspects of data collection, performative interventions using Twitter or ordering loads of ‘stuff’ on Amazon and dumping it in high-end gallery spaces. But in the idiom of abstract painting and sculpture, what impact could the encroaching digital realm of experience be having upon the production of work and the culture that surrounds that production?

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#83. Alan Gouk and Robin Greenwood write on Cézanne, Matisse and Soutine

Paul Cézanne,  “The Artist’s Father, Reading ‘L’Événement'”, 1866

https://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/cezanne-portraits/exhibition/

https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/matisse-in-the-studio?gclid=CjwKCAjw7frPBRBVEiwAuDf_Lb_-693ATRKTZ5V4_kzjHg3FPEiBYPrb3zNk6qoCB9IAYJtAtasviBoCDy4QAvD_BwE

http://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/what-on/exhibitions-displays/soutine?gclid=Cj0KCQiArYDQBRDoARIsAMR8s_RteHDtE_LvRwq4RJj3NmODlMj5NWB2cYwbxHMh69r22vmcbC-w2y4aArBoEALw_wcB

Alan Gouk: Some Notes on Three Exhibitions in London.  Cezanne, Matisse, Soutine.

The show of Cézanne portraits at the NPG is so overwhelming that I’m obliged to confine my response to just three or four pictures. As with the Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery in 2015 one feels that everything that could possibly be said has already been said, and yet nothing has been said that comes near to conveying the qualities of original vision and formal power of these masters, and the formidable (in the French pronunciation) humanity of their affirmation of painting’s capacity to “take the impress of spirit” in the words of Roger Fry. Painting will never be “dead” as long as one can take sustenance from pictures like these.

The resounding “bass vibrato” of the young Cézanne’s temperamental brutalism is struck by the first painting one sees on entry, the large vertical The Artist’s Father 1866. The volumetric relief of this seated man is astonishing, his legs and feet jutting forcefully into the foreground space, swollen like an elephant’s, rendered clumsily in a smoothly succulent and absolute grey, with emphatic shadows that are consistently maintained throughout on the heavy throne-like chair which is modelled with the same fluent clumsiness as the figure of the father, who looks more like a labourer than a banker, his podgy hands clutching L’Événement newspaper, hewn with much scrapings in white/grey/black like a Mosaic tablet. Whether this brutalism was intended as a rebuke to, or an assault on the seamless trompe-l’oeil finesses of Salon favourites, or whether it was the best that Cézanne could manage at this juncture, is no matter, and what it says about his relationship with his father must remain forever prurient speculation. To me if anything it seems to heroicise him. After all it was his father’s largesse that enabled Cézanne to dedicate his life to a sustained concentration on painting that was denied to most of his companions.

The buttery fat palette knifing sculpting the father’s face and hands is echoed in many portraits to follow, of Uncle Dominique and others, which in spite of this limited means, manage an extraordinary salience of volumetric form reduced to the extremes of light and dark (black hat and white gloves placed near the painting to serve as the outer limits of the pendular swing of their tonal language.) The solidity and succulence of paint application in this painting would be subject to transmutation with a thousand nuances over the years, near glazes replacing impasto, in which the watercolours are a crucial accompaniment, re-emerging in the very late portraits with a renewed if symphonic solidity.

But The Artist’s Father has further indices of the inherent tendency of Cézanne’s art, in the dense chocolate brown plane and the sienna wall plane that backs up the chair, with a still-life painting in a style influenced by Monticelli, who was also a palette knifer, hanging behind the head, parallel to the picture plane; in all of which Cezanne seems to want to outdo Manet in “bold impasto” and the emphatic assertion of the planarity of the picture design.

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#82. Robin Greenwood writes on Alexander Calder and Jed Perl’s new biography

“Calder: The Conquest of Time”, The Early Years: 1898-1940, by Jed Perl.

http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/CalderHypermobility

The American sculptor Alexander Calder has two claims to fame: in the first half of his career he invented the “mobile”, so-named by his Parisian friend Marcel Duchamp in 1931, though the term originally referred to Calder’s motor-driven assemblages rather than the arrangement of hanging shapes now a familiar sight in every nursery; and in later career he pioneered the placement of large-scale abstract sculptures in the public arena, mostly “stabiles”, a term coined by another friend, Jean Arp, perhaps in rather ironic riposte. Jed Perl’s new book, the somewhat hubristically titled “Calder: The Conquest of Time”, deals with the former period, up to 1940. The second volume, we are led to believe, is out in a couple of years and is to be called “The Conquest of Space”. Onward and upward!

There is a big push on at the moment to heighten the reputation and profile of Calder, to move him up from blue-chip to gilt-edged status, and it’s all emanating from the artist’s Foundation in the US, headed up by the artist’s grandson and rather rakish President, Alexander S. C. Rower. Linked to this is the release of Jed Perl’s part 1 biography. The Tate showed his work last year, the Whitney this year. Rower and Perl, an odd couple, are out and about, talking at various venues, promoting the book. And Calder is, according to the PR, now “America’s Most Beloved Sculptor”. Wow; a sculptor, “beloved”! Maybe it has a different nuance in the states. Do we have a “beloved” UK sculptor? Certainly Caro wasn’t, nor even Henry Moore. Gormley? Yes, perhaps Gormley. But even he divides opinion, and I can’t imagine anyone ever hating the work of Calder in quite the same way that many – myself included – hate Gormley’s, whose Crosby Beach figures I’d be happy to stamp upon until ten feet below the tide. By contrast, Calder ticks the minimalist/modernist design boxes that people these days are hooked into (and that even I am occasionally partial to, design-wise if not art-wise), so it’s hard to imagine anything from this artist that would fail to please or amuse, never mind cause actual offence (perhaps some of the later, monster-sized plaza sculptures?). And it’s ever so easy to be charmed by some of the little mobiles and stabiles: https://twitter.com/calderfdn/status/911336348237406209.

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#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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