Review: From Centre: Loud and Western Building. Andy Parkinson
abstract art and systems thinking
From Centre, an exhibition of reductive abstract works, curated by Saturation Point and Slate
Projects was on view at The Loud & Western Building, from 11 April to 26 April 2015 showing the following artists:
William Angus-Hughes, Rana Begum, Martin Church, Nathan Cohen, Rhys Coren, Natalie Dower, Judith Duquemin, Julia Farrer, Ben Gooding, Lothar Götz, Hanz Hancock, Tess Jaray, Silvia Lerin, Peter Lowe, Patrick Morrissey, Laurence Noga, Charley Peters, Richard Plank, Giulia Ricci, Carol Robertson, Robin Seir, Steve Sproates and Trevor Sutton.
It’s an impressive line up, spanning several generations of artists, born in every decade from the 1930s to the 1980s, and making a convincing case for the growing relevance of abstract art in the UK.
Thinking about abstraction’s continued relevance may require me to at least mention Zombie Formalism, (“Formalism because this art involves a straightforward, reductive, essentialist method of making a painting and Zombie because it brings back to life the discarded aesthetics of Clement Greenberg”), if only to suggest that the term, coined by artist -critic Walter Robinson, quoted in brackets above, seems to refer more to the market than to the art and may appear more pertinent in the USA than in the UK where alternative modernisms have sometimes held more sway than the version associated with Greenberg and Fried. It is Constructivism I have in mind, its UK variant Constructionism and the Systems Group, which for the artists atFrom Centre are more central than Abstract Expressionism etc.
The reductive (but not necessarily essentialist or straightforward) works on view at From Centre seem to me to be a genuine attempt at continued participation in a living, though contested, tradition.
In Dower’s 2013 Painting Polymorph, a subtle pink rectangle is halved down the middle, from which the central point of a pale yellow circle is found, and within that circle a white rectangle beneath an irregular black triangle are positioned. Or maybe there is no “above” or “beneath”, a rectangle within a circle is divided into three different shaped triangles, two white and one black. Alternatively, we simply have a rectangle divided into nine other shapes. The figures and their relationships are not random but calculated mathematically, the parts being strictly determined by the whole, to my mind the most elegant definition of a system. The painting has subtlety, serenity, beauty and a little excitement too, with its alternating views and the slight after-imaging taking place.
Other artists here who employ mathematical or numerical systems include Peter Lowe, a former member of the 1970s Systems Group founded by Malcolm Hughes and Jeffrey Steele. He defines systems in his work as “a way of communicating an intelligible idea in terms of shapes colours and forms, or an organisation principle that I predetermine and allow to run to see what the outcomes will be…” In his painting here, Triangles within a Dodecagon, he takes the regular twelve sided shape as its starting place and bases an equilateral triangle between two of the vertices, or along one of the sides. A second triangle is found by taking the base across three vertices, a third across four and a fourth across five. The fourth triangle being the last one that can be produced by following this process, is exactly central, each of its sides spanning four sides of the dodecagon. In the painting here the resultant figures are positioned on a square canvas, losing the surrounding dodecagon altogether. The colours, black, white and red create four planes: a white ‘background’, in front of which is a plane including the largest and smallest triangles in black, in front of which is the red triangle, in front of which is the white triangle. Of course they shift creating varying perceptual gestalts.
There are shifting gestalts in Rana Begum’s painted relief, No. 317, the actual three-dimensionality of the piece, combined with the movement of the viewer results in multiple variations of form, whereas in Charley Peters’ fascinating painting Plexus we are presented with the illusion of flatness within an illusory three dimensional space.
In Giulia Ricci’s Order Disruption Painting there’s something strange going on spatially, the patterned repetition of a triangular motif creating something akin to a systemic field which breaks down in places as the pattern is interrupted, resulting in the appearance of wormholes or spatial anomalies that can also be interpreted as twisting forms caught in the net of the surface whilst at the same time forming that surface. For me, her work explicitly links system to visual pattern.
All the artists in this show, perhaps to varying degrees, share an interest in system and/or series. The two tend to go together when a numerical system is being explored. However Julia Farrer’s Knot in Time, seems more to be the product of an entirely empirical enquiry. In both approaches I think there is a search going on, not for the one definitive statement but rather for knowledge. The traditional notion of the masterpiece is challenged, just as it seems totally out of step with our post-digital experience. With Farrer perhaps we have series but not necessarily system, with Laurence Noga I think we have both, but the system is more operational than mathematical.
Yet, each work in this exhibition does command attention as its own thing, perhaps the title of Carol Robertson’s painting Aura is suggestive of this. Whilst in the work different coloured bands surrounding a circle might be likened to an aura, I wonder if that famous Walter Benjamin opposition between mechanical reproduction and the aura of the single artwork is also being referenced. Paradoxically, the serial methodology both challenges and upholds the singularity of each individual piece: singular within series, one but not all.
There may exist differences in emphasis between the generations represented in this exhibition. Perhaps the older artists show more interest in structure in comparison to the younger ones who may appear as interested in the breakdown of order as in its establishment. Contrasting, say, the Trevor Sutton painting Christow with Giulia Ricci’s Order Disruption Painting, could reinforce this view, as might opposing the serene geometry of the Natalie Dower to the visual excitation of Patrick Morrissey’s work, or the stability of Sutton with the kinetic, off- balance effect of Morrissey (see image below), and I know I am going too far in contrasting the contained circularity of Farrer’s Knot in Time or Robertson’s Aura with the eccentricity of Martin Church’sDefinitions (Study No. 3), because mostly what I am finding here is continuity.
Without succumbing to the much too linear (non-systemic) notion of progress, I do want to suggest that these generationally diverse artists, in their shared commitment to an economy of means and a formal language, rooted in the tradition of constructivism and systems art, continue to develop this rich field of artistic activity.
Watch this space!
(There is an illustrated catalogue accompanying the exhibition, with excellent essays by Nathan Cohen and Laura Davidson and an introduction by Alex Meurice.)
Charley Peters interviews artist Judith Duquemin about her work.
Duquemin comments: "Whether it be analogue or conceptual reality, or abstract conceptual reality, sometimes referred to as virtual reality, we require a personal history of perceptual experience to respond to what we sense and perceive, and this can be applied to all notions of reality, with each appealing to perception in different ways. While I acknowledge that the materiality and sensuality of painting, and the value of hand/eye/brain synchronicity, can produce convincing analogies of reality as a perceptual experience, I favour a definition of conceptual reality, an experience of reality characterized by abstract ideas and concepts. By referring to the very notion of individual free will, it could be argued that reality is more conceptual by nature. And I would fall short of saying that virtual reality can never inherit the analogue perspective of painting, simply because we do not know the potential of digital media, and also because as a human race we are adapting all the time to digital communications that require new levels of psychomotor interactivity ... I like to mix painting with the digital processes of image making, researching their potential in as many ways as possible... It could be said that I prefer a process of creating ‘new processes’ as opposed to ‘new works’, because in this way one is always cultivating (new) knowledge by alternating the style, the medium, the process and perhaps also the discipline."
Exhibition: Fabric and Fabrication Five Contemporary Artists Who Work With Pattern. Curated by: Judith Duquemin
Patterns aplenty in the Tin Sheds' new show of innovative works
13 March 2006
Pattern in the extreme is the focus of the five established, contemporary artists represented in the exhibition currently showing in the University’s Tin Sheds Gallery, coordinated by award-winning Sydney College of the Arts graduate Judith Duquemin.
Characteristic of Duquemin, her abstracts, based on a complex pattern-making formula and with flat planes of minimal colours, give the illusion of three-dimensional oscillation. Yet these latest works are curiously restful, their contrasting clean curves and hard-edged angles creating a sense of balance rather than conflict.
Significantly, the paintings – and there are just two in this show - are from a series titled “Integrity”, which she says reflects a sense of “completeness about art and life”.
This latest body of work is the culmination of Duquemin’s 18-month research into relationships between painting abstraction and 20th century textile design, undertaken in Europe and the USA. The research was partly funded by SCA’s prized Fauvette Loureiro Memorial Artist Travel Scholarship which Duquemin won in 2004, the year after graduating with a PhD in Visual Art.
In his large silkscreen “Childe Harold/Futurefall”, Justin Trendall – who lectures in SCA’s Printmedia Studio - takes a step further his idea of the ‘phantasmagorical grid’ that we saw in last year’s exhibition in the University Art Gallery.
Intricately patterned in gold on deep red silk, the work mimics the classical frieze, running the full four outer walls of a building-like contruction, while appearing to map a continuous coastline and hinterland, complete with placenames.
Closer inspection, though, reveals the coastal names to jump between those near Sydney, those around Perth and those in the Byronshire for instance, while apparent hinterland area names are the names of specific writers, musicians, visual artists and philosophers or their works, spanning several centuries.
The impression is of a mapping of memories or cultural influence, and - given the circular nature of the work - of a precocious autobiography perhaps.
Kate Mackay both calls on and explodes the domestic connotations of crochet in her brightly coloured, confrontational 3D abstract works which explore the relationship between painting and craft and the ‘uselessness’ of each.
Christopher Dean, an SCA graduate concerned with the ‘ecstatic possibilities of communication’, has incorporated abstracted text into his drawings. His “Conversations with Robert Lake” is a series of short sentences based on his talks with the Sydney gallerist and drawn in a patchwork of soft, vibrant multi-coloured lines.
John Aslanidis considers himself to be a sound artist more than a painter and sound waves are certainly connoted in his “Sonic Network”, a large painting of psychedelic, superimposed patterned circles. His intention in this compelling work was to capture “a fragment of infinity” in an ambiguous zone between sound and vision.
There’s a strong sense of originality and of cohesiveness in this varied exhibition. Titled Fabrication, it connotes the patterning of modernist fabrics that have intrigued Duquemin since her childhood, and reflects each artist’s intention to fabricate autonomous worlds through a making and breaking of the conventions of pattern making.