#115. Robin Greenwood writes on “Past and Future Abstract”

Paul Cézanne, “Still Life with Apples in a Compote”, 1879-80

In the late 1870’s Paul Gauguin made direct contact with Paul Cézanne, possibly through the intercession of Pissarro, who seems to have had his fingers on the pulse of a number of important painters of the time. And though Gauguin, unlike Pissarro, maintained no intimate communication, his devotion to Cézanne’s work remained immense throughout his life. The respect was not reciprocated; yet, prior to their meeting, Gauguin had purchased five or six Cézannes for his own collection, much-prized works that were eventually sold off to pay for his debts in the 1880’s, when his bourgeois career collapsed; despite which, Gauguin recognised the importance and significance of these works. The angled knife on the table-top (Chardin?) was a spatial invention used by many artists to extend the flattened forefront space of the still-life’s subtle outward-ness towards the viewer.

This particular Cézanne painting, “Still Life with Apples in a Compote”, was Gauguin’s most valued, and was kept the longest, being a canvas that did much to sustain his own vision of what advanced painting might be, or indeed, might become. This was the Cézanne that stayed in Gaugin’s meagre Paris studio until at least 1893, an important painting for Gauguin to own. My theory is that it remains important in the ongoing development of abstract painting, and how we now might take it further than its early stages as begun by Kandinsky in 1910, or Malevich in 1915. The key to this is wholeness – making everything in the painting work together from edge to edge.

Paul Gauguin, “Still Life with Grapefruits”, 1901

When Cézanne became aware of his own significance upon the work of the younger artist, he accused Gauguin of stealing “my little sensation”. Of course he had – Gauguin understood the significance of Cézanne’s contribution to how painting might develop and the consequences of understanding its abstract-ness, as opposed to its figuration. That’s not to say that both artists are not engaged in figuration – they are, but less so than many of their contemporaries; and they both retain much of their engagement with the reconstruction of a complex pictorialism. This we can see happening in what is clearly the vibrant and whole structure of “Still Life with Apples in a Compote”; and very different from “abstraction” as it later developed in the American Abstract Expressionists, and many more. This all may be seen as a downgrade to the ambitions for painting grasped early on by Cézanne and Pissarro. This particular still-life, and others by Cézanne which preceded it in the 1870’s, are amongst the greatest achievements of painting from this decade in France – or indeed from anywhere else – or any other era, come to that.

[Worth noting here my opposite opinion to Sam Cornish on Frank Bowling’s exhibition at Tate Britain: “…fundamental to the work from the “Map Paintings” onwards is the visual drift found within the paintings of Helen Frankenthaler or Jules Olitski, that represented a loosening of the all-over energy of Jackson Pollock.” The “drift” of the work by Frankenthaler and Olitski, two of Abstract Expressionism’s most dubious and indulgent painters, are seen to develop in Bowling in clear detriment to the “all-over energy” of Pollock; or, for that matter, the best of Krasner – see her show at the Barbican.]

Jackson Pollock, “Eyes in the Heat”, 1946

Lee Krasner, “Shattered Light”, 1954

There are a number of French artists who make decisive moves, prior to 1870, towards revolutionising how figurative painting is taken beyond the normal inclusions of perspectival landscape art. It goes much further than illustration. Courbet might be seen as one of the more original and experimental of painters who developed complex visual structures, perhaps with influence by, though going beyond, the landscapes of the Barbizon school of the earlier eighteen-hundreds. I have suggested previously that Courbet’s “After Dinner at Ornans” has significance to the way Cézanne’s paintings from around 1860 were structured. As Richard Ward proposed on a previous Abcrit, speaking of this very Courbet: “I can’t see any dissonances… This painting seems to have an entirely coherent spatiality involving the figures, the table and the room”. I think this is largely true, and makes much of its achievement feel abstract, though not necessarily lacking tension. It may imply the opposite, and this might apply to many of the Cézannes of this period, both before and up to and including “Still Life with Apples in a Compote”.

Paul Cézanne, “Plate of Apples”, 1874

It’s easy to forget; we are possibly over-familiar with this period of work and its ambitions. It remains unhelpful to think of these works as outdated or academic for reasons simply of their figuration or their subject; and easy to forget because of our familiarity with simple conceptions of painting in general. It’s easy to ignore, prior to the full-on inundation of abstraction, its interactions in abstract-ness. The works of Cézanne and Pissarro in the 1870s became in their own right full and coherent visual articulations of the surface of painting, gathered into varied pictorial “wholenesses”, and reconciling the three-dimensionality of figuration with the crude flatness of two-dimensions that developed later. This reconciliation was an achievement directly connected to the ongoing development of Impressionism. It becomes, and remains, a challenge to later artists of all disciplines after the 1870s.

Camille Pissarro, “The Hermitage at Pontoise”, 1867

As abstraction in painting developed, the orientation of the spatial structures of figurative painting became organised within a more upright and simplistic spatiality – a strong but limiting frontality – like in Lanyon’s reproduction of landscape from an aerial perspective; not so much about looking down upon a subject as turning the whole landscape space upwards and outwards, achieving frontal flatness. This was both a new discovery and a repetition (or rediscovery) of work by Renaissance artists such as Tintoretto. It has good and bad consequences, but the point is that in some of the very best figurative painting, from as far back as the Renaissance, the content of the work activates the whole, edge to edge, and does not simply focus upon the objects in or on a foreground, surrounded by background.

Tintoretto, “The Apotheosis of St Roch”, 1564

Some abstract artists have already achieved this in the past, like Pollock and Krasner in the 1950s. Their all-over paintings were consciously worked to make the dynamic structures of the paint fully active all across the surface, either up to – or beyond – the edges of the canvas. Covering the whole picture, however, can be repetitious, and is not the same as making the whole thing fully expressive in a way that extends to the maximum the diversity of the content. In “Still Life with Apples in a Compote” everything is different, and yet everything works perfectly together. Bonnard can occasionally do it too!

Pierre Bonnard, “Chequered Tablecloth”, 1916

The question is how to get even further, combining inventive movement and variety, right across all aspects of what works visually. Can abstract painting be completely free of any kind of figuration? Must it be, to progress?

Here are good examples of where some abstract painting is currently at, by some of the most interesting painters and collagists around at the moment. They make for strong comparisons with Krasner’s brilliant “Shattered Light”, currently on show at the Barbican.

John Bunker, “Scheherazade” 2018

EC, “Only Pack the Essentials, (ANIMAL)”, 2019

Dean Piacentini, 2018

And how does this all compare with Cézanne? Or the past?

Pieter Bruegel, “Christ carrying the Cross”, 1564

36 comments

  1. Dear Robin enjoyed your thought provoking article focusing upon Cezanne and Pissarro. Still prefer Pissarro, a much more emotive painter in my view. Personally Pissarro resonates much more emotionally in viewing his so finely and delicately painted landscapes. He is also so much more of a refined painter in his touch and execution I feel. Light bouncing of walls iridescent on rich green swathes representing the fertile green pastures of once rural France.The view one of summer time that almost cloudless sky and the heat suggested by the light portrayed on the side of a few houses that look mostly like farm houses. There is a roadway skillfully painted in in just the right kind of very dry summer dust.Looking carefully there are several figures on the road including several small children. They look as if they may know each other standing there chatting about something or other. Who knows? Following the roadway with your eye you pass by several more individuals acting like markers all the way up to the a house with a large door though modest it leads somewhere into something? We can imagine what it might be like! So much then already in a few moments and the beginning of a narrative indeed! They are both narrative painters of people and places of their time.A bygone age. They both had stories to tell us devoting their lives to painting. Whether they were aware of their legacy to modernity who knows? I reckon if either did so it wasn’t for too long, They were too busy working on the next one! Both painters share this commonality and of course there are lots of others. We have a very long tradition of painters here and elsewhere but what they did was uniquely there own.A blocking out of light and color highlighting forms.That brilliantly blue light of the sky pushed back and upwards at the top of the picture plane. Heaven! I never got this feeling from Cezanne even when I first viewed one. And the feeling sticks! I can see where you are going with the ‘flattening’ impulse if impulse is the right way to describe the manner the paint is applied.In the case of Cezanne this is much more marked.I was going to say severe.Look at the way backgrounds flatten out for example in the movement between foreground and background. As if the air had gone out of the atmosphere, A reduction of sorts that leaves me rather uneasy though curious about whats going on? But then we are back to this curious manner that is so characteristic of Cezanne.Of course this has nothing to do with his passage to modernity.There are though of his some exceptionally interesting portraits in fact quite a collection, a series of Madam Cezanne. The story of their lives together is a very interesting one.Apparently, Cezanne painted very slowly, a brushstroke every twenty minutes! Given there are well nigh twenty nine of these you can image her mood after a while.Their lives including his son was kept secret. His wife remained hidden along with their son. Hidden and concealed, Rather like the portraits of her that he painted over and over again. Expressionless but for a dull vacancy they offer no revelations about the sitter.Is this what Picasso saw in Cezanne? The human countenance reduced to a mask portrayed emotionless, primitive even? If abstract art has thrown out the narrative then we must await a further chapter in its unfolding.

    Kind regards Robin and look forward to hearing more!

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  2. PS, It did occur to me Robin after posting to ask you why you didn’t include a few examples of your own work? Judging by your recent show worthy of an inclusion.

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      1. Hi Robin. I did indeed leave a lengthy reply. I believe I was first to comment though cannot see its appearance on the page. I did notice it had gone to moderation?

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  3. Robin. I was pleased that you addressed important issues in figuration and abstraction and with regard to pictorial space and ‘wholeness’ in your article. I enjoyed reading it. There is much more to be said on the topic. The one false note for me amongst your good references was the implication that Lanyon was engaged in the ‘reproduction of landscape’ and that his approach was ‘simplistic’. Lanyon is an important artist in this debate (especially if one is particular about choosing the most significant works e.g. St Just, 1953). It was the word ‘reproduce’ that grated and ‘simplistic’ with its pejorative implications strikes me as wrong. Something much more complex is involved. In my own practice I have come to a view that the abstraction/figuration debate is best considered outside those terms as ’embodiment of content’.

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  4. Ethan Shaw here.

    should cezanne be a raphael-style fetish figure for abstract painters? no. cezanne was about abstracting from nature. abstraction as a verb. this cannot be said for the modernist purism of abstract painters who desires to both invent and abstract their space all at once. in short, cezanne has a model whereas abstract artists don’t.

    but there are artists who come close to creating an abstract equivalent to cezanne and hans hoffman is one of them, and one even argue that he is trying to make a Frankenstein of matisse-colur and cezanne-impasto by way of tachisme. But all the same, isn’t asking abstract artists to follow cezanne’s lead a bit like getting the donkey to follow a carrot on the stick?

    i would think that Cezanne is more useful to figurative painters. if you want a real contemporary artist who makes use of space in abstract way- try watching the fight scenes in a jackie chan movie.

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  5. Ethan,
    Cezanne DESTROYS figurative painters! Modern ones, I mean. Where are the good ones, working now?

    As for Ken’s thoughts on Pissarro, I concur. I recall with absolute distinction the exhibition “Cezanne and Pissarro, 1865-1885” at the Musee d’Orsay in 2006 – possibly one of the best shows I have seen. Nip and tuck between the two of them, all the way. Cezanne probably swung it, but he got a lot of it directly from Pissarro anyway. If the Courtauld Institute was open at the moment I’d point to two masterpieces by Pissarro that surpass any Cezanne they own.

    So what do we learn from either of these two great painters? Everything… and nothing, perhaps. I still think there is something missing from abstract painting. Abstract sculpture has got “it”, whatever “it” is (though there is not enough of us doing it to any great extent to show enough progress), but abstract painting does not pull my wire yet in quite the same way the best figurative painters do it. I mean, just look at that Pieter Bruegel. Out of sight!

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    1. i will reply with a question of my own. where are the great abstract artists now? show me them before i have to show you another another Cezanne biscuit tin, Robin

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      1. But I agree… apart from the greatness of Cezanne’s biscuit tins, obviously.

        Personally, I could name fifty figurative painters in a list of best achievements before I start thinking about any abstract painters…

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  6. Ethan needs to get out more often.After another day in the studio trying to paint my way out of a paper bag ,by redefining Abstraction ,I came home to watch Al-Jazeera on the decline of Democracy.I think the question of whether a picture is Abstract enough ,is merely silly.Anything goes these days ,most of it [Abstract Painting ]that is ,pretty awful.There are artists behind every bush where I live in the west country offering prosecco and canapés and crappy art.It seems to me Painting has always been a spiritual activity ,in trying to connect with something outside/inside yourself.Personally I am further adrift from contemporary politics than ever in my life,therefore I will attach my activity as an Abstract Artist to some form of dissent .Altho Sean Scully and Damien have the dubious distinction of fame and wealth ,isn’t their work getting worse by the minute.Ive always enjoyed the seriousness of purpose of the Brancaster group ,but am finding a lot of the work similar and lacking .Coming up with a challenging ,original ground breaking Abstract Painting is still extremely demanding.Im missing John Mclean already.

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    1. what about my comment implies that i need to get out more? i’m sadly starting to expect this level of condescension from you brancaster chaps.. You talk the talk but you don’t walk the walk. “redefining abstraction”- gimme a break, patrick.

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  7. I‘m increasingly convinced that you can’t create a satisfactory (let alone complex and specific) spatial illusion without a strong simultaneous suggestion in the direction of figuration.

    Which of these comes first or which provokes the other is a chicken and egg situation that maybe doesn’t matter that much, particularly where it’s the space rather than what might be in it (a plate of apples anyone?) that counts.

    There’s an essential difference between Chardin‘s „Brioche“, concerned mainly with textures, light-reflexes and the beauty of simple things and Cézanne‘s apples, concerned much more with an existential experience of space.

    Maybe it is necessary to „embrace the chicken“ and use (or at least tolerate) a kind of minimal figuration to create complex, spatial abstract painting?

    Since the space of a sculpture is real rather than illusory, it can be as specific and complex as it likes without employing or suggesting any kind of figuration. The equivalent problem for abstract sculpture would be that of movement, which is illusory, depends on a projection from the viewer and entails, I would suspect, a similar brush with figuration.

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  8. Is it not the case that the ‘abstraction of Pissarro, Cezanne et al is just another way of reiterating Matisse’s famous quotation; “I do not paint what I see,, but what I feel (fr. sensation) about what I see” In other words, they are not making \Abstract Art”, but evolving ways of seeing which often abandon ‘recognition (illustration);spatial depth and illusion as available through perspective; methods of making marks in surface handling and material; allowing the picture plane to become dominant; allowing colour and light to become ‘subjects;’and so on.?

    So, today, we inherit the task of furthering suitable means of expressing our feelings about ‘life’,in painting or sculpture,,whilst not repeating what has already been wonderfully arrived at by past ‘modern’masters.?

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  9. Richard
    I am encouraged by your questioning in this area as I am of Tim’s wishing not to repeat the achievements of the past.
    Here is what I think. At the moment I consider it a given.

    Your final paragraph “since the space of a sculpture is real rather than illusory….” For me the space of sculpture and the material is illusory. Movement is such that it is almost impossible for any material being of any shape and somehow placed on the ground, sitting on a shelf or hanging in the air even,cannot be inert and therefore has taken to itself in being positioned a degree of movement,at least.
    ……. “….a projection from the viewer….” Why is it not the viewer responding to the information within the meaning of the sculpture. The missing piece here is the ‘plastic and spatial three dimensionality’ , a condition and state of being beyond the object and requiring of illusion to create that state of being. What the viewer should pick up here is the accumulation of all the elements of the sculpture in an unrestricted world made possible by that world being abstract.
    And taking advantage of that abstract states possibility of holding the focus within the ‘plastic and spatial’ and not being diluted by extraneous out side references.
    Surely the information should be coming from the piece, from how it is and what it is doing, of itself.
    Collectively this should be the meaning.
    And dare I say….Could this apply to painting also?

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    1. I’d like to know what you think exactly are the achievements of past painting that we can happily ignore. I’d assume they were only things that have been seen to be irrelevant, like, say, crappy subject-matter.

      Boy, it’s a big bag of fantastic achievements in past figurative art that you want to chuck! Do we really start again from scratch?

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  10. Robin
    Since when did “not wishing to repeat the achievements of the past” mean you can “happily ignore ” them ?
    How did you get to that ?

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    1. By the suggestion that there is no connection that can be learnt from… or do I misread you? Personally, I think it is clear there is little if any connection between abstract and figurative sculpture, which I am happy to ignore, on the whole – but the disconnect is much harden (if not impossible) to make with painting.

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  11. Tony
    “A condition and state of being beyond the object” is a wonderful phrase. I do agree that one of the things that painting and sculpture can do is to help liberate our way of experiencing the world.

    Another thing that they can do is to help with the awareness, organization and inter-personalization (realisation) of subjective experience. This, I presume, is Tim’s “expressing our feelings about life”.

    These seem to me to be two distinct though not incompatible aims. Maybe the first is more dependent on eliminating figuration and the second on enabling projection.

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  12. i think Abstract art is about order.
    Not order as we know it.
    But it’s one which belongs to each individual.
    This giving them the potential to use their ability to produce their own visually, intelligent,inventive and precise order on which they make their own trajectory celebrating the optimism of what will be invented. All this within the ever expanding world of sculpture and painting.
    It does not mean you do not look at the past but it can’t hold the order for the next phase, the future.
    Others will come and add their own future.Surely they will want that, and more, for themselves as well?

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  13. Tony – I find your phrase: “…I think Abstract art is about order. Not order as we know it. But it’s one which belongs to each individual…” a very interesting comment.
    This, to me, is synonymous with the way we recognise that it is a ‘Cezanne’, or a ‘Poussin’ or a ‘Braque’. In other words it is NOT the subject matter (whether apples or godesses or something indescibeable) which create the ‘abstraction’in a work, but the artist’s own CHOICES of facture and assembly stemming from his / her perceptions, experiences, and aesthetic intentions. Of course, this does not, in itself, define quality in any work of art.

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  14. Dear Tim ,Exactly.It always brings me almost to tears when Robin posts the Pisarro Convent painting particularly,and then the blue Cezannes[not the yellow one].Why I find them so moving Im not sure ,except that we are not in the same position as they were.I literally feel Im trying to paint myself out of a paper bag ,to redefine ,re-invent the Language ,my language.Abstract Art is a serious business .Its almost impossible to get a smile out of the audience .And as David Evison and I are agreeing on Instant Loveland ,the Tate are almost throwing the baby out with the bath water ,in the well-deserved Frank Bowling show.Why does everyone get it so wrong and why is it SO difficult ?

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  15. Patrick & co. – To continue a,little from where I left off – If ‘abstraction’ means that the interpretation of subject matter is NOT incorporated (as it is in the earlier masters), and it then only exists in the ‘mind’ as a bi- product of the intensity of feeling in the mind of the artist, then the ability of the resulting ‘work’ to impress emotionally on the viewer is severely curtailed through lack of ‘reference’.(to observable experience).
    You say, Patrick, “…it is almost impossible to get a smile out of the audience…” ,(how many times has one gad that experience !), and as Robin has pointed out, it is easier for a sculptor to ‘abandon’ subject matter than a painter.
    I suppose it is still open to question (pace Greenberg’s opinion) as to whether ‘non referential art is capable of eliciting the same intensity of aesthetic emotion as, traditionally, with its inclusion ? All one can say is that ‘intensity’ is not, in the end, deliniated in your Cezanne by the fact of the recognition of’ apples’ as such, but by many other factors incorporated into the making of the painting which we are denoting as ‘abstraction’.

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  16. It´s interesting to see how Tintoretto uses the same painterly devices as Cézanne to achieve that intense wholeness:
    His ghostly angels activate the background to bring it forward in the same way that the rudimentary patterning on Cézanne´s wallpaper does in the first still-life.

    St. Roth´s halo intrudes over God´s outriders, carrying the background through its almost identical colour into the foreground, just as Cézanne´s background repeatedly intrudes onto the figures before it, especially in the area between bowl and glass.

    And the colours of the foreground figures are repeated in the background (the green of Cézanne´s apples, the creamy yellow of Tintoretto´s tunics), tempting the eye to associate them in the same plane.

    There are doubtless other factors in play, but these three are things that transfer tolerably well to a photographic image.
    And these are exactly the devices that Gaugin has “stolen” in his still-life, though to less radical effect as he still seems occupied with the textures and finish of his objects (as does Tintoretto).

    The reason why this destruction of space makes Cézanne´s painting “about” space is that the eye is continually moved backwards and forwards between spatial image and flat surface, heightening awareness of his space, refreshing it repeatedly and raising questions about its nature.

    I don´t think that Pissarro does this to quite the same extent. His space is glorious but the figurative detail and strong linear and scalar perspective make it difficult to comprehend his painting as surface patterning. You can see Bonnard frustrating these kinds of perspective in his tablecloth painting.

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    1. Richard, that is the best bit of analysis I’ve read on Abcrit for a very long time. Brilliant, and so much better than discussing abstract ideas about “expression”, etc., etc.!

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  17. To pick up where Tim was:
    “…it is NOT the subject matter… which create the ‘abstraction’ in a work, but the artist’s own CHOICES of facture and assembly stemming from his / her perceptions, experiences, and aesthetic intentions.”

    Not the subject matter, no, because there isn’t one. But after three years and more of deconstructing how to go about making abstract sculpture, it seems to have little to do with “choices”, “perceptions”, “experiences”, “aesthetic intentions” or “feelings”. It is perhaps more like an accommodation within ones own limited working methods of the sheer randomness of new accidental combinations of varieties of different elements that may or may not work together. The contradictions of this seems both extraordinarily “un-artistic” in the normal way, and excitingly liberating.

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  18. Robin – Well – After sixty years of “…deconstructing how to go about making abstract sculpture…”I am quite certain that it is not to do with “…an accommodation within one’s own limited working methods of the sheer randomness of new accidental combinations of varieties of different elements that may or may not work together…”
    That is pure DaDa; and surely, we do not wish to return to that !
    Also, it is , as far as I can understand it, a total contradiction of everything Cezanne, for example, stood for, and attempted in his work; so hardly a ‘continuation’ or even acknowledgement of what he began !

    I have said previously that I hold ‘experimentation’ to be at the core of all new art, but, experimentation in itself is not enough; it has to be taken further and be consolidated with’aesthetic meaning and purpose stemming from real ‘experience (dreadful word) and intensity of ‘feeling’ Sorry !.

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    1. Don’t apologise!

      I am not suggesting “randomness” is an aim, such as in DaDa, merely an honest state to exist in as an abstract artist, where there are no certainties.

      Do you really work in a state of ’aesthetic meaning and purpose stemming from real ‘experience (dreadful word) and intensity of ‘feeling’? I can’t see it, and judging by your recent work, which I like a lot, I don’t see it as being more coherent than other artists work for those reasons, when everybody talks about the same thing. More intensity of feeling? Does this make it better? Explain, or give me an example…

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  19. Robin – No – I sincerely hope that I am not so arrogant as to think that I work in a state of ‘intensity of feeling’ etc;; on the contrary, it is more likely to be (as with most of us I suppose) one of inhibition and frustration concerning getting to where one wants to go; practice invariably falling short of intent. However, intensity of feeling and expression ARE AIMS, and once in a way one sees a glimmer of it in order to keep one moving on; but they cannot be bought off the shelf and applied.
    As to the ‘coherence’ of my, or anyone else’s work, that is in the eyes of the beholder; but I don’t believe that it can be achieved in an arbitrary manner; nor, even,literally randomly.without intervention. ; (and, incidentally, thank you for your appreciation as a ‘beholder’ !).
    To return to your point about ‘randomness’; there is nothing, of course, intrinsically wrong with it, or its use in art. My point was that it remains a totally neutral ‘effect’ unless and until it is brought into the (intense as possible sculptural discipline) of a physical construct incorporating all the plastic values we have so often discussed as being at the core of a revived abstract sculpture
    Otherwise a urinal WOULD be a sculpture – after all..

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  20. I happened to see a very small Quentin Massys painting today (one of my favourite painters) of a “Lamentation” (Mary and the dead or dying Christ?) which was very expressive indeed, in a figurative and obvious way, in terms of its human subject-matter. But it succeeded hugely as a painting mostly for reasons that we would recognise (though hard to define) at having an abstract coherence (that is, at least Richard might recognise it!). That’s how I see it. The use of such an openly “expressive” human subject-matter could have just as easily failed.

    To clarify the “randomness” a bit more: I don’t see it as any kind of finished “effect” in the work at all, but more powerfully as a way of opening up relationships in the work in very unexpected ways that we would by other more predictable means miss out on. This might seem a massive difference between figurative and abstract methods of painting at first sight, but I don’t think it is. The Cezanne we began with feels (my feeling, not his) so much like a discovery of abstract and powerful things found out of nowhere. I have said already, it’s a mistake to think of it as pre-ordained. Cezanne makes things work together with great focus, great individual care, but NOT in order to make it all fit into some overbearing concept. It is true, however, to say that Cezanne, like us all, occasionally fails this inventiveness. “Expression” can very easily become just another limiting theory in art.

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  21. I feel the need to clarify where Im coming from and apologise if its off -message.The difficulty Im referring to in relation to being an Abstract artist,is the audience limited response/or the lack of certain artistic qualities available to other art forms.So we have to put up with endless curatorial interference to the point where the Bonnard show became unwatchable ,and Frank Bowlings Tate show over= blown in its size and claims for profundity.Qualities like humour,pathos,tragedy etc,available to Opera and Theatre are not available to Abstract Painters because we are continually re-inventing /defining the language we are using.Just try getting a decent show in a commercial gallery in London now to prove my point.Every exhibition has extravagant claims for its importance ,based on the meaning of the work.My work doesn’t mean anything ,in the best beckettian sense.It simply exists,some better than others.

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    1. Patrick – But that is the whole point – abstract painting and sculpture don’t deal with those human emotions catered for by the performing arts (even if it was felt necessary to do so in the past through narrative and illustration).But they DO deal with other EQUALLY important human emotions; the world of light and colour; the world of physicality and spatial relationships; the world of three dimensions or of flatness and illusion; and so on. We have plenty to talk about without canibalising the worlds of other art forms.(ANY other art forms)

      .
      Robin – I would not at all dispute the value of “…ways of opening up relationships in the work…”
      (randomness). I see it as another form of ‘received’ input (especially in sculpture); but like all ‘received’ form that we have discussed so often, it carries the danger of colonising the work and creating what I called before a ‘neutrality’ of intent in the resulting whole
      I equally agree with you that “…making it all fit into some overbearing concept…” is the kiss of death..

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  22. I though this quote might interest you painters –

    Cezanne to Emile Bernard :”The sensations of colour that produce the light yield abstractions that do not allow me to cover my canvas ” (1905)
    (Of course I cannot vouch for the translation from the French.

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