Author: Robin Greenwood

abstract sculptor

#98. Harry Hay writes on “The Cringe” and Australia’s Peculiar Relationship to Abstract Art

“Would you Pay $1.3m for this?”, Herald, 17th Dec, 1973.

Heavy, with the Weight of History

On the 27th March 2018, I contributed a comment to a long and smouldering debate on Abcrit, following the publication of Alan Gouk’s tremendous Key Paintings of the 20th Century: Part 2. The comment read as follows:

I’m in no way suggesting that we are yet to see an abstract painting. I’m saying that there is no appetite for that as an un-compromised artistic pursuit in our current prevailing culture. Rather paradoxically, we have a situation where there are more “abstract painters” than ever before, but just as so many of these painters are capable of pulling off some rather good paintings, many are just as capable of drawing a smiley face into one of them the very next day. This is because there doesn’t seem to be any sense that a critically engaged audience is watching. Casualism is to a great extent born out of a perception that no one actually cares. This is very different to the climate that gave oxygen to the painters in your survey, Alan [Gouk], and from what I can gather, quite different to the critically engaged times you yourself came up in, able as you were to exchange ideas and have your work seen by the likes of Greenberg and Fried. The tide may already have been turning then, but it is at its lowest ebb now. The fact that we have to resort to google to try and find new or interesting artists is a massive indictment on how far things have fallen, and how isolated we all are.

Actually, I made this comment on the 28th of March, because Australia is about eight or nine hours ahead of England, despite the general lament that we are ten to fifteen years behind in regards to everything else. Australia is no stranger to isolation. The illusive Southern Continent, that last piece of the imperial puzzle, a vast and sporadically populated landmass surrounded by endless sea. This is a place people were sent to so they would disappear. As Robert Hughes wrote in the Fatal Shore:

… transportation got rid of the dissenter without making a hero of him on the scaffold. He slipped off the map into a distant limbo, where his voice fell dead at his feet. There was nothing for his ideas to engage, if he were an intellectual; no machines to break or ricks to burn, if a labourer. He could preach sedition to the thieves and cockatoos, or to the wind. Nobody would care.

Eerily familiar. Barbarism aside, the most significant difference today, as I see it, is the repeated assurance that our voices matter and will be heard. The world has shrunk, so they say, and we’re all supposedly much more connected, and yet it feels as if we’re all just shouting over the top of each other, silencing ourselves in the process, creating a new breed of repression. In colonial Australia, repression was the local currency. We have always felt like this, and it contributes to the manifestation of The Cultural Cringe, that peculiar, archaic but ever present inferiority complex, the reverence for the ‘homeland’ suffered by post-colonial nations but particularly Australia. It’s a complex that has impeded our cultural development, devaluing everything we make here in favour of almost anything from Europe and America, because of our insecure and guilt ridden view of ourselves, born out of the knowledge that this isn’t really our country.

(more…)

#97. Robin Greenwood writes on Content and its Discontents.

Paul Cézanne, “L’Estaque, View Through the Pines”, 1883

“To be ‘new’ a painting doesn’t have to have been painted in 2018, or even by a living painter. What this survey and the comments show is that time, discernment and taste has not yet caught up with many of the paintings on display. A painting is ‘new’ if it opens up untapped resources for others that have been lying fallow or unnoticed, or if it reasserts the fundamental eloquence of the means, the simple elements of colour, line, plane, area-shape, facture, in a surprising way — (confined surprise, as Greenberg called it, not literal theatrical surprise -Seminar 8).”   Comment by Alan Gouk on Key Paintings of the 20th Century, a ‘Musée Imaginaire’, Part 2, 11.3.18.

“For something to be “new” in this sense, not only does it not have to be painted in 2018 or by a living painter, but it doesn’t have to be either modernist or abstract. Just saying.”   Comment by RG in reply, 12.3.18.

“…a number of the Tintorettos were new to us, and what’s more, were exciting and up-to the-minute. The experience of such art is often not only a ‘new’ thing, but also a ‘now’ thing, a revelation of the moment, even if we have seen it before. With art as good as this it is never just a matter for art history. And there is more originality and immediacy in a few Tintorettos than in a dozen FIACs.” [FIAC is a Parisian Contemporary Art Fair].    From a Poussin Gallery catalogue essay, “New to Sight”, by RG, January 2010.

“Hitchens spoke once again of how he felt torn between the inspiration he got from direct contact with nature and the increasing desire to let the picture have a life of its own – to deal with it purely in terms of its own internal requirements.” Ivon Hitchens, quoted by Pete Hoida in a comment on Key Paintings of the 20th Century, a ‘Musée Imaginaire’, Part 2., 21.3.18.

Neither way, thank you. Comment by RG in reply, 12.3.18.

Speaking personally, I would be hard-pressed to put more than a handful of non-figurative modernist works into my own Musée Imaginaire of favourite paintings. More specifically, of all the many great paintings that I have stood in front of (rather than looked at as images – a crucial distinction, I think), I find that very few, if any, are “abstractions”; unless, that is, you would make the case that all art is an abstraction. In which case, “new” abstract art, as I would define it, would be the only sort of art that I would judge to have not been “abstracted” from anything at all, but discovered as a new thing by means of the articulation of invented abstract content. Miros, Gottliebs, Rothkos and Nolands have made little impression on me when I’ve seen them up close. Images of blobs, grids, rectangles (geometric or fuzzy) and stripes may look tight and sexy when miniaturised on screen, but a fifteen-foot beige-striped matt-stained Noland, or a six-foot splodge of Gottlieb, are not as much fun in real life; and late Rothko is absolutely no fun at all. I see a contrived formalism (often rather insalubriously combined with hints at a portentous subject-matter) in much of 20th Century abstraction and I don’t much like it. I like art that is perceived as far as possible as content, not as vehicle.  That’s a problem for abstraction.

(more…)

#96. Alan Gouk writes on Key Paintings of the 20th Century; a Musée Imaginaire, Part 2

Joan Miro, “Painting”, 1953, Guggenheim NY, © 2018 Successió Miró Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York ADAGP, Paris

“First the Giants, then the pygmies.”   Elie Faure

PART 2  

Notes Synthetiques ca. 1888  by Paul Gauguin: “Art is an abstraction; derive this abstraction from nature whilst dreaming before it, and think more of the creation which will result than of nature”.

To Schuffeneker Aug. 1888: “Like music it acts on the soul through the intermediary of the senses. Harmonious colours respond to the harmonies of sounds”.

And in Diverse Choses 1898: “ The impressionists… heed only the eye and neglect the mysterious centres of thought”.

The sources of these ideas, which were to prove so fertile for the development of abstract painting, lay in the literature of early German Romanticism, Jean Paul, E T A Hoffmann, the synaesthesic imagery taken up by Baudelaire, Schopenhauer’s views on music as reinterpreted by Wagner, and the cult of Richard Wagner in France, which influenced even the  young Cézanne, and the symbolist poets gathered around Mallarme (though some of these pronouncements of Gauguin antecede his friendship with the latter).

Wagner’s music, especially in The Ring, could be described as the triumph of bad literature over music, or the subjugation of music to the literary imagination. The idea that colour, like music, can express the “mysterious centres of thought” appeals to the literary minded, so it is not surprising to find it echoed in Baudelaire and Mallarme. (See the poem Les Phares by Baudelaire). It is for the most part foreign to the French line in painting stemming from Delacroix and finding its culmination in Matisse. Although Matisse echoes the Mallarmean aesthetic “to paint not the thing but the emotion that it arouses in the artist”, in practice his art remains wedded to the full lustre of the sensory world. The transpositions of colour, red for blue, black for azure, are less emotionally driven as arising from his discoveries in Luxe, Calme et Volupte, 1904/05, that degrees of saturation of hue can form the tonal structure, rather than oppositions of dark and light, just as simultaneous contrasts of colour create light rather than oppositions or gradations of warm and cool.

George Seurat and the theorist Charles Henry voiced similar ideas about the expressive role of line and colour in conveying emotion, on the analogy with music, independently of their function in representation. Chromoluminisme as practiced by Seurat and Divisionism as practiced by Paul Signac, endeavour to combine this emotive theory with the science of colour, a hyper-realism, the two sitting uneasily together, and with mixed results, Pissarro being one of the first to express disillusionment with both the pictorial outcome and the intellectual distancing inherent in the approach.

(more…)

#95. Carl Kandutsch writes on Terms of Criticism for Contemporary Painting: A note on David Salle on Laura Owens

Laura Owens, Untitled (2013), Oil, Flashe, charcoal and wheelbarrow wheel on linen, 108 x 84″

I had heard of American painter Laura Owens. I’d seen her name bandied about, but a quick perusal of small reproductions of her paintings did not inspire me to investigate further. Then my latest copy of the New York Review of Books, a publication I take seriously, arrived in the mail. It features an essay by another painter, David Salle, on Laura Owens, whom Salle believes is a major artist[i]. Since David Salle undoubtedly knows a lot more about art in general, and painting in particular, than I do, I decided to read his essay carefully in order to figure out what I’ve been missing in Owens’ art.

The answer is that I don’t think I’m missing anything, which may well mean that I’m now too old to grasp what the younger generations are up to. It may mean something else as well, but if I knew what it is, I’d be less inclined to admit that I can’t think of anything useful to say about Owens’ paintings. So I decided to try to say something about Salle’s essay. Specifically, something about what I think of as the “terms of criticism” used by David Salle in his appreciation of Owens’ paintings.

(more…)

#94. Noela James writes on Pete Hoida at the Malthouse, Stroud

‘Poet and Peasant’, 178 x 335 cm., November 1991

Origins and Diversions: Pete Hoida paintings 1991-2017, in association with SITselect at The Malthouse, 9 January – 25 February 2018

http://www.petehoida.co.uk/exhibition/malthouse.html

“What use painting is to woman or man is unknown, yet it is surely necessary, as attested to by the caveman and the dandy. I have long pursued a path that avoided the health-plans and dogmas of the high-priests and the moneylenders, and yet have overthrown nothing but painterly cliches and visual platitudes.

Over a career of fifty years I have disregarded the demand to produce series of signature works and failed to subjugate myself to mere talent. I am not looking to produce patterns; each period of painting has created, or found, its own identity. Sometimes the characteristics of the work, or foundations, carry over from one year into the next period. Or subside for a time before reappearing transformed, made new yet again. Paintings from the 2010’s can present aspects of the 70’s. The colour say, or the motif, or motive force, the brush-stroke, the time-line, the structure, its translucency or opacity, its serenity or punch. I have eschewed drawing, images, narrative and subject; I have defied the camera that always lies. I have told only the story of the brush that lies. I have quarrelled with the canvas and lost. I have found the surface and ignited it.” Pete Hoida, 2017

The Malthouse, formerly part of Stroud Brewery, is a formidable venue for an art exhibition. The bare rustic brick walls and vast height are no problem, however, for Pete Hoida’s central piece, ‘Poet and Peasant’, measuring a magnificent 178 x 335cm. The painting completely holds its own and commands the space with its sublime passages of pastel shades in pistachio, turquoise, eau de nil, yellow and pink, offset by blocks of rich sumptuous carmine overpainted by muddy purple, smeared yellow into umber, earthy green and flashes of orange and red. Hoida allows the underpainting to show through, creating a rich surface generating space and light.

(more…)

#93. Geoff Hands writes on H_A_R_D_P_A_I_N_T_I_N_G at Phoenix Brighton

Hardpainting at Phoenix Brighton – poster and exterior

H-A-R-D-P-A-I-N-T-I-N-G at Phoenix Brighton, 13 January to 11 February 2018.

https://www.phoenixbrighton.org

Spaces available to show contemporary art in Brighton are limited, but Phoenix Brighton is undergoing a public engagement transformation that will be further re-calibrated with a refurbished gallery space in 2019. The last significant painting shows here were ‘32 Paintings’ (2013) and ‘20 Painters’ (2014) that showcased a broad range of styles and interests from Sussex based artists and were co-curated by Patrick O’Donnell (with Nicholas Pace and June Frickleton, respectively). During the second exhibition a public discussion event took place with Peter Ashton Jones, co-founder of Turps Banana magazine and art historian Peter Seddon. A lingering memory of that evening was of a rather polite assembly of listeners who did not rise to the bait (if that was the intention) of having the range of work on display described as “Home Counties” painting (aka provincial?). Nevertheless, hopes for an ongoing debate about contemporary art (not just painting) were kindled by this initiative, and rightly so, for the gallery space, with or without a forum, is the most appropriate public arena for a meaningful debate to take place.

(more…)

#92. Tim Scott writes on Space in Sculpture

Auguste Rodin “The Meditation (with arms)”, 1881-99

Space in Sculpture.

I wish to return to Emyr Williams’ very interesting and thought-provoking article on ‘ Space in Painting and Sculpture’. Not being a practitioner in painting I will confine myself to comments on sculpture space.

To try to define what space in sculpture involves, it is reasonable to suppose that the primary fundamental observation to be made about all sculpture is volumetric displacement; the quantity of actual space occupied by the parts and whole of a sculpture(s); literal air translated into a physical entity. Sculpture shares this quality with all other three-dimensional objects, though we need here only be concerned with an art form such as architecture, or pottery, for example. Following assessment of the volumetric space occupied by a sculpture’s physical ‘thingness’, the means by which this displacement is effected, other than purely literally are pertinent. In pre-20th Century sculpture this was tied primarily to the physiology of the human (or animal) body; its limbs, its connections and junctions and their movements (in space). Even though sculpture is materially static (stone. wood, clay, metal etc.), if attached to this universal subject it energises variation of spatial occupation through implied movement (the liveness of the body), as against simply accepting the whole as a ‘lump’. Even the most monolithic sculptural traditions (Egyptian, Mexican, African) use implied bodily movement to suggest ‘freeing’ the monolith spatially, usually by means of cutting into or through the material. Monolithic sculpture also frequently attempts spatial extension through massing, on an ordered quasi or associational architectural basis (temples, palaces); Easter Island is a good example.

(more…)

#91. Nick Moore writes on Francis Davison at the Redfern Gallery, London

Francis Davison, Redfern Gallery installation, ‘No Number 2’ and ‘D-277’

Francis Davidson was at the Redfern Gallery, London, 14 November – 21 December 2017

https://www.redfern-gallery.com/exhibitions/33

‘The sensation of physically operating on the world is very strong in the medium of the paper colle or collage, in which various kind of paper are pasted to the canvas. One cuts and chooses and shifts and pastes, and sometimes tears off and begins again. In any case shaping and arranging such a relational structure obliterates the need, and often the awareness of representation. Without reference to likenesses, it possesses feeling because all the decisions in regard to it are ultimately made on the grounds of feeling.’  Robert Motherwell

It is rare to see an exhibition of completely abstract collage; by this I mean work without reference to cut up body parts or fragments of recognisable objects, ranging from Picasso/Braque, (who both used printed patterned paper and also painted into the work as well as using plain coloured papers) through Dada and the Surrealists

(who used photographic and printed imagery, rearranged in incongruous juxtapositions) through Pop, to now, where the genre is soaked in the legacy of all the aforementioned. Exceptions to all this are Arp, Tauber-Arp and Schwitters and even earlier, in the 20s, Paul Joostens who remains perhaps as unknown as Davison.*

In contemporary terms there is of course the work of John Bunker or John Eaves, who use both painted and unpainted paper and a constructive rather than destructive take on the material; they are part of a small bubble amongst the post-modernist torrent of deconstructed, reconstructed cut-up archival photographic and modern advertising imagery (not to mention the application of untold technology). However, Davison was unusual in the ‘purity’ of his approach in that he solely used unpainted coloured paper; the only patterning in evidence is in the grain of some of the brown paper and envelopes, and that is intrinsic to the material.

(more…)

#90. Sam Cornish writes on David Annesley at Waddington Custot, London

untitled, 1969, painted aluminium, 210.8 x 200.6 x 61cm

Three sculptures by David Annesley at Waddington Custot (until the 6th of January) use colour to very striking effect. My understanding is that all three were made recently under the supervision of the artist, completing editions from the sixties that were not fulfilled. They were conceived in 1968 and 1969.

All three polychrome sculptures have similar but not identical structures, based around the interaction of circular and triangular shapes, their basic geometry enlivened by wavy lines – a very common feature of the art of the sixties – and curled corners. They follow the paintings of Kenneth Noland and the sculptures of David Smith, and ultimately, Josef Albers’s series Homage to the Square. Although the colour is the most important thing, it is not quite right to say that the format is neutral. For one thing the scale is vitally important, both for creating a relation to the body, and for giving colour space to operate fully – the smaller sculptures on display are much less effective. The manner in which triangle and circle interact is also important to their contained dynamism, or to put it the other way around, their enlivened stability.

(more…)

#89. John Bunker writes on Gary Wragg at Paisnel Gallery, London

http://www.paisnelgallery.co.uk/exhibitions/view/302/gary_wragg_-_still_soaring_at_70

This mini retrospective just finished at Paisnel Gallery gives us some definitive snapshots from a 50 year career – a career that is so difficult to pin down to one particular mode or type of painting. Why is this so? There are some highly focused kinds of chaos and an ongoing drama of contrary painterly forces at work in Garry Wragg’s art. The hang reflected this irrepressible quality of exploration. Bringing smaller and larger works from different periods into close proximity highlighted a restless, energetic and searching approach to painting. There seems to be no fear of sudden shifts in focus. I think this suggests an openness to experience and a cooler painterly intelligence honed for ‘in the moment’ decision-making and the revelations that follow.

I’m not happy with my own use of terms like ‘chaos’ or ‘forces’. Maybe I could say that Wragg finds visual equivalents for a keen sensitivity to kinaesthestic sensation and energy in his work? Or maybe it’s all about ‘touch’? Paint can act as a conduit for all kinds of impulses. But these impulses are protean and constantly shape-shifting. Paint can catch, direct and release these energies. It can contain contrary inner and outer worlds, sensations and feeling. It can be the medium in which internal and external realities are able to meet – to fuse. Wragg’s art seems in some ways dedicated to this most complex interplay of objective and subjective experience and sensation.

(more…)