Author: Robin Greenwood

abstract sculptor

#70. Carl Kandutsch writes on Greenberg’s Homemade Esthetics

Pablo Picasso, “Mandoline et Clarinette”, 1913, Musée National Picasso, Paris

In 1971 Clement Greenberg offered nine seminar sessions at Bennington College. In an effort to develop the thoughts expressed at the seminar, Greenberg wrote eight essays that were published in various art magazines between 1972 and 1979. The seminar transcripts and the eight essays are collected in a book published in 1999 called Homemade Esthetics (Oxford, 1999). The essays are less formal than the reviews and essays published in Collected Essays and Criticism, and the focus is different. Rather than dealing with particular artists or trends in the art world, the essays in Homemade Esthetics are polemical and somewhat theoretical, analyzing the nature of esthetic experience and judgment, such as whether esthetic judgments can be “objective”, the nature of intuition and aesthetic value and so on. That is, the essays were written at a time in the recent past when a college student might take courses called “Esthetics” as opposed to, say, “Cultural Studies”.

The details of Greenberg’s views on esthetic experience are, for me, less interesting than the passion with which he articulates them. That passion reflects a lifetime of looking at paintings and sculptures and Greenberg’s commitment to a practice of art criticism that is based not on theories but on the author’s personal experience of particular works of art. It was his faith in the truth of his own intuitions that showed Greenberg the uniqueness and self-sufficiency of esthetic experience, just as a person’s experience of conversion teaches the nature of religious faith; his reading of Kant’s Critique of Judgment and Croce’s Esthetics only confirmed what he already knew – that intuition is the foundation of and provides the data for any genuine esthetic judgment. Although he is popularly known as the inventor and rather dogmatic proponent of a theory of modernism as the self-criticism of an artistic medium, Greenberg was always at his best when describing how particular art works or tendencies in art work on our minds by means of the eye. More than any other 20th century critic, reading Greenberg allows one to come to terms with the fact that in the experience of great art, it is as if the mind functions as an organ of sense and the eye as a source of intellectual conviction.

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#69. Paul Carey-Kent writes on Ding Yi at Timothy Taylor, London

Installation, Ding Yi at Timothy Taylor Gallery

The Hyper-Paredolian Ding Yi at Timothy Taylor, London, 19 May – 24 June 2017.

http://www.timothytaylor.com/artists/ding-yi/

Ding Yi, now in his 50’s, is one of the most established Chinese painters, but does not conform to the expressionist or  pop-inspired approaches which often seems to dominate the category, at least at auction. Rather, he has been painting abstracts using the cross – both ‘x’ and ‘+’ – as his sole content since 1988. The crosses’ origins lie in the most basic marks in offset printing (Ding’s student job was in the printing industry). That morphed into an interest in textiles – much of Ding’s late 90’s work was painted onto Paisley tartan, nodding to its import history in China.  Over those three decades Ding has altered almost everything – ground, medium, colour, scale, regularity, inflection – but all his works have been called Appearance of Crosses. That title suggests a façade, a field of sense data, and site of mutable interpretation: they may appear like crosses, but what are they really?

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#68. David Sweet writes on “Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960’s British Art” at the Longside Gallery and touring.

Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art, installation view at Longside Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park © artists and estates. Photo: Jonty Wilde. Left to right: William Tucker; Anthony Caro; Robyn Denny; Richard Smith

KALEIDOSCOPE: Colour and Sequence in 1960’s Art.  http://www.artscouncilcollection.org.uk/exhibition/kaleidoscope

Longside Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park. 1 April – 18 June 2017

Djanogly Gallery, The University of Nottingham. 15 July  – 24 September 2017

Mead Gallery, University of Warwick. 5 October – 9 December

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. 24 February – 3 June 2018

I’ve never liked Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The 1967 album seemed a betrayal of what the Beatles stood for, namely the authentic voice of the North of England, and signalled their transformation into a crypto-postmodernist bunch of dandified dilletanti. (Ringo excepted, obviously) I wasn’t crazy about the cover either, influenced by Peter Blake’s obsession with Victoriana, though the insert poster of the Fab Four in day-glo military uniforms was at least strong on colour.

Colour in the sixties was rationed, and experienced against the background of colourlessness. Now colour has triumphed. It’s everywhere, creating a totalised and vibrant chromatic context of what Goethe called ‘motley’. But in this exhibition, curated by Natalie Rudd and Sam Cornish, colour’s place, though central, is insecure and colourlessness comes back into the reckoning.

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#67. Richard Ward writes on Howard Hodgkin at the National Portrait Gallery, London

“Portrait of the Artist”, 1984-87

Howard Hodgkin: Absent Friends at the National Portrait Gallery 23 March – 18 June 2017

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/howard-hodgkin-absent-friends/home/

The first thing to say about this retrospective is that it can be enjoyed quite simply as a thought-provoking exhibition of mostly abstract or semi-abstract colour paintings, even though the catalogue texts, titles and Hodgkin´s own remarks insist that they are portraits.

Hodgkin always maintained that the inspiration for each of his paintings was a very specific set of feelings concerning a particular person or situation. Accepting this, and also that he succeeded for himself in capturing these feelings in his art, does not however imply that we should have the same feelings on viewing it. The pressing of a visual button A to produce the specific emotion B is the modus operandi of kitsch, and these paintings are better than that. A painting has to work for itself, so whatever the specific situations that may have inspired Hodgkin, they are irrelevant to us here, and since it is hardly anywhere necessary to see figures in the paintings it is an unhelpful conceit for the viewer to regard them as portraits.

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#66. Noela James writes on Nick Moore exhibition “MaterialShift”, Nailsworth

Nick Moore installation

MATERIALSHIFT, an exhibition of the work of Nick Moore is showing at Ruskin Mill Gallery, Old Bristol Road, Nailsworth, GL6 0LA, 29th April – 23th May 2017

Ruskin Mill, situated in a wooded Cotswold valley beside a lake, is the perfect setting for Nick Moore’s latest exhibition, ‘MATERIALSHIFT’. The old stone interior, with a soot laden wall scorched by a primitive open fire, reflects the elemental quality of the earthy pigments Nick uses in his paintings/collages. These works stem from a series of paintings Nick rediscovered during a recent studio move. They were discarded canvasses and different from his earlier series, ‘Dark Intervals’ (which had focused on black and burnt umber as key components), in the sense that they had a revised colour palette of buff, Payne’s grey, red ochre and burnt umber. In this new series Nick has integrated added material into the fabric of the paintings and heightened the textural experience. He has used sacking, old roofing felt, PVA mixed with either sawdust or sand, crushed charcoal and ashes mixed with acrylic colour and ink, together with various moulded cardboard remnants that have been distorted and flattened to create areas of animated surface.

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#65. David Sweet writes on Losing Sight of Stella

Frank Stella, “Die Fahne hoche”, 1959

As someone who admires and was influenced by Frank Stella’s early paintings I get irritated by those who minimise his achievement and then congratulate themselves on their lack of interest in his work. If we lose sight of Stella, and his contribution to the history of abstraction, we may be doomed to a future consisting of a combination of Hans Hofmann and Pierre Soulages, a Druidical impasto fest, accompanied by necromantic invocations of Pissarro and Tintoretto, which goes on forever. There has got to be an alternative.

This is not an attempt to make anyone like Stella. Aesthetic judgements aren’t enforceable. But it is an attempt to throw a spanner into the machinery of rejection by following up on the challenge posed in Stella’s well-known remark ‘What you see is what you see’. So it concerns not aesthetics but phenomenology, what you see in Stella.

Stella’s technical originality shows up clearest in contrast to Barnett Newman. But they also have a lot in common. They were both making big paintings in New York at a time when American painting was a major cultural force. A progressive concept of history was also in play. The idea that painting could ‘advance’ in response to the best i.e. ‘most advanced’ work of the immediate past, made sense. Going ‘beyond’ Newman, therefore, was a reasonable motivation. What helped was that Stella wasn’t an Abstract Expressionist. He was free of the elaborate belief structure that surrounded the artists within that movement and found himself at the start of a new sensibility that eventually led to full-blown minimalism.

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#64. Geoff Hands writes on “Unnatural Vibers” at Unit 3 Project Space, ASC Studios, London

Peter Lamb, ‘A Slow Gaze Charged’, 2017;  John Bunker, ‘Frenhofer’, 2017.

“Unnatural Vibers” at Unit 3 Project Space, ASC Studios, London is open 2-5pm., on the 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21 of May 2017, or by appointment.

http://unit-3.tumblr.com/

Following the TESTING <1<2<1<2 group show at ASC studios a month or so ago, artist/curator John Bunker has devised another intriguing showcase to mix things up. This time he is co-curating with artist Michael Stubbs and together they selected painters who share a compulsion, not just for the construction or devising of the abstract image, but also for a generally speculative and performative rather than planned approach to image making.

Initially, Michael Stubbs, Dominic Beattie, Vicky Wright, Peter Lamb and Bunker himself may not seem like an obvious combination. But even a relatively small show of this kind (just nine pieces) provides a potpourri of sorts, and proves that diversity can gel successfully where a common thread of serious endeavor and an ability to formulate a primary visual impact, is paramount over associative, figurative narratives.

Their work shares a sense of questioning through a building process and of the construction of the pictorial image to act as a trigger for the viewer to adjudicate from. As the various constructional processes unfold, with collage and paint, traces of earlier decisions are superseded, but not entirely replaced or buried so as to preserve a sense of history or a past state that can still contribute to an evolving situation. A collage aesthetic, and means of realisation, enables past, present and future to combine or collide. The future, it could be argued, is present in the viewing of the image and the onlooker’s response.

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#63. Len Green writes on Patrick Jones: “No Pasaran”, Exeter

Patrick Jones (left) discusses his Exeter show with a visitor; “Pink Cherries” on the right

Patrick Jones: “No Pasaran” was at the PS45 Gallery, Exeter, 10 March – 9 April 2017.

The exhibition “No Pasaran” represents a life-long artistic journey by Patrick Jones, a journey which illustrates how he and his work have been affected by artistic influences from America and Europe. The exhibition does not trace a series of anxious and political events like in some of Jones’ heroes such as Miro. Jones ‘work is a passionate response to the Art and artists he has experienced during the last 50 years.  As the title of the exhibition suggests Jones is not unaffected by being alive in one of the most turbulent periods in European and Middle Eastern history and the precarious state of the world today. The paintings in this exhibition tell the story of Jones’ life and the artistic elements that have engrained themselves in his psyche.

Patrick Jones’ exhibition at the PS45 gallery, (formerly known to many of us as one of the most prestigious contemporary arty galleries in the south west – Spacex,) is located in Preston Street, Exeter.  Its re-birth this year is a wonderful tribute to abstract painting and a superb opportunity for Patrick Jones to demonstrate his and the gallery’s commitment to abstraction.  The exhibition, in three large galleries, is captivating and compelling; each space providing a particular focus for Jones’ work and affording us a rare and unique insight into the breadth and depth of his work.

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#62. Ken Carpenter writes on New Developments in Montreal Painting: Françoise Sullivan, Paul Bureau, Deborah Carruthers

Françoise Sullivan, “De une (Of One)”, 1968-69, plexiglass, 72.5 x 278 x 74 cm; Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, photo: Ken Carpenter

In the 1940s and early 1950s, Montreal was the pre-eminent centre for advanced art in Canada. The most important group there, Les Automatistes, emerged parallel to the Abstract Expressionists, although they were more inter-disciplinary and more political than their New York contemporaries. Think of their provocative and influential manifesto, Refus global (1948), which is often credited with furthering Quebec’s advance into the more modern era of the “Quiet Revolution.” While their leading figure, Paul-Emile Borduas, exiled himself to New York in 1953 and then Paris in 1955, where he died prematurely in 1960, several titans of Les Automatistes continued to re-invent themselves for a surprisingly long time, most notably Pierre Gauvreau (1922-2011), Marcel Barbeau (1925-2016) and Francoise Sullivan (1925- ). The vitality of Sullivan’s current work is a striking reminder of the importance of this still underappreciated movement.

If Françoise Sullivan were Japanese rather than Canadian, she would almost certainly have been designated by now as a living national treasure. She contributed a seminal essay (“Dance and Hope”) to that most important cultural document in the history of Canada, Refus global,  and is widely credited with making a vital contribution to the development of modern dance in Canada. Moreover, she created some early modernist sculpture in Canada, was a leader in performance art here, and for the last few decades has been one of this country’s most prominent abstract painters. I think of her as the doyenne of Canadian art.

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#61. Harry Hay writes on Brancaster Chronicles at the Heritage Gallery, Greenwich

Brancaster discussion in progress, 10th April 2017. Photo John Pollard. Film of the discussions will be made available to view on the Brancaster Chronicles website (Branchron.com) shortly.

Brancaster Chronicles at Greenwich, at the Heritage Gallery is open 11, 12, 13 and 18, 19, 20 April 2017, 10am-6pm. https://branchron.com/news/

I paid my first visit to Maritime Greenwich in 2010. I was in my first year of art school, aspiring towards figuration and rather disinclined to pay much attention to abstract art at all. Turner was my favourite artist, and so I was rather drawn towards seeing some of the world he depicted. The uniform that Nelson died in after his wounding at Trafalgar is particularly resonant in my mind. It is hard to reflect, almost impossible in some ways, on how we get to where we are. How many moments are there along the way that lead us to change course so drastically, for we hardly seem to notice it as it happens. Some may say that the divide between Turner and abstract art is not such a huge leap. Well it certainly feels so in reflection. If we fast forward seven years, my reason for returning to Greenwich couldn’t really feel more disparate.

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