#124. Robin Greenwood writes on “Making Painting Abstract”

Noela James Bewry, untitled No. 5, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 100x162cm.

Some time ago I was invited by Myles Corley, the gallery director of Linden Hall Studio in Deal, Kent, to curate an exhibition of new abstract painting, chosen from my own personal point of view. I thought it was a good chance to consider what did or did not qualify as “abstract”, and to examine the activities of painters whom I thought were moving forwards in original ways. It was intended to publish the short essay that follows as part of a catalogue for the show, along with reproductions of paintings by the ten chosen artists, all to coincide with the opening of the exhibition on 4th April 2020. Instead, due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, I’m publishing the essay and the ten reproductions here on Abcrit.

This essay was written before I had seen much of the work, and was not intended as an analysis of any of the content in the paintings to be hung. More than anything, it was aimed to demonstrate my own enthusiasms for differences and divergences ongoing in original abstract painting. I was genuinely excited by the prospect of seeing some of these very different works together for the first time. The exhibition will hopefully still take place before too long. In the meantime, perhaps we can begin here to discuss the differences, achievements and ambitions of this work, with an example from each of the artists. There will be thirty or so paintings that will get hung eventually in the actual exhibition, but for the time being, we are reproducing here one work each from the ten artists: Noela James Bewry; John Bunker; EC; myself; Harry Hay; Patrick Jones; Dean Piacentini; John Pollard; Hilde Skilton; and Stephen Walker.

I’m hoping the artists themselves are fit and well, and (in their current self-isolation) will contribute to a discussion of their work on-line, along with anyone else who might find it makes for an interesting dialogue. Reproductions are never as good as the real thing, but it’s a start.

With thanks to all the artists for their enthusiasm in putting together this show; and I look forward to the real thing in Deal, when it happens.

Robin Greenwood

4th April 2020

John Bunker, ‘Njola’, 2019, mixed media, 68x73cm.

 

Making Painting Abstract

Complexities and Clarifications

This short essay highlights differences between paintings that are thought of as “abstractions”, which have derived wholly or partially from existing structures and subject-matter; and the works in this exhibition, which, because of new approaches to the content of painting, may be called, more freely and simply, “abstract”. There are in these paintings active changes still in progress, and it is not always straight-forward to say whether what is new is therefore better. Nor is it easy to distinguish how these new properties differ clearly from “non-figurative” paintings from the last hundred years. Nevertheless, work viewed in the light of this new content can be experienced without reference to interpretations of external images, and be seen to operate with clarity within the complicated capacities of the work itself.

The common uses of those two similar words, “abstract” and “abstraction”, are a complexification. Both can be employed in different ways; but, in the context of painting and sculpture from the recent past, “abstraction” is the commonly used term seen as a characterisation of “simplification”. Such ways of working, especially in the organisation of paintings derived from two-dimensional geometries or compositions indicated by colour variations, have become over-familiar. The development of new abstract painting that is distinctly not related to the past artistic activities of abstracting “from something else” or “from nature” has introduced new excitement in painting. This work is invented wholly from scratch, and in most of the cases shown here, “abstract” often signifies the introduction of more complexity and a degree of original creative movement.

Making abstract painting involves a consideration of what is, in essence, “otherness”. The abstract experience of making and looking at abstract painting is not, after all, derived from anything that is predetermined. What is more, the abstract content of an abstract painting is not able to be replicated. Making abstract paintings that are therefore singularly different from both “figuration” and “abstraction” is a seriously ambitious undertaking, and means keeping engaged in an activity of correspondence that unites the twin endeavours of “thinking” and “making”. This is a tenet of new abstract painting. There is a need to continue thinking inventively about new content whilst concurrently looking at what is happening to that content on the painting’s surface – its visual dimensionality and our ability to perceive it in new operational activities. Our perception of new kinds of “substances” in painting is the discovery of our own new awarenesses, which will be the rewards of looking at this work.

……………………………

There is a distinction worth mentioning here between developments in new abstract painting and new abstract sculpture. The altogether different kind of real three-dimensionality implicit and explicit in abstract sculpture points to work that forces itself completely free from a depiction or rendition of a posed body or bodies, or indeed, still life or natural landscape. Sculpture has worked to distance itself quite noticeably from any of those previous approaches. Yet it nevertheless began its modern-day development of abstraction by continuing to embrace frontality and semi-figurative objecthood. Now, sculpture is released from restrictions arising from Western art – or indeed, Indian, Chinese, African, South American art, etc. The tangible and important change that makes the difference in sculpture is the dismissal of the limiting circumstances of frontality, which conditioned both figuration and early abstraction in sculpture; and then the arrival of full, complex three-dimensionality, a requirement that in sculpture is central to what has to be fully “abstract”.

New abstract painting, with its at-least-partial two-dimensionality, cannot make the same unambiguous breakaway. Painting cannot reinvent itself in the same dislocating manner that abstract sculpture has done; painting is always going to be some kind of flat-ish object. Despite which, new painting can make the abstract content of its existence work in new ways that are decidedly unfigurative, deeply un-designed, and as little connected as possible with the customs and traditions of even very recent “abstraction”. Nor does it have to be in competition with the best figurative painting of the past. Rather, it can, like new sculpture, find its own independent way. These new abstract “conditions” are yet to be fully developed because they are not yet fully “seen”, but they are the best excitements of painting now; real things, not pictures. Making abstract painting and sculpture, because of their abstract-ness, can be remarkably more human than ever, could we but see beyond the narratives of established approaches in art and the common self-expressionism that closes down the abstract possibilities. The oncoming complexity of new abstract painting, in a confounding comparison with much that has gone before, requires further input of its very own distinctly impersonal clarifications.

January 2020

EC, ‘Pleasure Trip’, 2018, mixed media on canvas, 40x40cm.

 

Robin Greenwood, untitled, 2019, oil on canvas, 124x102cm.

 

Harry Hay, ‘Word Go’, oil on board, 70x69cm

 

Patrick Jones, ‘Moonpull’, 2018, oil on canvas, 90x162cm.

 

Dean Piacentini, ‘Murmur’, 2019, mixed media on canvas, 80x80cm.

 

John Pollard, ‘Singing the Evil Bungler’, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 150x120cm.

 

Hilde Skilton, ‘Lava Lake’, 2018, oil on canvas, 100x150cm.

 

Steven Walker, ‘Funky Jam Fizz’, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 120x100cm.

142 comments

  1. The point that strikes home for me, in this clear and succinct essay, Robin, is where you say ‘Making abstract painting and sculpture, because of their abstract-ness, can be remarkably more human than ever’.
    Abstract painting is a process of total engagement with the work involved without a third element such as a landscape, sitter for a portrait or still life being a distraction that dictates an outcome.
    In this sense the activity could be more human and immersive and the work hopefully imbued with greater depth and interest.

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  2. Thanks for putting this article up Robin, I was hoping to get down to the exhibition before CV19 put everything on hold so it’s interesting to see your thinking behind it.

    As an abstract painter myself it is good to see an exhibition devoted to current abstract painting which is so rare these days. It’s just a shame that I’m not in it but then we don’t know each other. I see some of the work on social media but it would be nice to see it in the flesh. I am familiar with the work of one of the artists, Dean Piacentini, who i know through a connection with Openhand Openspace in Reading and his solo exhibition in a local arts centre a couple of years ago which i enjoyed.

    I think you are correct that true abstract painting has to come more from the artists inner thoughts and ideas than reflections on external visual input. As you say, “a consideration of otherness” and “a correspondence that unites thinking and making” by which I assume you mean the correspondence between the artist and the painting, all that time we spend thinking about what we are going to do and then the time spent reflecting on it.

    Or, as Noela says “Abstract painting is a process of total engagement with the work involved without a third element such as a landscape, sitter for a portrait or still life being a distraction that dictates an outcome.”

    I hope i can catch the exhibition if and when it is rescheduled later in the year.

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    1. I am aware that I discuss what constituets Abstraction ,every week at my two classes on Abstract Painting,with a dozen of my long term students.They bring their new work every week and we evaluate and criticise each new big Painting.That we have established a dialoque is obvious ,due to our agreements.What is interesting to me is the degree to which there are at least two styles,formal and informal.By formal,I mean geometric and taped and by informal,I mean,thrown paint[loosely Abstract Expressionism.]Everything else,colour,tone ,expressive mark/making and drawing is up for grabs.

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      1. Hi Patrick, Im not sure you were really replying to me but it came through on email as such. I was interested in your statement that there are two styles, “formal and informal. By formal I mean geometric and taped and by informal, I mean thrown paint”.
        At first i didn’t know what to say to it but If can talk about my own work it strikes me that I have walked a path between the two styles, using the grid very loosely, ie verticals and horizontals with geometric blocks but always very loosely with no hard edges and much overlapping of areas of colour, seeing one through another, and using tools that deliberately force a rather random application of paint. I know where I’m putting it, and how, but don’t always know exactly what i’m going to get. I usually finish with a linear pouring, I don’t throw paint, its more like drawing with a pot of paint from a distance above the canvas and it’s done to open space, cancel prettiness and to introduce a last dangerous element of chance.
        I remember Pat Heron described his work in the ’70s as “wobbly hard edged”, ie Interlocking shapes of hard edged colour without a straight line in sight and certainly no taping. similarly I think of mine as orderly disorder, it has an orderly structure applied in a disordered way with no taping.
        Of course my recent work has gone off in a different gestural direction on the dance theme but i am still making the occasional orderly disordered pure abstract paintings straight out of my head as well as abstract collage.
        Looking at the work shown above in Robins article what i mostly see is disorder. I’ll be interested to see it in the flesh eventually.

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  3. Robin – …”Painting cannot reinvent itself in the same dislocating manner that abstract sculpture has done, painting is always going to be some kind of flat-ish object “,,,

    Is not the essential factor that painting (the flat-ish object) will always remain an ‘illusion’ in its visual reception by the beholder; whereas sculpture will always remain a ‘thing’, real, (non illusory) as its essential projection to the beholder ?
    Therefore does the painter have the task of (in creating a truly abstract painting) destroying illusion, which, by definition, is referential, i.e. non abstract ?

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    1. Ah, if only I knew what “truly abstract” meant! What I do know (in my opinion) is that both abstract painting and sculpture of any merit deal in varying degrees in illusion, and, paradoxically, the illusion is what creates the “reality”.

      I don’t, therefore, think of this kind of “illusion” as referential or figurative. I know – Its all contradictory, but then it’s crazy to try to pin things down utterly.

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  4. Well,Im game to get something going,with regard to Illusion.The reason I had such a nice day yesterday in the studio ,was that I have lot of lee-way with regard to Illusion.To me,this relates to story telling to my 8 year old daughter.If I want her to get involved,I have to get her to identify with the story.Get her to project imaginatively and that it is really about her.With my viewers of my pictures ,I am aware of the continual tension,between the expressive mark/the position within the rectangle,the relationship to the outside edge.That there is a balance between the sense of depth and the illusion created.When I drive up to the studio,I go up Hayes Lane,past Sir Walter Raleighs House,over the common,through the woods,just like the view of Mont St Victoire I have seen near Tour Tour in Provence.The difference is ,I shut the door and do not refer to the outside world again ,until I leave the farm.I just concentrate on the Colour/the mark making,the drawing and occasional expressive reference.Various cues are allowed,the moon,the sea/horizon line/the sun,but essentially I am aware of Greenbergs paradox between Illusion /depth and spaciality.Colour and surface are crucial.I am using heavy weight 18oz ,unprimed canvas ,basically staining with Golden Acrylic Paint,which comes from Nth America /via Germany.Colour is the crucial decision,position,weight etc.I relish the illusion,the reference and the magic quality of Expression.I am Painting Abstractly. .

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  5. Illusion is everywhere!
    As are all the other elements of sculpture, but in literal form .
    I can’t imagine illusion being the creator of abstract.
    One problem , or the problem, is that all of these elements are consistently found in objects to varying degrees ; but because of being an object they are not abstract. Tim’s reply to Carl describing ‘abstract’ stands for me at the moment as a description in that, it goes as far as necessary leaving the door open to imaginative interpretations
    based on actual inventions , and not a blanket ‘showstopper’.
    What I see as being brilliant about illusion is that the ‘doing’ of the material can create multiple meaning for an ever changing (illusion) of the movement, physicality etc. etc. In and across space
    (three dimensional) as activated by your own moving around the piece. You are wanting to move because you are being specifically invited to move as this movement of yours creates the combinations.
    Unlike most objects ,which could equally offer the same invitation , the sculpture in not being an object, nor indeed anything known to you in its specificness ,tries to claim the biggest prize , that of being abstract ,and as a consequence can defy the stultifying rigidity of objectness,in attempting this the transparency , which in itself is the greatest threat to the visual authority of the object, in that the sculpture can take its meaning and its feeling anywhere and everywhere and it’s spatial credibility, whilst being exposed and tested from all angles of sight , can draw on all the emerging combinations of its own meanings without the need to keep adding more and more material. This complexity can be as a result of more meaning, greater transparency, room in fact for more to happen !

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    1. In as far as I can understand it, I agree with most of that, particularly “What I see as being brilliant about illusion is that the ‘doing’ of the material can create multiple meaning for an ever changing (illusion) of the movement”.

      The question here is whether and how that complexity and re-combining of meaning can operate in abstract painting to a degree anything like how it undoubtedly does in abstract sculpture.

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      1. That you cast your own doubt as to your understanding simply shows those thoughts cut across current thinking on those subjects.
        The ‘elephant in the room’ is the ongoing issue of relational v non-relational … (which has formed a part of every Brancaster Chronicle since No 1 )
        Painters and Sculptors are making their own decisions on what they believe is abstract.

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      2. It would be good if you would explain the difference, particularly in painting, between relational and non-relational, because that is very unclear to me, and I certainly haven’t understood it since the beginning of Brancaster.

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  6. You have been there when it’s been discussed
    It has been like everything else an evolving debate and as you say it would be crazy to try to pin things down.
    I see it as one of the elements .

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  7. It would be helpful to have a definition on the table, but without that, maybe it would be good to know which of the paintings above might be considered relational and which non-relational, and why. That might clarify things. If this is important, we should explore it.

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    1. The issue of relational/non relational has as I have said, been discussed in and since Chronicle 1.
      …and so over the years and flicking through the photographs from all of the Chronicles one can track the level of engagement which in simple terms was accepted in the discussion after Chronicle 1 and 2 and taken on board by Tim Scott and others.
      Tim seemed to know what was meant by these terms and registered an interest in the non relational.
      I say this because he was obviously familiar with this … to us it seemed quite new.
      I mention this only because it is not for me to say which of these paintings here are and are not … and no doubt why!.
      It is for the painters themselves , if they are interested , to say what they think ! They may have no interest in either concept but … yes … it is important to me and I continue in my sculpture to explore.
      Where are you on this ?
      In you own work ?

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  8. I hope (some of) the painters do have an interest, and will comment on this issue. I’m not sure, if you believe in non-relational work, why you cannot define it here. It is obviously important to you. Anyway, enough of that.

    Where am I on this, in my work? Nowhere, because I don’t understand it or see a relevance, which is why I ask you. Have I been missing the whole thing after so many years of Brancaster? Apparently… We will wait to see what others say.

    Meanwhile,
    Tim has sent me the following, to post for him:

    I’m intrigued by this question of the differences in the ways and means of sculpture aiming to be abstract and those of painting undergoing the same process.

    If painting acts on the human mind through illusion, which I suppose is
    indisputable, and since illusion acts by suggestion which, in turn, one could call an emotion acting ‘abstractly’; one can conclude that painting purveys its emotions ‘abstractly’ whatever is actually being suggested (subject / source).

    Sculpture, on the other hand, acts on the human mind through ‘being and what it DOES’, physically; it is indisputably ‘there’. Its concreteness cannot be an illusion, though it can incorporate illusion into its make up. The only emotional question becomes HOW the material of sculpture BECOMES something OTHER than simply what it IS literally.
    Unlike painting, therefore, it does NOT purvey its emotions abstractly, but through literal transformation.
    One can, of course, argue that paint too is literal stuff which has to be transformed in like manner. But you cannot fall over it or pick it up or require physical support or occupy space with it, etc., etc. which sensations are fundamental to sculpture.

    From the above one can state that painting is in its essence, ‘abstract’ by nature despite its long history of representation. Whereas sculpture is on the contrary NON ‘abstract’ unless and until it is forced into becoming so, to divert it from simply being literally what it is and hidebound by this literalness (and subject).
    Sculpture has to be cajoled into being abstract (instead of abstractION).
    Painting already is ‘abstract’ by nature, but has to be cajoled into NOT SUBMITTING, as a consequence, to illusory suggestion (abstractION).
    Tim Scott

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  9. I am not quite sure how relevant relational/non relational aspects in a painting determine how abstract it can be?
    Not really sure relational is a clear enough word for me, all elements in a painting relate in some way to each other, the key is to make a success of the outcome.
    It’s not so much the innate abstract quality of paint that is key but how it can be used to create a personal, distinctive vision, which is the exciting part of the whole process.

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  10. Please let me be clear.I don’t really like where Brancaster have been going.Too much of the work is all-over flat patterned.Has it been wilfully abstruse,reiterating old Art School/St Martins arguments? I went to Birmingham post-graduate ,with Derek SouthallJohn Walker/Patrick Heron/Olitski and Greenberg. Abstract Painting in England has been represented by many lively minds,such as Fred Pollock,Pete Hoida,Alan Gouk,John Bunker,Robin Greenwood,Noella James,Hilde and Mark,Basil Beattie,Tony Smart,Anne Smart,Beverley Hoyland,Sam Cornish ,Matthew Collings,etc. I even think the Galleries have been shameful in their self promotion,so that Ian Davenport has become a modern master ,when he is simply quite deductive,rather than innovative.Sean Scully and the collapse of Blain Southern ,is a fascinating saga. Cant the artists just focus on the Art ,which is where we started?I have given up all thoughts of Sculpture,as Abstract Painting has become a remarkable associative movement,with an unusual freedom of language.I think now is the time,not for spray/ can improvisation,but cross fertilisation/reference and imagination.Id like to reinvent Surrealism,Colour Field Painting etc.I miss both Tony Caro and John Hoyland ,as personal mentors,who will not be forgotten.

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  11. Thank you Robin for your article and the Deal exhibition. Firstly and most importantly, I am a great admirer of your sculpture. It had a huge impression on me when you kindly showed us round round your studio
    I am sure it’s good to tease out what we mean by abstraction and abstract and how working in sculpture or painting may be different. When you say ” can be experienced without reference to interpretations of external images” I assume you mean by your own conscious, rational thought process (?) as it’s my understanding of visual perception that it is all connected to our past stimuli and our mental constructions. Hence nothing experienced is possible in isolation.The same would also then apply to ” this work is wholly from scratch”. I am guessing you would agree that nothing is done in a vacuum? This underlies the subjectivity and overlap of all perception. I recall a concept that challenges the notion of separate categories (of painting) envisioning a line from figuration to abstract, where there are no boundaries but a single continuous subjective line, that is in constant flux. Hence, for me at least, there can be no non referential abstraction, except in the mind of the artist ( or dead shark ?) I believe that I operate in both the abstraction, where I refer to things, and the abstract, where I attempt not to but to trust in the formal elements alone. In the latter, the material is paramount, emphasising the reality of the object.
    Both the sculptor and the painter are dealing with space, one more real and one more imagined. Just because the painter operates in the illusion of space ( by the very nature of visual perception) does not make it any less abstract. Both create new spaces in the mind of the observer; where they go is up to them. The artist simply offers an opportunity to explore.
    If you want a rebuttal of sculpture’s greater current confidence, then I would argue that the reason I paint is the greater ambiguity of illusion, over a real object. It also offers greater imagined dimensions than sculpture can hope for and greater freedom from the space we inhabit.
    That said, as I’ve got older, the more I see connections in everything. I look for integrity and what I term the internal logic of a work…..if it has these I am engaged no matter what the subject, style or nature of the work.

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  12. From what I have read in comments from painters (above), if I have properly understood them, painting, as a consequence of its inherent nature as illusion, will never be wholly ‘abstract’.
    Vision will always recall, As Nigel Moores says: ” …visual perception …is all connected to our past stimuli and our mental constructions…”
    If this is so (I would be interested in further views) painting is NOT in the position of sculpture (now) of attempting the invention of a new type of object which will be called sculpture, but which will DEPART from previous concepts of what sculpture entails.
    There will NOT be a new invented form of something called painting DEPARTING from the known norms, only new variations ?

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    1. That’s pretty much what I said in the essay, It is harder for painting to change how it operates, whereas sculpture has already changed itself dramatically. That is due, in my opinion, to how it can deal with three-dimensionality, in extraordinary new ways…

      But painting has the ability to change too, so let’s not write it off as an agent of renewal in art.

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    2. Yes Tim,I have felt there was no advantage in the last couple of years ,in aiming for some sort of complete Abstraction,which I was hitherto attempting.I feel relaxed about my Paintings veering toward seascape/landscape/moonscape.I am struck everyday at the complete nature of the landscape around me ,pictorially.I have no interest in figuration/or particularly the dogs that are every bodies companion during this pandemic.If anything ,I look forward to Robins show ,as there is a spray can/graffitti=like Abstraction,which I see often,that lacks some qualities of solidity/depth/gravitas I last saw at Luxembourg and Dayan show of Cezannes from the Courtauld.Personally,I feel free to quote Morris Louis,Pollock/Poons etc and the Abstraction from New York,as I feel fits.I don’t find Painting that easy,and at the age of 72 ,can still come up with something unfeeling/unmoving and unpleasant.

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  13. No Robin, visual perception applies to sculpture as well. My point is that nothing is totally abstract, except in the intention of the rational mind of the artist. Once a work is seen by others it is open to interpretation. Humans can only make sense of things by referral to their past stimuli and their own constructs.Things may appear new or radical but have always come from something else or will be seen as connected to something else. The intention is different to the outcome, not least because of the irrational. Music is the most abstract art form.

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  14. Robin – Yes, I posed the last line as a question. I suspected you would not disagree
    I certainly would NOT have the temerity to write painting off !
    Nigel – re music,I will be interested in your reactions to my ‘why ABSTRACT sculpture part 3’ coming up shortly..

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  15. I just cant resist saying ,this ia ALL to do with the world wide political landscape.Up until last year ,when I saw Ken Loach on BBC4 in interview,I felt hopefull.What has happened since has been ,and continues to be SO Awfull,from Farage to this government,that my search for Abstraction has been usurped,by a feeling of complete disgust.My students say I am too political and left wing.Politics and Abstraction go hand in hand,for me/Climate Change etc.These are extraordinary times,old arguments wont wash.

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  16. My feeling about the development of painting now is very different from Patrick’s, but I still like his works like “Moonpull”. I like all the different works in this show – that’s why I picked them – but I think there is a lot to learn for everyone about moving painting forwards (which perhaps Patrick has no interest in, but I have).

    In particular, I think the development of spatiality and partial three-dimensionality needs a lot of thought and effort. The complexity of coherent space(s) in works by Durer or Tintoretto, for example, demonstrate how far there is yet to go for abstract painting. The modernist works Patrick connects to, such as American abstract expressionism, have little new to offer, and I see the work in this show as on the whole more exciting. I do see the attractions of modernism, but I don’t get very interested with all that flattened colour on or near the picture plane, with “space” as a kind of background. I’ve lost the idea that this way of painting is progressive, and compared to the best figurative painting, they are unengaging.

    With regards to the content of abstract painting, and how it is articulated in space, I think the more the better in terms of movement – and vice versa: the more movement in space you can make “real” and believable, without a resort to figuration or illustration, the better and more “developed” is the content. But that is a big ask…

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    1. I think,leaving aside the definition and possibility or not, of pure abstract painting, (or any other visual art form), I agree with Robin’s aim and outline for where painting can go. I say this as I recognise it is exactly what I have been doing for a few years now. Movement in spaces of colour forms. Tim, I look forward to reading your next article.

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    2. Robin
      Back to sculpture please
      The phrase“new complex three dimensionality” is too literal and “complexity with variety” has lost its meaning .
      A sculptural plastic and spatial three dimensionality ( Roger Fry ) goes some way,but luckily, leaves the field wide open for invention.

      Tim
      Sculpture again
      What a sculpture of today does is not literally there. It is not real. It is an illusion or something else that blends its properties and combines from this a new ‘form’ .,but thus far , for just a moment ! , as on moving one’s eye another combination is being built .
      I get what you are saying ,especially the “how the material of sculpture becomes something other than simply what it is literally” This is the start point and is for me, at this moment , a blending of all the elements of abstract sculpture across the space of the sculpture . This I would think of as an illusion .
      If it was real I don’t think one could travel so naturally into another spatial experience as you move about it . And it is a continuum of experience I am looking for , not a conclusion

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  17. Nigel: If there is one thing I understand even less than relational/non-relational, it’s the idea of “pure” abstract painting or sculpture. Can’t imagine anything more boring or less understandable…

    By the way, Tony, I tried to find stuff about “relational/non-relational” painting and only got as far as “relational” being Mondrian and “non-relational” being Barnet Newman. I’m sure that’s not where your thinking is.

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    1. Robin
      Please no more research
      It’s obvious … relational refers to things in relation and non relational to things which are not
      Therefore figurative versus non figurative
      End of
      Love
      Tony
      X
      Happy Easter

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  18. Following what has already been said, two things have occurred to me which may be relevant.

    Firstly the history of ‘modern’ painting (modern- going as far back as you wish to take it), contains a vast number of good, and many supreme, works. These provide a backdrop in which a painter of today can only but revel for example. One is spoilt for choice. Why should one wish to reinvent painting when it can achieve so much ?,
    The history of ‘modern’ sculpture, on the other hand, with a comparatively small number of exceptions, has few such pinnacles of achievement, The sculptor of today has constantly to search for an example of where to direct effort.

    Secondly, it is no accident that what I would describe as the trivialisation of art in our post Duchampian era, chose SCULPTURE (not painting) as the appellation of what it purported to be – the future of visual art after the death of ‘Modernism’.
    The word’ sculpture’ has actually become synonymous in the public’s mind with a form of entertainment, or worse. The sculptor of today, therefore, is faced with the huge dilemma, unlike the painter, of having to persuade through new work, the seriousness and indeed the very necessity of what is being made.

    Tony – I have to quarrel a little with your statement concerning ‘thereness’.
    Of course the EFFECT of any good sculpture is an illusion which surmounts and (hopefully REPLACES the reality of its actual physicality. However, such an illusion is impossible to create successfully unless one has a firm and well considered grasp of the initial REALITY of the assembly of material – anything but illusory.

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    1. Tim,
      I agree to some extent, but I do actually think that abstract painting has the bigger “problem” of development at the moment, because of what you say. OK, so as sculptors making new abstract stuff we may not get much recognition, but at least it is going somewhere decidedly new and, in my opinion, real. “Why should one wish to reinvent painting when it can achieve so much?”, you ask. Well, that’s why – to go somewhere different, invent something new. Better or worse, we don’t know.

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  19. A couple of points if I may:

    As a painter and musician I’m inclined to agree with Nigel about music being the most abstract art form but it’s worth remembering that a large part of Western music conforms to a very well know set of rules/conventions and so has a language that’s understood by its audience and provides the needed points of reference. As soon as those conventions (reasonably regular pulse, tonal centres etc.) are abandoned the composer and performer find themselves in a similar position to the abstract painter/sculptor – often not understood and, at worse, vilified. I’m interested in views on the shared language of visual arts.

    I agree with Robin that we mustn’t right off painting as an agent of renewal – it’s the search for the undiscovered that makes it exciting. I don’t see that its being two dimensional is an issue, as Stravinsky said: “the more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self”. Regarding the illusion of depth, I think that’s an issue for the artist to resolve according to what they’re trying to achieve. For me, if a sense of depth arises from a certain arrangement of colour, line and shape then so be it but I’m not comfortable actively seeking the effect.

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  20. Excellent Tim ! I expressed your first point, to my poor wife, on our walk this afternoon. The second I hadn’t got to but yes, I agree entirely. You put things so well. It’s a good conclusion to the day’s discussion. Unless……? 🙂

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  21. But surely, Robin – the ‘much ‘that painting has achieved is exactly that: “going somewhere different – inventing something new”.Which, of course, doesn’t mean you stop !
    Ric – as I have said to Nigel, I would agree about music and will value your opinions in my forthcoming ‘part 3’..

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  22. Much as I respect the St Martins Sculptors,their seriousness and work,Id like to hear from Noella,Steven Walker/John Pollard etc,re their experience of the Brancasters and enthusiasm for the Deal show.

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    1. Hi Patrick, my experience of the Brancaster discussions of sculpture and painting has been really important and has played a key part in developing my understanding of abstract work.
      It is just one of the best things that has happened in my art ‘career’ for want of a better word.
      I think the Deal show looks very interesting and rich in the sense that there is a lot to experience within individual works, and I really appreciate being part of it.
      There is a coherence to the choice of paintings on show, a certain density and intensity throughout which seems to connect the work in a particular way.

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  23. “There is a coherence to the choice of paintings on show, a certain density and intensity throughout which seems to connect the work in a particular way.” Nicely said, Noela. We will have, I hope, an even more interesting collection when we get the full thirty-odd works together in Deal.

    One response to solving the problems of the inadvertent return of figuration in painting has been the simplifying of work using geometry, flattened frontality, and overpowering colour. My personal thinking in both painting and sculpture is to engage more and more with unprecedented complications of formlessness that appear at first to have no cohesion. This puts you in a place previously untried, and it has to be managed somehow if literalism is to be avoided, but the best answer is to continue to push on into unprepared and uncharted areas. Maybe some works will fail, but this is not the time to fall back into what we know already.

    This is, I admit, walking a tightrope – on the one hand, engaging with complexity for its own sake (at first), which may just fall away into complication; or, on the other hand, using simplification to solve problems of apparent discrepancies – but that offers only banality. So I see this as a really interesting moment in abstract art.

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  24. I will respond to that,as I d like to narrow the discussion.Robin has a great deal to answer for ,as he sent me to the Luxembourg and Dayan show in Saville Row.Opposite was Anthony Gormley at the RA,which I had absolutely no interest in.I went to see the 6 Cezannes,because I had been ,as a student to the Grand Palais in Paris,feeling incredibly at home with a massive retrospective.I thought at 21 ,that the world was going to be full of Art like this,that this was the tip of the iceberg.How wrong I was.Thro circumstance Ive spent the next 20 years in the US,and am familiar with much Abstraction there,not just the Greenbergian.Lets face it ,Abstraction is severely limited here,figuration more interesting,with Bomberg/the Borough group etc.I would just like to state that I have been making a pilgrimage every day over Woodbury Common,the closest I can get to Provence.I have wilfully appropriated Cezanne,to give my pictures a certain density,I have let them hang on the idea of a Landscape.This is quite an admission from a passionate admirer of Hilton,let alone Pollock and Mondrian,and is based on using what I can see everyday in my subconscious image box,colour/form/light.Ive not taken photos of,or drawn nature,but only Paintings,as a record.In other words my Painting activity has outside reference ,based on my surroundings.

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  25. Thank you Robin for your excellent essay. My own doubt makes me reticent to comment but here goes.
    I am interested in working in an initially complex and non relational way. I have an awareness when working which I think is important of always trying to complete the painting which you could say is an overall-ness. This in some way might relate to Heron’s essay on Constable’s drawings and how he linked Constable to Cezanne and Matisse.
    He was wrong about Bomnards drawing and colour incidentally.
    In being aware of this need to complete brings in unintentional methods of applying the paint. Careless, throwaway. Even an opposite response to what your thoughts are telling you at times but not thinking is just as important. These throwaways at some point in the working process become important. In my work they release something on top of them so tend to form a background space. I do not know or have yet worked out how to make these very exciting moments ,for me anyway, stay at the front. I think that is something for me to explore.

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    1. Very Interesting. These ways of opposing ones own inclination is a genuine approach to painting now. I wish I had included some of your wilder work in my choice for the show, but that phase (with the spray paint) seemed to come and go. But I really enjoyed seeing them a lot on Twitter.

      One thing that occurred to me about your work is that it looks as though you complete each piece really quickly, same day, perhaps. That’s how it seems, but I might have that wrong. But I did wonder whether you go back to things after putting them away for a while, and having forgotten the original impetus, you return with fresh new motivations and change the whole way things work… Maybe that’s a way to renew the “exciting moments”?

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      1. Ive been watching and reading this discussion of what makes painting abstract and have come to the conclusion that if i think i’m an abstract painter then i should contribute. My initial reply at the beginning was limited and I avoided saying anything about my own work because i’m not in the exhibition and it seemed cheeky, but here goes, I hope the history here will explain how Ive got to where i am and why. I hope its not too much.

        My work prior to 1989 searched about in abstraction using shapes and visual references with occasional pouring’s. At some point a person looking at my work fancied she saw a certain shape in the work and I realised that I really didn’t want anybody to see things i hadn’t intended, especially not what she thought she saw.

        So from that point on i determined to use the grid. I had been a fan of Mondrian since school and also Barnet-Newman and Rothko. In 1988, (or was it ’89?) i saw Sean Scully’s exhibition at the Whitechapel and that strongly reinforced my commitment to the grid as a truly abstract vehicle.

        I continued to develop that through the 1990’s until i came to a grinding halt in 1998 for personal reasons. My last two paintings that year used both the grid and shapes which had a visual reference to carry specific meaning. Pouring’s had continued to be incorporated throughout, usually as a last stage which served to open the space and act as anarchic cancelations if i felt the work was too pretty.

        There followed a long period working as a graphic designer (which is where my training is) until i could retire from that and return to painting. I had two canvases started in 1998 and I just picked up where i had left off. I had developed a philosophical approach to my work which i felt drew a parallel with the way we live through a series of choices available, decisions made and chance events which we just have to live with and can’t change, (those pouring’s again)

        At the same time i felt there was a parallel with music where the composer constructs his piece by arranging notes and sounds in a certain order to achieve rhythm and harmony (sorry if thats crude, i”m not a musician) As a painter I arrange marks and colour to achieve the same ends. The grid built loosely with tools such as rollers, palette knife, printing, almost anything including the brush, generated a precariously balanced structure which had order yet was also disordered by its variously random elements applied through that series of choices, decisions and chance. Again for me this stood as a metaphor or analogy for our social structure delicately balanced between necessary social order and desirable personal anarchy.

        This continued until 2017 when i started to wonder where i was going. I had found the work of that year very difficult and felt i had come to the end of a series that was 28 years long . I had recently been looking at abstract work in exhibitions which used gestural brushwork and thinner paint. I even found myself liking a couple of de Kooning’s in the American AbEx exhibition at the RA. (I had previously hated de Kooning). Over the winter of 2017-18 I looked at dance as a new vehicle to carry a different kind of work. For me the elements of choice, decision and chance are still there but now it’s overlaid with other ideas, dance as a social activity, the partnership and cooperation involved, the improvisation necessary, the musical elements of rhythm and pace, the flow of movement. Initially I had thought i could incorporate the gestural elements with my usual work given that I have always been aware of and intended a certain rhythm in the movement of vertical elements across the canvas but that has turned out to be quite difficult although i still hope that eventually i can bring the two together in a cohesive way.

        Quite apart from all this I still make abstract collage which recycles scrap coloured paper in that loose grid format and that has sometimes been combined with painting in a series i call “Remains” because it is work constructed from left over materials from the studio.

        So what’s important here? I think it’s in the way the paintings or collages or other work is constructed, the approach, the parallel with the process as a meaningful metaphor for our lives. A museum curator asked me what i was thinking about as i worked and I said that I was just thinking formally, ie about the construction of the work, the choices i had, the decisions i took, the accidents that happen and how i use them or make them happen. All to arrive at a visual solution that works in terms of colour and space. To make something that stands on its own as a painting, not a picture of something but a construction in paint, wood, canvas or anything else i have chosen to add. The thinking about meaning comes between the action, when i can sit and look and reflect on what i have done and what I will do next.

        For me abstract paintings new direction is to carry meaning and relevance without being visually literal. If nothing else it will always function philosophically or as a sort of visual poetry or music, and why not?

        As the Tao says, “We work with being, but non-being is what we use”

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  26. Robin (seriously) – I think I have said this before, but : “…unprecedented complications of formlessness that appear at first to have no cohesion…” sounds pure Dada.
    In other words, it has been tried and not got very far(at any rate in sculpture)
    You, of course, are perfectly entitled to try it again, but I do find the word ‘formlessness’ very worrying. I would be interested to hear how it is to become meaningful form conveying feeling rather than accident.

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    1. Yes, we have been here before. No, Dada was much more dimly focused than what I’m suggesting (seriously). Dada didn’t try anything of the kind. “Formlessness” is a worrying word, and quite rightly, but we should be in a worrying place, rather than a familiar one. See my exchange with Steven. Formlessness can magically turn into new ways of putting things together, given the right approach…

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  27. Your ‘exchange with Steven’ seemed to me very much like what happens in the studio anyway (presumably either painting or sculpture).
    My point was really that ‘magical turns’ have to be made; one cannot rely on them just happening(even if they sometimes do.The “approach” is everything and can’t merely be ‘accident’.

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  28. Hello Robin,
    That’s exactly how i have been working. I will work on a painting for around 90mins. I work rapidly and with a physical effort. Perhaps I like the idea of Matisse’s “impassioned impulse”. I look at what I’ve done, photograph it, and wait until the next day to see if it works. Usually not, so I go again.
    I like Barnett Newman’s quote – “the subject matter of art is chaos”
    For me the magic happens when I work between creation vs destruction, immediacy vs control, chaos vs order, and unconscious vs conscious. I also close my eyes a lot when the paint goes on. Not out of fear or doubt or timidity but for purpose. It always looks ‘better’ when I haven’t meant it.

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    1. That’s rather engaging. Curiously, I find it easier to open up the possibilities of the work in that kind of unpredictable way in sculpture than I do at the moment in painting (I don’t close my eyes, but I do make things upside down etc).

      I’d be interested to hear from other painters how their methodology (or lack of it) relates to the content of their work.

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      1. My methodology varies depending on what is happening in the painting in front of me and whether I need to shift my focus.
        I will look and make decisions on how to proceed but often go off piste.
        If a painting is not working that can be a gift and a chance to do something different, if a painting seems to be working but does not feel totally resolved, that can cause a state of apprehension, any next step can ruin it.
        I am sure everyone goes through similar procedures.
        I haven’t tried shutting my eyes yet though.

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      2. “Lack of methodology” struck a chord with me, Robin. For the last 12 months or so I’ve been utilising the easily recyclable and malleable properties of paper and collage. It always seems to offer a novel way in, and pushes me to try and recognise something of value in things I may otherwise not have arrived at. Working without much of a plan or any kind of routine, and feeling like I could just as easily discard the thing at any moment has felt quite liberating, but more importantly allows me the chance to see potential in visual relationships that start to occur quite early on in the making of the work.

        Of the oil paintings, “Word Go” (pictured above), is something of an anomaly, where I feel I was able to apply that open “methodology” and maintain that heightened attention to visual relationships from very early on in the work. For me it bears the most in common with the way my paper works have developed of late. Thanks for including me in the exhibition. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all comes together, once some semblance of normality is restored. Take care.

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  29. Noela to the point,as always,not sure about the sculptors !Painting is always going to be some sort of flattish object…?how their methodology relates to their content…..?My work begins with making a beautifull stretcher and stretching a serious piece of 18oz over it.It has a size ,shape and proportion determined before any image is in mind,in other words random.The size and shape is related to my studio size and the practicality of working therein.I ACCEPT THE FLAT RECTANGLE,where I havent always,making 5 years work in NY that was eccentric shaped and had 3d bits sticking out[late 80s].I take a deep breath ,soak the canvas ,and let loose without any pre/determined plan.I improvise,using a mixture of fluid and heavy bodied Golden Acrylic.The whole process is a complete fiction,made up on the spot ,without any reference to other Art.That is DAY ONE.Let somebody else have a go,Im off to work,Patrick

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    1. What a fabulous interview, and really great to see some of Patrick’s early work.
      Haven’t read all of it yet but will definitely dip into it again.
      Patrick’s passion and charisma shines through his work and ideas.

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  30. Thank you ,Noella,I really look forward to the Deal show.Robin and John Bunker have always been enormously supportive ,despite our differences.There would be no Abstract Art in the UK without them.I did feel some dissatisfaction with formalism in NY in the late 80s.I shared a studio with Bill Tucker and Lee Tribe and was making eccentric shaped /collaged wall pieces.They were becoming increasingly sculptural ,with steel plate ,metal grill etc and became floor based as they were so heavy.They are all destroyed now,altho I have the photos.Practicality made me return to Painting when I got back to England in the 80s.I sublet David Evisons studio at the Oval and moved in huge amounts of Painting equipment ,including platforms etc.Fortuneatly John Mclean was upstairs ,and we looked at paintings together every day.I miss his delicate sensibility ,which was quite tough as well.I don’t seem to be able to post visual images like you did ,which are more fun than words,Very Best Patrick

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  31. Of course, this ‘development of new abstract painting’ is new to a matter of degree, as there have been examples from the past of complex abstract work (Hoffmann and Jackson Pollock painted some complex work, Alan Gouk and Fred Pollock more recently). What seems to be new is that there are a number of artists who seem to intentionally (whether implicitly or explicitly) aim to make work with a high degree of complex content, rather than it being something that occasionally happens for an artist, along with simpler work. An aspect that these paintings seem to share is that all the area in a work is very actively engaged and meaningful: very little dead, dull, or wasted space, and many engaging, complex and multiple relationships of content.
    Another ‘of course’ is that nothing is original and everything is, in one way, completely original. There is a danger that we end up in an either/or process of rejecting all the past or getting stuck there, repeating well worn tropes.
    Another thing to say on the subject of temporality here is that at some point we will exhaust complex abstract painting in terms of ambitious newness. We will still be able to paint interesting individual work but complexism (I don’t like labels but let’s run with it for a while) will no longer be as interesting to explore as it is now (much like other isms in the past, such as impressionism). For now, complexism is a worthwhile visual concept to consciously explore.
    I would be interested to hear what complexity means to others and whether something like complexity is actually some kind of aim or goal for these painters, or whether it just seems to be mostly ‘what happens’: perhaps some different words better describe their aims and their work?

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    1. How about…

      “In Quantum physics fate is dictated by Chance, Duality, Ambiguity, Entanglement and Complexity. Reality is unknowable’. Heard in an Horizon programme I think.

      Or… “The essence of life lies in complexity”, Michael Moseley. BBC 4

      Im afraid i watch science programmes as well as art, probably more as the BBC shows more science than art.

      I find my work gets complex as a product of the process. It’s deliberate to some extent but knowing where to stop it is the trick, before complexity becomes chaos.

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      1. Interesting John. There is work on complexity in science and social sciences and even trying to connect art and complexity via science which I struggle with in various ways. On the point of ‘complexity becoming chaos’ this can be a problem, although one person’s chaos is another person’s complexity.

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  32. Yes John, I think ‘complexism’ is a goal worth following.
    It could however be a natural inclination (on my part) rather than being a matter of being complex for the sake of it, as a conscious concept.
    By working and reworking, complexity and a certain amount of control, is now a way for me to strive to come to a resolution in my paintings.
    I enjoy the depth of complexity, but it’s not so good when it becomes complicated, (something which has often been mentioned) .

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    1. I’m not sure complicated is something I often see when a work that perhaps strives for complexity doesn’t work. Perhaps muddled, or incoherent, might be better. Does ‘complicated’ have to be a negative?

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      1. Probably muddled and incoherent are better words to describe a painting that doesn’t work. ‘Complicated’ feels like it could be the other end of the ‘complexity’ wedge, but maybe it isn’t.

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      2. I can see why complicated might not be good but I take complicated as meaning difficult and I think some of the best paintings are initially ‘difficult’ to see and judge properly and take some time to appreciate.

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      3. Hello. I’ve arrived very late to the discussion, sorry. Is incoherence negative? Not to me. I think there is surprising value in it. And in ambivalence. I wouldn’t think of ‘complicated’ as ‘negative’. The idea for me is that complexity is necessary as is discord to harmony and so on – polarities being part of a vital whole. I can’t favour one over the other.

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  33. If you see complicated as meaning difficult that gives it a very different emphasis.
    Paintings that have a slow burn and reveal themselves through concerted looking, that aren’t muddled or just plain messy, can be incredibly rewarding given time.
    However, is something that is muddled, incoherent and a little messy, a better bet than something provisional, simple and neat?

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    1. I’m now thinking of Gary Wragg’s work. A surprising number of painters have told me they think his work is ‘messy’ and they really want to get him to do the right thing. How tedious. I have argued till I am blue in the face about this. What he manages to do is very exciting and really requires the ‘concerted looking’ you write about.

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  34. That’s an interesting question Robin.
    I looked at all the images and it seems that the abstract paintings here have the capacity to sometimes look 3D with recession and depth and then flatten out and become surface orientated depending on my imagination.
    It’s almost as if one can move in and out of a 3D visual experience, depending on what one is looking for, a kind of trick of the mind.
    Do you think that 3D could be part of the abstract painting cannon?

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    1. If it isn’t, it’s a poor show.

      But I’m very interested in your response. It might be said that three-dimensions in painting is an illusion, which is fine by me. The question is, why would one NOT want three-dimensions in painting? And to what degree would one want it?

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  35. Next question (not just for Noela). To what degree is three-dimensionality in abstract painting a return to figuration?

    (I ask this question, and the previous ones, because I don’t know the answers, so it’s not a test.)

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    1. This is an important question. I come back to two different ideas on what abstract art is. 1. no discernible content that refers to specific subjects outside of the work (e.g. it doesn’t look like a landscape or portrait). 2. Abstract space as contrasted to figurative space (‘objects’ in front and behind each other, some kind of natural perspective, etc). I’m more bothered about definition 1. than 2. but I recognise 2. is relevant as well. Others will have a different view and agenda.

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      1. Hi John, if figurative space is about objects in front or behind each other, or perspective, how would you describe abstract space?

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    2. Three-dimensionality in abstract painting being a return to figuration might be an idea used to orient ourselves somehow? Or there’s an inevitability to that conclusion because we can never shed our histories in some kind of special lonely painter’s vacuum?

      Each time we try to negate something – so, ‘no three-dimensionality is not a return to figuration in abstract painting’ – we have called up figuration. Then we need to take our case to court with the kind of tidy explanation our culture demands. Jasper John’s did a bit of that taking an idea to court with Greenberg. But every time we try to ‘break free’ we create a dilemma – the old boss has made her presence known. A big problem is the idea of the new, which seeks to rebel and break free but will always fail in that it exists because of this dual friction. All the ghosts are present, alive and kicking.

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  36. This is of course,the most interesting question for Abstract Painting ,at the moment.To answer it,you have to understand Abstractions history,If you buy that it started with Cezanne,thro Cubism to Russia.When hitler closed the Bauhaus,emigres moved to England but mainly the US ,to start Ab/Ex.Thats where I cant help referring to TASTE.Because I recognise my predeliction for Hans Hoffmanns more dramatic adventures like “Walpurgis Night”.I had to learn a great deal ,coming from my background in the SW,in the 50s,as I hope my interview makes clear.Otherwise I would have had to look at Hockney,Bacon and Freud,and wouldnt have become an artist!Britain has not only not followed my direction,but has continually belittled my interest in Abstraction ,in wave after wave of Academy and Tate shows.The only person who has been consistently supportive is Robin,continually and without wavering.However I hope this isnt a show in Deal ,which reflects an emerging style.As Groucho Marx mentioned,”I wouldnt want to join a club who would have me as a member”.To answer John Pollards question,I would be happy with the simplest,most elegant picture going ,and now will try and paint one.When Robin asks this question,it makes me think of the Mantegnas at Hampton Court /The Courtauld etc.I would like to reflect the magnificent qualities of Titian,just may have to go backwards to go forward.I found a piece of paper in my studio which said”You dont look at a beautifull bunch of bluebells and say”What does it mean”?I am not a philosopher,or indeed intellectual,I am a Painter ,and have to allow myself to reinvent new solutions to the pictures problems each day.Still doesnt even start to answer Robins question.

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  37. I don’t think you have to join a club to recognise some shared ideas, judgements, etc. Brancaster Chronicles are events; it’s not a group, at least in my mind.
    Patrick, you said earlier on this forum in relation to the chronicles that “too much of the work is all-over flat patterned.” I don’t see this at all. Much of it has very complex space but, to my eyes, not at all ‘flat’.

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  38. Thank you John,I don’t have the energy to argue.Abcrit is in danger ,as is the Brancasters of being about semantics.Extreme seriousness of purpose doesn’t guarantee hitting the nail on the head.I am talking about visual communication and excitement ,not some sort of buddy group.What Robins question is saying to me relates to my earlier thought about geometry.I am now accepting that I freeform every picture.Rather than giving me license,that puts me under enormous pressure to be critical in a Greenbegian sense and pictorially adventurous in a Paul Klee /Arshile Gorky sense.A double bind and extremely uncomfortable position.There may be a bit more tolerance for Abstraction than there used to be,it may even become groovy,but the problem still remains.I don’t know how you make your living ,but I hope you realise this is a national problem of perception.Ive spent four hours throwing out applications for funding ,based on misunderstanding , ignorance and lack of visual awareness or interest.I wonder how film makers or musicians fare,but feel Painting is the main cultural guide of an emerging and engrossing society.

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  39. Trying to answer Robins question,without giving the game away.I use a very basic system of choices,to do with depth .The main one is colour ,where I adjust the hues,continually .The second is tone ,which I try not to rely on,but creates depth thro light and dark,straight away.The only other ingredient is surface,stain or impasto/method of application.The last is drawing in paint ,which I use very sparingly.I am trying to be spare and elegant,use very little material.Thats where it all goes wrong /pictorial struggle/battle for something worth looking at.My only other thought is how much I enjoy Matisses Fauve pictures,like Collioure/on Twitter!Seurat/Cezanne,monet look better and better.My magical Sevon landscape on my way to work.Im living in a visual heaven/no museums available.

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  40. There is an unstated bug in this question,would I like to step in and renounce the whole of Modernism ,as a bit of a waste of time?Firstly let me just remind you how dreary English Art was in the 50s,when I started college.The main action was a grey world of unappealing naked bodies ,to be measured and redrawn over and over again.This conservatism continues to this day in the post modernism that Matt hints at in his interview.He cannot believe my lack of cynicism. My last visit to the Tate Modern to see the Frankenthalers remain in my memory as an over-crowded,poorly chosen ,irrelevance,These new curators had managed to reduce the level of visual excitement to almost zero.Having got rid of Modernism ,Tate Modern has become a tower of Babel.What I got from Caro/Greenberg/Hoyland was a colourful ,exciting ,evolving artistic adventure.,where each artist had the opportunity to achieve something lasting,if they had the courage .Abstract Painting has done this,in remarkable ways.This has remained the brunt of my teaching ever since.I may not at this moment in time want to redo Malevich,or use geometry. I still find succour in Louis and Frankenthaler.My repost to John Pollard is re.the awful political/curatorial landscape we have had to survive in the UK,with Hockney,Freud ,Bacon and the occasional cross dressing potter!.Abstraction\colour field Painting remains my life blood,but I even find using green refreshing ,as it was for so long looking backward to refer to landscape painting.I am now trying to constantly subvert/allow my own taste,produce pictures Ive never seen before.I am really looking forward to seeing this show,because I hope it it will be a VISUAL feast.

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    1. I hope so too, but let’s not get our expectations too high. Let’s keep with the idea that abstract art has to move forward. We may not be doing that, but it’s worth trying. I certainly don’t want to go backwards to some of the very boring abstractions I recall from the sixties and early seventies, many of which we disagree about. Let’s continue to agree about those Cezannes we saw in Luxembourg and Dayan; and I will continue to try to persuade you to look at Durer and Tintoretto for real inspiration of complex abstract-ness, with a powerful relationship to genuine abstract art.

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  41. Robin – You define some of the elements of a picture such as the Durer you illustrate as “abstract-ness”.
    Would Durer have understood you ? I suspect he would have merely said something to the effect that he was dramatising the subjects of his picture by exaggeration and emphasis and illustrational theatricality in the drawing.
    So, is ‘abstract-ness’ therefore simply a ‘modern’ take on what artists have always done anyway; i.e. exaggerate, emphasise, dramatise, shorten, lengthen, disguise, distort, select unusual viewpoints etc., etc., etc. ?

    I happen to agree with you on (let us say) the ‘abstract’ vision of say, Pousssin; but the question remains does it not ?

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    1. Well, apart from not speaking German, I would not have understood him either, but he is amongst the many painters who try to get the most out of their content in a semi-three-dimensional way that I’m hooked on. I don’t see Durer (or Tintoretto, or Poussin, or many others) as being defined as an artist who uses “illustrational theatricality”, but that’s your choice.

      Modern artists, including the ones you have brought attention to on your essays on Abcrit, both painters and sculptors, tend NOT to use three-dimensionality in the way that I favour, but instead tend towards flatness, frontality and two-dimensions.

      “exaggerate, emphasise, dramatise, shorten, lengthen, disguise, distort, select unusual viewpoints, etc.” are all ok with me, but they can only be fully brought into the equation as “extras” by the use of complex (semi-) three-dimensionality in the spontaneous construction of the work. Artists have certainly NOT “always done” that.

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  42. Robin,I certainly do see what you mean about Hofmann,but that doesnt stop me from enjoying them enormously.Ive really liked a couple of Pissarro on Twitter.At the moment,for better or worse,Im working from Louis and Frankenthaler ,as it suits me as an artist to have o be quick ,and sensitive.I have communication with these means ,which I am gratefull for and cant take for granted.Many of the Brancaster painters are using what looks like a writhing bowl full of snakes in a basket.Steven is a good example,half of which I love and half dislike immensely,and I cant say why.I thought I liked the more tonal ones best….Altho we/ve only met once ,Im assuming we have sufficient friendship ,not to be bothered by my criticism.Noella I have enormous respect for ,but occasionally find them too all-over etc etc.This discussion ,Im looking forward to, in the flesh,between compatriots and friends,when the whole thing is hung.Im very happy for you to go on about what constitutes Real Abstraction,as Im learning something from you here.Just not sure what you see in using oil paint ,which altho authentic looking ,is also a bit dull colour/wise…..

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  43. Robin – Durer (to my knowledge) like most Renaissance artists was deeply concerned with the effort to create a three dimensional illusion on a flat surface (perspective etc.)
    Those factors I mentioned are not ‘extras’; they are some of the ‘means’.to doing just that.
    I’m not sure that “complex semi three dimensionality” (though I know what you mean), would have been Durer’s description of his aims ?

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  44. As a matter of fact, when I was in Germany, I lived just down the road from Albrecht (no. 10, AD Strasse). I used to stop occasionally, on my way to the Akademie (the oldest art school in Germany founded in his honour), to have a chat. Unfortunately, in those days there was no Abcrit, otherwise I would have asked him to write a line or two.

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  45. Hi Patrick, yes my work has been likened to ‘crabs in a bucket ‘ before.
    I acknowledge that ‘overallness’ is a way of resolving a painting and I feel there is a clear connection to music with this way of working (to my mind) in the sense that it can create a visually sonic ‘wall of sound’.
    There are numerous styles of abstract painting (as well as figurative, of course) , overallness and fluid pooling included, but the point is more whether the outcome has a coherent resolution don’t you think?

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    1. Dear Noela,Thanks for responding .That was precisely my thought,that the all overness acheived pictorial unity a bit early .Maybe I felt this could be acheived another way,but I would hesitate to say how,without seeing the real work.Im looking forward immensely to seeing all the paintings together.Hopefully Lockdown will get us fired up for a debate in the gallery.It would be great to have some sort of a checklist of ingredients for Contemporary Abstract Painting .That would include how pictorial unity is acheived,colour ,tonality,depth,illusion?Still not comfortable with that,Best Patrick

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      1. I am wondering what you mean when you say the overall ness ‘achieved pictorial unity a bit early’ Patrick. I sort of understand what you mean, but I am not sure. An interesting concept though.

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  46. Noela,I immediately felt ,upon seeing your picture that the over-all ness confirmed pictorial unity too quickly ,and at the expense of something else.Of course this is instinctive ,but it hit me like an express train.Ive sent you two ,much longer replies ,but wordpress binned them ,so here is the simple answer.

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  47. Noel,Thought you deserved a longer answer ,altho a bit concerned about more discussion of mechanics of Abstract Painting.Pollock of course used all-overness to stunning effect,so it is not in itself ,a barrier to achievement.However briefly Ill say tension ,and resolving conflicting impulses brought on by high key colour contrasts ,and their tonal arrangement ,is absolutely central to our practise,mine and yours.I can only surmise on whether that all-overness of the crabs in a basket ,is the best way forward for you.?I love the image that Robin has posted in the introduction to this article.Very Best Patrick

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  48. Ah thanks Patrick, I thought you were referring to the painting in the intro, ‘crabs in a bucket ‘ was a reference to a painting I had shown in last year’s B. Chronicles.
    Still not absolutely clear but I shall leave it at that.

    [Congratulations Noela on the 100th comment – you started it too! Robin]

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  49. Ill keep this short,as brevity is always a good idea.Id like to hear more from Robin about his choices for the show ,based on his concept of Abstraction,which Im still not sure I understand ,let alone agree with .To try and get some others involved ,Ill say I find many of the images online too busy for my taste.Id prefer something much simpler,with an emotional ingredient ,which Ill call poetry.

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    1. If you read the essay again you will see that I make an important distinction between what is “abstraction” and what is “abstract”. It may be a rather silly distinction for someone like yourself who uses either word to describe anything and everything, but it does make the point that, in my definite opinion, the paintings in this show attempt something different to earlier work called “abstraction”.

      There are, of course, variations in the approaches I chose, including your own work. I like it a lot, but I think yours is a borderline case in point – the case being for paintings that look at complexity and semi-three-dimensionality as ways to address the wholeness of the canvas’s surface without known-about references to two-dimensional design. Some of the work here deals with these conditions (not necessarily to be defined as non-figurative – I think that issue is a “red herring”) very spontaneously, in non-frontal, non-geometric ways that open up a complexity of spaces (how about John Bunker’s work?). And although these works might carry with them aspects of both abstraction and figuration together when dealing with these new ways of activating content, we should keep turning things around to see how they develop. What I personally think should be avoided is using the means of figuration in two-dimensions.

      The fact that you are there, Patrick, working away from the more familiar position of previous abstract expressionism etc. is actually interesting and helpful. And, of course, you might be right…

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      1. Robin,Its late so its not a full answer.I just read Gillian Wises obituary.Artists don’t always fit into society/or social existence.In order to answer your question,Im going to have to replay why I chose Painting over Sculpture as a student.Id actually invested quite a lot on Sculpture ,making a 9ft square floor piece out of steel and canvas,which was about not being able to reach the middle.I found a biography of David Smith in the library ,and thats what made it clear to me ,I had to be an artist.It was to do with his character.I remember deliberately choosing Painting because of its mysteriousness,its allusion,its magical properties to invoke a state of dreaming,which was a central part of my personality,but socially unacceptable.I was always being told to wake up,whereas I was in a dream state.Rothkos sunsets had a richness of experience I cannot forget.I am doing what I am doing now out of necessity,not so much choice.I am very limited in terms of the large work ,Id love to do.I am keen to keep Paint at a minimum ,to save studio costs.I just make the best canvas I can that will fit in my barn,and then wing it.Keeping ones finger on the trigger is the problem ,and I might ,as Noela stated, go off-piste.But ,as Tim has stated ,Painting has such an extraordinary history of achievement ,its how to carry this forward.Its a daily activity under some pressure,but Illusion or complexity won’t help.Simplicity ,inspiration,luck and courage might .3 dimensionality,not illusion ,is something Ill take from Cezanne ,but also my extraordinary East Devon landscape.That is my daily experience now,I don’t need to paint it from nature,its in my blood.

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  50. Robin,Ill have one more go and desist.Not because I want to criticise anyone else,far from it.Or hear the sound of my own voice,as I get plenty of exercise with my classes.No its because I find it so difficult to get to the centre of our discussion.Thats why I referred to a reluctance to carry on discussing Abstract Paintings internal mechanics.That is the means that we use,and Greenberg and I discussed this a great deal.The word content occasionally comes up.Maybe that is the remnants of figuration,where pictures had titles of what was depicted.I use titles reluctantly and metaphorically .Yesterday I spent 3 hours in total silence ,changing colours in minute amounts.By the time I left ,I felt the Painting had become a lot more itself.That means I might be able to leave it be ,and it can join the thousands of others I have in store.There was very little expressionism of any sort,altho I was,like I am here and now,trying to be more eloquent.I somehow think we keep talking about the wrong thing.To refer to my own post above about why I chose Painting over sculpture two words are missing ,richness and romanticism.Of course Im delighted to be in this show,but am very far from Steven Walkers violent attack,or John Bunkers removal of the rectangle.In conclusion,altho Id love to fall over sculptures by you all,I honestly haven’t got a clue what you are talking about.Tim hinted at ,and you mentioned African/other cultures sculptures .The idea of the crates being broken open on Paris streets ,revealing Dogon wood carving of mythical figures from their cosmology ,in the straw crates,fills me with excitement and wonder.That is closer to what Im doing ,and I AM right.With respect.

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  51. From some kind of start it was clear to me that there is massive value in that which makes me bristle like a hedgehog in defense. I even work in disagreement with myself. I have conversations with painters who say they don’t like someone’s work. It’s too much. What? It’s too much. They want to be pleased and do nothing? And I’m back to Art & Language and Terry Atkinson’s idea about abstraction becoming an illustration of itself. He has a point. There is a flaccid and tepid mountain of abstract art about. Give me difficult. Harmony is saccharin without discord. This ruling out of one for the other makes no sense to me at all. When it comes to work I don’t really feel I belong anywhere and am in no tribe I can sit comfortably in. Not even in my own as I have warring parties within.

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  52. Lovely Eddie,I hope we become firm friends.I particularly liked your comments about the warring tribes within.As for the flaccid Abstraction ,I hope Im not contributing to that,but its everywhere.I would be very interested to hear about your process ,where you work,how long for ,do you get up in the middle of the night to make a correction?I promise the snide remarks about spray paint are a thing of the past.I thought Steven Walker was very good about his attack,altho Im not sure about the ups and downs in quality,there has to be an editing process.Also seen some new things by him look really interesting.It will be good to be able to stand in front of a real Painting ,rather than a computer image.Maybe Robin can show us how to load images on abcrit @wordpress for more comparison? Very Best Patrick

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    1. Thank you Patrick. I would very much like to become firm friends (with no flaccid abstraction in sight). I wouldn’t think you contribute to that, no. I am laughing because spray paint has come up again. Of course you will receive a can of the stuff every Christmas from me and I expect smiles and jollity all round. Btw my name is EC. Eddie is just for the Facebook as they insist I cannot be EC. I’ve been scolded by certain art world types for using my initials. Anyone would think we’re in banking.

      Yes, the ‘warring tribes within’ thought is important to me. I really find a lot of value in incoherence, contradiction and opposition. I think that conflict is necessary to something more vital and whole and I need that friction to make my work. I am also really interested in the ‘category of the ugly’ (as Adorno wrote about), notions of good taste (no thanks) and finding value in visual decisions I make that I might have perhaps once dismissed as a big mistake. I like it when I hit the bum notes and have to move with it… I also quite deliberately encourage this chaos or imbalance… The whole work has changed with the smallest of moves and it asks me, what next? So it’s not correction; it’s moving with the ‘error’. (Yes, I do go into the studio late at night at times. I’ve got out of bed to work in the night too as my studio is in my flat). Thinking about the idea of going against one’s own ‘taste’ (that word makes me spiky) I create a bit of horror for myself. If it ain’t broke I break it and don’t fix it. I push the painting over the tipping point till it becomes an entirely different entity. I build paintings out of these paintings. They flow into one another but also cause these episodes within the whole. It’s the opposition of flow and the episodic that interests me too. It’s not always been like that. I’d say in the last six years I have pushed against certain visual ideas that I was maybe too comfortable with – habits and assertions. “Girl Gone Bad” was an important painting for me in that I really dislike it. I find it hard to look at. So I value it more than the work I ‘like’ or feel somehow I recognise more. It challenged me in that it looked like a stranger in the studio, and it got rid of any silly idea that I thought I might know what I am doing. I don’t think this is very popular with people as an idea because we are expected to be completely on it with a narrative about our work. For me it all gets a bit too much like one has to be a defence lawyer and before you know it you’ve lost the richer ‘picture’ and learning. It’s nearly 1am and I could go on and on really. There is a lot to say. I could even go into the studio for some mistakes but I must sleep. I need to return to this thread as I have not managed to read all the comments yet and it’s really interesting and I feel I learn from you all. I’m really grateful to Robin for inviting me and bringing us together to ‘talk’ on line. Best, EC

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  53. Hi Eddie, it’s good to read your responses.
    It is a fine line deciding what works in a painting and how it is achieved and whether it matters if something doesn’t work.
    Can good results be fugitive and lose impact, can an ‘incoherent’ painting develop resonance after sustained viewing?
    Is it more to do with knowledge and understanding on behalf of the viewer rather than intrinsic qualities in a work of art?

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    1. Hello Noela. Thank you. I need to catch up with the whole thread. I’ve not managed every single comment yet but will do tmw. I hope we eventually get to meet.

      What you have written has prompted me to think of Gary Wragg again – that ‘resonance after sustained viewing’ you mention. It’s during viewing his work that different visual energies will come in and out of view and I am pulled into focused pockets and then thrown out again and I find myself losing my own balance to something that often holds itself together and fragments and collapses simultaneously. A fantastic sense of lack of unity in some of the works that I find so exciting and risky. He can pull it off. I don’t know many who can right now (or would even want to?).

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  54. Dear EC,I don’t seem to have your initial mentioning of Gary Wragg,when you say again.However I do think your concepts of difficult,unresolved etc begs the question,isn’t that a form of taste,whether you like it or not?I am finding Lockdown challenging ,as there is no possibility of an end result ,which is audience reaction,or interaction.I would agree with John Hoyland that I am not Painting in order to please other people .However we do seem to be moving to an era where the audience or viewer are less and less passive.I have so many extremely differing reactions,its almost as tho theres a different response from each person,for reasons beyond my control,like education ,age ,cultural background etc.Propensity to chaos isn’t one of them.I do feel tension within my pictures,which often seem to have contradictory ideas flowing through them.In fact Duality has been my subject for some time.However ,I do find making judgements about finish,ending involvement with a work ,difficult.I often return to the same picture years later,trying to get the idea clearer.I have a portrait of my 8 year old daughter I started from an image before she was actually born,a scan.However she developed such a feisty nature,Ive had to return over and over again to try to capture her character.There is no nose or eyes,the image in my mind is Abstract .It ended of with a feeling of an early Jackson Pollock,like Full Fathom Five.

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    1. Hello Patrick. Lovely to hear about your daughter and the work. Thank you. I mentioned GW earlier on in the thread in response to questions about complexity. I don’t think you had commented there. I’ll go and check.

      I don’t think taste comes into it. Not if I am to do what I need to do to find things out through working. I think the decisions I make are very much free from taste. I also go against my own ‘tastes’ when they creep in like bad habits and seem to want to assert themselves. I’m thinking about that word perhaps in a different way to you? In any case I’ve typed it too many times for my own….um, taste. I think it carries too much baggage with it to do with middle class notions of taste, good taste, the decorative and myopic, limiting ideas about beauty.

      Yes duality has been a thread in my work too for about 28 yrs…well, ‘always’, but I became more conscious of it then and wanted to explore it. I wrote my dissertation on “Duality and the act of Expression” as an eager youth. Although now I am not sure how anyone could claim their work didn’t handle duality in some way….?….I mean, even in the negation of something you are oddly calling it up into existence. Duality is life itself.

      I’m sorry you’re suffering during this lockdown. I’m fearful for the winter in London. Lockdown has got to me here too and to my work. I think like me you live with your studio space right there – ? Some painters are expressing how much they think they’ve progressed with their work being made in the domestic setting. They want to give up their expensive London studios and move to somewhere with a spare room or a shed. I think the idea of the studio is somewhat fetishised. I find that my little domestic room informs my work – I see it as a triangular relationship. Maybe I’d be lost elsewhere and just take up a corner. Ha. I think it was Duchamp who said “concentrated spaces make for great concentration”. Hmm, I better check that source. In any case it does ring true to me.

      More soon. Lunch now. Take care. EC

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      1. Enough already! Just check a major gallery sent me something worth watching.Its called The Plow and the Song by Arshile Gorky.Its Hauser and Wirth and its worth watching the film of his family and life.Very few artists deserve their success and altho he didn’t get it during his life,he should act as an inspiration to us all.Best Patrick

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  55. For some reason the reply function was not functioning so I’ll put my comment at the end. It was meant to go just after Noela James Bewry wrote re complexity –
    Who here has read Gail Levin’s Krasner biography? Everyone should. You can go on YouTube and get a condensed version as an intro if you look up ‘Gail Levin, Lee Krasner lectures’. I bring it up partly because Patrick Jones mentioning Gorky reminded me of LK and I began to think about the Krasner show at the Barbican last year. I’m prompted to recall her early work as an example of where complexity rocks…to use common parlance. I can also report that all the painters I have spoken to (so far) love her later work and too many painters have told me they think her early work is too ‘busy’ and ‘ugly’. Whatever does that mean? Seriously. I found the earlier ‘ugly’ work the most interesting and compelling. If ‘ugly’ is a word that can be applied to these works then I am all up for ugliness. The earlier work in it’s strangeness, complexity, density and idiosyncratic nature is what got me fizzing. Equally I admit her later work might easily be taken for granted if not really looked at (I’m thinking of the work downstairs in the Barbican that she made after Mr Krasner’s and her mother’s deaths). And especially taken for granted given the nonsense we’ve been taught about her. Curious to know what others think.

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    1. Hi EC I agree with you about Lee Krasner’s early work,I really like it, especially ‘Shattered Light’ and ‘Shellflower’, as well as the decorative 50’s style compositions she painted in the late 40’s.
      The complexity in the work is very enticing.

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      1. Hello Noela. Thanks. You are the only one who agrees with me so far. Except for Sam Cornish. We had a brief chat about it. Yes, very exciting work I thought. Hope you are well and safe

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  56. Now we’ve been going through this plague trauma, will there be some shifts eg from the bombastic to making work on the kitchen table?… Like so many forced to give up their studios for now are being forced to do…My thoughts turn to the Brazilian/Italian artist Mira Schendl who had a show at Tate a few years back…she worked on her her kitchen table. She also left Italy to escape the Nazis I believe. This rambling might seem disconnected but I’m thinking about trauma and society and what artists are doing now and are going to be doing. And galleries. This isn’t a little hitch or a minor thing. We all feel this event. Unless we are so split from not only our fellows but from our own internal worlds and conflicts (complexity). So this leads me to be thinking of chaos and complexity in systems – tipping points. The virus has tipped us into chaos and thrown a spanner in the works of a system. Visually speaking, the possible idea of complexity as anything negative or a matter of taste is 1.to disregard complexity in nature and 2.to disavow complexity in our own natures, no? For it to be some kind of ‘bad move’ is a strange matter to me. So naturally the suggestion that simplicity is more poetic or more whatever than complexity makes no sense to me. I really can’t stand the divorcing…it’s a visual equivalent to “Descartes’ error” – Splitting = Hierarchies. Human’s have complex interpenetrating senses that feed one another. To separate and announce one as more valid to ‘express’ is weird. How can one be ascribed any kind of superiority when it exists because of and in cooperation with the other? So, back to complexity in painting – I think there is a flood of ‘simplicity’ or the ‘essential’ in painting that unfortunately is not simplicity nor the essential but some kind of mannerism…an illustration – a product made for collectors and made for shows for collectors curated by critics who write passports for the work to pass. There’s a catalogue essay justifying everything and coming out with cliche after cliche. Fortunately I think Robin’s ideas and writing have thrown up more questions and need for thought than these shopping brochures. Oh and there is also a deluge of ‘clear thinking’ that is more akin to denial of complexity. Rant over.

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  57. OK EC,I think something is missing in the translation.Robin has mentioned my spending time with Greenberg and Frankenthaler cropping pictures.He said ,the mind boggles,but Im afraid there is a great deal of lack of understanding in that remark,but also several by Matt Dennis on Loveland.I am offering this to you as the antithesis of this complexity bullshit.I went to New York,because several of my childhood friends were on the navy ship hit by exocets,in the Falkland war.I remember clearly a photo of Clem,Helen ,Lee and Jackson at Eddie Condons restaurant.I went to find it.I read Art and Culture over and over again to understand Clems beef about flatness and depth.What I encountered was a wonderful,Jewish intellectual,who was past his prime but came from a way of thinking and feeling about Art ,which was not only classy,but deeply informed.I mention his ethnicity because this was the antithesis of any thinking Id experienced before,in 50s England.It was cultured,urbane ,and visually orientated in a way my experience in the U.K.could never have prepared me for.In the UK.Id spent time with the Surrealists,John Lyle and Ken Smith,but that was to do with writing not Painting.I cycled to Pollocks house with my son,I had lunch with Mercedes Matter ,who lived across from the Pollock house.I did the homework.I and my parents drove up to David Smiths Farm at Bolton Landing,because I was moved by his independent personality,not his 3 dimensionality.Jock Ireland thinks we should be pleased to still be interested in Culture ,where the US under Trump has long forgotten the struggle for a constant reinvigoration.I don’t think we should be complacent or smug.We are in a constitutional crisis,and I have inherited my family hatred of fascism.We are constantly under attack on things we should take for granted,like civilisation.You do your punk thing ,but Im fighting for decency.I love truth above all and beauty goes with that.With Respect Patrick

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    1. Hello Patrick. Thank you for this. My last two comments were not directed at you specifically. I’m sorry if it seems that way and I reiterate my note in the first comment that it’s all gone a bit glitchy on WP. I keep getting an error message and taken to a blank page. My comments will only ‘reply’ to you here. The last two comments were initially meant to go under the part of the thread relating to complexity and the question of negative associations as I hear it raised by many painter friends who seem obsessed with refuting it’s validity.
      In any case, now that you mention truth…if I follow that logic…then as the truth is sometimes quite complex and layered it follows that complexity is both part of truth and therefore beauty. But that’s me joining in with a way of couching it all in a certain language. In other words we need to think about limiting ideas of what beauty is (if we’re even interested in these arguments). I think that as complexity is part of nature and our own natures then there is no need to split it off as a bad move in painting because it is too prescriptive and, I think, nonsensical an idea. I was addressing these thoughts to a wider group of artists really and ‘putting it out there’ for all rather than any kind of attack. I was also reflecting on my own thoughts regarding systems thrown into chaos and tipping points which is part of nature (and I find this is in my work)…and started to think of the arrival of the virus…the chaos in the system…linking for example to Gleick’s book “Chaos”. There is ‘truth and beauty’ to complexity – to put it in the terms you mention.

      Oh and I ‘do my punk thing’? – I don’t understand this statement. Best, EC

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  58. Hello Patrick. Thank you. You have a lot of interesting stories to tell! Perhaps there’s a book in this?

    I’m not sure if this will even post now due to glitches – My last two comments were not directed at you alone. I keep getting an error message and taken to a blank page when I want to comment elsewhere. My comments will only appear if I ‘reply’ to you for some reason.

    But now that you mention truth and beauty…if I follow that logic…then as the truth is sometimes quite complex and layered it follows that complexity is both truth and therefore beauty. But that’s me joining in with a way of couching it all in a certain language. As I made clear I think that as complexity is part of nature and our own natures there is no need to split it off as a bad move. I was also reflecting on my own thoughts regarding systems thrown into chaos and tipping points which are part of nature (and I find this is important to my work)…and started to think of the arrival of the virus…the chaos in the system…linking, for example, to Gleick’s book “Chaos”. There is ‘truth and beauty’ to complexity – to put it in the terms you mention. It’s not bull.

    Oh and I ‘do my punk thing’? – I don’t understand this statement. Help! Best wishes, EC

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  59. Hi EC.None of this is personal.Im just trying to give some perspective.If you can imagine,my parents sat down to listen to the Archers ,because we didn’t have a tele.I hitchhiked to London ,because I thought there was a Shepherds Bush?Going to New York ,Greenberg etc.was just part of my self education.What irks me is that we are still under the thumb of the Tories,who feel they are the elite.Until the day I die ,I will not give up or give in.All my students are urging me to do Instagram ,so I can be liked .Then I can be picked up by a big gallery… they don’t seem to realise Ive been at this a long time.Im lucky enough to have a studio .Its idyllic.Apart from that Im just doing my best with what Ive got .I don’t expect any miracles.I could list a very long list of individuals I have spent time with ,who believed in the Power of Art to transform our existence.All power to you and the Chaos theory.

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    1. Hello Patrick. Hope you are well.
      “You do your punk thing ,but Im fighting for decency.I love truth above all and beauty goes with that.” I think telling me to do my punk thing whilst you fight for truth is….um, well, I don’t understand what you mean by it. And I am trying to understand why I am punk and why it is set up against fighting for decency in that sentence. Please help me understand what you mean – ?

      I don’t favour chaos or complexity but I do think it is necessary to my work. I like to move around polarities. This can sometimes give the impression of incoherence. “Can’t get a handle on that work” etc. Another bad thing to do apparently but I do not agree.

      Yes, the Tories…I don’t think Boo For Boris Day will be enough. Gestures are our ‘thing’ now it would seem – ? I am wondering if people are so tired of having to negotiate their own private worlds that the anger will sink and it will be back to apathy just for an ‘easy life’? I’m having conversations with people in London who really believe that the Tories are incompetent. Like friendly clowns who just got it a bit wrong. I try to point out some facts but I am met with a kind of ‘I just want to go to Lidls and sort out my bbq’ quality of feeling. This then leaves me reeling even more. They have facilitated the suffering and death of the elderly and vulnerable and I have a sick feeling in my stomach daily.

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  60. Dear EC,Please don’t take offence at “your punk thing”.Without wishing myself in any deeper the only people I really know in this group are Robin,Noela and John Bunker.I do consider John a bit punk ,because of his vertical hair style.Its a long time since my hair would stand up like that,as it has receded like the sea at low tide.Ive met Steven Walker,whose work I like a lot.I was slightly critical of his outpouring ,however brave ,as inevitably, I liked some more than others.At this rate Ill get punched on the nose at the preview.I hope social distancing is available in Deal! No Im fading away into the sunset in Budleigh Salterton.I caught the tale end of a Henry Rollins concert,in his underpants, and had to turn the tele down.I did see Frank Zappa pushed off the stage in the 70s.So my question is ,what music do you listen to ,that mirrors your Painting interest? Ed Dugmore,Clifford Stills protege, took me to see Theolonious Monk at the Five Spot.Ill save the rest for the book.Respect Patrick

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    1. Hello everyone,
      in the post today I received two outstanding catalogues. One was Robin‘s; Thank you Robin. It really was a delight looking at your work again, this time on paper. Seeing it in the flesh last March was really important for me. Outstanding!
      Im still hopeful there will be some Brancaster events to take part in this year.
      The other catalogue was Sam Cornish’s two volumes of work by Gary Wragg. “The Constant Within the Change” Really inspired looking at this. Changes everything actually. Fantastic. I thank EC for inspiring me to look a bit deeper into Gary’s work.
      Patrick, I apologise, it’s taken ages, to respond. I’m really busy at home like most people I’m sure, and I’m grasping at a couple of hours here and there in the studio, but I am thinking of you and I’m writing you quite a long response mainly due to reading your Loveland article, which struck so many chords with me. Please bear with.
      Very Dark times, Some light though via my reading.
      I did enjoy seeing John Pollard’s ambitious beginnings today online.

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      1. Steven Walker hello. I’m so happy you have got to know Gary Wragg’s work a bit more. I struggled initially but then was really excited as well as annoyed at myself for being such a bore. I make it my mission to tell as many people about him as possible! Ha! Have had arguments with painters about his work. I don’t think they’re looking. Not for long enough. And perhaps only on line?

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  61. Dear Steven,Great to here from you.I do see your posts on Instagram and particularly like your new big gouaches.I too got Robins book,which I thought was really classy and surprisingly catholic taste in the writing and music section.I thought the sculptures were terrific.Ill have to admit I dont do oil paint ,which lots of people seem to love,finding the surface dull and slightly repellent,despite the noble intentions of the artist.Even Alan Gouks recent offerings on Facebook seem to be too similar in handlling across the surface.I know it comes from Hofmann,but I have always used acrylic.As for what we are trying to acheive ,and how to go about it,abcrit is the only forum available for Painters to get together.Noellas comments on Lee Krasner appeared on my phone,but not on my mac.Instant Loveland has its own agenda.I did see a Ken Burns film on the future of Jazz on PBS America last night .There was some great shots of Miles Davis and this quote struck a chord.Jazz may be dying today,but sure enough a young musician will step onstage ,with the courage to do his/her own thing ,with the talents available.At that point the music will leap forward in a direction nobody would have thought possible.Maybe thats You!Best Patrick

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  62. A little explanation is probably a good idea here.

    In February/March I had printed TWO small catalogues. The larger one of the two was for myself, with illustrations of my own work and writing. The slightly smaller booklet was for the show at Linden Hall Studio, to be published at the opening of the “Making Painting Abstract” on 4th April, as is printed above here on Abcrit.

    Both booklets were printed, but neither got sent out, for obvious reasons. The personal booklet was intended to include an invitation to all and sundry to my studio to look at recent work. This is the one that is mentioned by Patrick and Steven. I sent it out a week or so ago because there seemed little point in holding on to it. Some of the work in it is out of date. No matter. I still am unable to invite personal visits to my studio just yet, but there is plenty of new work to look at, once things are opened up…

    The Linden Hall Studio show has still not got a timetable, but I hope it will happen (despite problems regarding an opening) in a couple of months – perhaps the beginning of August? The gallery is going to have a small-scale trial open period soon to “test the water”, and if all goes well with their public, the “Making Painting Abstract” show will be their first proper exhibition back in action.

    The catalogue for that show will be made available when I can change the date printed on it!

    Meanwhile, if anyone wants a copy of the other catalogue, let me know: robingreenwood2@gmail.com

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  63. Marvellous,Robin and Im sure we all appreciate what extraordinary times we are living through.Its so important to be able to chat to other artists ,on a regular and informal basis.To a certain extent its the community thats so important .Life is hard,and just got harder,but we can adapt.Id love the online catalogue of the Linden Hall show.Some great stuff about the technology and looking at a bloody screen all day ,instead of at a Painting ,by John Bunker at Instant Loveland .We have to decide what we want ,going forward.Best Patrick

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  64. Patrick, hello again. I’ve got a lockdown haystack look for the hair. The music I love? From Keith Jarrett to a heap of jazz (including Monk)…Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report are some of my main loves. If I had to name a favourite band like a kid made to name a favourite colour, then it would be Weather Report – with Jaco. I was classically trained on the piano and by the age of twelve could play many of Chopin’s mazurkas and waltzes. I’ve lost much of that fluid ability due to life having thrown many a diversion but I did manage to get myself a piano. I sold my bed and some paintings to get it at the time. I have much of my original sheet music and if ever I move to somewhere I am allowed to make some noise then I shall be back! I could not play as much as I would have liked as I had to leave home or be put into care at 16. It took me until I was in my mid twenties to be able to improvise on the piano. It took years of processing learned material and digesting it, metabolising it and making it part of me I think. This is relevant to how I think about my work in some ways, regarding visions and revisions. Perhaps also the idea of the relational and non relational…all the learned material from classical training on the piano had to be ‘let go of’ in order for me to improvise instinctively, I think learned visual material and that which is absorbed unconsciously is also internalised and made one’s own in some way… ’made anew’ (as Robin Greenwood puts it in his excellent catalogue essay. I’ll get to that later) through instinctive, unconscious revisions as well as more conscious decisions. So I would say I made learned material ‘my own’ when I finally ‘let loose’ on the old Joanna. John Dewey writes about the ‘organisation of energies’ (visual) in “Art and Experience”, a book I read over twenty years ago, and I like to expand that sentence to the ‘reorganisation of learned energies’ as well. I’ve just been reading Robin’s essay in the great catalogue he very kindly sent me. The timing is perfect. Paragraph four of “Recent writing, from an essay on Ribera:Art of Violence at the Dulwich Picture Gallery; and Mantegna & Bellini at the National Gallery” published on abcrit, September 2018, struck me as relevant to my own thoughts, ”I felt both with Mantega and Ribera a potent link with art now, if we could but unlock that connection a little better. Both these painters make art of such compelling human content that it challenges many things we might assume about the making of abstract art and the scaled-down narrative of its backstory – except, that is, it’s necessity to be made anew. If we assume that abstract art is different from, and has no need of relations and comparisons with, the greatness of past figurative art, we diminish the possibilities and close down the options of what, in our own present-day context, we are capable of re-inventing as essentially human” – Robin Greenwood. OK so I know it’s shaky ground to discuss painting and music. There’s a heap of theory not held in common. But from the point of view of ‘reinvention’ and the ‘essentially human’ I don’t think it’s too weird to continue with analogies or metaphors. I discovered Keith Jarrett aged 16 when I moved into a house full of much older musicians. Many of them gigged at Ronnie Scott’s or the Borderline or were in well known bands….and jazz players and pop people and rock types would all visit. I’ve got some stories but I think perhaps they’re a bit too much for here. Let’s just say I was out of the frying pan and into the fire. The living room had a record collection built up of all the tenants music. I’d spend hours going through it all and became the living room dj. I remember Dill Katz (jazz bassist) saying to me he wanted to stay to listen to my selections. (One thing that did annoy me was the assumption that I was not a musician myself. You can’t be 16 and female and know your pentatonic from your elbow. Not then anyway. Now we are allowed to play football and everything. Minus the dosh). Well, I’d sort out the vinyl and sit at the table and fill notebooks with drawings of the musos. Often quite funny and maybe a bit insulting if one was feeling particularly handsome and cool. I found Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert on an old homemade cassette in that pile of music. I was smitten. Immediately there you can hear KJ’s classical training. He has made it ‘anew’ and it’s there later on in his various solo improv concerts or playing with other jazz musicians.

    Even in the rejection of history in art or music we show our awareness of it and what we owe to it. So even that idea is something opened up by past forms. I’ve already repeated myself enough times about calling something up by negating it. I’ve not said the word ‘complexity’ yet and feel it’s time I uttered it – I noticed the title of one of Robin’s works “Complexities and Clarifications” 2019, steel h97cm. Fantastic! Thank you X EC

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  65. Probably shouldn’t do this,but its a grey day and the studio has become a lonely place.Basically Ive done a Painting Im pleased with,which doesn’t happen very often.I use my students for feedback ,as they come over and have a look ,and we are used to each others perspectives.But now ,nobody is allowed out ,and everybody is terrified of the second wave of virus,understandably.So Ive realised ,I really need an audience for feedback,discussion,conversation ,dissent.Its become part of my Art.Altho Ive been in total lockdown for 7 weeks,and that has allowed complete concentration ,its time to get the work out and the people in.The question is When are the artists public ever going to feel comfortable in a studio /gallery again?Of course I can follow social distancing ,my wife makes masks ,but is it going to be the same ever again.Im very tempted to tie my work to social,climate ,government change ,rather than the more neutral objective looking ,please share /advise/discuss

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      1. I would like to take you up on this Robin, Ive seen Patricks and Richard Wards essays now, i just need to get down to writing but having said thatl i’m now committed to it if you will accept my efforts

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    1. I understand what you mean Patrick, ive been stuck at home for a while just doing small collages and gouaches and not much of those either. I haven’t been to my studio for a month (it feels longer) as i don’t have and can’t afford stretchers to start something new right now. Maybe next month. I was lucky enough to get an exhibition done and dusted in February-March just before we got locked down and now i’m working on Open Studios for Cookham and Maidenhead artists in September but we dont really know whether it will be allowed or wise so just hoping. I haven’t done this Artists Support Pledge thing either because its seemed cheeky for me who hasn’t yet lost any income, my pension keeps rolling in and my casual job has kept paying me for now although I might be up for furloughing soon. I must admit i could do with a sale or two so i can buy those stretchers and get on with the work in my head.
      I see your work on Twitter and give it a like when i can but I agree we probably need a format where we can put up an image of recent work and take comment and discussion. I don’t know if thats really what this site is meant for. I don’t think you should tie your work to specific issues unless you really want to go away from abstract painting which, while it can carry ideas, can be very difficult if not impossible for the public or art critics to read what you really mean.

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  66. Thank you for your comments.I really wasn’t looking for sympathy.I love Lockdown.Its just like my normal life ,if anything more concentrated.I was trying to make the point that Abstract Painting really needs its audience to complete the circle.All those critiques with Caro and Greenberg at Triangle,all the Brancasters,all the studio visits Ive made to Freidl Dzubas,etc have now become public property.Everyones an artist,everyone is sensitive,everybody accepts everything.The art world was so small in the 50s,there were like 5 decent galleries in London and 10 in NY .Now they are opening and closing by the minute,which doesn’t mean being an artist is any easier.Im sure from conversations with Terry Frost,Roger Hilton would walk into a gallery ,and if it didn’t come up to his COBRA sensibilities ,he’d shout “Rubbish” and walk out.He had standards ,and god help those who didn’t come up to them.There was a reason for a red square next to a black square.You look on Instagram now and cringe ,there is so much TERRIBLE ABSTRACT PAINTING !And its all dribble,complicated ,overpainted and chaotic.Its a house style.Im for beauty and truth.

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    1. Basically anyone can make a abstract painting. As someone pointed out it’s easy if you do not know what you are doing but hard if you do. I like you comment that back in the day there were few Artists and they all knew each other. Judging by Instagram now everyone is a Artist. Looking at my feed I am amazed at the endless crap that passes by. I am struck by how it all looks the same regardless of where the person is on the planet! They make a few horrible things and think cool I am a Artist ha ha.

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  67. As a abstract painter I am constantly thinking about and trying to redefine what Abstraction is. No offense but the work I see displayed in this post appear to my eye as a pastiche of past styles like gestural abstraction with the obligatory drips and splatters. They are however done well, with a good deal of sensitivity to the materials and tools used. I think the perceived limitations I see in the work have do with the tools of painting and mark making. For example a brush makes brush marks. It’s like the old saying if you are a hammer everything is a nail. All mediums have their limitations and a skilled Artist learns how to works within those limitations and use them to their advantage. I have chosen to work in the digital medium as a means of pushing abstract painting forward and exploring the new possibilities this medium opens up.

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  68. Just letting you all know I ve been tested in hospital and havent got the bug.Therefore Im going back to my old habits of visiting peoples studios, if they will have me .I ll do a couple of weekend Open studios in Devon,where I am quite comfortable.I hope all museums will open etc.and watch out for closures/restrictions /which cant be lifted.Dont forget we have had to fight to get this far .I dont want it all taken away /nobody caring about art ,except the artists.

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