The rise of the nutters…

Its been too long since I made a posting and sadly I’m too busy right now to do the kind of detailed discussion of several of the things I’d wish.  So it’s a brief round up instead.  Of course the way the western world is turning right now is a wee bit distracting too.  I try to refrain from comment on these matters here but sometimes it seems that the craziness out there is getting worse at the moment.  My good friend Simon has put the UK insanity over the ‘European’ question down well so go read him if needs be.  And looking across the pond it looks equally bizarre…so we watched again the other evening the classic ‘The Thick of It’ that puts it all into some kind of perspective I guess.  Another friend of mine has, with much admiration from here, put his boots on the ground in the cause of the refugee crisis that the antics of the UK government succeeding in knocking off the European leaders agenda when surely they ought to have been focussed on that (see his blog for details).  But enough of that from hereabouts…it’s hard not to feel powerless in all this.

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But carrying on painting does occasionally feel very indulgent and a bit futile in the face of all the mayhem.  Still its what I do I keep telling myself.  And taking an idea from the excellent Andrew Bracey I keep tweeting a detail a day of whats cooking so in this blog there’s a couple of them.

Besides working there’s been some trips out…one to the Harley Gallery in Welbeck, North Notts.  Here artists Craig Fisher, Louisa Chambers and Rob Flint have been jazzing up the space using the notion of the ‘dazzle camouflage’ – that got quite an airing a couple years back at the centenary of it’s ‘invention’ with Carlos Cruz-Dias redoing one in Liverpool, Tobias Rehberger doing it in London and with the most media coverage Peter Blake knocking one out on the Mersey Ferry.  I’m pretty sure the idea behind this show was more the eliding of their three various and varied approaches to abstraction and the use of pattern and geometry and ‘seeing’ where it might take them and the space they occupied over the show period (sadly it ends tomorrow).  When I saw it a goodly portion of the show were the various readymade works installed and the additions were still very much on progress.

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But you still got an idea of way in which the collision of particular pieces, pattern and colour throws up new and surprising visual tropes and how this broad field of abstraction still holds a fascination for a much younger generation of painters than those of us who grew up with the geometry of Vasarely or Riley or Stella and Noland and so on.  If we do now live in the post-factual world (as I heard a commentator on the rise of Trump say a few days ago – Prof.Larry Sabato,Newsnight BBC, 24 Feb) then ideas of what ‘works’ in abstraction are as irrelevant to a consideration of a show of this kind as facts are to the likely GOP candidate this coming Fall.  One of the most interesting aspects of the show here was the way in which each artist privileges process and material.  Chambers use of folded paper models as subject matter in what might otherwise be quite traditional modern paintings, Flint’s use of washing up cloths as ground and figure and Fisher’s OHP projections.  All in all it was intriguing and visually compelling and even in this relatively early stage, commanded and shaped the space oddly – not least with the willingness to use lively – even sickly – colour combinations.  I’d say, and its meant as a compliment here – all a bit nutty…but here in a good way!

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Coming more up to date Simon and myself did the Mayfair Gallery circuit earlier this week…and took in as a centrepiece the RA Garden show.  Its a pot boiler and I’m sure on the evidence of our visit going to fill the coffers.  But overall it seemed messy and sloppy with way too much ‘filler’ getting in the way of the best and most intriguing works.  We took in Albert Oehlen’s new work at Gagosian that, if nothing else, was an intriguing departure from his usual schtick that I’d applaud.  There’s a lovely show of Simon Hantai paintings at Timothy Taylor and a fair bit of minimalist allover type stuff about (Manzoni Chromes at Mazzoleni and Park Seo-Bo at White Cube in Masons Yard.  The latter giving me pause for thought about paintings I made and abandoned back in 1972!  However one of the most intriguing things of the day for me was a visit to Waterhouse & Dodd where refreshing they stick the prices on the wall next to the work.  In this instance revealing that a modest sized Paul Feiler at £160k beats a large Terry Frost by £100k…I bet that ratio would have been at least reversed 10 years back and probably then some.  Whether it says more about the demise in Frost’s reputation or the rise in Feiler’s or a bit of both who can say…what it does tell us is that its a very fickle business indeed…

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Away from the bright lights (and the money sadly) my work – in a modest way – is out on the gallery wall at present at Repton’s New Court, where I showed the Winter Cycle a few months back.  The show is titled ‘View Of Delft: The World In Art‘ and is curated by Charmaine Tam, currently at Repton School but shortly off to Cambridge to read Art History.  She interestingly mixed student work with five artists, myself, Jackie Berridge, Lisa McKendrick, Melanie Russell and Ruth Solomons.  Wisely and modestly she didn’t show herself but her curatorial eye was good and the range of work covered a lot of ground with the diversity of material offset by sound judgments about what would line up intelligently against one another.  Overall I am very pleased to be part of this project that shows off the department’s sixth form work well and suggests that Charmaine may be somebody to watch in the future.  Besides Jackie’s work that I know well and have great affection for (full disclosure: we have been friends and sometime studio sharers for many years) I was much taken with Ruth’s small informal drawings on envelopes and Melanie’s small panels (see one below: Box Head & Shoulders Portrait II) accompanied by Hannah Walker’s Map II.

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But enough…I think I’ve caught up…so back to the painting…another detail below – all this makes me wonder – Am I a nutter too!:

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Technology defeat…best stick to painting?

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I’ve been trying for over an hour or more to convert the jpg above into a readable but quickly downloadable pdf so I can invite people to the forthcoming exhibition of my Winter Cycle paintings.  I’ve just conceded defeat!  I like to think I’m outside the ‘silver surfer’/’don’t understand this new fangled stuff’ group of older citizens but it seems no…once I get past the absolute basics of the technology… I’m fairly clueless!

However the gist of it all (and given what I’ve just said I imagine that maybe the image above cannot be easily read!) is that the series of 27 small panel paintings that have monopolised much of my painting time in the first half of 2015 will get their first airing from the 10th to the 30th October at the lovely New Court Gallery in Repton, South Derbyshire.  There will be an opening on Saturday 10th October from 6 to 8pm. and it would be lovely to see you there.  Alongside the painting cycle we will have a proof copy of a small publication that matches the paintings with the series of 27 poems written by Derby based Reg Keeling – entitled A Winter’s Journey – and that I discovered shortly after setting out on my own journey.  I am very grateful for my friend, and fellow painter, Louisa Chambers for facilitating this exhibition and to Julian Broadhurst whose contribution was bringing Reg’s work to my attention.

Here is the text of a press release that tells a little more about the Cycle:

In this exhibition, artist David Manley offers new abstract paintings informed by his reflections on the passing of a season.

The Winter Cycle is the result of moving studio from an artists’ complex in an old industrial building shared with 16 others to his home. In the process of shifting his work he rediscovered a set of small panel pictures began and abandoned several years earlier. The move also saw the establishing of a working space facing a large plate glass window into the garden. He fell to thinking about the relative solitude of working from home, often alone for long stretches and the immediate presence of the changing climate. The notion of a group of works loosely based around the seasonal journey from winter to spring occurred with the initial thought of Schubert’s Die Winterreise as a possible connection.

However shortly after starting he fortuitously chanced upon Julian Broadhurst’s recording of Derby based Reg Keeling’s reading of his set of poems entitled A Winter’s Journey. The local connection appealed to him and the more he listened he felt (maybe fell) into an empathetic relationship with the text. The relationship of the work to the Japanese form Haiku, and to the use of Renku, (linked verse) and Kiru, the ‘cutting’ or juxtaposition of two images or ideas as well as the underlying principles of capturing moments in time and simplicity of language appealed to the painter. As the individual works in his Winter Cycle developed he found himself reflecting on how these ideas might work visually.

The Winter Cycle is comprised of 27 small panels each taking a cue (and a title) from a poem in the collection.  In addition, and in keeping with Julian’s recording (available online), three larger works, two dedicated to Reg & Julian and one entitled Flute Interlude (a portion of a work by Julian that he uses on the recording as a marker between the readings of the poems and the interview between the two of them) make up the project. There are no literal readings between pictures and texts or any explicit connectivity.  Both can and do standalone, but there are sympathetic relationships that run between the two and extend outwards to Schubert and many others who have derived meaning from the cycle of seasons and the metaphor of the journey.

Generational differences..?

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Though its a while back now and sadly one of the two is about to close I wanted to write a little about two shows recently viewed. Both of them feature painters hereabouts – serious practices that intrigue and occasionally slightly baffle me, mostly I suspect, because of the thirty plus year generational differences between them and me.

Tristram Aver‘s display in the Angear space at Nottingham’s Lakeside entitled ‘There is a pleasure in the pathless woods’ is deliberately difficult to read, both in terms of content but also in the form. These oval pictures (for the most part) have an intense LED neon light band that acts as frame and visual tease obscuring the painting content through the relative darkness that these garish glows create around the imagery within. It’s a novel way of using neon…I saw something similar a few years back in a late show of work by the renowned COBRA artist Karel Appel where pornographic images were disrupted by shards of neon over them. In Appel’s works however the disruption was blatant, a way of posting a disjoint from the potentially shocking and offensive imagery deployed. [They must be quite controversial still as the above link is the only reference or image I could find on the web!]  Aver seems more subtle, aiming I guess to draw you into the gloom the better to explore the imagery within.  I’m (probably wrongly) detecting a trend developing with the neon…the current painting show at MOMA in NYC features works by Mary Weatherford that have it splashed over the surfaces of her atmospheric and gauzy abstractions. But with many (most) painters nowadays drawing on the legacy of screen based digital imagery perhaps its not surprising they want to get a glow going on in the finished work too?  As for Tristram’s imagery there’s a heck of a lot of deliberate elision at work…so that field sports of the 1800’s sit cheek by jowl with riot cops and cheerleaders, baying hounds trade blows with logo explosions and much more besides. Maybe for my taste a little too much though the resulting melange is unified in part through pattern imposed here and there in largish doses.  One worth seeing and still time to do so…though accessing the venue is no mean feat whilst the Tram works continue!

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Also on show (though you’ll have to be damn quick unfortunately) is another worth a viewing.  In ‘Harlequin’ at Gallery No.1 in Repton, South Derbyshire another painter –Louisa Chambers– is flirting with patterns. But here they take centre stage unencumbered by overt references to imagery obviously from the ‘real’ world mediated through a plundering of the internet. Though thats maybe a little wide of the mark too…given that two of the core sources of ideas in these paintings are modernist architecture and the history of non-representational paintings and that its likely? that the origin of these in the main might be the internet. Wherever the sources (and one suspects there are a host of others from the vast world of pattern, both as ‘art’ and as decoration) the resulting works are oddities…there’s a wonky and deliberately handmade aesthetic here with elements either juxtaposed in clanky and curious ways or left suspended in space as in the digitally printed work, a large blow up of a small work on paper, Harlequin that forms the exhibition’s centrepiece.  Is there another trend at work here…earlier in the year we chanced across Jeff Elrod’s solo show ‘Rabbit Ears’ at Luhring Augustine where he too was blowing up small sketches, doodles and very provisional collages.  I like the notion of these pictures being oddities – too much of the smaller scale contemporary abstraction by those under forty is either tasteful or deliberately ‘zombie’ in idea and execution.  Chambers, in her best pictures treads a fine line twixt these two polarities.  Louisa gets about a bit…we’ve actually shown in four mixed shows together this year…so even if you’ve missed this one no doubt there will be a chance to see her work again soon.

Both shows use aspects of contemporary painting practice in many ways not so dissimilar to my own…but I think if there is a significant difference it has to be buried in the context from which we emerged.  I’ve done my fair share of digital exploration (see my Extracting Digits for a summary) but I come at it from a foreign land, I am, as Lauren Laverne suggested recently an immigrant, whilst Tristram & Louisa were born and brought up in this place.

So two artists, within a few miles of here both pushing hard at careers as painters with a proper practice…heartening at a time when a lot of current activity is flim flam bricolage more often than not produced only to state subsidised command…but enough of my mardy prejudice it’s Xmas…a time of good will to all so I’m off to savour Sarah’s tastefully decorated trio of trees…

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Merry Christmas one and all!

Pareidolia | Pluspace

 

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Louisa Chambers ‘Balance I’

21st August – 14th September
50 Bishop St, Coventry CV1 1HW, UK

Ralph Anderson
Louisa Chambers
Frances Disley
Jack Foster
Rachael MacArthur
Ellie MacGarry
David Manley
Pheobe Mitchell
Andy Parkinson

Visit info

Comfort 2013, Oil on board, 17x14cm

Phoebe Mitchell / Comfort 2013, Oil on board, 17x14cm

It’s very rewarding to be a part of these shows…this one created by the energetic and very able Matthew Macaulay…that are carefully created to bring together work that shares a certain personal ‘vision’.  The result is that you can find yourself showing alongside artists of tremendous variety – certainly as regards age, gender and backgrounds – but with some characteristics that you recognise in your own work.  Given that I’ve been working for many years it occasionally surprises me that artists that I’m old enough to be the grandfather of (just I should add…) share some interests in painting that I do!  Whether that says something about me or them I’m not sure – but I hope it says something about the rude good health of the ‘tradition’ of non-objective painting despite the climate in the subsidised visual arts community in the UK.  That it takes enterprising and self effacing talents like Matthew to do these things without evident financial reward is sobering but heartening.  It shows that the things one cares passionately in are in good hands in the generation coming through right now.  If you can take a trip over to Pluspace – it sits just around the corner from the Bishop Street car park in the centre of Coventry.

 

Those few hardy souls who drop by here on a fairly regular basis might be forgiven for thinking I’ve dropped off the radar…or even the perch!  My excuse is that I’ve actually been properly working for this past week…helping install and assess across the three years of the Visual Arts pathway at Bishop Grosseteste University.  It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience to be part of a team that has mounted the best show ever for this course.  Now it’s back to business and I’m looking forward to meeting up tomorrow with curator Lisa Denyer who is selecting my contribution to the show below,  if you have the chance please go take a look!:

About Painting

Claudia Böse, Louisa Chambers, Lisa Denyer, Terry Greene, Matthew Macaulay, David Manley, Andy Parkinson, Anne Parkinson

Curated by Lisa Denyer

Venue: Castlefield Gallery, 2 Hewitt Street, Manchester M15 4GB
Preview: Thursday 19th June 6–9pm
Exhibition continues: Friday 20th June – Sunday 29th June 2014

Terry Greene, 'Adventures in Naples' 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 35x45cm

“The aim of art, so far as one can speak of an aim at all, has always been the same; the blending of experience gained in life with the natural qualities of the art medium.”
– Hans Hofmann

About Painting is an exploration of contemporary abstract painting. The exhibition documents systems based, highly structured pieces as well as those demonstrating a freer and more spontaneous language.

Painting is about being in the moment, exploring the properties of the medium to their full potential and allowing investigation into the multi faceted characteristics of paint. Abstraction is an engagement with the fundamental nature of the world through perceptive means. It is ambiguous and open to interpretation. It doesn’t pertain to any single subject, and has the capacity to represent a multitude of thoughts, feelings and visual stimuli.

Painting continues to be relevant because it is not convoluted or arbitrary, but honest and immediate. The painting process is reliant upon intuitive processes and the discovery of new possibilities. It involves being responsive, analytical, and fully engaged with the materiality of the medium. Dialogues, synergies and tensions are created, and polarities of colour explored on a given surface, often evoking a sense of recognition.

Every experience a painter has informs the making of work, just as the viewer brings their own knowledge which informs interpretation. In this exhibition, the viewer is invited to consider the decision making involved in the creation of a painting in terms of a series of significant events that align to form the compositional whole.

About Painting is part of Castlefield Gallery‘s Launch Pad exhibition programme.

 

Stop Making Sense

as David Byrne and Jonathan Demme once coined for one of the best live concert films ever made.  And I’m reaching a point with my Deadly Delicious series where it is becoming ever harder to concentrate on the task in hand.  It always happens when I can see the finishing line in sight.  The showing I’ve been working towards is coming up fast (just this week I was asked to write a short text for the wall) and for me it will be a conclusion to these paintings. In my head they have run out of juice and though I can (and have) thought of further ways and directions I might take them…I need to move on…in short to stop making sense and go to some other place.

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And this show that I’m looking forward to seeing tonight…has endorsed (in my thinking) an idea that I’ve been trialling in the studio for the past month or so alongside the viruses and scandinavian detectives that will be the Lakeside show.  For Louisa has been making very provisional and quite ‘clunky’ cardboard sculptures alongside her paintings for a while now…and I’m thinking if a recent Royal College student is willing to put it out there in that risky way why am I being reticent about it?

It also dawned on me that in the past I’ve been more than willing to push and pull the elasticity of ‘painting’ but of late (the past ten or fifteen years) I’ve been progressively tighter in the conception (and even often the execution) of the paintings I’ve been making.  So hence what I’m initially and provisionally calling ‘Tales From The Lumber Room’.  TFTLR also have two essential properties to help me ‘stop making sense’…they are random and cheap.  The former creates a chaotic and unstructured formal component, the latter encourages equally recklessness in handling and colour. The outcomes are therefore so wonderfully unpredictable.  Whether the results will be worthwhile who can say but it is very liberating to set out without a coherent and watertight plan.  The process is also beneficial to my dual personality as a Gemini…the clearing of all the offcuts of old timber in our cellar plays to my tidy Apollonian side whilst the carelessness of the creative process they are subjected to is definitely Dionysian!

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