I just read that Boo Saville sands back painted layers until the canvas gleams. (https://frieze.com/article/damien-hirst-spotlights-emerging-talent-his-newport-street-gallery-show)
Vanishing of brushstrokes and tones until the canvas shines vanishes also a painting canon like the albertian window, gesture paintings etc. Reminds me of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s poem The Vanished. The first line:
It was not the earth that swallowed them. Was it the air?
Boo Saville’s all over fields of paint are a labour intensive sibling of industrial shiny surfaces like those on cars. Her shiny surfaces cannot be mass-produce, but do display similarities, in the way they look. Still, however similar, each is unique. Their subject is themselves as a result of reversed process of painting.
The world is airtight
yet held together by what it does not house
by the vanished
In the Golden Thread Gallery the curator brought together four artists exploring the “vanishing act” … He, Peter Richards, and the four artists: Deb Covell, Jo McGonical, Susan Connolly and Brian Fay, think of their art objects as paintings or drawings or sculpture, judgement derived from the link to the way material is employed. The displayed objects are thus “outsiders” held together “by the vanished”. The term “outsiders” is traditionally hooked on a hierarchy between talent and academia. Among the proposals to leave this term behind, another, “outlier”, has been recently introduced by Lynne Cooke thus ” a mobile individual who has gained recognition by means at variance with expected channels and protocols.” ( see Catalogue for travelling exhibition Outsiders and American Vanguard Art, 2018, National Gallery of Art/University of Chicago Press)
I sense that Cooke became aware not only of the creative force not dependent on academia, but also of the value of alienation from established, habitual norm by seemingly unfathomable creative process.
In the After an act exhibition painting/drawing/sculpture twists and folds chipping the established ways by allowing, for example, the paint to imitate behaviour of malleable clay or damp cloth, to forge tromp l ‘oeil of nothing that existed before, to out-turrell – Turrell, to discipline your eye to subdue the image and instead observe and focus on craquelage. That’s the prefer mode of Brian Fay who exhibits five traditionally framed sheets of paper.
The skillful blend of light and hues on the original paintings is overrun by an “otherwordly” observation of decay by time. It is a reserved and hard document of seeing Ingres’ intention consistently dismembered. Art erased by process of aging as if it were a living organism.
This profoundly modern realism entangles the sight in the selective self- control: to see what Brian Fay wants to see. It is sober, logical, coherent intention not to present an image as painted by Ingres, instead Fay selects pathways of chemical changes in the materials Ingres used to paint that portrait. The materials used by Ingres gave “birth” to the painting, they are now gradually erasing it. Not as shockingly as the dark ground on Titian’s Pieta (1570-6) at Gallerie dell Academia in Venice, rather as a gossamer of short marks. In all his the five exhibits Fay illustrated that ” disembodying” of older art is not just a passing whim. Vermeer’s narrative force gets even harsher treatment.
The Vermeer’s painting is erased completely, except for selected marks of recent additions/changes, marks left by the bite of being in the world. It narrowly adheres to the idea of completion (replacing lost surface), only to be drowned in the paradox of white empty area. The empty is the area of the original, the new marks indicate fake, if the aura of authorship is your focus this difference becomes significant: Ingres’s art is not visible. Fay’s chosen “iron cage of truth of what is observed” cannot cope with spontaneity or complexity. However, your response to the final image can do precisely that: by harvesting associations with abstraction, abstract art of 20th C or with Tantra art, while consciously following Fay’s lead to ignore make the original painting invisible. In particular, when the imperfections of modulated black draw attention away from the magisterial white emptiness. The intimacy of the white emptiness is rooted in memory of Vermeer evoked in the title, by words. And quickly disappears when the eye moves on to the darker restoration marks. Different rhythm takes over. It feels not as estrangement, its fons et origo is in visual perception. The sight alternates between the two constantly forging a tacit dialogue. ( see M D Vernon, Visual Perception, 1937)
Art offers an intrinsic value not just by what it does not do, but also by what it does. It is a self- perpetuating system in particular when the process and the system become one. I have in mind the current re-working of the high Modernist call for the preference over the story telling of “how” it is made… dripping, cutting, assembling etc … and in this exhibition a convincing lie of tromp l’oeil lifted out of memory of the baroque narrative and slimmed down to tacit (often one hue) magic.
I walked into the first room of After an Act playfully reminiscing on Kandinsky’s memory of walking into “a picture” and fell for Covell’s optical play.
But first – the installation is the monolatry of visual beauty, it presents a shy beauty, silent one and patiently waiting to be discovered. A kind of chamber music with solos in visual means.
Deb Covell’s black and white low reliefs, one tossed nonchalantly on the floor, alienate themselves from an established norm by seemingly unfathomable desire to look like a cloth or potter’s clay. Rolled out and folded over. (http://www.debcovell.co.uk)
Her savant intuition ships the established ways towards the chain of behaviour of amino acids, more adroit to twist and fold. In her 2014 interview for Studio International she describes the process as starting with a single brushstroke on polythene sheet, continuing with more layers until the paint becomes robust enough to hold together. Folding, creasing, cutting and collapsing lead then to the new stand alone form. In that interview she put emphasis on her need to diminish the noise ” of my painterly gesture”. (debcovell.co.uk)
Although the look sits comfortably with the tradition of low relief and modern assemblage, intriguingly it evokes sensibility of a potter and a dress maker. It has to hang elegantly and to hold its volume, however slim, comfortably and in (visual)silence.
Intriguingly, I hear the story when viewing these. Or imagine it rather? Although visually complete and confident her painterly sculptures are open ended, the end receding from any possibility of one conclusion, as long as I look. Presence of the present again and again. Akin to philosophy or meditation on time. In that interview Covell allows: ” My paintings are aimed at bringing a form into the world and keeping the viewer in the present…” I associate this kind of inspiration with Constantin Brancusi and hence embrace her work as fragments of rebirth of senses today so saturated by noisy pollutants of many kinds.
Her savvy decision to dispose of habitual support of painted surface rhymes well with our awareness of connectivity of all that exists. Her bold decision to make a painting as a paint capable standing alone supporting itself is not a marginal idea. It shifts my attention back to the Earth as a ground for all life, our judgement and priorities still ensnared by the old model of hierarchy of being.
In this exhibition each art object has confidence and power to be itself thus an amicable metaphor for human condition. An admirable merge of intrinsic and social function of art, superbly visual and tactile.
Susan Connolly exhibits acrylic paint either as a skin, or on canvas and armature. I enthusiastically respond to her “convincing lies” ( words I borrowed from Picasso). In her exhibits she offers intimate magic of puzzling my senses. Yes, I love the freedom of the visual thought – it has been, of course, recognised by Schiller as a conditio sine qua non of poetics as kingdom of freedom. At times she reverses the proposition – what you see is what it is. Painted cloth.
Sometimes it is not what you see. On the largest exhibit, installed on its own in a dark room, the fold on the right is not painted, it is not cloth, it is malleable paint in layers. Under blue purple neon light it operates as process and system at once. Palpably tactile, the light saturates the space in the manner described by James Turrell: “lights unites the spiritual world with the ephemeral world”. The whole interior becomes a work of art- one you can walk into, around, back and forth. Not just an elaborate screen patiently built from layers for one directional viewing. Demand we operate in nature.
This painting carries its beauty without becoming overtly triumphant. Beauty differs from the truth, good or justice, by being present in the world. It is a fact of ordinary perception, and people freely disagree what is and is not beautiful. Often, beauty connotes physical appearance, patterns, structures, eg. golden ratio, elegance of scientific proof. In all it is individual sensual response. Connolly’s extravagant manipulation of conventional materials is to invent reality, not to represent, describe, an object and or image, but be one.
Leaning to the aesthetics of pealed poster board, this white wounded sheet refuses to seduce by beauty. It is ugly with confidence resulting from unknown conflict. Getting old, getting used up? And yes, it manages to awake empathy (and a touch of drama in those torn up edges).
Displayed like a triptych, Everything+Nothing, plays up the illusion of hanging cloth. It is the paint alone anchored on an invisible wooden holder on the wall. Three parts, three objects.
Connolly placed layers of acrylic on directly on the wall, let it settle, and peeled it off. On some the white surface of the wall stayed attached too.
Some of the marks echo their twins in a mirror image, like the pink below.
In one case, the rectangle imprint on the wall of the layers before Connolly pulled the “skin” down is visible as a friendly accuser.
As if accustomed to the conflictive process of forming opinion the tromp l’oeil gives up its truth hesitantly. As if in acknowledgement that public sphere has disintegrated. What is, is the art object and a discerning eye of each viewer. Connolly places her trust into the mute poetry without consecutive narrative. The story is the story of being and viewing. Not enough? It is the view of good thinkers, like Italo Calvino that the power of thinking in terms of visual images is value to be saved and protected. He proposes to learn how to control our own inner vision without suffocating it or letting it fall ( Six Memos: 92). These art objects embody Kant’s questions: What can I know? What should I know? I allow that philosophy and that belief in visibility to embrace Connolly’s art as its true support.
Jo McGonigal dips into the minimalist aesthetics by assembling contrasting materials.
It has been done – a half a century ago, for ex by Isamu Noguchi. (I failed to locate the one where he used glass and stone … internet is full of his tables combining the two.)
McGonigal focuses both on the sensual story of ordinary experience with cloth and wood, and on the subversion of it by invention. It is reminiscent of Duchamp’s conversion, but substantially different, by rejecting the egoistic posturing. It is not a hard cold concept – her composition celebrates the difference, while avoiding conflict or crush, or power struggle. Her objects are peaceful within themselves and with us. They exude joi de vivre with a touch of mischievous knowing.
They do look pretty, confident, with no trace of competition with another, reminiscent of natural forms, stones, grass, flower…
Origami, plisse, are somewhere near this idea, when it was coming to be. A comparison to a less intimate beauty perhaps secures the appreciation of McGonigal’s mastery .
Below are two views of fabric tree stumps by Tamara Kostianowsky (accessed on http://www.tamarakostianowsky.com)
The tree stumps look too near to her series of carcasses to escape the charge of description. Whereas McGonigal charms with something ordinary becoming something else and beautiful. It is the state of that secret that makes the visual experience exciting.
More of her work and interviews are accessible on her website: jomcgonigal.co.uk
For me, the hanging on to older system of art as a ground for a denial, or a departure, may be an illusion. The more drastic case I know, is Marinetti and the Futurists. Instead of taking apart an anatomy of the past, I cherish connectivity of this new art with Earth and some indigenous crafts and children’s imagination. A piece of wood does become a sword or a princess. A skill to fold paper, layer paints, celebrate crinkled fabric – all have aesthetic power independent of art institution or theory. Perhaps visual art is flirting with magic here…
Duchampian arrogance turn play reveals our level of honesty and thus is an ethical issue: for our stewardship of the Earth we need to nurture imagination. “The imagination” writes Italo Calvino (Six Memos:91) ” is a kind of electronic machine that takes account of all possible combinations and chooses the ones that are appropriate to a particular purpose, or a simply the most interesting, pleasing and amusing.”
This exhibition is all three by sharing where the beauty comes from ….