#110. Robin Greenwood writes about “The Art of the Real”, Then and Now

1968 MOMA installation of “The Art of the Real”

“Take a giant step…” as the great Taj Mahal once sang… or was it the Monkees: “Take a giant step outside you mind”?

In April 1969, as a young art student at Wimbledon School of Art in London, I went to see a big show of abstract art at Tate Gallery: “The Art of the Real; An Aspect of American Painting and Sculpture 1948 -1968”. This was very new and exciting to me back then, and in its way, as I will explain, it still is.

The show originated and was shown in 1968 in MOMA, New York, where it was devised and directed by E. C. Goossen, and subsequently presented with the help of the Arts Council of Great Britain to the Tate Gallery, London. Here is the opening to Goossen’s introduction:

“To propose that some art is more “real” than other art may be foolhardy. Yet many American artists over the last few years have made this proposal by the nature of their work. They have taken a stance that leaves little doubt about their desire to confront the experiences and objects we encounter every day with an exact equivalence in art. That they are shaping this equivalence by modifying forms inherited from the history of modern abstraction may or may not be an accident. Certainly there seems to be a growing distrust of idealism and its unfulfilled promises. The “real” of today as it is posited by this new art has nothing to do with metaphor, or symbolism, or any kind of metaphysics. It is not the ideal Hegelian essence that Hans Hofmann was invoking several decades ago in his essay, “The Search for the Real”. It does not wish to convey the notion that reality is somewhere else. Neither is it related to the symbolic reality Malevich thought he had discovered when, in 1913, he first isolated his black square on a white field. Malevich indeed had produced a real square, but he employed it as an element in the construction of a precariously balanced, ideal order with which he proposed to bring forth a “new world of feeling”. Today’s “real”, on the contrary, makes no direct appeal to the emotions, nor is it involved in uplift. Indeed, it seems to have no desire at all to justify itself, but instead offers itself for whatever its uniqueness is worth – in the form of the simple, irreducible, irrefutable object.”

The essay concludes five pages later, thus:

“The gradual divorce of the physical means of art from expressionistic associations has been accompanied by a distinct change in attitude towards what art should attempt. Expressionism, even at its most abstract, continued many aspects of representational art, and constructivism, despite its purist look, was basically nostalgic in its search for meaning through traditional methods of composition. The new attitude has been turning art inside out: instead of perceptual experience being accepted as the means to an end, it has become the end in itself. The Renaissance artist laboured over perspective in order to create an illusion of space within which he could make believable the religious and philosophical ideals of his time; the contemporary artist labours to make art itself believable. Consequently the very means of art have been isolated and exposed, forcing the spectator to perceive himself in the process of perception. The spectator is not given symbols, but facts, to make of them what he can. They do not direct his mind nor call up trusted cores of experience, but lead him to the point where he must evaluate his own peculiar responses. Thus, what was once concealed within art – the technical devices employed by the artist – is now overtly revealed; and what was once the outside – the meaning of its forms – has been turned inside. The new work of art is very much like a chunk of nature, a rock, a tree, a cloud, and possesses much the same hermetic “otherness”. Whether this kind of confrontation with the actual can be sustained, whether it can remain vital and satisfying, it is not yet possible to tell.”

E.C.G.

This, I think even in retrospect, was pretty good, and was the start of something important for me about how to make “abstract” art, and how to make it “real”. I had by then already abandoned any connections with figurative painting and sculpture of any kind.

Here are some of the works that I saw at the Tate:

Carl Andre, “Cedar Piece”, 1960 – 64

Morris Louis, “Beta Theta”, 1961

Antoni Milkowski, “Triple”, 1968

The three big minimal artists from that period, Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Robert Morris were the ones that interested me most. Morris died quite recently, after a rather wasted career; Judd died in 1994; Andre is still going at 83.  I’ve seen lots of their work over the years, but would not look at it much any longer.  But Judd and his “Marfa, West Texas” project has always fascinated me. These pictures I find compelling and convincing. He quite rightly refused to call his work sculpture. It is not – it’s architecture, and he was very, very good at it.

Donald Judd, some of his beautiful Marfa installations.

And his equally beautiful New York cast-iron apartment building:

For abstract sculpture, where does this go? Nowhere. This is all architecture. BUT – we do now, at last, and not entirely unconnected to this, have a very strong idea about how abstract sculpture is really going to do the job, and it will be – it already is – a really great discipline entirely in its own right.

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Patrick Heron

Likewise, for abstract painting now, where does Patrick Heron’s work go? Nowhere either, is my best guess, though many, many people will disagree, because they love Heron’s work so much. I’ve blown hot and cold about it over the years, and after this show I was pretty cold, but there are always things to think about and appreciate with Heron – not least some of his excellent writing.

So, on Thursday 18 October we set off for the press preview – followed by the opening on the same evening – of the Heron show at Turner Contemporary, Margate – having been transferred from Tate St. Ives, where we did not see it. And Margate, would you believe, was looking absolutely beautiful that day, with a stiff, north-easterly wind kicking up a mass of white horses, right out to sea as far as the eye could see, and as far as the equally-ravishing view of the massive London Array somewhere beyond the horizon.

“…colour is both the subject and the means; the form and the content; the image and the meaning, in my painting today,” says Heron in 1962.

Patrick Heron, “Red Garden Painting: June 3 – June 5: 1985”, © estate of Patrick Heron, all rights reserved, DACS 2018

Well, let’s have a look. Big claims have been made here on Abcrit for the quality of “Red Garden Painting”, 1985, and I have tended to support them, because in reproduction, on a small scale, this and other similar works look rather good. In full size, on the wall, it looked very sloppy and shambolic. Nothing much stuck with me, beyond a rather scrappy design and an insistence upon a pure, crude colour-scheme. Let’s say straight away, it’s an abstraction from a figurative idea – a garden, of course – and this cannot any longer be addressed as a way and means to take forward abstract painting. Modernism, colour, design, drawing are not ways to move on and get further into abstract painting now, if they ever really were. They were and are only ways to stay where you are now, or go back – to something we now know too much about, and are thoroughly underwhelmed by. Well, I am.

There are similar but worse paintings in the show (until 6 January 2019) than this “Red Garden Painting”, including: “10th-11th July 1992”; and “21st December 1991”, as examples. Even worse are works from the seventies like “Big Complex Diagonal with Emerald and Red: March 1972- September 1972”. I cannot get on with this set of work at all.

Patrick Heron, “Big Complex Diagonal with Emerald and Reds: March 1972 – September 1974”, © estate of Patrick Heron, all rights reserved, DACS 2018

Better are Heron’s early figurative paintings, such as the Braque-like “Christmas Eve: 1951”; or the horizontal stripes of “Lux Eterna: May – June 1958”; and “Green and Mauve Horizontals: January 1958”.

Patrick Heron, “Christmas Eve: 1951”, © estate of Patrick Heron, all rights reserved, DACS 2018

Patrick Heron, “Lux Eterna: May – June 1958”, © estate of Patrick Heron, all rights reserved, DACS 2018

For me, the best painting in the show is “Interior with Garden Window: 1955. It’s figurative, and it’s out of Matisse, of course, and it’s pretty obsessed with colour, but I do like it, and I think the organisation is inventive.

Patrick Heron, “Interior with Garden Window: 1955”, © estate of Patrick Heron, all rights reserved, DACS 2018

When I mentioned this to Mel Gooding, he said he thought of it as being wholly abstract. I don’t really see how that can be the case, because it has such a strongly-abstracted composition. But now we know – don’t we, surely? – that “abstraction”, and in particular, “modernist designed abstraction”, is in no way taking us forward. We know that from doing Brancaster Chronicles. The claim for progress by the kind of modernism preached by Heron and others cannot be made to stick at the job any more.

And I think I should also mention that the curation of this show, that received mainly – though not wholly – praise from the critics, made no sense to me at all. You could have switched over all the paintings in the four or five “thematic” rooms in the gallery without making any difference to the point of the show at all – assuming it had one. It seemed to me a rather futile exercise, even when extracts from Heron’s own texts were added to the mix.

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Alan Gouk

Alan Gouk, “Gaucin Night II”, 1992

Claims for the viability of this kind of modernism will continue to be made, of course. They are, for example, made over and again by Alan Gouk and others, and he repeated it in his recent show at Felix and Spear, London W5 – Alan Gouk: A Retrospective: Part II. This was on from 6 October to 3 November. I did not think it was as good as Part I from last year, but Alan had big ideas. I was not five minutes through the door before I got a lecture on how important “Gaucin Night II” was in his oeuvre, and how I should go about the business of looking at it, standing back (as far as one can in such a tiny gallery), seeing the bigger picture. But to me it looks dated, a semi-figurative composition on a background, with that central bottom purple showing up rather badly the limitations of the composition, and the whole “running-out” of the “scheme” in this kind of horizontal, blocky, layered design rather giving things away. “Through the Years” and “Un Lemon Por Civilon”, both 1999, suffer a very similar fate. They too are figurative colour compositions. These are not Alan’s best work. More to the point, despite all this lovely colour, they are not abstract and not “real” enough.

Alan Gouk, “Through the Years”, 1999

Abstract art is not about “abstracting”, I repeat – though we have seen quite a lot of that tried out over and again, even on Brancaster (and still continuing, off and on). Alan, of course, encourages this. And what’s more, it was not much more than ten minutes before I got a rather rude lecture on my misunderstanding, in my writing on Abcrit, regarding the singular lack of any kind of relationship, human or otherwise, between the great figurative painting from the past and his kind of modernist painting and its immersion in the (inadequate) world of colour, colour, and yet more colour. Then I very quickly got yet another ticking-off, this time on my perfectly honestly-held opinions about Katherine Gili’s sculpture, as expressed coherently here on Abcrit. This makes him a little crazy! He will defend her work to the end, but that does her no favours. And he’s pointlessly rude about my opinions on her work, which I stand by. Perhaps that’s the end, then. He really needs to make an effort to see things from a new point of view. And he should stop thinking we are all in his debt, and try very hard to stop imagining that any good new painters – like the very fine and progressive John Pollard, for example – an artist he once derided because he thought him very poor indeed – are now doing well because of HIS influence. This is unlikely, and even if only partially true, will soon dissipate (we hope). Make it “real”, Alan!

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I was at Gouk’s show with the very well-mannered (!) Patrick Jones, whose new paintings I have yet to see, except in pictures. They look like some of Patrick’s best work to me, so here are some he has sent. I hope those who have actually seen them might comment…

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The very talented John Bunker had a show of “New Collages” at his London studios in November. I have thought right from our first meeting, when he was making wacky constructions or assemblages with found objects, of his considerable talents. He has moved things along in his work quite a lot since then, of course, but I feel a little stuck with the most recent show. Quite a lot of it did not work for me beyond a kind of “decoration”, and I include the large work in that criticism. I’m somehow uneasy with all the developments relying on the collage of these many and various found objects or pieces of material when they are placed so loosely upon an open wall, and with quite such a degree of unresolved ideas, as if they were hanging there as rather pictorial illustrations. This is what I wrote about his work from Brancaster Chronicles in 2017:

“I think it is especially difficult with John’s work to form a discriminating opinion, not only because he has a consistently high level of novel invention throughout the work, but also because he makes work that is neither painting nor sculpture – he operates in territory pretty much his own, and we are all mindful of keeping open all the options. However, on reflection, I do think this is a mixed-bag of work that does all sorts of different things with quite varying degrees of success.

The relationship of the work to the wall might be seen as analogous to open space in and around a sculpture, but not only does that mean very little, I don’t in the end think the analogy stands up. The wall has become part of John’s new territory, and it is used in a variety of interesting and experimental, but also inconsistent, ways, and it needs careful thought. For me, the ones with the linear strings or wooden spacer elements don’t work so well, and perhaps don’t engage so well with the wall even as they seemingly attempt to gain more of it by opening out across it. I like the idea of that, and I understand the ambition, but these elements I think become a bit literal/figurative, as in the “hanging” of “Cannaba”, and make the work more object-like, less pictorially spatial. What seems to me to work best is when a diversity of different things integrate pictorially, sometimes including the wall, but with it weaving in and out and through the other material in a more natural way, with the spatiality of the piece not unsettled by figurative triggers. I realise in saying this that I am aligning these collages far more with painting than with sculpture, but I see no convincing third option. I rather think John sees them very differently to me, so I’m trying to keep open the possibilities of all these things.”

I think I would repeat this comment about quite a bit of the new work this year. However, this one looks to me to be far the best, because it resolves all those issues and holds these things together very convincingly. Nothing hanging about here!

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Looking forward to Lee Krasner at the Barbican, 30 May – 1 September 2019. I really hope this show is good, though the title “Lee Krasner: Living Colour”, puts me off a little. Would it be too much to anticipate seeing this? Even if not this one, she has so many great-looking paintings from around this period.

Lee Krasner, “Shattered Light”, 1954

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To finish: a couple of wonderful photographs from the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s archive exhibition on the Jackson Pollock show put on by the late, great, Bryan Robertson in 1958. Wow, what a show that must have been, and what a great piece of true curation. Before my time, sadly, but I did meet Robertson, and I thought he was a giant.

Jackson Pollock at the Whitechapel, 1958

Jackson Pollock at the Whitechapel, 1958

14 comments

  1. If you want to get a copy of “The Art of the Real”, you can get hold of the original MOMA catalogue (yellow square) but not, for some reason, the Tate version (black rectangle). I have no idea why that is the case, other than assuming some kind of copyright conflict. In any case, Tate does not seem to make any kind of acknowledgement on its website of the exhibition ever having taken place.

    P.S. With apologies for misquoting the last part of the Goossen – missing half the sentence – which I think is now correct: “Thus, what was once concealed within art – the technical devices employed by the artist – is now overtly revealed; and what was once the outside – the meaning of its forms – has been turned inside.” Of course, I can’t agree with it all, but it was a real platform back then…

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  2. “…Today’s real (1968) on the contrary. makes no direct appeal to the emotions, nor is it involved in uplift. Indeed, it seems to have no desire at all to justify itself. but instead offers itself for whatever it imagines its uniqueness is worth – in the form of the simple, irreducible, irrefutable object.”…
    ‘Object’ – isn’t this exactly the problem; art reduced to ‘objecthood’ ? A rock, a tree, a cloud, may be considered as ‘objects’ but they breath LIFE, a whole history,of ‘why?’
    The IDEA of ‘objecthood’ is understandable as a philosophical and semantic conundrum. especially at the time of this writing,;but as an aim for sculpture ? – no.
    As you say, Robin, Judd comes across (surprisingly) as an excellent architect but a hopeless sculptor. It is essentially an American anti ‘European’ take which evolved out of American art becoming dominant in the forties and fifties/ Many artists here were influenced at the time.

    (Abstract) sculpture must, in my view “appeal to the emotions” and “uplift”.Its justification must be its strength in conveying these things, opening up our feelings, not by being “simple”. “irreducible’. or an “irrefutable’ object.

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    1. Whilst I understand your disagreement with these simplistic Americanisms, Tim, I do think Goossen’s thesis was a beginning (for me) of a different way of thinking about art that does not rely upon a certain kind of indulgence in the “appeal to the emotions” and “uplift” that is often overplayed in abstraction. Indeed, the latter belongs too much in the area which I try to distinguish here from “real” abstract art. Opening up our “feelings” might be OK, or it might be not OK, and to me that depends on many other factors. It could just play out as yet more metaphorical crap of the kind that the minimalists wanted out of. And who is to say who has the genuine emotions?

      There is so much more of significance to be understood and worked with in sculpture and painting that are really now “abstract”, that the “expression of emotion” by the artist can become meaningless. I therefore prefer the quest for what is “real”, even though it may seem undefinable.

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      1. What’s more, it seems to me that you yourself, Tim, in the work we have lately and interestingly been discussing here, are engaged with abstract sculpture in a way that surpasses your own previous approaches that often developed via a semi-figurative kind of structure, and that may well have aspired to engage “emotions”, particularly about the figure, without achieving real freedom. These kind of emotionally-tangled structures are proving of no account in going forward.

        The new work of a number of us now surpasses that of sculptors such a Caro. What’s more, critics such as Greenberg and Fried, in retrospect, appear to have had no real insight to offer into abstract sculpture that would add to our present engagement and take us forward. By contrast, things are looking very positive to me now. These things have taken time to understand, but we are where we are.

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  3. Yes, of course, who can say if one person’s emotions / feelings / perceptions are superior to another’s; (other than by common consent – Beethoven, Rembrandt) ?

    If ‘real’ simply means aiming for something better – improved upon what went before, then I am all for it. What I did not see in the whole ‘object’ saga of the time that you quote is an upsurge of SCULPTURAL feeling / emotion etc. etc..I am of course aware that that begs the question of what one means by ‘sculptural’ ?
    I suppose quite a good test of that is whether what purports to be ‘sculpture’ ultimately turns out to be something else – architecture; furniture; engineering; gardening; illustration; etc., etc.;; ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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  4. I think the “expression of emotions” thing is a bit of a straw man.
    The artist can be discovering patterns/structures of feeling (not just emotion) that go beyond their own experience and which resonate differently with different viewers.

    On another tack – it seems to me that the Krasner has a lot in common with Richard Prince´s “Untitled 2017” 558 x 624 cm on the Gagosian (New York) website.

    They are both basically patterns, in the sense that you can imagine them just going on and on, and also in the sense that you can copy and paste any part of the image back onto another area without really destroying anything (try it).
    You couldn´t do that to Krasner´s “Milkweed” 1955 or to “The Seasons” 1957

    Prince´s work has very obvious figurative elements and yet, taken as a whole, the Prince seems to me at least as abstract as the Krasner, which could easily be interpreted as a photo of the strandline at Brighton after a storm. I like them both.

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    1. Sad to say, Richard, I would not cross a very narrow road to look at a Richard Prince work of any description, and this example looks like a really poor rip-off of a Dubuffet, who I can’t stand anyway. I can’t imagine why you think it equates in any way to the Krasner, but no doubt you have your ideas. OK, so I have not seen either of these paintings, but I really do want to see the Krasner, or some of her similar work, because I think it might have genuine inventive significance, even now. Maybe especially now! I don’t see it as a pattern at all, because it is in no way looking like any kind of orthogonal predetermined, figurative scheme, more of a real discovery of structures in movement, turning and re-grouping (not sure about that description…). There are other works by her that look as good, from around 1947-49, rather more broken and (dis-)integrated; and then there are a number of really exciting-looking works surrounding this particular mid-fifty painting. (I think the catalogue raisonne of Krasner by Abrams is excellent, by the way).

      By the time she gets to “Milkweed” in ‘55 and later, I think there is a degree of figuration and graphics creeping in, with perhaps some of Pollock’s more dubious influences dominating a little too much, both just before and then after his death in ’56.

      In any case, I await the Barbican show with anticipation. I’ll leave Prince entirely for your “enjoyment”.

      ………..

      The discussion about emotions in art is one I have had before with Tim, and it rather embarrasses me most of the time. True, art can make me emotional, sentimental even at times, but it is not a topic I feel adds much to our understanding of how to appreciate the achievement of past figurative art, or indeed, even more imperative, how to move abstract art forwards now. And there are many times when, for example, I might be looking at a great Constable or Rubens, I feel no “emotion” at all, of any obvious description, yet fully converse in some way with its greatness.

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      1. …but art could be “about” feeling without it being either the direct product of the artist’s feelings or a method of inducing/manipulating feelings.

        You could see it as an “investigation” of feeling by the only (rather indirect and subjective) means that we have available.

        That way it is entirely consistent with not being emotionally moved when deeply appreciating a great artwork, and it also escapes from the “whose emotions are better anyway?” and the related “all a load of egoistic exhibitionism!” arguments.

        In fact it all becomes completely unembarrassing
        and selfless and almost scientific!
        I think the technical interest that we all have in art and that gets discussed here and at Brancaster is important but surely secondary. None of this would be of interest without the deep satisfaction that comes from organising stuff and seeing stuff organised by others. Maybe you are content (and right) to leave it there but I do think it’s interesting and relevant to ask where that satisfaction comes from.

        I might wait until twilight and turn up my collar, but I would definitely cross the road to look at these (maybe only these) Princes, to see what they are really like.
        I think the colour and its organisation look really good on the website, especially in the one mentioned above and in the large panoramic one.
        Dubuffet has the weird figures but not the amazing colour, and the figures seem to me to be almost irrelevant in these two paintings.

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  5. I have seen some of the shows written about here and I am also really looking forward to Lee Krasner’s exhibition at The Barbican.
    I completely respect Heron’s place in art history but (feel bad saying this) found myself somewhat disappointed in the Tate St. Ives show, not sure if it was to do with the presentation or my high expectations of what to expect, or whether I have just moved on from what I get excited about in front of a painting. It was hard to see the texture of the colour fields and the work seemed subdued.
    Visiting Patrick Jones’s studio exhibition of his new work, on the other hand, was a very rich experience. His new paintings are luminous and iridescent and really are rather beautiful. They draw you into deep visual pools with accents, bars and blobs of strong colour which seem to float but still feel integrated into the whole work. A fabulous set of paintings which echoed the sea and sky I experienced while staying by the Devon coast. That is not to say they were figurative, it just felt like Patrick had captured and transformed the qualities of his surroundings into an abstract vision. Wonderful.
    Alan Gouk’s retrospective show part 2 at Felix and Speare was pretty impressive too, but I have to agree with Robin that part 1 resonated more strongly for me too. Any figuration that might creep into Alan’s work doesn’t really bother me because I feel the power and potency of his delivery comes out at you and overrides everything else. I feel that is the case with ‘Gaucin Night ll’ . I felt ‘Through the Years’ was not as strong as some of Alan’s work but, really, he is a very good painter that should have more recognition art history.
    I enjoyed John Bunker’s exhibition very much, I am always amazed at what he can do with materials! The large piece had strong echoes of Braque which worked for me. I remember thinking that John integrated the linear elements with solid material well when they were densely constructed. Again, an enriching experience.

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  6. Thank You Noela for your comments.Its great you could be bothered to come and have a look.I am currently mulling over Emyr Williams comments on Instant Loveland about “the pictorial””,as that seemed to me to be the difference between the Sean Scully show that I saw concurrently with Alan Gouks show at Ealing.The difference seemed to be that Alan,despite the raucous colour and extreme surface ,was trying for a set of integrated relationships, which cohered into a totality,which could be called pictorial.This was hinted at in the Scully single canvasses.but was lost in the juxtaposed panel paintings.The gallery actually claimed he was having fun with the notion of wholeness by avoiding it,while I felt he was actually abnegating his responsibility as a painter of substance.However he is the Tyson Fury of English Painting ,and laughing all the way to the bank.I just wanted to applaud Robins view that you can look at great art without feeling anything ,except enjoying the way it is put together,the way it is constructed.I have always been tempted by Rothkos view that one needed to be ravaged by a great painting ,that it was a geiger counter of sentiment.In fact I realise I often don’t feel anything emotional,just envy the constructional abilities.It occurred to me recently that it is nigh on impossible to be humorous in an Abstract Painting.If I could I would aspire to Steve Bells view of Teresa May.lashed to the great white whale ,forever rolling in the deep,coming up for air,ready to be drowned again, from Moby Dick[Guardian newspapers].Very Funny,but not possible in Abstraction,where everything is in the putting together,construction itself being an ethical activity.However the hard looking ,no feeling ,is completely different to the lack of any sort of pictorial interest in Peter Blake or David Hockney,compared to the Cezannes normally in the Coutauld,where I not only feel I know the man in the brown hat,I can smell the mud on his coat.

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    1. Can there be something that is ‘abstract pictorial’?
      The work of Alan Gouk that I have seen has not struck me as being pictorial too often, I like what you say, Patrick, about the raucous colour and extreme surface integrating into a totality in Alan Gouk’s work though.
      I wonder if Alan Gouk had lived in St, Ives could his place in art history have been as high as Patrick Heron’s?

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    2. I wonder how genuinely different the Scullys and the Gouks are in terms of orthogonal organisation of big, roughly-rectangular panels of colour…? (True of Rothko too?) Obviously the Gouks are more inventive and less repetitive than Scully’s single formula works, repeated ad nauseum, but they do have a somewhat figurative, familiar, “constructed” organisation to them.

      This is where, I think, things have now changed, at least in the minds of some of the Brancaster artists, in painting and in sculpture that is genuinely abstract. We no longer have big ideas about “construction” that dictate how things are organised pictorially or design-wise or compositionally. And we certainly don’t have ideas derived from “abstraction”, a word I cannot understand is still being brought into the discussion. About what, exactly? We are free of it. So what is it you think you are abstracting from, Patrick?

      Looking at new abstract art means a lot more to me than admiring the construction. It often feels to me like an engagement with the work on an indefinable number of complex and varied levels, and an ability to knit all these different ways of seeing together as wholeness.

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  7. Dear Robin,Im not Abstracting from anything.Im distilling essential experience.That distillation calls on a great deal of experience of life and art \some good,some bad ,always cataclysmic.,I was watching George Bests life story last night.Some of the best football ever seen ,but what a waste of talent!But of course instead of Bobby Charlton to worry about,there are always other painters to think about ,look at .Some of these you will never have heard of ,such as John Marin,Milton Avery,John Epstein,Bill Jensen.However Im not pulling rank, as sculptors have their very different set of problems,not least how to match the sort of wonderfull sense of Self David Smith demonstrated throughout his life and work.Identity!Everybody I met loved him .Thank goodness you ve got Tim Scott on your team.What pisses me off about most contemporary Abstract Painting in the UK is that they have not bothered to discuss the question of what happened to the Bauhaus in Weimar Germany ,before the Nazis declared Abstraction degenerate Art.I don’t know,either but would find it fascinating ,the development of an emerging visual culture.Call it what you like , the word Abstraction has a certain ring to it..I often feel you are SO sure of whats good and bad,where is the discovery in that?Superb Taste isn’t enough.A lot of younger Abstract Painters cant be bothered to relate to History at all.its old hat. Unfortunately what remains is just like the celebratory TV programs,,simon cowell et all/ process led,add a bit of wax to some oil and acrylic and call it “Wildfire”,put it on Facebook and think you are AMAZING.I believe History and Identity are essential.I often think of John Coltrane when Im Painting ,and what would he play.People come in and out of the studio during the day,in my head .As De Kooning said,hopefully at the end there is only you left.

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  8. I’m sorry I missed this Robin – I’ve been very overwhelmed with responsibilities of late, but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed this thoughtful and wonderfully provocative post. Your assessment of Judd is absolutely correct and the work is indeed quite beautiful. Truly, I don’t care what it’s categorized as, it just has to be good, and I think you would agree with that. But what I really enjoyed and applaud are your comments on Modernism – particularly this – “But now we know – don’t we, surely? – that “abstraction”, and in particular, “modernist designed abstraction”, is in no way taking us forward. We know that from doing Brancaster Chronicles. The claim for progress by the kind of modernism preached by Heron and others cannot be made to stick at the job any more.” And I see this kind of thinking in your recent sculptures which I am still looking at online and carrying with me in my mind. The one piece I retweeted a while ago – with the bolted wood (please forgive me I haven’t the title handy) – I find particularly powerful and I think it comes from the way you are thinking these days. It seems to me that everything is up for grabs while trying to get to something different and specific. I’m excited for you! Please keep going and take us along for the ride – I am definitely learning from this as well! Best – Mark

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