Do you have as untidy a studio as mine? I only ask because I’ve been trying for quite a while now (the very decent Climate Change weather helped…the studio can be perishing in mid-winter) to do some housekeeping. Tucked away in back a bunch of smaller canvases that, for whatever reason, never got fully resolved. Including these two from back in the day…well five years or so ago. Around the time I was working on a bunch of big canvases (well biggish nowadays) that showed at the Carnival Of Monsters in Beeston, Nottingham in 2014. These had started out as the continuation of the Conversation Pieces that in turn began back in the late noughties but altered tack during the painting process erasing the more biomorphic forms with a renewed interest in formalism (albeit of a cranky kind). I say biggish because at 7 by 5 foot they would have been considered fairly tiddly back in the days I was a student at Birmingham where the legacy of John Walker was writ large – literally so!
But alongside the bigger pieces I made these smaller panels, indeed I made several even smaller still. Getting them out suggested they might have made the cut…excepting that they needed a small adjustment here and there which is exactly what they’ve just been given. Are these new completed works to be dated 2014/19 or is that as pretentious as I’ve always thought it to be when seen about the place..?
Numbers 57 through 64…been a decent couple of weeks for completions…aiming to finish up a few more to fill out Box Two. Mind that will need me to pick up the resolution rate as I need to get through to ninety! Had been hoping to have two filled by the end of the year…looking a tad ambitious now though you never know?
I imagine there might be a few grumbles amongst the sculpture fraternity that Sean Scully is showing sculpture (with paintings, prints, drawings and photographs) up at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.After all his reputation rests mainly on his body of paintings made over the past half century.But its quite a coup for the place nonetheless as Scully is surely one of the biggest beasts to have shown there over the years.Its well worth a visit as it is showing concurrently with Giuseppe Penone, another ‘big beast’ of the Arte Povera group making YSP quite a classy destination at present.
And it gave me pause for thought that – by and large – the work as a whole showed off Scully’s talents and clear sighted approach to great effect.Its the latter characteristic that got me thinking.Right from the get go Scully has gone after his objective of making relevant abstract paintings for our time.His early work utilised grids at a time when they were much in vogue, but drawing upon observations and feelings of things seen in the world, progressed to a more closed, indeed sealed in, disposition whilst billeted (for the most part) in late seventies NYC before breaking out into an art that is abstract but routed so firmly in the emotional and geophysical that he can rightly claim that they are not abstract at all.Like most of us of pensionable age he is now in a furious race against time with so much to do aesthetically and inevitably a closing door in which to do it!The sculptures have come along in recent years and, as he was at pains to point out in his lecture, have been conceived and executed with the same lucidity as his other work.They are in effect paintings in three dimensions with the materiality being the main spring of their presence in the world.He also stressed the vital importance of truth to material in these works – that also got me thinking.Take Moor Shadow Stack – my pal Paul (who knows a thing or two about installing big works!) and myself were speculating earlier in the day that the piece must have been constructed of carefully engineered hollow slabs but his talk made such a play of the material quality being informed by its solidity that I’m now convinced that all the sculptures on show were solid objects (either that or he’s damn clever at convincing me!).
If I have minor concerns (and they are so) then it is firstly in the sighting of Crate Of Air, a monumental piece, that I felt was a little cramped in its placing.Ideally it would dominate the lower lawn facing the lake in my opinion.Mind that would have involved relocating the Caro that I suspect the heroic installation team might have cavilled at given the scale of the undertaking. My other niggle is the surface quality of the paintings.Like most I’ve seen in the past five or ten years they are made on sheet aluminium using (what I think) is a proprietary aluminium primer that allows the luscious quality of the oil to sit on top.This gives the work in some light (particularly pale grey Yorkshire autumn light) rather a pasty sheen that I’m not so sure about.
However these are very minor issues (for me, let alone anyone else) and the paintings looked wonderful in the big open space of the Longside Gallery.Several of those on show I’m fairly sure had come from his 2015 and 2017 Chaim & Read shows (that by good fortune I happened to see) – the big multi panel painting Blue Note certainly was central to the Wall Of Light Cubed exhibition.The opportunity to see it alongside other works and set against the sculptural works in a generous space (everything being a bit cramped in Chelsea) was a real treat!
This is (the first part) of a text I started writing ahead of the symposium at The Herbert Gallery. Coventry organised by Matthew Macaulay, but continued after the event to incorporate some thoughts about it.Given my active engagement in the subject and experiences of the period (I spent that decade working in the subsidised Visual Arts sector and often visiting both London & elsewhere always endeavouring to take in any shows I could) naturally I was keen to go along. As it happens quite a few of those things I had already written about came up on the day…though quite a few others didn’t so here goes…
Where does one start in a discussion about this subject?Is it even a valid subject at all? For a start what constitutes “British’ in these Brexit times, or even more so back in the 1980’s.At the start of the decade the Royal Academy was still a quarter of a century from electing its first Black artist (Frank Bowling in 2005) but had fully embraced European emigres such as Freud and Auerbach. Identity politics, around Feminism and gender as well as race, were all impacting on the art of the time although the official organs of distribution were still, certainly at the beginning of the decade, indifferent if not ignorant of them.Two speakers on the day (Rebecca Fortnum & Maggie Ayliffe) spoke at length to issues around Feminism and its impact on abstract painting, though in passing its worth noting that much of their eloquent testimony revolved around paintings, and especially exhibitions, from the early nineties rather than the eighties. Perhaps a more blatant omission was any testimony to racial politics and the absence of any people of colour at the event (I’m fairly sure of this though I apologise if I’m wrong) and but a passing visual reference to only one British artist of colour on the day (Frank Bowling again) in a decade when the emergence of the “Black Art’ movement (admittedly short on ‘abstract’ painters) was a key feature of what was taking place.
Moving on, as we all know, the term “Abstract’ is fraught with difficulties too numerous to detain us in this lifetime (and certainly within this text) but the notion of boundaries between that which is properly abstract, that which is ‘abstracted’ and figuration, however loosely defined played quite a part in the decade in question.This was raised a couple of times in the day but never really teased out.As it happens most of those painters referenced were ‘abstract’ in that they abstracted from reality (of some sort!, more qualification!) and notions of landscape was a shadowy presence for nearly all of them.There was little mention of painters who might more readily be accepted as truly non-representational (accepting that some of them might allude to ‘real world’ influences anyway) other than in Daniel Sturgis‘s text on Alan Uglow though even here we were teased with the references to football pitch layouts that Uglow enjoyed alluding to.
Painting as a term we might all understand a little better but even so by the 1980’s even this had reached myriad points of debate. A good deal of the boundary shifting in painting was taking place in the USA and at the event David Ryan in his opening paper drew a good deal of attention to what was happening there as well as what happened here, including some of those artists engaged in that very practice.
And beyond all the foregoing history is, of course, written primarily by the ‘winners’ although we now live in dramatically revisionist times that suggest that, as in previous centuries, time will have a profound say on what shakes out over the long run (the ‘re-discovery’ of Uglow championed by Bob Nickas may or may not prove to be an example). Although, as is inevitable with an open call for papers, the day was full of disjointed and disparate texts there was much to reflect on and the show Matthew had brought together that was the end point of proceedings is well worth a visit. Part 2 to follow!
and rediscovery too… I’ve been absent from this site for over a month I realise, making use of quite a bit of the good summer weather and being (unusually) at home to drag work out of the basement. I have stored older work down in the dark recesses over the years despite knowing full well that the fetid conditions rapidly rot canvasses away. Those that survive often require some restoration but its those that never got properly resolved, or where I lost interest that are most interesting. Some remain intractable but I have found myself increasingly interested in resolving and completing others.
I’m looking at these two from the Conversation Pieces (part two) series. And have decided that part of their resolution will be to join forces as a diptych where two conversations get crossed wires. Part of the process for me is re-imagining it as I did when first working on them…around six or seven years back. Mostly I don’t work with tapes preferring to paint to the pencil line but just occasionally with these I chose to tape up a block to get that crisp, slightly raised line.
Another interesting thing for me is rediscovering old pictures I’ve quite forgotten about. This one comes from a series made in the mid 1990’s and was the only one of a group of a dozen or so in landscape. It never quite fit with the rest, stylistically as well as format, but only now do I realise it was a precursor of the large series of paintings that began in the late nineties through to 2004/5 and formed the backbone of a solo show at Derby Museum ‘Nothing But Mirrors & Tides’