Geoff Hands

#88. Geoff Hands writes on John Bunker at Unit 3, London

“Wraysrumble”. 2017. 60cmX53cm. Mixed media shaped collage

“LEAVE IT….” John Bunker: New Work was at Unit 3, ASC, Empson Street from 13th to 24th November 2017

“The title comes from something my teenage son tends to say if he feels pressurised into explaining his mood or feelings. You know when you can tell there’s something on your child’s mind? But you also know they maybe won’t or even can’t explain why they are distracted. But after saying all that I just like the sound of the phrase – it has brevity and depth…” (JB)

I didn’t visit John Bunker’s recent exhibition with a view to writing a review, but first impressions from seeing evidence of his developing assuredness in assembling and composing collage material have lingered long after the encounter. Walking around the studio sized space at Unit 3 to explore these latest works, of which 14 were shown, there was no pressure to think of anything that should be noted down. A freedom to indulge in just looking, with unspoken thoughts and without the obligation to describe, explain or ruminate for the benefit of others was a bonus I had enjoyed. But, as title of the show directed – I just could not Leave It.

A week later, I found myself jotting down thoughts in a notebook that ultimately insisted on further development. Still enamoured with a refinement that I do not normally associate with collage (although Francis Davison’s abstract compositions demonstrate great skills of placement and composition that remain exemplary) many of Bunker’s pieces were both impressive and memorable. The formal elements of line, colour, shape arrangement and distribution certainly fused into a sense of ’rightness’ and I was reminded that collage is not a substitute for painting. Collage is a broad and flexible medium and a process that lends itself to abstraction as equally as it does to the surreal juxtapositions explored within figurative realms.

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#86. Geoff Hands writes on Alan Gouk at Felix and Spear, London

A shop-window view of the Alan Gouk show at Felix and Spear, “Quercus” in the foreground

‘Alan Gouk: A retrospective, part one 1973-1989’ at Felix & Spear, Ealing, 4th November to 3rd December 2017

https://www.felixandspear.com/alan-gouk

 At Felix & Spear, fourteen paintings form a notional representation of what might be considered the artist’s first mature stage (Gouk was in his 30s and 40s). The works that might be sub-divided into two or three distinct periods are displayed on two floors with an adjoining stairwell. The arrangement of works takes account of the domestic size and scale and characteristics of the interior architecture of the gallery and the variously sized works have been appropriately placed. The domestic reference is applied positively here – and the visitor might imagine this was a version of Gouk’s living apartment c.1990. The homely and informal suggestion is intended as a positive too – for paintings have to be lived with after all. They have to be seen and experienced in differing ambient lighting situations and times of day; paintings might appear to evolve over time, as do the individual viewers, in their ever changing personal moods and within the various contexts of their lives. (A thought: Do the most interesting and original paintings have this organic quality – as if the ‘imagery’ is in a very slow state of flux and revelation?)

We also see these paintings in hindsight; in the context of nearly three more decades of Gouk’s vigorous commitment to abstract painting that have followed as abstraction has fallen in and out of favour in contemporary circles. Unaffected by medium denying conceptualism; the often announced ‘death of painting’ itself; and the so-called post-modern/multi-media innovations (for the sake of ‘contemporaneity’) that developed from the 1970s onwards – Gouk has continued to explore the endless scope of his particular form of abstract painting and unashamedly celebrates its ‘medium-specificity’.

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#77. Geoff Hands writes on Howard Hodgkin at the Hepworth, Wakefield

Poster for Howard Hodgkin: Painting India

Howard Hodgkin: Painting India is at the Hepworth, Wakefield, 1 July – 8 October 2017

http://www.hepworthwakefield.org/howard-hodgkin-painting-india/

We shall be rewarded, albeit poignantly, with no less than three exhibitions of Howard Hodgkin’s work in 2017. The NPG show, ‘Absent Friends’, has been and gone; ‘Painting India’ is currently on view in Wakefield; and the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath opens in mid-October with a display of works on paper, including prints.

For Hodgkin, Fate’s proverbial bus of arrival of events certainly came along this year. The first event, sadly, was the ultimate departure as we all mourned the artist’s death in March. Significant media coverage provided a fitting range of positive reviews of his career and of his achievements as a painter of emotions, with imagery often dominated by the impact of colour, permeating all commentary. The sometimes acerbic, but on this occasion generous Jonathan Jones in the Guardian proclaimed Hodgkin as “the finest colourist in painting since Mark Rothko”.

Utter nonsense, of course, but the attraction of Hodgkinesque colour usage has some credence, as combined with notions of colour as something powerful in and of itself there is an indefinable emotive appeal. Characterised by expressionistic painting gestures, the oil medium is applied in a way that becomes visually seductive and affective – though what those emotions are for the observer cannot replicate whatever they were for Hodgkin. Is ‘emotive’ the correct term to use here? ‘Emotional appeal’ sounds like a cop-out term for inadequate communicative terminology, but I am struggling to define and defend these clichéd words in relation to Hodgkin’s work. Best look at the paintings.

At The Hepworth Wakefield a selection of paintings from a period of 50 years of almost annual visits to India by Hodgkin are on display. Walking up the stairs to the main galleries a hand-knotted Persian yarn wall hanging (appropriately entitled, ‘Rug’) is displayed, but this medium does not prepare the visitor for how oil paint can deliver colour – so physically and so embedded in the materiality of paint.

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#73. Geoff Hands writes on “Terry Frost: A Book of Ideas” at Belgrave Gallery, St. Ives

Terry Frost installation

“Terry Frost: A Book of Ideas” at Belgrave Gallery, St. Ives, was at 19 June to 15 July 2017.

Gaining access to an artist’s sketchbook can be a rare opportunity. Even the artists you know personally might be reluctant to let you leaf through their, sometimes, intimate visual journals. Belgrave St Ives (with the Terry Frost Estate) have gone a stage further than merely displaying a book in a vitrine for this exhibition. A large format sketchbook (46.5 x 37.5 cm) of Frost’s has been dismantled and 30 out of 50 or so pages have been surface mounted and framed. The workbook covers much of the decade from the 1970s to 1981 and followers of Frost’s career will recognise several of the artist’s favourite subjects, for example ‘Suspended Forms’, the ‘Sun and Moon’ theme, and the ‘Lorca’ series.

Seeing the main body of this work (paintings and collages) almost simultaneously in the gallery allows a general sweep of all of the images, as well as more concentrated looking at individual pages. Some degree of comparison is also possible and the curators have carefully placed images alongside each other that have some sequential or common features that link them together thematically. In a few instances, double page spreads from the book had also been kept intact and the most bold and impressive of these were pages 104 and 105, a painted maquette for the subsequent woodcut, ‘Two Loves for Tredavoe’ (1999).

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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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#58. Geoff Hands writes on “Testing <1<2<1<2," at ASC Studios, London

How Many Abstract Paintings Do We Need To See In The World, Really?

Testing <1<2<1<2 is open by appointment until Friday 31st March 2017 and then open to the public Sat and Sun 1st 2nd April 2017, 2-5pm

The argument over Abstraction in art (especially painting) still drags on. In Elephant magazine, issue 29 (Winter 2016/17), the prestigious American painter Kerry James Marshall makes some interesting, if debateable, comments on “Abstract picture making” as little more than an “academic mode”. He claims that: “The fundamental principle of art making is representation… There are quite enough problems to solve to keep you going for sometime. If you never succeed there, and you go to abstraction because it seems easier, you miss the philosophical and aesthetic questions involved. Besides, how many more abstract pictures do we need to see in the world, really?

Though tempting, it would be too easy, and crass, to say that there are also too many figurative paintings in the world. There are probably far too many bad paintings of any classification. But there can never be enough good ones – which is partly what drives an artist on, if that’s not too romantic a notion.

A strangely contrasting point-of-view was made more recently on the (highly recommended) Two Coats of Paint blog. Sharon Butler, reviewing ‘A New subjectivity: Figurative Painting after 2000’ at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, makes the fascinating observation that, “In adopting imagery without direct reference to the objects that underlie them, the artists seem to be noting – indeed, demonstrating – the disconnected manner in which life is now lived. Fragmentation and detachment – a kind of existential abstraction – are the norm.”

Whether appropriated by some contemporary figurative painters or aligned with some sort of new figuration, where the painters “find everything to be a matter of images” (to quote Barry Schwabsky from the online catalogue for “A New Subjectivity’), Abstraction clearly and demonstratively engages with the problems of painting (and collage and sculpture) despite the surprising conservatism of Kerry James Marshall. Indeed, Schwabsky’s comment hits the proverbial nail on the head – for the result of Abstraction is always the image (2D or 3D) – which is, surely, the ‘thing’ we engage with in the gallery?

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#52. Geoff Hands writes on Ian McKeever: “Against Architecture” at Matt’s Gallery

Ian McKeever, "Against Architecture" installation, Matt's Gallery, London

Ian McKeever, “Against Architecture” installation, Matt’s Gallery, London

Ian McKeever: “Against Architecture is at Matt’s Gallery until 19th March 2017.

https://www.mattsgallery.org/artists/mckeever/exhibition-3.php

During the summer of 2016 I visited Ian McKeever’s studio in Dorset. Already an admirer of his work for some 30 years or so, access to the studio to see works as yet unfinished or not exhibited before was much appreciated. This included work from his ‘Portrait of a Woman’ series, which was about to be sent to Galleri Susanne Ottesen in Copenhagen. It was intriguing to see that these apparently abstract paintings were linked, conceptually, to Italian portraiture from the 15th century. Hopefully, at some point in the future, this most recent series of paintings will be seen in the UK (although two were exhibited at the RA last summer).

Upon leaving the studio, some small works that seemed familiar from a catalogue in my collection, were propped against a wall and on a shelf; as nothing more than an impression, they suggested possibilities for sculpture, but I thought no more about it. These included some of the photo/painting panels, first exhibited in Copenhagen in 2014, which re-appear in Against Architecture at Matt’s Gallery.

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#30. Geoff Hands writes on the Paintings of Katrina Blannin at Jessica Carlisle

Katrina Blannin installation at Jessica Carlisle

Katrina Blannin installation at Jessica Carlisle

KATRINA BLANNIN: ANNODAM is at Jessica Carlisle, 4 Mandeville Place, London W1U 2BF, 11th March – 9th April, 2016

Ruminations: Introduction

 “Paintings are there to be experienced, they are events. They are also to be meditated on and to be enjoyed by the senses; to be felt through the eye.” John Hoyland (Serpentine Gallery, 1979)

Looking at works of art gets us thinking, producing reactions of approval, disinterest or dissatisfaction. Such reactions appear instantaneous. Thereafter, one can move on or get involved. Further pondering, or ‘rumination’, might result in seeing a different painting, print or sculpture etc. Time is key.

In the quotation extracted from John Hoyland’s catalogue statement (above), the active and eventful meditation alluded to, fuses emotion (that which is ‘felt’ and ‘enjoyed’) with a visually stimulated encounter (via the ‘senses’). Paintings and other art forms are empowered by being perceived by the viewer. To “see through the eye”, rather than with the mind, is a statement affirming a visual poetics that has a particular, though not exclusive, relationship to abstract painting. Conceptually, and ironically, it establishes an anti-conceptual position.

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#29. Geoff Hands writes on shows by John Bunker and John Hoyland

John Bunker, 'Old Roan', 2015. 70cmx85cm, mixed media shaped collage.

John Bunker, ‘Old Roan’, 2015, 70cmx85cm, mixed media shaped collage.

Tribe: New & recent collages by John Bunker was at Westminster Reference Library, 35 St Martin’s Street, London; now closed.

John Hoyland: Power Stations At Newport Street Gallery, Newport Street, London until 3rd April 2016.

[This is the third article on Abcrit with views on the Hoyland show – see also #19 and #26. for other opinions and more illustrations]

Size Matters

Choosing to visit two exhibitions on the same day should always be considered with care, for one might critically overshadow the other. If you are fortunate the two will complement, or resonate with one another in some way. So, having spent the morning looking at the predominantly cinematic John Hoyland canvases in the inaugural ‘Power Stations’ exhibition at Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery (NSG), an afternoon session viewing John Bunker’s comparatively small collages at the Westminster Reference Library was a suitable combination and, by good chance, seen in the right order.

After the impressive, no-expense-spared, attraction of the curatorially upmarket Newport Street location (just a 15 minute walk from Tate Britain), the unassuming public library, almost surreptitiously skulking down a side street, but only a stone’s throw from the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, provided a haven of quiet consideration amongst the all-pervading commercial enterprises of central London. This scholarly location encouraged silent contemplation.

In a small but adequate space, eight of Bunker’s recent collages were arranged in linear fashion, encouraging the viewer to step up to each one to inspect the various elements. Something like double-portrait sized and displayed at head height, all but one of the collages were nailed to the wall – the odd one out was framed and a little superfluous. These islands of matter floating, though fixed, presented unassuming stuff from the urban world and, by association with the process of collage, the studio floor.

The collages were intimate, despite the attention of the spotlights, and fell silent in appropriate surroundings; whereas the high ceilinged, well-lit chambers, of Damian’s gaff in Newport Street created an uplifting sense of awe that could have elicited cries of “wow” from visitors. Not that a comparison between Hoyland’s paintings and Bunker’s collages is crucially relevant, or even fair, but the range of sizes and the visual impact of imagery in these works, posed questions of audience experience of the exhibition as spectacle – which can create a fulfilling encounter, large or small as the show might be.

Certainly, the aptly titled ‘Power Stations’ display would have impacted on the viewer for the sheer physical size of many of the canvases. And also, with an emphasis on visually explicit colour subject matter, and a celebratory exposition of the act of painting, the compelling experience of offering examples of a range of tour-de-force performances from the studio (a Rachmaninoff piano concerto perhaps – though with Hoyland there’s a New York city jazz twist) may not be too fanciful. It depends on the viewer’s preferences for painting, and music, I dare say.

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#21. Geoff Hands writes on Dennis Loesch

Dennis Loesch, installation at PM/AM Gallery, photo Erik Saeter Joergensen.

Dennis Loesch, installation at PM/AM Gallery, photo Erik Saeter Joergensen.

Merge Visible: New Digital Paintings by Dennis Loesch was at PM/AM Gallery, London, 24th September – 26th October 2015

“Are you still looking for a Cézanne?”

Despite the variety of media and means available for artists to make their mark upon the world, or add another object to it, painting will not go away. In recent weeks, for the London-centric art viewer-visitor, ‘must see’ lists would surely have included the extremely painterly and mightily abstract, John Hoyland: Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982 (Newport Street Gallery) and the supreme and breathtaking Frank Auerbach (Tate Britain) exhibitions; and of course Frieze and Frieze Masters in Regent’s Park. Just before the recent spate of shows, the Sonia Delaunay and Agnes Martin exhibits at Tate Modern, in contrasting ways, would have revived (if needed) a battery re-charging of the potentials, and achievements, of abstract painting. With such major events filling the diary of necessary distractions (especially from the daily routines of studio practice, if you are an artist) smaller shows, or venues less well known, can be overlooked.

So, at the start of four days of consecutive gallery visiting, culminating at Frieze Masters, I headed for the mid-show breakfast event of Merge Visible: New Digital Paintings by Dennis Loesch at the PM/AM gallery, a newly renovated space located on the Old Marylebone Road, where the artist would be present. This venture, to introduce mostly German based artists to the UK, has been set up by Patrick Barstow (London) and Lee Colwill (Berlin), handily coinciding with many critics and collectors being in town for the Frieze events.

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