“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.
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 As the various constructional processes unfold, with collage and paint, traces of earlier decisions are superseded, but not entirely replaced or buried so as to preserve a sense of history or a past state that can still contribute to an evolving situation.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.
In Unnatural Vibers, the diverse range of material and implicit contents are variously purposeful, orderly, sequential, random, intuitive, deceitful and celebratory. As a practice variously associated with painting, sculpture, film and literature, the use of collage is indebted in many ways to Modernism, and subsequently, a diverse bricolage attitude to language and expressive, inventive, forms. But as practitioners of collage and abstraction (in varying manifestations), independence from the debunked hierarchy of media is clearly evident in the work of Bunker, Lamb and Beattie. Some of their work often includes digital printing media (photography lurks in Lamb’s studio collages) and this inevitably extends collage into an implied print/paint arena. As snapshot, formal photograph or advertising element, the inkjet ink print now replaces photo-litho from the past, as Bunker’s work will testify – albeit with his painterly, operational methodology. As fellow travellers of sorts, Stubbs and Wright make their paintings with a heavy nod towards the additive and reductive process of collage, but essentially as painters. Their inclusion testifies to the diversity of influence of collage and methods of abstraction.
Starting the show, if read clockwise on entry, Peter Lamb’s, ‘A Slow Gaze Charged’, (2017), the largest work in the show, combines the photographic with reproduction, repetition and enlargement as a form of digital painting. A challenge to a more purist adherence to traditional paint media is immediately set up – but categorisation as collage as a materially real alternative to painting enables the sensuous colour fields to work visually, irrespective of medium or mechanical process. As with his recent history of production, especially since 2014, the handling and presentation of images has become more sophisticated in Lamb’s work. Typically, there is a sense of a continuous loop of self-reference and re-working that expands and serialises, rather than repeats.
John Bunker has displayed ‘Frenhofer’, (2017) and ‘Buster’, (2016-2017), both mixed media, shaped collages, on opposite walls. These relate in a painterly manner to Stubbs’ lively image consisting of flattened, theatrical planes and gestures, and Wright’s unnerving, painterly portrait-like visual distillations. Followers of Bunker’s work will know that he is at heart a lyrical and linear neo-cubist of sorts, and that he deconstructs and reconstructs with painterly verve. He recycles the old or dysfunctional into new configurations – sans frame. At times the materiality is unruly – but the typically urban detritus, gleaned from city streets, combines with paint to produce discriminating assemblages. Chaos is avoided (just) by dispersing visually elegant and highly worked formal arrangements – creating a flavour of perverse lyricism – a paradoxical kind of painterly Punk.
The usually colourful Michael Stubbs shows a slightly subdued, ‘Solex Black Repeater’, (2008-17) – although the angular shapes and gestural rhythms of the expressionistically applied paint and looping wires provides a kinetic kick. With household paint, tinted floor varnish, cat 5 digital cables on mdf, at 165x122cm, it’s the second largest work on display, and the most visually imposing. Diagonals and curves force the eye away from the rectangle as much as within its funky spatial confines.
As with all of the other works in Unnatural Vibers, the means of production are generally self-evident. But if you didn’t know already, Stubbs pours household eggshell, gloss paints and tinted floor varnishes over ready-made adhesive stencils, peels these off when dry and repeats the process several times to develop both an optical and material layering effect. The tense flatness of the various surfaces offers a mix of opaque and transparent planes and these contrastingly delicate and bold planes and passages restlessly invoke a graphical, neo-Futurist sense of design.
With a hint of the re-cycled, though not quite promulgating a dogmatic Arte Povera stance, Dominic Beattie presents a related but diverse sequence of four 30X30cm compositions (all 2017) with various combinations of card, ply, collage, spray paint and ink on board. ‘FS, 42’; ‘FS, 40’; ‘FS, 02’; and ‘FS, 44’ relate to each other through their square format and sub-divisions of shape. Constructivist type arrangements, with an architectural, post-war town-planner’s sense of visual dexterity, the sequence engages a stop-start kind of reading of small but busy environments. Beattie makes collage look deceptively easy and employs overpainted segments of card with a sense of detachment. This induces reminders of Mondrian’s neoplasticism and American hard-edged abstraction. Arenas of flipping segments, with mirroring, planar spaces are implied by flat, ‘frontal’, and geometric/abstract elements of grids, walls and edges.
Downplaying a signature touch or personalised gesture, the panels provide a purely visual narrative with both a confident modernist aesthetic and hints of Pre-Columbian textile design. Beattie typically offers nothing in text to explain his work, as all content is clearly in plain site, and apparently there are no concepts or pre-planned systems at work – but is this a revitalised form of conceptual abstraction that returns to the Neo-Geo practices of the 1980s? The contradiction is tantalising.
Finally, Bunker’s and Stubbs’ curatorial nous is revealed in what might be the least expected work in the show. Vicky Wright’s, ‘Torment of the Metals IV’, (2014) is an oil on panel anti-portrait. The tradition of easel painting might be invoked, but Wright gets inside the image as it visually collapses or unfolds, but retains a formal composure. Painted on the back of the panel, the image suggests that it could be inside or behind the conventional portrait head that might be on the wall-facing front. Undermining representation by allowing, or forcing, the oil medium to embody itself as some sort of primary matter and rejuvenating a subject area superficially appropriated by photography, this seemingly disintegrating portrait has an eerie, and anxious, Gothic/Sci-fi feel. The stain-like, Tachist, flat headed brush marks could reference the fragmented and imploding elements of Analytical Cubism. Given time to recompose itself (as if it were a still from a celluloid film played backwards) a face from the past might emerge – or could it morph into an 18th century English landscape by George Morland?
This show might prove too diversified by some visitors, but with so many artist curated shows now being organised, not necessarily as an alternative, but as a complement to the gallery/dealer scene, the notion of a broad expansion from Braque’s reference to his relationship to Picasso as, “climbers roped together” comes to mind:
“At that time I was very friendly with Picasso. Our temperaments were very different, but we had the same idea… In those years Picasso and I said things to each other that nobody will ever say again, that nobody could say any more… It was rather like a pair of climbers roped together.” (Braque)
There are evidently many more conversations to take place – and peaks to scale.