Author: Robin Greenwood

abstract sculptor

#123. Tim Scott writes on “Why Abstract Sculpture” part 2

Content in Abstract Sculpture.

In arguing, passionately, as I have been, for a truly abstract future sculpture, one has to face up to the fact of the ‘content’ of such works being totally devoid of the sort of emotional visual reactions to it that all traditional sculpture had; i.e. recognition, illustration, naturalistic representation, power, glory, sexual titillation, religious feeling, and so on.

What has commonly been called ‘humanism’ in emotional content as conveyed by a work of art, has been erased from the canon of ‘modern’ sculptural form in favour of objective statements of physical fact as form, conditioned largely by the materials in which they have been worked. This has more often than not been achieved either by a vague ‘reference’ (in the forms) to a recognisable source, or most frequently in recent times, by the ‘borrowing’ and adapting to sculpture, of the physical context of other related physical forms, architecture, engineering and object making in general.

This latter overlapping of what sculpture ‘does’ in relation to what other physical forms ‘do’, has caused a sort of crisis in sculpture’s identity; in that the lack of the former humanism has alienated a large section of sculpture’s ‘audience’ in the general public from maintaining any sort of aesthetic empathy associated directly with sculpture. Tragically, sculpture, as an art form, has been, as a consequence, trivialised and marginalised.

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#122. Geoff Hands writes on “HARDPAINTINGX2”

HARDPAINTINGX2 at Phoenix Art Space, Brighton

An exhibition in two parts featuring work by:

Part 1: Richard Bell, Katrina Blannin, John Carter, Catherine Ferguson, Della Gooden, Richard Graville, Morrissey & Hancock, Tess Jaray, Jo McGonigal, Lars Wolter and Jessie Yates

Part 2: Rana Begum, Ian Boutell, Philip Cole, Biggs & Collings, Deb Covell, Stig Evans, Jane Harris, Mali Morris, Jost Münster, Patrick O’Donnell, Carol Robertson and Daniel Sturgis

Richard Bell, ‘Equivalences (2 part painting)’, 2019, each 59.5x42cm

Deb Covell, ‘Fit’, 2017, 27x9x11cm and ‘Blue Pleat, 2018, H24xW15xD3.5cm

Hardpainting as a concept appears to be difficult to pin down. The best advice would be to engage in primary research and visit the exhibitions and see for yourself. Or, if that is not an option, make a note of the exhibitor’s names and search out their works at other venues. For secondary research, trawl through your catalogues and bookshelves and visit the artists’ websites. As you form some notion of what Hardpainting is, there’s one important proviso: exclude the figurative. And a recommendation: be a little speculative and maintain a spirit of deliberate inexactitude. Also, pluralism is good (it’s certainly contemporary), for Hardpainting is not to be placed into a theoretical straight jacket. At least not yet.

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#121. Tim Scott writes on Abstract Sculpture

Why ABSTRACT Sculpture?

Sculpture is a minority art form. By this I do not mean only that it has a very small audience, but that it deals with a very limited range of human feeling and emotion and therefore tends to have a comparatively narrow appeal.

Sculpture is probably the earliest form of human and even sub-human expressive reactions to the physical world and its habitat. Early man found that the interaction between his physical being and capabilities and his surroundings demanded some form of visible concrete commentary, and so what we now call ‘sculpture’ was born.

Early human tribes around the world enlarged on this and many societies developed it as an expression of their identity and culture. Essentially this involved creating with materials some form of imagery based on the human (animal) body and its physical capabilities. It was the one mode of expression that was found to represent the ‘reality’ of their beliefs and being, its literal physicality being an adequate substitute for belief, sexuality, and imaginary worlds – as well as explaining the real one.

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#120. Tributes to the Painter John McLean

John McLean’s last completed work. Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 151 cm. Courtesy of Art Space Gallery

Below are a series of tributes to the painter John McLean, who died earlier this year. The contributors all knew McLean personally. Nevertheless, they were asked to write primarily about his art. Sam Cornish

A memorial retrospective is being held at Art Space Gallery, Islington, 29 November 2019 – 24 January 2020.

East Coast, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 51 cm. Courtesy of Art Space Gallery

Duncan Macmillian

John was not always an abstract artist. He was a wonderful draughtsman and in his early years he made sombre, but still vivid paintings and drawings in an almost social realist mode. It was when he moved to London that he turned to abstraction, but his first abstract work, shown I think in 1964, was hard-edged. Nevertheless, he was already a colourist. For him, the hard-edge was a way of making colour sing and indeed it did, but composing with masking tape was never going to suit his temperament for long. Around 1965, just before his breakthrough into free, painterly abstraction, I remember him showing me a very strange work. It was essentially a heavy blob of paint in the middle of a piece of wire mesh. I was baffled at first but then I saw what he was driving at. It was as though he had devised an equation to express his idea of figure and ground where, although they each have their own character, they are not separate, but in dynamic tension, at once both distinct and indivisible. He had been looking at Korean pots and saw how they worked that way.  After that his painting took off and never looked back. Pouring paint and using a squeegee, there was a terrific liberation in the works that followed, often on a really big scale. Later, after meeting Clement Greenberg and the New York painters he supported, for a while John’s painting got a bit more formal, but he had captured the poetry of colour and freedom and never let it go.

He was generous in his appreciation of the art of others, whether historical or contemporary, and was always willing to learn from them. His great windows in Norwich Cathedral are quite his own but also a homage to Matisse. Perhaps this alertness to new inspiration helped keep his own creativity alive, for, through all the terrible adversity of his illness, right to the very end his spirit never for a moment flagged. He held a show of wonderful new paintings only weeks before he died.

In his art he created a unique dynamic out of the interplay of colours with variations of hue and saturation and subtle changes of depth, density, texture and ground in the application of paint. He gradually evolved an iconography of coloured shapes like enlarged dabs of the brush, circles, blobs and spirals, shuffling rectangles and other, loosely formed geometric shapes, but these elements were never still. That was why he talked about dance as a metaphor for what he was doing. For him painting was as alive and as autonomous as music. As a composer he could be symphonic when given the chance, as he was in the Norwich windows, but he was more often, like Schubert, the master of chamber music and song, of music made visible.

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#119. Tim Scott quotes from Werner Haftmann, “Painting in the Twentieth Century”, 1966

Werner Haftmann, “Painting in the Twentieth Century”, 1966

Excerpts concerning the origins of abstract art, for discussion.

Abstraction: “…the German mind stylised it (the visible world), filled it with demons and hallucinations that varied in intensity, according to the degree of the artist’s participation. This went so far that at an early date questions arose such as these: Might it not be possible to disregard images of nature entirely? Might not the inner image expressed entirely in abstract forms be the only worthy content of a picture? Visible reality was an element hostile to art, a fetter, a world of pretence….”     P.65.         [Tim Scott:  ‘Germanic (i.e. north European)’ as opposed to ‘Latin’ (i.e. French)]

Picasso:”…The aroma that interests Picasso arises from the tension between the self and the ‘otherness’ of objects and can be made intelligible only by representational analogies. This is the basic reason why he kept clear of abstract painting and why he said in 1935: “Abstract art is nothing but painting, but what happens to the drama? There is no abstract art, one must always begin with something, then all traces of reality can be removed. There is a danger there, because the idea of the object has left an indelible mark. It is the idea that stimulates the artist, inspires his ideas, arouses his emotions…”     P283.

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#118. Robin Greenwood writes on John Bunker: “Faint Young Suns”

“Scheherazade”, 2018-19, 120x180cm

John Bunker: “Faint Young Suns” at Unit 3, London E3 3LT.

“Scheherazade” is the largest work on show at John Bunker’s new exhibition, and is one of his best works. But then, most of the work in this show are not only amongst his best work to date, but are perhaps amongst the best around by anyone at the moment. He has taken another step forward from the work he has patiently developed over the past few years (the last two years, in particular), to the point where he can claim to be in a place of his own choosing – a full and powerful articulation of original abstract art. It’s not painting and it’s not sculpture, but I would hesitate to call it collage either. At the moment, we don’t need to call it anything.

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#117. David Sweet writes on Clyde Hopkins

“Die Einen Sind im Licht”, 2017

Clyde Hopkins: A path through dark and light.

You would expect a body of work, created over a span more than forty years, to display a pattern of development from early attempts, to the mature output where an artist’s ‘signature style’ has fully evolved and is then consolidated. But the paintings of Clyde Hopkins seem to resist this schematic interpretation. Those from the late seventies and early eighties are stylistically different to those produced in the late eighties. Another change occurs in the nineties and from 2008 or thereabouts the paintings seem to take on characteristics almost the opposite of those to be found in work from earlier in his career. So, instead of one signature style, there are several.

Each of these signature styles is fully resolved and sufficient, rather than marking an evolutionary stage in an ongoing narrative. Each deploys an established set of procedures and material properties. The pattern that emerges is more a series of brackets rather than a smooth gradient, each bracket containing a group of works with similar visual qualities. As in algebra the contents of the bracket have to be dealt with separately but there is a further move that can be made with the device: The paintings can be bracketed with works by other painters to widen the context in which they may be appreciated.

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#116. Chris Stephens writes on New Paintings by Pete Hoida

“Crucible”, 2011-2018, 97 x 219 cm

Pete Hoida, New Paintings is at the APT Gallery, Harold Wharf, Creekside, London SE8 4SA, 11 – 21 July 2019

In the 1950s, painter and critic Patrick Heron wrote about the artist Ivon Hitchens. There he noted a tendency in England to understand painting ‘primarily in terms of literature’, to respond first to ‘atmosphere’ rather than ‘pictorial qualities’, and to prefer realism or the theoretical nature of constructivism over the ‘sensuous’ tradition of Fauvism and Cubism. Hitchens, for Heron, was a rare instance of a British painter able to look the French sensualists in the eye. In addition, his painting was the most ‘distinguished’ British example of what Heron described as the ‘necessary fusion’ of the two main sources for any artist: ‘art and nature’, international and local.1 With pleasing alliteration, much of what Heron wrote of Hitchens can be applied to Hoida.

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

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

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

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

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#114. Tim Scott quotes from and comments on “But is it Art?” (OUP 2001), by Cynthia Freeland

Tim Scott quotes from and comments on “But is it Art?” (OUP 2001), a book by Cynthia Freeland.

“… Rituals of many world religions involve rich colour, design, and pageantry. But ritual theory does not account for the sometimes strange intense activities of modern artists, as when a performance artist uses blood. For participants in a ritual, clarity and agreement of purpose are central; the ritual reinforces the community’s proper relation to God or nature through gestures that everyone knows and understands. But audiences who see and react to a modern artist do not enter in with shared beliefs and values… Most modern art, in the context of theatre, gallery or concert hall, lacks the background reinforcement of pervasive community belief that provides meaning…”      (P.4) 

I am sure many of us have attended these ‘performance’ ‘artworks’ and  the above strikes me as eminently true.     TS

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