Essay - Geometry and Place Written by Judith Duquemin

1. Judith Duquemin - Thirty Six - Digital Facade Graphic - 2800 x 6280 mm - Mathews Building - UNSW Psychology - 2016 - copyright Judith Duquemin - photo JacquieManning

Geometry and Place                    

Growing up in the rural cane farming region of Bundaberg influenced my interest in geometry and colour-field painting. Environmental factors noted, were the irregular grids of flat, adjoining sugarcane fields; mosaics of red ploughed earth and young green cane; panoramas of monochromatic sea and sky; wide open spaces; and the sharp contrasting shadows, and light fragments produced by the bright sunlight. The lifestyle offered freedom to learn, strive, explore, innovate and importantly compete as a creative individual in a prosperous, modern, safe and open-minded community [i]. Judith Duquemin 2017

The exhibition titled: Geometry and Place by painter and past resident of Bundaberg, Judith Duquemin at the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery (12 Mar – 29 Apr, 2019), is a wide-ranging survey of non-representational, reductive, geometric painting developed across two decades. The exhibition includes a selection of paintings, textile works, digital prints, as well as drawings and preliminary studies that demonstrate an investigational approach to contemporary painting practice. Apart from some early pieces, all the works are linked by playful examples of geometric systems or code.

Duquemin’s practice draws from C20th legacies of modernist Geometric Abstraction and the contemporary revivals of Constructionist Art, Concrete Art and Non-objective Art[ii]. More recently she has come to describe her work as a form of ‘constructive, generative art’ where the artist has partial control over how procedures are implemented. Generative Art is: “any art practice where the artist uses a system such as a set of rules, a computer programme, machine or other procedural invention, which is set into motion with some degree of autonomy contributing to, or resulting in, a complete work of art”[iii].  

In a recent statement about her work, Duquemin said: “I like to create imaginative geometric systems that enable me to construct multiple outcomes using techniques of reductive geometric painting.  The works in the exhibition are mostly multi-dimensional, asymmetric compositions, inspired by a combination of early environmental impressions formed as a child living amongst the sugar cane fields of the Bundaberg region, with those experiences later synthesized through education, academic research, travelling scholarship, artist residencies, national and international exhibitions, and ongoing self-directed inquiry into other geometries located within global culture, nature, and aspects of physical science. All my work employs the concrete elements of line, shape, colour and form constructed in a geometric hard-edge style”[iv].

The artist upholds a non-representational approach to painting yet values her early education in representational drawing and painting. She regards geometric abstraction as a vehicle for discovery and experimentation through painting that sometimes incorporates other media such as textiles and digital graphics. She enjoys a multi-disciplinary approach to creative inquiry, a practice once advocated by the Bauhaus Movement 100 years ago[v]. Following an intensive undergraduate and post graduate art education at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, Dr Duquemin embraced many ideas and theories put forward by a range of artists from the C20th who had employed geometry within their respective fields. They included: Grace Crowley (AU), Lygia Clarke (BR), Carmen Hererra (BR), Agnes Martin (CA), Bridget Riley (UK), Barbara Hepworth (UK), Gillian Wise (UK), Sonya Delauney (FR), Lyubov Popova (RU), Robert Hunter (AU), Frank Hinder (AU), Tony McGillick (AU), Peter Lowe (UK), Ellsworth Kelly (USA), Sol LeWitt (USA), Franꞔois Morellet (FR), Piet Mondrian (NL), Theo Van Doesberg (NL), Kazimer Malevich (RU).

Duquemin’s technique of hard-edge painting begins with the creation of systems as geometric, line pencil drawings that are carefully reworked to become painted studies that address relationships of colour and composition. Like the New York artist Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) she views her use of hard-edge technique, as a method for emphasizing the simplicity of shape and form. Hard-edge painting is an approach to abstract painting that became widespread in the 1960s and is characterized by areas of flat colour with sharp, clear (or ‘hard’) edges’[vi]. Line is suggested by edge and is not visible, yet edge operates on the same principle as a line, in that it suggests both a flat two-dimensional shape and a three-dimensional form. Line has an ongoing presence in the artist’s work. Duquemin’s interest in creative systems began with rudimentary schemata applied to regular, diagonal and curvilinear grids, to produce flat, unfolding patterns similar to the wall drawings of Sol LeWitt or the rhythmic colour formations found in the drawings and paintings of Bridget Riley.  

Schemata (plural) according to the writer, are ideas that begin in the artist’s mind to help them interpret and learn about an aspect of reality through art. The word derives from the Greek word: skhēma, being “a plan, diagram, or outline, especially a mental representation of some aspect of experience, based on prior experience and memory, structured in such a way as to facilitate (and sometimes to distort) perception, cognition, the drawing of inferences, or the interpretation of new information in terms of existing knowledge” [vii]. Schematic Composition #1 (Image 3), is the very first schema composed by the artist in 1999. For the commissioned painting: Rose Garden 2006 (Image 4), points on a ten point curvilinear grid map out a scheme to imitate a rose garden at Hunter Valley Gardens, Pokolbin in New South Wales, Australia. The works titled: Imaginary Garden (2006)and Oriental Garden (2006)on exhibition utilize similar schemata.

Experimentation with generating systems helps to explain how tessellated colour fields in the artist’s paintings gradually became restless: lifting, twisting, advancing and receding depending on the type of grid, with pictorial flatness slowly giving way to multi-dimensional picture making. In fact, the artist/writer states ‘it was a deliberate intention to move away from habits of flatness and orthogonality in pictorial space, towards a desire to work within notions of boundless space’. To achieve this effect the artist utilizes cropped sections of asymmetric, irregular grids generated from an undisclosed geometric source, something she now refers to as code. Examples may be observed in many works in the exhibition, in particular the multiple Schism 1-6 and Thirty Six (Image 5) a commissioned digital facade graphic by the School of Psychology at UNSW Sydney. The works refer to what the artist attempts to define as a non-gravitational, non-navigational gaze with all its contemporary connotations.

The dynamic elements in many of Duquemin’s paintings reflect a restless desire to learn through creative inquiry. Having completed a Doctor of Philosophy in 2004, she maintains an interest in the neuropsychology and neurophysiology of art making and art appreciation. In 2001 Semir Zeki (UK) established the new field of Neuroesthetics which by definition is ‘the scientific study of the neural bases for the contemplation and creation of a work of art’, finally linking the disciplines of art and science in a digital age [viii]. Geometric imagery has always played an important role in the scientific study of visual perception. Advances in digital brain mapping demonstrate that reductive geometric art provides visual cues for processing information and triggering personal memory in the brain’s top down neural pathways, supporting what the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944), set out to achieve in his manifesto on Neoplasticism (1907)[ix]. Inspired by Wassilly Kandinsky (1866 – 1944), Mondrian believed visual content should be pared down to the most essential properties. Emphasis was on the formal structure of a work of art, a restriction of spatial or linear relations as well as the artist’s palette.

Another topic of interest to the artist is the concept of Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life[x]. No longer limited to study of brain injury and disease, neuroplasticity can occur with new learning, new experience, or changes to one’s environment. The question of whether art may change the brain in the same way, was addressed recently by a panel of scientists and art practitioners for Sydney Ideas during Innovation Week at the University of Sydney (2018). Any professional artist would declare that it does! Artists constantly revise their methods through information and ideation, through experimentation and with new materials including technology, resulting in a constant revision of process and subject matter. Such is the experimental nature of this exhibition.

Duquemin believes geometric technique in painting articulates memory. In preparation for the exhibition Geometry and Place, she has created a table of examples of visual phenomenon in response to her own observations and memories of habitat, culture, and environment in the Wide Bay region, to further show how they may correlate to techniques that she developed over time, particularly in relationship to working the properties of space, line, shape, colour and light in her painting practice. Alternatively, they may also provide the viewer with a set of symbolic references for the interpretation of the works on show.

 Table 1. Concepts of Space, Line, Shape, Colour and Light phenomenon jn the Bundaberg Region

SPACE characterized by:

flatness (flat terrain), distant horizon, high blue sky, starry nights, expansive waterways, endless beach, large parks, wide streets, low population density, country roads, farming remoteness…

LINE characterized by:

trimmed garden edges, ploughed fields, ocean horizon, rippled sand, waves, foliage, flowers (gerberas), exotic plants, palm tree leaves, suburban grids, farm grids, walkways, veranda lattice, long shadows, sharp contrasting shadows, curbing, road markings, telegraph poles, picket fences, rock walls, long low cantilevers, corrugated iron, tongue and groove pine, edgings, weatherboards, striped awnings, tartan shirts…

SHAPE characterized by:

silhouettes, fields, plantations, produce, flowers, shadows, brick features, tiles, concrete paving, free-standing buildings, farm sheds, volcanic rock, pebbles, shells, vehicles, churches, manufactured goods…

COLOUR characterized by:

clear blue sky, green blue sea, deep green rivers, green plantations, olive green gum trees, coloured bark, red sunrises and sunsets, black volcanic rock, monochrome buildings, painted houses and walls, yellow beaches, pink, yellow, orange and red tropical flowers/plants, new lime green shoots, red tomatoes, yellow lemons and bananas, green beans, orange/green pineapples and mangoes, maroon hedges, streetlights, blue tractors, red ploughs, faded paint, metallic iridescent sunsets, greys at sunset, beach towels…

LIGHT characterized by:

dazzling white daylight, yellow/orange/red/grey/black sunrises and sunsets, lightning strikes set against deep blue-black thunder clouds,  sheets of sparkling water, light after a downpour, sugarcane fires…

The study of environmental influences on artists and art making can sometimes sound clichéd. It would be wrong to assume that early childhood impressions of geometric phenomenon like those listed in Table 1. directly caused the artist to become an abstract geometric painter; though it is acknowledged that creative individuals possess heightened observational skills from an early age. More likely, early environmental impressions were reinforced by aesthetics, trends, values and beliefs pertaining to that particular period of the modern era.

Modernist principles of architecture, art and design had begun to infiltrate many aspects of Queensland culture from the 1950s. Duquemin was born in Brisbane in 1953. She attended Maroondan and South Bundaberg state primary schools between 1958 and 1964, enrolling at Kepnock High school from 1965 to 1970. In 1981, she left Bundaberg in pursuit of work and tertiary education and returned to Bundaberg on various occasions to visit family, watching the city grow, all the time reinforcing her own curiosity about her approach to geometric painting.

Bundaberg is a very ‘geometric city’ a term borrowed from the architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) which referred to the geometric planning of cities of the future. From its early timber cutting days to the prosperous agricultural, commercial, technological and educational centre it is today, Bundaberg always had the potential to become just that. Many locals are unaware of how geometric they really are in their tastes and preferences for things and how they go about their daily lives. Some aspects that immediately come to mind are: the beautifully manicured hedges and gardens beds; perfectly whipper-snipped pavement edges; the colourful presence of fresh paint applied to buildings, fences and landscape architecture; the mass of modernist inspired houses and buildings; and the immaculate town planning. Everyone in the Bundaberg region is a geometric artist of some kind!                                                               

Written by           Judith Duquemin ©2019  

(essay photographs have been removed)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

[i] Duquemin, J, Artist statement. Exhibition notes. 2019

[ii] Concrete art is abstract art that is entirely free of any basis in observed reality and that has no symbolic meaning. TATE. 2019 https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/c/concrete-art.

Non-objective art defines a type of abstract art that is usually, but not always, geometric and aims to convey a sense of simplicity and purity. TATE. 2019 https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/n/non-objective-art

[iii] Galantar, P, What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory. Interactive Telecommunications Program, New York University, New York. 2001 https://www.philipgalanter.com/downloads/ga2003_paper.pdf. P. 4

[iv] Duquemin, J, Op Cit. 2019

[vii] http://www.oxfordreference.com Schema. Oxford University Press. 2019

[viii]  In black, white, grey, and primary colours. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroesthetics. Wikipedia. 2019

[ix] Neoplasticism - A style of abstract painting developed by Piet Mondrian, using only vertical and horizontal lines and rectangular shapes in black, white grey and primary colours. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/neoplasticism

[x] Neuroplasticity – The ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/neuroplasticity.

[x] Duquemin, J, Artist statement. Exhibition notes. 2019

Oxford Dictionaries. 2019

 

BIOGRAPHY

Judith Duquemin b. 1953 Brisbane, Australia in and works between Sydney and London. She completed her undergraduate and post graduate art education at Sydney College of the Arts from 1991 to 2004. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Sydney and has received numerous grants and awards including an Australia Council New Work Grant (1996), an Australian Postgraduate Award (2001), and the Fauvette Loureiro Memorial Travelling Artist Scholarship (2004), the highest award given to Sydney College of the Arts graduates by the University of Sydney. Judith has exhibited her work in France, Germany Spain, Australia and the UK as well as attend residencies throughout Europe. Her paintings are held in reputable collections of abstract geometric art in Australia. Judith was interviewed for the art documentary 'Lignes et Paysages' (60 Degrees Productions) screened on French national television in 2013. For the School of Psychology, UNSW Sydney in 2017, Judith was commissioned to create geometric images for 'Thirty Six', a large scale facade graphic, for the foyer of the Mathews Building. Her most recent exhibitions include:  Coded Sydney, The Momentum, London, New Modern, London; and Mining Pyrite, Sydney, Orthogonal 16 at Varna Contemporary Space, Varna, Bulgaria; and the Red House Centre for Culture and Debate, Sofia, Bulgaria. Her most recent curatorial project, titled International Concrete: An Exhibition of Multidisciplinary Concrete Art, was staged at Marcela Jardon Gallery, Barcelona. For more information about Judith's practice go to her interview at Saturation Point, London. http://www.saturationpoint.org.uk/judith_duquemin.html, or her website www.judithduquemin.com .