A variant of these toy was soldiers exhibited, not so lushly yellow, spiralled around a column supporting the gallery ceiling could have been easily overlooked. In a spirit of Barnett Newman’s aesthetic discourse my first image here represents both the inner sanctum of the series, that started with red and is destined to end with white.
Sean Campbell exhibited also a print and a yellow installation.
This photograph distorts its shape and angle, consequently, it offers a reading which the installation refutes. In situ, the yellow hue is less modulated and has a clear role to overwhelm both the scale and the other hues. The red, blue, grey and ochre simply settled where they fell within the obedient order of the ” yellow floor boards”. Yet, the small interventions not only interrupt the monotony, they engage the yellow next to them in an optical illusion. E.g. The darker blue on the left makes the yellow surround shift the tone. Consequently the yellow “pulsates” like a dense liquid under the smooth surface. The , blue, red etc coloured patches seem to just about hover above the yellow field – imagine a Mondrian’s abstraction exploded and carried on the stream of yellow towards you…. The patches animate the yellow field.
Zoe Murdoch chose to give the yellow hue the smallest of surfaces. As if she wished to measure its power… in addition she disabled any poetic power of that heavily used yellow wooden ruler, it has been used, damaged, broken. If anything, it may evoke sympathy. Yet, the ruler rules over the complex screen with the window, stating how small it is.
The unexpected power of a simple fragment over an complex image becomes even less friendly, when the eye connects with the rusty bolt behind. The assemblage works like a visualised philosophical debate, about what is real and what has which power. The frame positions it all in the realm of the stream of boxes revived by Joseph Cornell – zooming on what a visitor may or may not see.
Murdoch balances the ruler on the edge as if in despair at being superfluous to the image of the window, which establishes its own, different scale. The tool that carries an agreement of many is powerless in front of the “convincing lie” – a lens based shrinking of the real size. The fragment of measuring tool is “real” in the way the window is not and vice versa. The issuing ennui gets uprooted when the eye notices the bolt embodying sense a threat. Three incongruous objects in an accidental frame is a proposition of an unstable reality outside, i.e. where I am. Suggestive of a dream, it is a take on the Lautreamont’s “definition” of surrealism, slightly polluted by Arte Povera. The yellow in this assemblage appears to follow a line from his Poesis:
I replace melancholy by courage, doubt by certainty, despair by hope, malice by good, complaints by duty, scepticism by faith, sophisms by cool equanimity and pride by modesty.
Turning to the six charming small paintings by Ashley Holmes evokes melancholy. In some the yellow describes light, in some a surface. In one, shown below, the yellow is the power to drown the rest, like a tsunami.
The house appears twice. In the foggy (smoky) background the edifice recalls comfortable living – as a memory. Heavy sheets of as-if-rain, yellow and purple, do not notice the powerful black uprooting the “home” and turning it upside down. Not enough. It blackens it out of being and sends its tentacles high up to touch the frame, and thus establishing its plane, with confidence, as the picture plane. It could not see the yellow hurrying up to erase the black foundation strip. In between – there is a sweet stubborn decor – something between medieval marginalia and very busy wall paper.
All Holmes’s six small paintings are reminiscent of the Dutch Golden Century dedication to houses inside and out, to the comfortable life of those who owned such houses. The charm of narrative detail is threatened by the duo of black and yellow spelling a danger. It is a parallel to Munch’s Scream – in the mist of destruction by natural forces (like a hurricane or tsunami) contaminated by fear. The calm embodies paralysis of all parts of the image, which easily offers different reading.
That the overall cover of visual field by one hue is not a simple matter is made visible by comparing the yellow in Campbell’s minimal installation with the complexity of misty landscape (?) by Clement McAleer below.
This colour field is visibly constructed as frame-to-frame layers, steps, flat and at the same distance from the picture plane. I recognise four straight line horizons with a expanse above that may be read as a sky.
The stripes! each previous one replaced by another vista…. I favour the second one with the moon coming out of the clouds at the time when a red sunset on its left below. eases itself into a watery world, into vapours without beginnings and ends – a state of the universe inviting for a journey while making it difficult to see any particular depth – instead just one continuous. McAlleer’s yellow colour field suggests distances and swiftly denies them holding the image at the picture plane. He makes the slippages pretty, and daring. Is it a mighty storm? Are those red smudges wounds, fires, fallen constructions? Those insecurities make the prettiness unsettling, bringing about recognition of what it feels like being on a brink of a journey…reminiscent, inter alia, of Dante Alighieri:
“I found myself, in truth, on the brink of the valley of the sad abyss that gathers the thunder of an infinite howling. It was so dark, and deep, and clouded, that I could see nothing by staring into its depths.”
This is the vision that greets the author and narrator upon entry the first circle of Hell—Limbo, home to honourable pagans—in Inferno.
While Sean Campbell chose to overwhelm the given space by large scale, Robert Moriarty preferred minimal addition of yellow to the given size of a common manufactured object. In both cases the yellow hue matched the simple concept, by not crossing over the line of obedience. Where Campbell chose to cover the constructed object completely in yellow, Moriarty decided on minimal intervention, allowing the yellow hue to cover only the lowest part of the found object, with few yellow tiny strips littering the rest very scarcely.
Both strategies forge an image, each with a narrative that could be read from the gossipy marks on the surface.
Dr Colin Darke, the curator, points to the two concepts, the western civilisation built up about the hue: One is rooted in ethical norm: Yellow cowardice, yellow bile of irrational anger, yellow garments in Renaissance portraits of Judas, yellow fear. The other, considered by theologians of early Christianity, proposes yellow as colour code for dignity, joy, eternal existence; this for ex. by Grunewald in the Isenheim altarpiece.
The yellow hue pairs with sunlight, gold and heavens and also with unbearable heat experienced by van Gogh in Arles. In his last small painting, Wheatfield with crows (1890) he invested this hue with eternal fear.
Blue does that too.
In the well considered accompanying handout for the third exhibition inspired by the title Barnett Newman gave to the group of painting Who is afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue (1966 -1970) Dr Darke recounts the blue from ancient mosaics to the Yves Klein’s invention (1950s) mentioning Italian love of lapis azuli as well as the deep sorrow embodied in “the blues”. Sadness, coldness, melancholy, joyful blue sky, clean air, clean sea – blue can manage the contradictory values and multiple meanings.
Classical role of holding contradictory elements together appears in the painting by Angela Hackett , with a title referring to time of the day when cognition becomes impaired by diminishing light.
Its title: “Entre chien et loup” désigne le soir ou le matin, … ” “quand l’homme ne peut distinguer le chien du loup“, according a source from the 2nd century AD…. the dusk is that level of light and its absence when our sight becomes partly disabled. Some blues do not speak, they hardly even whisper, bleached by grey of their easy brilliance. In four cases they still appear in all their sonority, only having their vitality strangulated by the divided brushstrokes and by being pushed into an illusory depth. The hue blue is given almost full range from pale to deep, from green blue to the red blue registers.
Colm Clarke prefers the full light and clear vision, both in his installation and in the video.
In the small installation, shelf-installation, the blue painted on the shotgun shells feels both admissible and arbitrary. The tenor of the installation is signalled by the plant whose seeds can be distributed in shells to start the growth on enemy buildings. Buddleia slowly destroys their fabric. The text explains the military take on this.
At first the calm of the order and the preposterous idea how to win a war may bring in a superior smile, but then … Clarke insists it is feasible, and retires to the role of presenter, asking his art to report “the facts”. This concept appears to govern his video Lofts (30 mins) about men keeping pigeons, preparing for competitions, and just sitting, talking. The blue, is the blue of the air, of the sky captured by the obedient lens. This is a life supporting story of people who opted out of sectarian war – or any war. So the bombing an enemy with seeds suddenly connects: both the birds and the shells make use of seeds. I appreciated Clarke’s aesthetics of waiting calm, as combating the prominent obsession of our civilisation with speed.
As I had difficulties to hear it correctly, the artists kindly sent me the written version of both:
A love story, simple and sweet.
An increasing of heart rate, announces your presence, bodily.
All night I watched your lashes twitch across your cheek.
Open and close.
Open and close.
Where they mine?
A consensual viewing or illicit pleasure?
Tomorrow,today, I received all the answers I needed.
And I am, will be, remain, content in your gaze.
As I read it, it confuses the visual impact, the impact of the visual thoughts, which may not at all become less ambiguous and problematic than the words disrespect for logic and grammar. The noun Tomorrow and the verb’s past tense – clash.
Gladly I note that the rhythm of the images not only avoided disharmony – it promoted the sublime of what was made visible.
Grace Murray’s mastery of craft strengthened the values of honesty and beauty of the narrative power of differences. Of tonality while the shape is the same, repeating tirelessly. The Nest accepts being completed while unfinished. Think of poetry here.
Her website , https://gracemcmurray.com, contains a respectable profile of her art practice. Surprisingly for me, she mentions a connection of her art to Sylvia Plath poetry and life, namely fear and loss. I sensed poetic tropes resonating in the tonality of blue, intensity of suggestiveness of each tone of a muted feeling. What feeling exactly? I sensed deep ravine in the darkest of the blues and hyperactive escapes from it by the lightest once, be they blue or pink. The elements are like cells, like single sounds, single words, bubbling up above unforgiving deep – not quite black- holes.
Rarely – the techniques of embroidery, patchwork, weaving etc achieve the poetic strength, most visibly established in the Nest.
David Turner favours lego as material to make images. The industrial sameness is both an advantage and hindrance. Without surprise, I note that some of his motifs are connected to films, another strong representant of the 20th C.
The ambiguity of the title is reminiscent of irony.
Often, Turner tells the story of his experiences of living in divided society, torn apart by not just differences, but hate and violence. This “blue series of three” exercises some freedom from inescapable history into some kind of presence. It is a kind of presence of the thought, of being in the world, yet separated from received view of social history, politics, and ideologies. The blue hue has only two tones in Lego – dark and light, hence the amassing of related blacks and greys to intensify the presence of blue in both abstractions.
In conclusion, Dr Darke’s decision to gather art around a hue and its tones proved as good as any for a group exhibition. Yet, I find at least one strong advantage: focusing the artists of one particular tool, evoked, provoked researching its range and ability to drive, not illustrate, a meaning.
Images courtesy the QSS and the artists.