Awaiting changes in the new year…
All of these were done in the last couple of months and all in the same way – an old painting covered up with Payne´s grey, new paint applied/scraped with a palette knife, here and there disrupted with a brush.
Although none of them are intentionally one or the other, for me they range from obviously figurative to more or less abstract. For me again, the more spatial they are, the more figurative and the more figurative, the more spatial.
And the more spatial they are, the more engaging too – not because the figuration is in any way interesting (this is what I mean with “bland figuration”) but because the viewer´s projection of virtual space enables (or drags along) a simultaneous projection of subjective feeling, modulated by the surface shapes and colours. The more abstract, less spatial paintings tend to lack that element of “recognition”, not of figures but of some kind of subjective truth. Or that´s my thinking at the moment.
Lockdown has allowed a period of concentrated activity. There is no end result, like exhibiting. It’s just to see where the language of Abstract Painting takes me. I give myself a lot of leeway, as I’m working in an extremely concentrated fashion. I drive up the same lane, past Walter Raleigh’s house every day. I drive slowly and take everything in, looking at the colour, light and shade /a la Cezanne. Then I get to my farm studio and close the door. I stretch up a canvas quite beautifully. I have been a carpenter in NY. Then I stretch a heavy weight canvas over the frame, which has an inch and a half edge. The 5ft by 7ft canvasses are the ones featured here, and I make each one afresh, beautifully stretched anew each time. Then I really try not to plan too much. Improvisation is the key, but inevitably I make a few notes. I then have the weight of paint on the surface. I’m aware of staining technique from Louis and Frankenthaler. I enjoy that, but realise its limitations. Changes or additions can be great or awful, according to choices made. However I’m free to paint out what I don’t like, in a varied way. I’m always varying the surface which I find crucial to a visually exciting picture.
If, on the way towards constructing a sculpture, perhaps starting with two or three pieces of cut and/or shaped steel or wood, joined together in a way that suggests some physical pressure or activity or structure; then is that, in itself, unchangeably and definitely either figurative or abstract, one or the other? Or is it mutable? Is it, after the making of it, an act that can have clarity only once, or can it be expedited in either form, and at different times? Does it need the context of the larger organisation that will include its identity in the whole sculpture?
What about joining these parts together without physicality, just “putting” them together, offering them as spatially conjoined in some way, just fixed together by what is between them (with a weld or a nail?), but nothing further in terms of physicality? Does abstract sculpture need a physical “context” for its content? Is it, perhaps in any case, not a question that can be answered before a great majority of the whole sculpture is built?
There seems here lots of ambiguity; but then again, if you exactly specify the joining together of the parts of the sculpture in order to avoid figuration, there is the likelihood of losing any degree of fluid spatiality… something which seems essential for abstract sculpture to be alive and flourishing.
Why ABSTRACT Sculpture? Part 3
I stated in Part 2 that the ‘ABOUT’ of a truly abstract sculpture, its ‘content’, would have to be redefined if there was to be any real success beyond that already achieved within its history (of around a century). I also claimed that the only parallel that it (new abstract sculpture) could look to for the conveyance of significant aesthetic feeling, was to be found in how music generates deeply felt human emotion through totally ‘abstract’ means; its ‘content’, therefore, being totally devoid of representational back up.
It generates emotion entirely through these abstract means. Which brings us to the ‘means’ of sculpture.
The means of modern sculpture, that of the last century, involved either some form of quasi or suggestive representation, or, as an alternative, a turning to and associating with, other physical and object worlds for identity and ‘meaning’. The common perception, at present, amongst the audience for sculpture, is that these conditions are satisfactory and laudable.
One has only to turn to the net where one can find literally hundreds of examples of what is called ‘abstract’ sculpture conforming to these parameters and, consequently, not really being ‘abstract’ at all.
Some time ago I was invited by Myles Corley, the gallery director of Linden Hall Studio in Deal, Kent, to curate an exhibition of new abstract painting, chosen from my own personal point of view. I thought it was a good chance to consider what did or did not qualify as “abstract”, and to examine the activities of painters whom I thought were moving forwards in original ways. It was intended to publish the short essay that follows as part of a catalogue for the show, along with reproductions of paintings by the ten chosen artists, all to coincide with the opening of the exhibition on 4th April 2020. Instead, due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, I’m publishing the essay and the ten reproductions here on Abcrit.
This essay was written before I had seen much of the work, and was not intended as an analysis of any of the content in the paintings to be hung. More than anything, it was aimed to demonstrate my own enthusiasms for differences and divergences ongoing in original abstract painting. I was genuinely excited by the prospect of seeing some of these very different works together for the first time. The exhibition will hopefully still take place before too long. In the meantime, perhaps we can begin here to discuss the differences, achievements and ambitions of this work, with an example from each of the artists. There will be thirty or so paintings that will get hung eventually in the actual exhibition, but for the time being, we are reproducing here one work each from the ten artists: Noela James Bewry; John Bunker; EC; myself; Harry Hay; Patrick Jones; Dean Piacentini; John Pollard; Hilde Skilton; and Stephen Walker.
I’m hoping the artists themselves are fit and well, and (in their current self-isolation) will contribute to a discussion of their work on-line, along with anyone else who might find it makes for an interesting dialogue. Reproductions are never as good as the real thing, but it’s a start.
With thanks to all the artists for their enthusiasm in putting together this show; and I look forward to the real thing in Deal, when it happens.
4th April 2020
Content in Abstract Sculpture.
In arguing, passionately, as I have been, for a truly abstract future sculpture, one has to face up to the fact of the ‘content’ of such works being totally devoid of the sort of emotional visual reactions to it that all traditional sculpture had; i.e. recognition, illustration, naturalistic representation, power, glory, sexual titillation, religious feeling, and so on.
What has commonly been called ‘humanism’ in emotional content as conveyed by a work of art, has been erased from the canon of ‘modern’ sculptural form in favour of objective statements of physical fact as form, conditioned largely by the materials in which they have been worked. This has more often than not been achieved either by a vague ‘reference’ (in the forms) to a recognisable source, or most frequently in recent times, by the ‘borrowing’ and adapting to sculpture, of the physical context of other related physical forms, architecture, engineering and object making in general.
This latter overlapping of what sculpture ‘does’ in relation to what other physical forms ‘do’, has caused a sort of crisis in sculpture’s identity; in that the lack of the former humanism has alienated a large section of sculpture’s ‘audience’ in the general public from maintaining any sort of aesthetic empathy associated directly with sculpture. Tragically, sculpture, as an art form, has been, as a consequence, trivialised and marginalised.
HARDPAINTINGX2 at Phoenix Art Space, Brighton
An exhibition in two parts featuring work by:
Part 1: Richard Bell, Katrina Blannin, John Carter, Catherine Ferguson, Della Gooden, Richard Graville, Morrissey & Hancock, Tess Jaray, Jo McGonigal, Lars Wolter and Jessie Yates
Part 2: Rana Begum, Ian Boutell, Philip Cole, Biggs & Collings, Deb Covell, Stig Evans, Jane Harris, Mali Morris, Jost Münster, Patrick O’Donnell, Carol Robertson and Daniel Sturgis
Hardpainting as a concept appears to be difficult to pin down. The best advice would be to engage in primary research and visit the exhibitions and see for yourself. Or, if that is not an option, make a note of the exhibitor’s names and search out their works at other venues. For secondary research, trawl through your catalogues and bookshelves and visit the artists’ websites. As you form some notion of what Hardpainting is, there’s one important proviso: exclude the figurative. And a recommendation: be a little speculative and maintain a spirit of deliberate inexactitude. Also, pluralism is good (it’s certainly contemporary), for Hardpainting is not to be placed into a theoretical straight jacket. At least not yet.
Why ABSTRACT Sculpture?
Sculpture is a minority art form. By this I do not mean only that it has a very small audience, but that it deals with a very limited range of human feeling and emotion and therefore tends to have a comparatively narrow appeal.
Sculpture is probably the earliest form of human and even sub-human expressive reactions to the physical world and its habitat. Early man found that the interaction between his physical being and capabilities and his surroundings demanded some form of visible concrete commentary, and so what we now call ‘sculpture’ was born.
Early human tribes around the world enlarged on this and many societies developed it as an expression of their identity and culture. Essentially this involved creating with materials some form of imagery based on the human (animal) body and its physical capabilities. It was the one mode of expression that was found to represent the ‘reality’ of their beliefs and being, its literal physicality being an adequate substitute for belief, sexuality, and imaginary worlds – as well as explaining the real one.
Below are a series of tributes to the painter John McLean, who died earlier this year. The contributors all knew McLean personally. Nevertheless, they were asked to write primarily about his art. Sam Cornish
A memorial retrospective is being held at Art Space Gallery, Islington, 29 November 2019 – 24 January 2020.
John was not always an abstract artist. He was a wonderful draughtsman and in his early years he made sombre, but still vivid paintings and drawings in an almost social realist mode. It was when he moved to London that he turned to abstraction, but his first abstract work, shown I think in 1964, was hard-edged. Nevertheless, he was already a colourist. For him, the hard-edge was a way of making colour sing and indeed it did, but composing with masking tape was never going to suit his temperament for long. Around 1965, just before his breakthrough into free, painterly abstraction, I remember him showing me a very strange work. It was essentially a heavy blob of paint in the middle of a piece of wire mesh. I was baffled at first but then I saw what he was driving at. It was as though he had devised an equation to express his idea of figure and ground where, although they each have their own character, they are not separate, but in dynamic tension, at once both distinct and indivisible. He had been looking at Korean pots and saw how they worked that way. After that his painting took off and never looked back. Pouring paint and using a squeegee, there was a terrific liberation in the works that followed, often on a really big scale. Later, after meeting Clement Greenberg and the New York painters he supported, for a while John’s painting got a bit more formal, but he had captured the poetry of colour and freedom and never let it go.
He was generous in his appreciation of the art of others, whether historical or contemporary, and was always willing to learn from them. His great windows in Norwich Cathedral are quite his own but also a homage to Matisse. Perhaps this alertness to new inspiration helped keep his own creativity alive, for, through all the terrible adversity of his illness, right to the very end his spirit never for a moment flagged. He held a show of wonderful new paintings only weeks before he died.
In his art he created a unique dynamic out of the interplay of colours with variations of hue and saturation and subtle changes of depth, density, texture and ground in the application of paint. He gradually evolved an iconography of coloured shapes like enlarged dabs of the brush, circles, blobs and spirals, shuffling rectangles and other, loosely formed geometric shapes, but these elements were never still. That was why he talked about dance as a metaphor for what he was doing. For him painting was as alive and as autonomous as music. As a composer he could be symphonic when given the chance, as he was in the Norwich windows, but he was more often, like Schubert, the master of chamber music and song, of music made visible.