#67. Richard Ward writes on Howard Hodgkin at the National Portrait Gallery, London

“Portrait of the Artist”, 1984-87

Howard Hodgkin: Absent Friends at the National Portrait Gallery 23 March – 18 June 2017

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/howard-hodgkin-absent-friends/home/

The first thing to say about this retrospective is that it can be enjoyed quite simply as a thought-provoking exhibition of mostly abstract or semi-abstract colour paintings, even though the catalogue texts, titles and Hodgkin´s own remarks insist that they are portraits.

Hodgkin always maintained that the inspiration for each of his paintings was a very specific set of feelings concerning a particular person or situation. Accepting this, and also that he succeeded for himself in capturing these feelings in his art, does not however imply that we should have the same feelings on viewing it. The pressing of a visual button A to produce the specific emotion B is the modus operandi of kitsch, and these paintings are better than that. A painting has to work for itself, so whatever the specific situations that may have inspired Hodgkin, they are irrelevant to us here, and since it is hardly anywhere necessary to see figures in the paintings it is an unhelpful conceit for the viewer to regard them as portraits.

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#66. Noela James writes on Nick Moore exhibition “MaterialShift”, Nailsworth

Nick Moore installation

MATERIALSHIFT, an exhibition of the work of Nick Moore is showing at Ruskin Mill Gallery, Old Bristol Road, Nailsworth, GL6 0LA, 29th April – 23th May 2017

Ruskin Mill, situated in a wooded Cotswold valley beside a lake, is the perfect setting for Nick Moore’s latest exhibition, ‘MATERIALSHIFT’. The old stone interior, with a soot laden wall scorched by a primitive open fire, reflects the elemental quality of the earthy pigments Nick uses in his paintings/collages. These works stem from a series of paintings Nick rediscovered during a recent studio move. They were discarded canvasses and different from his earlier series, ‘Dark Intervals’ (which had focused on black and burnt umber as key components), in the sense that they had a revised colour palette of buff, Payne’s grey, red ochre and burnt umber. In this new series Nick has integrated added material into the fabric of the paintings and heightened the textural experience. He has used sacking, old roofing felt, PVA mixed with either sawdust or sand, crushed charcoal and ashes mixed with acrylic colour and ink, together with various moulded cardboard remnants that have been distorted and flattened to create areas of animated surface.

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#65. David Sweet writes on Losing Sight of Stella

Frank Stella, “Die Fahne hoche”, 1959

As someone who admires and was influenced by Frank Stella’s early paintings I get irritated by those who minimise his achievement and then congratulate themselves on their lack of interest in his work. If we lose sight of Stella, and his contribution to the history of abstraction, we may be doomed to a future consisting of a combination of Hans Hofmann and Pierre Soulages, a Druidical impasto fest, accompanied by necromantic invocations of Pissarro and Tintoretto, which goes on forever. There has got to be an alternative.

This is not an attempt to make anyone like Stella. Aesthetic judgements aren’t enforceable. But it is an attempt to throw a spanner into the machinery of rejection by following up on the challenge posed in Stella’s well-known remark ‘What you see is what you see’. So it concerns not aesthetics but phenomenology, what you see in Stella.

Stella’s technical originality shows up clearest in contrast to Barnett Newman. But they also have a lot in common. They were both making big paintings in New York at a time when American painting was a major cultural force. A progressive concept of history was also in play. The idea that painting could ‘advance’ in response to the best i.e. ‘most advanced’ work of the immediate past, made sense. Going ‘beyond’ Newman, therefore, was a reasonable motivation. What helped was that Stella wasn’t an Abstract Expressionist. He was free of the elaborate belief structure that surrounded the artists within that movement and found himself at the start of a new sensibility that eventually led to full-blown minimalism.

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#64. Geoff Hands writes on “Unnatural Vibers” at Unit 3 Project Space, ASC Studios, London

Peter Lamb, ‘A Slow Gaze Charged’, 2017;  John Bunker, ‘Frenhofer’, 2017.

“Unnatural Vibers” at Unit 3 Project Space, ASC Studios, London is open 2-5pm., on the 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21 of May 2017, or by appointment.

http://unit-3.tumblr.com/

Following the TESTING <1<2<1<2 group show at ASC studios a month or so ago, artist/curator John Bunker has devised another intriguing showcase to mix things up. This time he is co-curating with artist Michael Stubbs and together they selected painters who share a compulsion, not just for the construction or devising of the abstract image, but also for a generally speculative and performative rather than planned approach to image making.

Initially, Michael Stubbs, Dominic Beattie, Vicky Wright, Peter Lamb and Bunker himself may not seem like an obvious combination. But even a relatively small show of this kind (just nine pieces) provides a potpourri of sorts, and proves that diversity can gel successfully where a common thread of serious endeavor and an ability to formulate a primary visual impact, is paramount over associative, figurative narratives.

Their work shares a sense of questioning through a building process and of the construction of the pictorial image to act as a trigger for the viewer to adjudicate from. As the various constructional processes unfold, with collage and paint, traces of earlier decisions are superseded, but not entirely replaced or buried so as to preserve a sense of history or a past state that can still contribute to an evolving situation. A collage aesthetic, and means of realisation, enables past, present and future to combine or collide. The future, it could be argued, is present in the viewing of the image and the onlooker’s response.

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#63. Len Green writes on Patrick Jones: “No Pasaran”, Exeter

Patrick Jones (left) discusses his Exeter show with a visitor; “Pink Cherries” on the right

Patrick Jones: “No Pasaran” was at the PS45 Gallery, Exeter, 10 March – 9 April 2017.

The exhibition “No Pasaran” represents a life-long artistic journey by Patrick Jones, a journey which illustrates how he and his work have been affected by artistic influences from America and Europe. The exhibition does not trace a series of anxious and political events like in some of Jones’ heroes such as Miro. Jones ‘work is a passionate response to the Art and artists he has experienced during the last 50 years.  As the title of the exhibition suggests Jones is not unaffected by being alive in one of the most turbulent periods in European and Middle Eastern history and the precarious state of the world today. The paintings in this exhibition tell the story of Jones’ life and the artistic elements that have engrained themselves in his psyche.

Patrick Jones’ exhibition at the PS45 gallery, (formerly known to many of us as one of the most prestigious contemporary arty galleries in the south west – Spacex,) is located in Preston Street, Exeter.  Its re-birth this year is a wonderful tribute to abstract painting and a superb opportunity for Patrick Jones to demonstrate his and the gallery’s commitment to abstraction.  The exhibition, in three large galleries, is captivating and compelling; each space providing a particular focus for Jones’ work and affording us a rare and unique insight into the breadth and depth of his work.

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#62. Ken Carpenter writes on New Developments in Montreal Painting: Françoise Sullivan, Paul Bureau, Deborah Carruthers

Françoise Sullivan, “De une (Of One)”, 1968-69, plexiglass, 72.5 x 278 x 74 cm; Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, photo: Ken Carpenter

In the 1940s and early 1950s, Montreal was the pre-eminent centre for advanced art in Canada. The most important group there, Les Automatistes, emerged parallel to the Abstract Expressionists, although they were more inter-disciplinary and more political than their New York contemporaries. Think of their provocative and influential manifesto, Refus global (1948), which is often credited with furthering Quebec’s advance into the more modern era of the “Quiet Revolution.” While their leading figure, Paul-Emile Borduas, exiled himself to New York in 1953 and then Paris in 1955, where he died prematurely in 1960, several titans of Les Automatistes continued to re-invent themselves for a surprisingly long time, most notably Pierre Gauvreau (1922-2011), Marcel Barbeau (1925-2016) and Francoise Sullivan (1925- ). The vitality of Sullivan’s current work is a striking reminder of the importance of this still underappreciated movement.

If Françoise Sullivan were Japanese rather than Canadian, she would almost certainly have been designated by now as a living national treasure. She contributed a seminal essay (“Dance and Hope”) to that most important cultural document in the history of Canada, Refus global,  and is widely credited with making a vital contribution to the development of modern dance in Canada. Moreover, she created some early modernist sculpture in Canada, was a leader in performance art here, and for the last few decades has been one of this country’s most prominent abstract painters. I think of her as the doyenne of Canadian art.

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#61. Harry Hay writes on Brancaster Chronicles at the Heritage Gallery, Greenwich

Brancaster discussion in progress, 10th April 2017. Photo John Pollard. Film of the discussions will be made available to view on the Brancaster Chronicles website (Branchron.com) shortly.

Brancaster Chronicles at Greenwich, at the Heritage Gallery is open 11, 12, 13 and 18, 19, 20 April 2017, 10am-6pm. https://branchron.com/news/

I paid my first visit to Maritime Greenwich in 2010. I was in my first year of art school, aspiring towards figuration and rather disinclined to pay much attention to abstract art at all. Turner was my favourite artist, and so I was rather drawn towards seeing some of the world he depicted. The uniform that Nelson died in after his wounding at Trafalgar is particularly resonant in my mind. It is hard to reflect, almost impossible in some ways, on how we get to where we are. How many moments are there along the way that lead us to change course so drastically, for we hardly seem to notice it as it happens. Some may say that the divide between Turner and abstract art is not such a huge leap. Well it certainly feels so in reflection. If we fast forward seven years, my reason for returning to Greenwich couldn’t really feel more disparate.

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#60. Tim Scott writes on Recognition and Abstract Sculpture

Julio Gonzalez, “Dancer Posing as a Daisy”, 1937

Happily, there has been a marked increase in Abcrit commentary on sculpture, largely due to Alan’s review of Gili’s exhibition and the responses to it; thank you Alan. Quite a few of the comments are of a general nature, as well as those on Gili’s individual works which, mostly, engendered the general ones. Amongst these, I noticed a recurring theme, that of what exactly creates the differences (of intention and perception) between work which is deemed ‘abstract’, and that which is ‘figurative’, but with abstract ‘qualities’, or abstract with ‘figurative’ qualities? In other words, at what point does a sculpture, which departs from the norms of the representation of appearances, become abstract? Does the recognition of the ‘likeness’ of forms in a sculpture to forms in the known visual world disqualify it from ‘abstraction’?

If we take, for example, a sculpture (an early one) by Caro and we see various elements which we ‘recognise’ as being industrially manufactured elements; imitating industrial usage; but not being ‘used functionally’; but even that functionality can be said to exist in its holding up, joining etc.; does that recognition mean that the result is not truly abstract, i.e. not describing visually anything associated with the real world? Similarly, if we take, for example, a Gonzalez, the source of which clearly testifies to a beginning in figuration, but which manifests qualities of pure plastic invention in the handling and forming of the material, does that change the result to ‘abstraction’? In other words, there is a conundrum visually and as a consequence, perceptually, between the one sculpture, ‘figurative’ (recognisable elements), but reading as ‘abstraction’; and the other ‘abstract’, but reading as based on real recognisable elements.

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#59. Emyr Williams writes on Alan Gouk Recent Paintings at HSoA

“Mandalaysian Orchid”, 2016, 66″x100″, acrylic on canvas

Alan Gouk: New Abstract Colour Paintings  28 March – 12 May 2017, Hampstead School of Art, Penrose Gardens, London NW3 7BP www.hampstead-school-of-art.org

Elephints a-pilin’ teak

In the sludgy, squdgy creek,

Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!

On the road to Mandalay…

Rudyard Kipling: A Road to Mandalay (from his Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses, 1892)

Alan Gouk last exhibited at Hampstead School of Art in 2014: a series of gouache and acrylic on paper paintings marked by an overt fluidity of handling. Soups of primary and secondary colours were brushed, pushed and dragged into some of Gouk’s signature configurations: vertical gestures often animated with curves and leaning diagonals, set against supportive or disruptive horizontals. Working with this sort of liquidity and with this palette forces a painter to deal with brown; primaries end up there when all mixed – sometimes fatally, other times splendidly. This is the risk run and painting in this way is akin to driving on a cliff road – add speed into the equation and it can be quite a ride.

Hampstead School of Art has since moved into a stylish new bespoke building designed by architects Allies and Morrison and celebrates its 70th year. The modest café space providing the gallery walls. As a patron of this establishment, Gouk has reciprocated by moving his painting on too. After the recce of those gouaches, we can see the evidence of a more flowing “in the moment” attack. There were a couple of smaller works on show, but the main protagonists were five large, quite sumptuous paintings in newly adopted acrylics instead of the usual oil paint. Gouk coyly suggested the economy of acrylic was a deciding factor. (Having just purchased a post-Brexit order of acrylics at pre-Brexit prices before they go up 15% this month and finding myself eyeing up more and more lonely post offices in secluded locations, I am not entirely persuaded by that reasoning.) Acrylic flows over larger areas and there are a lot more surface variations that can be employed when compared to oil, especially with the addition of an ever-bewildering variety of facture-determining mediums.

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#58. Geoff Hands writes on “Testing <1<2<1<2," at ASC Studios, London

How Many Abstract Paintings Do We Need To See In The World, Really?

Testing <1<2<1<2 is open by appointment until Friday 31st March 2017 and then open to the public Sat and Sun 1st 2nd April 2017, 2-5pm

The argument over Abstraction in art (especially painting) still drags on. In Elephant magazine, issue 29 (Winter 2016/17), the prestigious American painter Kerry James Marshall makes some interesting, if debateable, comments on “Abstract picture making” as little more than an “academic mode”. He claims that: “The fundamental principle of art making is representation… There are quite enough problems to solve to keep you going for sometime. If you never succeed there, and you go to abstraction because it seems easier, you miss the philosophical and aesthetic questions involved. Besides, how many more abstract pictures do we need to see in the world, really?

Though tempting, it would be too easy, and crass, to say that there are also too many figurative paintings in the world. There are probably far too many bad paintings of any classification. But there can never be enough good ones – which is partly what drives an artist on, if that’s not too romantic a notion.

A strangely contrasting point-of-view was made more recently on the (highly recommended) Two Coats of Paint blog. Sharon Butler, reviewing ‘A New subjectivity: Figurative Painting after 2000’ at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, makes the fascinating observation that, “In adopting imagery without direct reference to the objects that underlie them, the artists seem to be noting – indeed, demonstrating – the disconnected manner in which life is now lived. Fragmentation and detachment – a kind of existential abstraction – are the norm.”

Whether appropriated by some contemporary figurative painters or aligned with some sort of new figuration, where the painters “find everything to be a matter of images” (to quote Barry Schwabsky from the online catalogue for “A New Subjectivity’), Abstraction clearly and demonstratively engages with the problems of painting (and collage and sculpture) despite the surprising conservatism of Kerry James Marshall. Indeed, Schwabsky’s comment hits the proverbial nail on the head – for the result of Abstraction is always the image (2D or 3D) – which is, surely, the ‘thing’ we engage with in the gallery?

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