Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? @ Visual, Carlow – from 16/09/17 to 12/01/18

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Installation view of Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? at Visual, Carlow. Photograph credit: Ros Kavanagh.

When I first saw Paul Mosse’s work at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin in 1996, I was struck by how unlike any other Irish art it looked. By this I mean that, at that time, the greater percentage of artists working on the island announced themselves as Irish artists first and foremost, and much of what was being produced struck me as either parochial or strenuously international. Mosse’s work managed effortlessly to be neither of these. With complex, layered surfaces, and an all-over, centreless distribution of abstract motif, his work* seemed to me either to be withholding its identity from the viewer, or perhaps more significantly, was not overly concerned with identity in any case. The works in the DHG were as formless and non-specific in provenance as it seemed possible to be within the conventions of a rectangular painting format. At the time it signaled to me the possibility of another path for an artist – one in which an artist could keep the politics of their identity in check, lest it consume and corrupt what they produce.

*(I am referring solely to Mosse’s wall-bound works, rather than dealing only in passing, within the restrictions of this short article, with the many significant sculptural pieces in the exhibition at Visual Carlow.)

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Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? at Visual, Carlow. Photograph credit: Ros Kavanagh.

On the face of it, Mosse would appear to be a very Irish artist indeed; working in a rural area, and cleaving unglamorous abstractions from hefty blocks of layered construction timber like some labourer-artisan. It is also easy to imagine a direct pictorial link between the artist’s buckshot panels and, for example, the casual disorder of a country yard after a hard, damp winter. However, any impulse to form pictorial relations between the artist’s surroundings and the painted and heavily-worked panels themselves serves only to close off more productive avenues of interpretation, and reduces the work to the level of gift shop novelty. Mosse has not simply lifted what he sees beneath his feet and, in fixing it to the perpendicular, created an image of layered history and toil. If these panels (deceptively I believe) resemble gouged and drained soil, then as such, it would be appropriate to say that they had been purged of all romance and lazy sentimentality.

The subject of an artist’s location is at once important and immaterial – it is important how they respond to their location and the effect their environment has on the appearance of the resulting work. Nevertheless, it should be immaterial how they feel about it. Their surroundings may determine certain things such as colour, scale and treatment of surface, but ultimately, any engagement with one’s environment (and this is particularly true I believe of painters) becomes an engagement with the materials with which one represents the condition of being there.  Cezanne was repeatedly drawn to the same ragged hill in the South of France, and in the process of observing it and painting it, perhaps moved further and further from comprehending it and from providing a true depiction of it. For Cezanne, painting sur le motif was a way of wrestling with the very material of paint.

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Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? at Visual, Carlow. Photograph credit: Ros Kavanagh.

In Mosse’s case a similar concern with materiality is hyper-evident. Compared with the more recent works which form part of the artist’s current survey exhibition at Visual Carlow, those in the 1996 show at DHG are practically flat surfaces. The distinction however is merely quantitative. In the artist’s latest work he has allowed certain elements of those earlier panels, such as nails and other forbidding accretions, to proliferate; but in the twenty years that separate these bodies of work many essential characteristics remain.

An inventory of these characteristics might include the following:

Pockmarked layers of wood and paper, from which innumerable segments have been cut, lending the surface the illusion of greater and greater density and complexity the closer it comes to becoming nothing.

The all-over balanced distribution of metal, timber, and glued components, interspersed with masterfully arranged painted marks.

The positioning of the work in the territory between sculpture and painting – a position in which a work’s condition as painting will always, in principle, win out simply by virtue of its placement on a wall.

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Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? at Visual, Carlow. Photograph credit: Ros Kavanagh.

Because of Mosse’s consistency of approach, and the persistence of these essential characteristics, many of the pieces on show at Visual Carlow strike us very clearly as developments on a theme. With the exception of the entirely free-standing sculptural pieces, very little has changed in the wall bound pieces save for a jump in scale, deeper and more layered surfaces, and occasional attacks on the edges of the largely rectangular pictorial format. Despite being cut into and drastically eroded around the edges, these panels retain more of an essence as painting than as 3-D objects, regardless of how deeply layered and eroded they have been made to appear. The surfaces are almost incomprehensibly busy, but, as with the DHG panels, they never overwhelm, but instead lend themselves to intense contemplation.

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Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? at Visual, Carlow. Photograph credit: Ros Kavanagh.

Mosse has been working for years within what might seem to be the same patch of abstract territory, with a calm, almost forensic attention to the minutiae of his materials. There is a physicality to the work which, should we decide to see it in this way, speaks of the untrimmed beauty of the landscape within which it was made. Any analogous particularities between the work and the surrounding landscape are incidental next to the depth of investigation Mosse affords to the various material that he uses, and the multitudinous forms he produces. And yet, despite the artist’s absorption in the process of accumulating and removing material, he never allows the work any overly dramatic shifts from one piece to the next. All development is incremental, the whole subtly shifting over time, through the moment to moment process of arrangement and rearrangement of each constituent element. It is much the same process as we might imagine Cezanne undertaking every day, as he lugged his easel up a gravel path to the hill.

 

About theglazelondon banner image / Hans Hofmann’s 1958 mural for the New York School of Printing, 439 West 49th Street, New York.

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Mosaic mural for the New York School of Printing, 439 West 49th Street, New York, Hans Hofmann, 1958. Image: Robbie O’Halloran, 1999.

The banner image for theglazelondon might not be the most arresting one to use to brand a website devoted to visual art, but I chose it because it is a photograph of one of the few public art projects by the great Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann, and for the fact that so many people walk past it every day without realizing the significance of the artist behind it.

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I took the photograph in April 1999 – the same month that I first saw Hofmann’s paintings in the flesh at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The two visits – first to the Met to see the paintings, then to West 49th Street to see the mural – constituted, as much as I am comfortable calling it such, a kind of pilgrimage. Hofmann’s position in 20th century American art, and the story of Abstract Expressionism specifically, has always seemed to me to be more peripheral than it ought to be. At about the same time that I was looking at his work in New York, I had been reading a lot of what has been written about Hofmann, and of course the artist’s own writings on art. Hofmann was one of the most respected and vocal teachers of the time; a fact which may have contributed to the diminution of his reputation as a serious force in the community of his painter peers.

Hofmann’s thoughts on painting were quite well formed even before he moved permanently to America from Germany in 1932. And it is not so much his having such a direct connection to European Modernism that made his work difficult to incorporate smoothly into the emergent critical space of Ab Ex, so much as the fact that Hofmann attached to his work, so vocally and with such conviction, unfashionable interpretations of what he was doing. The story of American Painting in the 1950s is very much owned by the critics who made the work visible and not by the artists.

At its heart, Hans Hofmann’s art was about pure visual sensation, the way color and form operate, interact, and the effect this has on the viewer, at first optically, but ultimately on a more subjective level. I like the fact that Hofmann has never been a household name, even in certain houses whose walls are lined with art books. For painters however, every square inch of his canvases is an object lesson in getting on with the job, and enjoying it in the process.

Further links:

Walls of Color; The Murals of Hans Hofmann at Bruce Museum

New York Times article on Walls of Color – Roberta Smith

200 words #21 / Louise Fishman

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Louise Fishman, A LITTLE RAMBLE  2017, Oil on linen, 70 x 90 inches, 177.8 x 228.6 centimeters. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

By the time Louise Fishman took her first painting class in 1956, the same year Jackson Pollock died, Abstract Expressionism was already in decline. Retrospectively, Fishman has been spoken of as belonging to this movement, if only by way of a spiritual affiliation rather than as having played a part in its formation. In fact, had Fishman been a true contemporary of the main players in Ab Ex, it is unlikely still that she would have engaged with them to any great extent. She has been, by her own admission, a loner when it has come to creating alliances and nurturing relationships within the artworld. For such a solitary activity as painting this is perhaps no disadvantage. 

Fishman’s canvases are packed tight with contemporary riffs on Ab Ex – the sweep and drag of the brush, or whatever other implement the artist employs, leaving on the canvas the unmediated imprint of a super-sized gesture. If this sounds unsubtle, then the effect within each of Fishman’s canvases is elegant and controlled. The artist’s stated intention “…always, was to not repeat a painting”. The implied grid in each painting however, upon which the painted marks proliferate, allows a remarkably consistent voice to emerge.

Louise Fishman at Cheim & Read, New York

Michael Canning – Matter, motion, minutes @ Waterhouse & Dodd London, 26/09 to 20/10, 2017

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On Tuesday September 26th a new exhibition of paintings by Irish artist Michael Canning opens at Waterhouse & Dodd London. I am delighted to have been asked to contribute the catalogue text for this show, and the text plus images from the exhibition can be viewed by clicking on this link:

Exhibition catalogue – Michael Canning / Matter motion minutes

The exhibition, entitled Matter motion minutes expands on a theme which the artist has been exploring for the past twelve years. On walks around the countryside surrounding his studio in the west of Ireland, Canning collects wildflowers and weeds from roadside verges and fields, and returns to the studio with them. The paintings he produces from this raw subject matter invoke the lessons of painting’s rich past, but are also ruminations on the very nature of our perception of the world around us.

If you are in London from the 26th, this show is not to be missed. To view more of Michael Canning’s work, and for directions to the gallery, follow this link:

Michael Canning at Waterhouse & Dodd London

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Painting In The Present Tense, 2012 – 2017, Oil and wax on gesso panel, 100 x 70cm, Image copyright of the artist, courtesy of Waterhouse & Dodd

200 words #20 / Liz Larner

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Liz Larner, ix (calefaction), 2016, ceramic, glaze, stones, minerals, 59,1 x 97,8 x 24,8 cm, 23 1/4 x 38 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris, Photo : def-image.com

Liz Larner has said that she was drawn to sculpture because it is the “most physical of artforms”. If this is true of sculpture, then it must follow that ceramics is one of the most physical of sculptural artforms, not only in the way the material demands such direct manipulation in the studio, but also by virtue of the sheer variety of surface effects, density, texture, and form it is possible to achieve.

Larner started working with ceramics in the early 90s, learning about slab building and glazing from the artist Ken Price. In this recent series she has refined the lessons of her earlier experiments into the effects of colour as articulated through sculpture and installation art to produce surprisingly small scale, but highly-charged pieces. Whilst ceramic vessels have long been used to carry pictorial and decorative devices, it is less common to be presented with the raw physicality and haptic allure of ceramics displayed in the same way that we might view a painting. There are no pictograms here, no curlicues – just the irresistible indulgence of rich glazes and raw, brittle ceramic – the kind of sculptural object that Larner might describe amongst her work as “a concrete poem”.

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Side view – Liz Larner, ix (calefaction), 2016, ceramic, glaze, stones, minerals, 59,1 x 97,8 x 24,8 cm, 23 1/4 x 38 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris, Photo : def-image.com

To view more of the artist’s works from this series follow the link below:

Liz Larner at Galerie Max Hetzler

Quotations in the text above were taken from a lecture given by the artist (see link below) at the Nasher Sculpture Center:

Liz Larner speaking about her work at Nasher Sculpture Center

Ryuji Tanaka @ Simon Lee London from 23/06 to 25/08 and New York from 13/09 to 28/10, 2017

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Ryuji Tanaka, Nature ’89, 1989, Mineral pigment on panel, other materials 60.7 x 72.6 cm (23 7/8 x 28 5/8 in.) Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery, London / New York 

It may seem odd that, no sooner had so many artists in the latter half of the nineteenth century begun to successfully assert their independence from established art institutions, such as the Beaux-Arts in France, than there was a rush to form new groupings, to gather together under new rules and with new criteria for entry. Many artists in subsequent generations would come together to form alternative collectives – the artistic movements with which we are familiar such as Dada and the Surrealists, and other later movements which are less well known, such as COBRA and Gutai. So many of these collectives were underpinned by manifestoes in which, ironically, one variety or other of artistic independence was declaimed. But they were often loosely held together communities of thought and any efforts to keep all participants on the same page failed. By the 1970s, the need for artists to identify collectively under a shared set of written principles had become the exception.

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Ryuji Tanaka, installation view of exhibition at Simon Lee Gallery London, image courtesy Simon Lee Gallery London, 2017

The Japanese group of artists known collectively as Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Concrete Art Group – formed in 1954 by Jiro Yoshihara ) cited in their manifesto an artistic kinship with certain Abstract Expressionists who were working almost contemporaneously – most notably Jackson Pollock. What the Gutai artists saw in Pollock was a singular emphasis on paint itself – what they recognised as “the loud outcry of the material” – at the expense of any imagistic possibilities in the medium that the artist might be tempted, by force of habit, to explore. The hyper-individualism in American art which was emerging through the Abstract Expressionists, would reach its accelerated apotheosis in the 1980s – an acceleration which would see the focus move away from painting.

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