This is the first exhibition in the newly-extended abcrit.org gallery, showing paintings by EC.
Exhibition opens Sunday 5th June 2022, until Sunday 3rd July.
Visit by prior appointment. Text your name and requested date and time to 07866 583629, for return.
13 Bell Yard Mews
175 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3UW
The entrance to Bell Yard Mews is opposite White Cube in Bermondsey Street.
Block K is at the rear of the mews: the gallery is on the 1st floor, no lift.
This is the eighth exhibition of abcrit.org
This work does not conduct itself with grand gestures. The best of these paintings make themselves felt intuitively and structurally by measures quite human. They progress carefully, in challenging jumps and starts. They are full of free and varied thought, without self-importance, working towards new and distinct states of abstract reality.
An essay by EC on the development of her work appears at the end of this post, after the photos. Replies and comments on the essay and the work can be made on the “comments” section.
Untitled, 2022, 30x30cm
“PUNK JAZZ”, 2022, 90x75cm
“Gazing Ground (Like My Brain’s Got Teeth and it Won’t Let Go)”, 2014-22, 35x35cm
“Yellow Swing Yellow Swing”, 2018-22, 31x21cm
“It Takes Patience to Make a Disaster”, 2018, 51x41cm
“Submit, Contest (The Unfamiliar)”, 2021, 61x61cm
“Straddle”, 2019-22, 41x31cm
“Sanity Project (Radical Will)”, 2021-22, 77x61cm
“Your Exquisite Manners (Frankly)”, 2019, 40x50cm
“Unforbidden Pleasure Seeker”, 2019-21, 30x30cm
“Schismism II”, 2021, 77x61cm
“Matter Clatter”, 2015-22, 103x77cm
“Only Pack The Essentials (ANIMAL)”, 2019, 40x50cm
“Container Spill (Leave it With Me)”, 2020-22, 50x40cm
Untitled, 2022, 30x30cm
“PUNK JAZZ”, 2022, 90x75cm
“Bad Move”, 2022, 100x100cm
“Severed/Linger”, 2019-22, 50x40cm
“The Signalman”, 2021-22, 30x30cm
“Bias Interrupter”, 2022, 122x91cm
“All Trajectories are Unstable”, 2017-22, 80x60cm
“On Moving Ground (Are You Sitting Uncomfortably? Then Let Me Begin)”, 2017-22, 100x70cm
“Think What You Like but Just Because it isn’t Nice it Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Care”, 2022, 90x75cm
“Yellow Swing Yellow Swing”, 2018-22, 31x25cm
“Swelter”, “2019-21, 40x30cm
“Schismism II”, 2021, 77x61cm’
“Gazing Ground (Like My Brain’s Got Teeth and it Won’t Let Go)”, 2014-2022
“Vertigo”, 2022, 90x70cm
“It Takes Patience to Make a Disaster”, 2018, 51x41cm
“Strange Attractors”, 2014-22, 90x75cm
ABCRIT.ORG – STRANGE ATTRACTORS
An essay by EC
What’s with the title of the show and titling of the work? I’ve met painters who claim terrific allergies to language. Titling of work can even be problematic for them. I don’t think I’d prescribe titles as necessary though. I only mean to say that if one of the reasons for not titling one’s work is because people fear it will define it too concretely then that is a bit bonkers. Language can have its own ambiguity. Titling a painting does not have to be a bureaucratic act. Has everyone forgotten about playfulness, ambiguity and the openness of experience itself? – which language can reflect. There seems to be real terror, for example, of a title being an authoritarian statement that shuts experience of the work down and limits it. But that someone might obey language as ossified, rather than recognise its potential for the ambivalent and not strictly definable, is odd (to me). There are bifurcations. It’s not a set of instructions on how to make a pork pie.
In his review of the show https://fineartruminations.com/ Geoff Hands picks up on references in my titles, such as ‘PUNK JAZZ’ (2022). He’s clearly a fan of Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report, like me. It’s good when this happens but it’s not urgent or necessary to experience the work. Perhaps people can pick up on the ‘jazz’ or the ‘punk’ aspects of my work without the title. What’s great is he got the clue regarding that kind of seemingly chaotic, ‘full on’ improv I find parallels with in how I work. It’s not unusual or special, I know. As someone who was trained classically on the piano and then found it hard to improvise initially, I find parallels with ideas about learned forms (visual) and the reorganisation of learned material to that point of ‘letting go’, of improvisation and of instinct. It’s not all one big accident. Decisions are made when things are flowing fast. They’re not dumb decisions just because of their speed. There’s learning behind them. Like (jazz) improv is not a bunch of noise.
The making of the work involves something combinatorial. Just because it doesn’t fall under the category of conceptual painting doesn’t mean there are no ideas and it just stands there, vapid. In my case, I think it is partly that intuition, instinct and the qualitative give life to what one can later conceptualise or put down into writing about the work – reflection. As the neurologist Antonio Damasio pointed out in Descartes’ Error, emotion informs the rational. The psychopath walks past an accident and gets blood on their shoes. They are annoyed their shoes are stained. They remain unmoved by the accident. Emotion allows a rational response to the accident. The shoes are not where it’s at! I think sometimes the way language can be used regarding painting is a bit psychopathic. So the experience is in no way enriched or nothing is ‘expressed’ in any meaningful way. I also think it’s like trying to argue with a lawyer for the other side – there’s no real interest in the complex ‘truth’; only an interest in proving the case for their client. In other words it is the defence of a narrative. There is no digging, no wish to acknowledge that it’s not that linear or not simply binary.
Where are we at? Postmodernism has happened, conceptual art has happened, Feminism has happened. It’s not possible for me to make my work without thinking about stuff I know has happened. It’s with me in the studio. Sontag’s “Radical Will” appearing in a painting is not an accident. I didn’t just need the visual punctuation fairly central to the painting. It could have been some text from the Avon catalogue. Clearly that would not be the same thing. I had that book sitting on my studio desk for quite a while. I found this hardback copy in the Mind charity shop near Highgate Woods many years ago. The jacket was in a state and was “waiting for me” to use it. It was an instinctive move to put it there in the painting but that really quick decision to reach for it then wasn’t empty. There was a backstory; an interest in Sontag, and the words on their own did feel connected to what I wanted to “say” – that making abstract painting now seems to be an act of “radical will”, if it’s not to be something of comfort and sugary beauty that denies tension and complexity. The act of will is also to get to the studio when life is hard. I won’t go into my past and how it affects me but I think many artists know trauma and their work as somehow being a thing on the side of life and against the dead stuff that can’t be changed. When one is swallowed up by that stuff it can feel really radical to concentrate on this painting in front of you. To summon up the energy for it. Because it is so demanding. And then no one else might even care.
The playful mind will play. I think that there are books one reads in one’s life and experiences one has that cross pollinate with the work. Too often I hear from my contemporaries that text related to the work worries them; that it is some kind of trap. I do think there can be writing that is “padding out” something or just painfully bureaucratic or like an A-Z (we don’t have to swallow it though). Do we all feel familiar with that kind of passport text? (to get something through a door?). But I’m talking about language being used to enrich or play with. It’s not always about aboutness. We are allowed to experiment with red herrings, humour, metaphor, deliberate conflicts, error and on it goes. Why not? I am a visual artist but that doesn’t mean I don’t read and have lots of things I am interested in about the world and other human’s minds. I’d go mad (more mad) and get very bored if my work was an act of “self” (indulgent) expression. Often I find something will come up from the sediment of my mind, like a bit of a book I read, and I’ll see a spark of lively connection and cross pollination occur with the visual work. Cognition, experience, life – it’s combinatorial. There might be a leap involved but there is a moment of connection in which one sees threads. Like layers of meaning that come up. It’s time to read some books on neuroscience. And we don’t need to keep it apart as a subject from, say randomly, Jungian thinking (even though some of the bosses might want us to). Being interested in language is not to say I transcribe anything. I don’t. It’s much more nuanced and complicated than that and happening all at the same time. This feeling contributed to the title “Vertigo” as one can totally feel a bit too much is going on all at once (not only visually). As Adam Phillps puts it (when not talking about painting but I find it rather fits) – “… It’s as though one is discovering that there is a process going on that is a continual process of revision – that we haven’t got visions, we’ve got revisions – and that it has a momentum to it that is rather frightening. One would like there to be forms of closure, or formulation, or authenticity – things about one might reflect, whereas one is actually finding the whole thing is moving quite quickly – if you can bear the vertigo.” — Adam Phillips in conversation with Chris Bucklow
Experience is too often described with a Cartesian kind of splitting which then seems to bring about hierarchical structures, thus denying the cross pollinating nature of it all. It’s not like ideas of all sorts (including visual ones) don’t fire one another up in a big sparky soup one looks at, as various ingredients pop up or sink. The task is to even reach it for a moment. We barely grasp something as it slips off somewhere like it’s poking fun at us. There’s a lot of visual and other info for me to handle at once. And it is working visually that teaches me this but also the reading that teaches the visual in all sorts of ways and from unexpected sources. Will some abstract artists wince at that?
“The Culture Industry” (as Adorno wrote about) and the complex things surrounding that; for women in “mass culture” but also for the continuous need for a victory over the old tyranny only to create a new bossy monster (regardless of gender I mean) has a lot to answer for re this hierarchical or splitting nonsense. My way or the highway attitudes. It’s the idea of these hierarchical and often rigid structures that frustrates me. To have a shift to the new, one has to have something to shift against. So the reason something new exists is owed to the old. In its negation and dismissal it makes itself entirely present in the new. I’m stating the obvious. I think it’s those disagreements – that friction with something – that enables me to voice my thoughts more clearly to myself and get on with it. Perhaps I’ve gone off on a tangent. Maybe I’m being a bit contrary by writing about language. But it is part of it – and a neglected part, I think. And there’s a (visual/making) parallel in my work – Put a little simplistically; I use the old to make the new – painted material (whole canvases) broken up and reorganised.
So, back to the fear of the defining text that negates all the sparky magical links between “subjects”; all the lenses one can look at a work through. I won’t be scared to mention (that means I’m scared) that I thought of a psychoanalytic idea to do with transitional space (D.W Winnicott) when thinking about a finished painting. I didn’t make the painting to transcribe a notion that started in language about transitional space though. But that doesn’t mean it’s not “in there”. Reflection is a thing. If we talk about what a painting gives to us (especially re complexity being good and simplicity being done with) then we have to also think about what we give to the work. It stands to reason that if I’ve spent over 20 yrs reading about, for example, psychoanalytic theory and part of that being in an analysis (practice not theory), then I will see metaphor there, or whatever surprises pop up during the weird and wonderful subjective experience of life and of connections popping up in one’s mind. It does not define my painting as being “about” a psychoanalytical idea at all. It means that because of an experience and some kind of learning, that I “give” that to the painting and that it gives it to me. Another human might not respond to their or my work that way. I can handle it without going into meltdown. I only need to call my shrink again if everyone insists titles, texts are all defining and run away from words while simultaneously wanting to argue (with words and everything) and discuss their work…a lot! It’s surely something qualitative about that writing that is problematic, rather than all writing, all titles. I think that’s down to the writer’s imagination. Some dentists are rubbish and will ruin your teeth. So find a good one.
Wait, I sound like a lawyer for the defence.
Some people fall apart when ambiguity is in the room. I (should) hate to say it, but even concepts “transcribed” into material (not how I work) can have an element of mystery or paradox and be vulnerable with their very “aboutness”. In fact the more defended the position the more it seems to be vulnerable. The artist might not want to admit to it though because it might shatter something that really might be a defence against being “all too human”. I really recommend reading the chapter “Semblance and Expression” in “Aesthetic Theory” by Theodor Adorno regarding this and ideas about expression in that chapter. Also whilst you’re at it the chapter “The Category of The Ugly”. Go Adorno! (Painters, don’t panic! Birds can’t read about ornithology. We can read. Aesthetic Theory is a great book). To me it’s a shame that the word “expression” has become so overused for “self expression” and a kind of therapy art that won’t look outwards. It becomes like luxuriating in self soup.
In late 1987 a book came out by James Gleik, simply titled “Chaos”. Everyone was buzzing about chaos theory and fractals and Lorenz, and I was seriously interested in the early 90’s (when I first became aware of it’s publication) because I was studying natural form – visually but inevitably not only visually – from macrocosm to microcosm and the golden section and maths in nature (and on it seemed to go with all the branching off into linked avenues of research). I was 18 and very excited to be at University on a fine art foundation course to get me onto my degree. Having left home at 16 with the choice of leaving or going into care I was unable to do my A-levels at that time. What was great was the realisation that our library had the world in it. When I went to the business part of the uni to check out the library I realised how seriously lucky I was to have access to all these things about life in one place. I had stacks of photocopies of photos of shells I started to make from those books and my own photos of lichen and moss and tons of typed out research that led to architecture and maths and superstition about maths and the cultures it thrived in whilst we were still counting sheep by twisting bits of twine together or whatever. It seemed to not end. I found Gombrich’s “Art as Illusion” and got excitedly annoyed (apart from the rest, where were the women?), I was thrilled by Rudolph Arnheim’s “Visual Thinking”, John Dewey’s “Art as Experience”, books on perception and the eye and brain – It was a rich seam of stuff and it wasn’t anti play, it wasn’t at odds with making at all. I had to find my way about things as it was a bit overwhelming. I’m still trying.
“Strange Attractors” is the title I gave the show and it comes from one of the paintings by that name. It seemed to fit for many reasons but I first came across the phrase when reading about chaos theory in the 90’s: “Two points on the attractor that are near each other at one time will be arbitrarily far apart at later times. The only restriction is that the state of system remain on the attractor. Strange attractors are also unique in that they never close on themselves — the motion of the system never repeats (non-periodic). The motion we are describing on these strange attractors is what we mean by chaotic behaviour.”
So, strange attractors – The term relates to blips in the system. Like the rhythm of a dripping tap seeming so stable, the strange attractor is there – chaos is present. I thought of it as a painting title because complexity in paintings is often referred to as “chaos”. But chaos and complexity are different things, speaking visually I mean (I’m pretty sure I had a conversation with John Bunker in which he said this or did he write about it…?). I think the title “Strange Attractors” says something about the visual relationships between the paintings and can be taken as just that but I also like the idea of the work and the hang being “non periodic” – those “jumps” in the uneven hang. The idea that opposition leads to life is a “strange attraction” in itself. There are more connections – make of it what you will.
It’s been great to get the work into abcrit.org and look at it all in a way that simply is not possible for me in the studio. My studio is quite small, although it felt palatial when I moved in, having previously been working for years in the box room of my basement flat. Also the light is incredible in the attic studio because of the huge windows. Another big change was some money to buy something other than household paints and using only old dried up odds and ends. So I could play more.
I’ve heard and read some thoughts from others regarding the show. Two words that came up are “conflicted” and “unsettling”. I’m grateful this was picked up on. It isn’t an accident. It’s not me who is unable to decide what to do. It’s quite related to my concerns. Anyone who has read my writing before will know I think that vitality, liveliness – life itself, has within it conflict. It is that conflict that makes something integral. Opposites are connected on a common axis. Talking about the visual differences, push and pull, the unsettled, schisms and leaps within my work, it is a conscious pursuit that has come about slowly, through a deep discontent with “good” abstract painting. What is it? It’s become a commodity in a shop; an illustration of itself. (I think my friend Peter Suchin told me that Terry Atkinson described abstraction as having become an “illustration” of itself. I’d agree. That doesn’t mean just give up though – not to me. It’s part of the challenge).
I sometimes think of my work as visually being on cusps of collapse into “chaos”. Those decisions of how far to push it over and the visual anchors, rhythms etc that hold the eye. In my interest in the ugly and the beautiful I often treat colour quite crudely, not always mixing but using it directly from the tube. The mixing that does go on happens mainly on the canvas as if it is a palette itself. It’s to a lesser extent that I use empty pots I’ve got around me or a palette for mixing colour (with the work in this show). The fragments themselves and their juxtapositions become a kind of mixing when I really get going with dense areas of “too much information”.
I’m actually a big fan of (visual) incoherence and things falling apart. I find it exposes me to the possibility of things I might not otherwise find. This might cause the show – any show of my work – to appear too incoherent or jumpy for some. I think sometimes people think the splits and imbalances, the unsettled nature of the work, is because I can’t do the other. As if I’m desperately trying to bring the painting to a pleasing wholeness. I’m not. I think wholeness, as I’ve said, accepts conflict as inherent within it. I actually work hard to upset a “pleasing whole” painting. They might start off with a simple beauty and I have to then set to work.
With the hanging of the work at abcrit.org, I found that there were more visual relationships between the works than I at first could fathom in the smaller studio. So it really has been a great space to learn in too. I’m still thinking about it.
Recently I was chatting with someone online about Francis Davison. I only discovered him in about 2014 I think via an artist friend. So I only ever saw the work in print or on websites. Walking into the show at Redfern in 2017, I was able to get a handle on the qualitative aspects of the work that looking at photos denies us. I felt like I was looking at, experiencing paintings. “Collage” seemed like a scientific term (or quantitative). I bring up Davison because people often say I am a collage artist and I don’t get it. It’s the case with my work that I am painting. Jannis Kounellis is an artist I really admire. A friend of mine who met him told me (I’m paraphrasing) that he considers his ‘installations’ to be painting and I get it. I’m just saying that our categories can be off. Bad language again. So these works of mine are all paintings. Or as Robin Greenwood once said “constructed paintings”.
Another comment relayed to me is that it’s interesting that there are few brush marks in my work. My battered brushes are testament to how much I use them. It’s how I use them that gives this feeling. There are so many layers in a work that I might work on for a long time (sometimes years, returning to it on and off) until I get to a point where I break them up and assimilate them into a new work. This naturally cuts off brush marks and creates a new kind of “mark” that is both inherent to the fragment but also the fragment itself acts as a mark once used.
With “Bias Interruptor” I laid down some watered down acrylics with a brush (can’t use much oil because the studio windows don’t open. I limit myself to straight out of the tube oil or a bit of liquin. I’m too scared to use linseed oil in what I call “the tomato shed” as it gets boiling in there) and kept working until I had what looked like a nice enough abstract painting. That’s where the work gets going. I need to push it over or find something more exciting to me. The brush marks in much of the work get really broken up by my ripping or cutting paintings up. Essentially these fragments become new ways of making marks and I arrange them on the (under)painting. I’ll often work with really different paintings so there is quite a contrast in handling, for example. Or, as with “Bias Interruptor”, I’ll peel off the sides of another canvas (see the long black and white ‘lines’) and use those (this is also drawing in painting I think). Everything is in motion yet often the flow is interrupted by the act of tearing or cutting and it being cannibalised by another work. I don’t know which painting will enter another – So with “Bias Interruptor” as an example, the first few layers were painted onto the canvas and then I looked around for what would work from other paintings. The ‘finished’ paintings themselves are quite densely layered and arduously built up but the decisions to break them up and move them about on the new painted canvas might involve relatively quick intuitive moves. Often this means risking breaking up a good painting to make something new of it. So as with “Bias Interruptor”, there is the clear underpainting that really flows and then the rhythms of the torn other works being assimilated into it and over it. Then again I disturb that surface with more painting as you can see with the ultramarine paint daubs on the top. I look for a long time but then the action itself is pretty quick, rhythmic and I never feel I know quite where I will land until it’s too late. So for me there is this visual idea about flow and the episodic (John Dewey discusses this at length in his book “Art as Experience”). It’s like a contradiction between the flow of the decisions and visual rhythms with the elements put in there and their inherent “bittines” creating episodes, but then a new flow is generated from that. I think this reflects something about aliveness, vitality – opposition. Just like harmony doesn’t exist without dissonance. I mean it would just be sweet syrup. We need the (visual) tension. If we do. I can reject that too? I often think I’ve made really ugly work and wonder if I’ve got a painting there. “Vertigo” for me is the painting that taught me the most and I sort of wonder how I did it because it reached a stage of such calamity I wasn’t sure if it would turn to mud. It’s rare to just about make it happen like that. Easy solutions are everywhere and it kind of hurts to know I could take them up but it’s rewarding “in the end”, if not also a bit lonely.
A whole lot of words. Go look.
I hope you can go and see my show at abrcit.org and look at the work in real life. Robin and Sarah have worked so hard on creating one of the most beautiful spaces around. I’m seriously honoured to be able to see my work there.