Lockdown has allowed a period of concentrated activity. There is no end result, like exhibiting. It’s just to see where the language of Abstract Painting takes me. I give myself a lot of leeway, as I’m working in an extremely concentrated fashion. I drive up the same lane, past Walter Raleigh’s house every day. I drive slowly and take everything in, looking at the colour, light and shade /a la Cezanne. Then I get to my farm studio and close the door. I stretch up a canvas quite beautifully. I have been a carpenter in NY. Then I stretch a heavy weight canvas over the frame, which has an inch and a half edge. The 5ft by 7ft canvasses are the ones featured here, and I make each one afresh, beautifully stretched anew each time. Then I really try not to plan too much. Improvisation is the key, but inevitably I make a few notes. I then have the weight of paint on the surface. I’m aware of staining technique from Louis and Frankenthaler. I enjoy that, but realise its limitations. Changes or additions can be great or awful, according to choices made. However I’m free to paint out what I don’t like, in a varied way. I’m always varying the surface which I find crucial to a visually exciting picture.
Some time ago I was invited by Myles Corley, the gallery director of Linden Hall Studio in Deal, Kent, to curate an exhibition of new abstract painting, chosen from my own personal point of view. I thought it was a good chance to consider what did or did not qualify as “abstract”, and to examine the activities of painters whom I thought were moving forwards in original ways. It was intended to publish the short essay that follows as part of a catalogue for the show, along with reproductions of paintings by the ten chosen artists, all to coincide with the opening of the exhibition on 4th April 2020. Instead, due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, I’m publishing the essay and the ten reproductions here on Abcrit.
This essay was written before I had seen much of the work, and was not intended as an analysis of any of the content in the paintings to be hung. More than anything, it was aimed to demonstrate my own enthusiasms for differences and divergences ongoing in original abstract painting. I was genuinely excited by the prospect of seeing some of these very different works together for the first time. The exhibition will hopefully still take place before too long. In the meantime, perhaps we can begin here to discuss the differences, achievements and ambitions of this work, with an example from each of the artists. There will be thirty or so paintings that will get hung eventually in the actual exhibition, but for the time being, we are reproducing here one work each from the ten artists: Noela James Bewry; John Bunker; EC; myself; Harry Hay; Patrick Jones; Dean Piacentini; John Pollard; Hilde Skilton; and Stephen Walker.
I’m hoping the artists themselves are fit and well, and (in their current self-isolation) will contribute to a discussion of their work on-line, along with anyone else who might find it makes for an interesting dialogue. Reproductions are never as good as the real thing, but it’s a start.
With thanks to all the artists for their enthusiasm in putting together this show; and I look forward to the real thing in Deal, when it happens.
4th April 2020
“Take a giant step…” as the great Taj Mahal once sang… or was it the Monkees: “Take a giant step outside you mind”?
In April 1969, as a young art student at Wimbledon School of Art in London, I went to see a big show of abstract art at Tate Gallery: “The Art of the Real; An Aspect of American Painting and Sculpture 1948 -1968”. This was very new and exciting to me back then, and in its way, as I will explain, it still is.
The show originated and was shown in 1968 in MOMA, New York, where it was devised and directed by E. C. Goossen, and subsequently presented with the help of the Arts Council of Great Britain to the Tate Gallery, London. Here is the opening to Goossen’s introduction:
“To propose that some art is more “real” than other art may be foolhardy. Yet many American artists over the last few years have made this proposal by the nature of their work. They have taken a stance that leaves little doubt about their desire to confront the experiences and objects we encounter every day with an exact equivalence in art. That they are shaping this equivalence by modifying forms inherited from the history of modern abstraction may or may not be an accident. Certainly there seems to be a growing distrust of idealism and its unfulfilled promises. The “real” of today as it is posited by this new art has nothing to do with metaphor, or symbolism, or any kind of metaphysics. It is not the ideal Hegelian essence that Hans Hofmann was invoking several decades ago in his essay, “The Search for the Real”. It does not wish to convey the notion that reality is somewhere else. Neither is it related to the symbolic reality Malevich thought he had discovered when, in 1913, he first isolated his black square on a white field. Malevich indeed had produced a real square, but he employed it as an element in the construction of a precariously balanced, ideal order with which he proposed to bring forth a “new world of feeling”. Today’s “real”, on the contrary, makes no direct appeal to the emotions, nor is it involved in uplift. Indeed, it seems to have no desire at all to justify itself, but instead offers itself for whatever its uniqueness is worth – in the form of the simple, irreducible, irrefutable object.”
The essay concludes five pages later, thus:
“The gradual divorce of the physical means of art from expressionistic associations has been accompanied by a distinct change in attitude towards what art should attempt. Expressionism, even at its most abstract, continued many aspects of representational art, and constructivism, despite its purist look, was basically nostalgic in its search for meaning through traditional methods of composition. The new attitude has been turning art inside out: instead of perceptual experience being accepted as the means to an end, it has become the end in itself. The Renaissance artist laboured over perspective in order to create an illusion of space within which he could make believable the religious and philosophical ideals of his time; the contemporary artist labours to make art itself believable. Consequently the very means of art have been isolated and exposed, forcing the spectator to perceive himself in the process of perception. The spectator is not given symbols, but facts, to make of them what he can. They do not direct his mind nor call up trusted cores of experience, but lead him to the point where he must evaluate his own peculiar responses. Thus, what was once concealed within art – the technical devices employed by the artist – is now overtly revealed; and what was once the outside – the meaning of its forms – has been turned inside. The new work of art is very much like a chunk of nature, a rock, a tree, a cloud, and possesses much the same hermetic “otherness”. Whether this kind of confrontation with the actual can be sustained, whether it can remain vital and satisfying, it is not yet possible to tell.”
This, I think even in retrospect, was pretty good, and was the start of something important for me about how to make “abstract” art, and how to make it “real”. I had by then already abandoned any connections with figurative painting and sculpture of any kind.
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.