#88. Geoff Hands writes on John Bunker at Unit 3, London

“Wraysrumble”. 2017. 60cmX53cm. Mixed media shaped collage

“LEAVE IT….” John Bunker: New Work was at Unit 3, ASC, Empson Street from 13th to 24th November 2017

“The title comes from something my teenage son tends to say if he feels pressurised into explaining his mood or feelings. You know when you can tell there’s something on your child’s mind? But you also know they maybe won’t or even can’t explain why they are distracted. But after saying all that I just like the sound of the phrase – it has brevity and depth…” (JB)

I didn’t visit John Bunker’s recent exhibition with a view to writing a review, but first impressions from seeing evidence of his developing assuredness in assembling and composing collage material have lingered long after the encounter. Walking around the studio sized space at Unit 3 to explore these latest works, of which 14 were shown, there was no pressure to think of anything that should be noted down. A freedom to indulge in just looking, with unspoken thoughts and without the obligation to describe, explain or ruminate for the benefit of others was a bonus I had enjoyed. But, as title of the show directed – I just could not Leave It.

A week later, I found myself jotting down thoughts in a notebook that ultimately insisted on further development. Still enamoured with a refinement that I do not normally associate with collage (although Francis Davison’s abstract compositions demonstrate great skills of placement and composition that remain exemplary) many of Bunker’s pieces were both impressive and memorable. The formal elements of line, colour, shape arrangement and distribution certainly fused into a sense of ’rightness’ and I was reminded that collage is not a substitute for painting. Collage is a broad and flexible medium and a process that lends itself to abstraction as equally as it does to the surreal juxtapositions explored within figurative realms.

(more…)

#87. Richard Ward writes on Matisse-Bonnard at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Henri Matisse, “Open Window at Coullioure”, 1911

Matisse-Bonnard : Long Live Painting, is at the Staedal Museum Frankfurt until14th January 2018

http://www.staedelmuseum.de/en/matisse-bonnard

This exhibition consists of about seventy paintings, including major works of both artists, together with drawings, sketchbooks and some of the Jazz cut-outs. The hanging is organised according to subject matter – interior, still-life, landscape, nude etc. No portraits are included. In contrast to the celebrated Matisse/Picasso exhibition of 2002, this is no confrontation. Paintings of both artists are hung in the same room but seldom on the same wall or directly alongside each other – an arrangement that aptly reflects a friendship of forty years, composed of letters and visits, practical and moral support, mutual admiration and an apparent lack of rivalry.

This lack of rivalry was made possible, I think, by the very different approaches of these two men to their art, a factor that can already be seen in their sketches and drawings.
Matisse´s fluid, confident line forms and divides up space. It is a direct act of creation on the empty page. I think it is worth taking his own statement (repeated at the end of his life) about providing “a good armchair” seriously. His lifelong project was the creation of oases of luxe, calme et volupté – good objects (in Adrian Stoke´s sense), able to promote inner harmony, quiet, and well-being through their contemplation and internalisation. His artistic development can be seen as a continuous refinement of the technical means to achieving this aim.

By contrast, Bonnard’s hesitant, repeated, searching lines are a form of exploration. His avowed intention was to go further than the Impressionists by adding the distortions and modifications of subjectivity and emotion to their project of recording light. This approach is more radically non-objective than Impressionism, addressing sensation itself rather than a rationally organised reality filled with objects and the light reflected from them. His is an existential search for clarity of introspection (these days one might call it mindfulness) and its expression in a visual form.

(more…)

#86. Geoff Hands writes on Alan Gouk at Felix and Spear, London

A shop-window view of the Alan Gouk show at Felix and Spear, “Quercus” in the foreground

‘Alan Gouk: A retrospective, part one 1973-1989’ at Felix & Spear, Ealing, 4th November to 3rd December 2017

https://www.felixandspear.com/alan-gouk

 At Felix & Spear, fourteen paintings form a notional representation of what might be considered the artist’s first mature stage (Gouk was in his 30s and 40s). The works that might be sub-divided into two or three distinct periods are displayed on two floors with an adjoining stairwell. The arrangement of works takes account of the domestic size and scale and characteristics of the interior architecture of the gallery and the variously sized works have been appropriately placed. The domestic reference is applied positively here – and the visitor might imagine this was a version of Gouk’s living apartment c.1990. The homely and informal suggestion is intended as a positive too – for paintings have to be lived with after all. They have to be seen and experienced in differing ambient lighting situations and times of day; paintings might appear to evolve over time, as do the individual viewers, in their ever changing personal moods and within the various contexts of their lives. (A thought: Do the most interesting and original paintings have this organic quality – as if the ‘imagery’ is in a very slow state of flux and revelation?)

We also see these paintings in hindsight; in the context of nearly three more decades of Gouk’s vigorous commitment to abstract painting that have followed as abstraction has fallen in and out of favour in contemporary circles. Unaffected by medium denying conceptualism; the often announced ‘death of painting’ itself; and the so-called post-modern/multi-media innovations (for the sake of ‘contemporaneity’) that developed from the 1970s onwards – Gouk has continued to explore the endless scope of his particular form of abstract painting and unashamedly celebrates its ‘medium-specificity’.

(more…)

#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.

(more…)

#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?

(more…)

#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.

(more…)

#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.

(more…)

#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.

(more…)

#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.

(more…)

#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!

(more…)