200 words #19 / Secundino Hernández

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Secundino Hernández, Rojo, 2016. Acrylic, alkyd, oil and lacquer on linen, 310.5 x 287 cm, 122 1/4 x 113 in. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Secundino Hernández

I first saw Hans Hofmann’s paintings in the flesh in 1999 in a small collection at the Met – (part of a pilgrimage of sorts which included a visit to Hofmann’s mosaic mural for the New York School of Printing on West 49th Street, which features in the banner image for this website). I remember being surprised by the imperfect physicality of his canvases, buckling under the weight of paint. Still, as rough and ready as these paintings looked, they were the genuine article.

If the finish of Hofmann’s canvases was an initial disappointment to a naïve art student brought up on reproductions, then it was a joy to discover many years later the fresh and rich paintwork of the Spanish artist Secundino Hernández. This, I thought, must have been what Hofmann’s surfaces looked like before they acquired a layer of New York grime.

Matisse observed that “…a big painting needs more architecture, more technique”. Hernández works on a far larger scale than Hofmann did, but through his considerable technique his canvases somehow retain a very human measurement. The paintwork, modulating in tone and colliding with the same comfortable friction that Hofmann termed push and pull, is complex yet well resolved.

If certain places bring to mind certain colours, then Spain presents them all at once. Hernández works in Madrid, and his paintings seem to resonate with the opaque intensity of a sunlit urban landscape.

Secundino Hernández at Victoria Miro

200 words #18 / Ernest Mancoba

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Ernest Mancoba, Untitled (3), 1957, Oil on canvas, 16.5 x 13 in., Image courtesy of Aicon Gallery and the Estate of Ernest Mancoba

Ernest Mancoba (1904 – 2002) was born in South Africa, but spent the greater part of his life in Europe, moving to Paris in 1938, and to Denmark after the war, where he was a founding member of the COBRA movement. In Johannesburg Mancoba first trained in wood carving. One of his early sculptures depicted the Virgin Mary as a black woman. Despite the controversy this generated, Mancoba managed to remain above any limiting debate, always holding firm to “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.

Mancoba carried with him to Europe a very African treatment of figuration, which comes across in the decorative fragmentation of the totemic figure which is central to his work, and which reappears in multiple subtle variations. Mancoba’s training in wood carving too seems to have informed the very application of the paint itself to the canvas; often a series of discrete all-over marks applied to the canvas with the patience of a sculptor chipping away at a wooden panel. The painted surface acts more like a solid block of undifferentiated marks, from which the central figure slowly emerges, and back into which it can just as easily seem to recede.

Ernest Mancoba at Aicon Gallery New York

Anne Ryan / Collages @ DAVIS & LANGDALE COMPANY INC. / New York / January 31 – May 20, 2017

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Untitled (no. 327), Collage, 7 1/2 x 6 3/4 inches, Executed between 1948 – 1954, Image courtesy of Davis & Langdale Company, NY.

For 37 years Henri Matisse owned a small canvas, The Three Bathers, by Paul Cezanne, regularly drawing from it intellectual strength and vindication for his own experiments with the painted surface. “If Cezanne was right, then I am right.” He observed, in acknowledgement of the lessons he had learnt from this small painting, before he finally donated it to the City of Paris. Matisse’s gift was a characteristically generous gesture, and a good example of his belief in the formative importance of research in an artist’s development. Matisse had by no means reached an end point with Cezanne, but simply wanted to share with others the source of so much of his artistic conviction.

Occasionally, an artist’s introduction to the work of another can have such a profound effect that it can shape their work from that moment on; very much like discovering a vocation. And if a vocation is founded as much on an intangible sense of compulsion as it is on compatibility, then the attraction one artist can feel to the work of another is driven by a combination of equally mysterious forces. Continue reading “Anne Ryan / Collages @ DAVIS & LANGDALE COMPANY INC. / New York / January 31 – May 20, 2017”

In The Studio #3 – Tarragon Smith

In The Studio is a series of occasional interviews with emerging artists talking about their studio processes and the things that motivate, frustrate and inspire them. For the third In The Studio I spoke to artist Tarragon Smith about his work.

Continue reading “In The Studio #3 – Tarragon Smith”

Richard Tuttle / My Birthday Puzzle @ Modern Art / March 31 – May 13, 2017

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Richard Tuttle, Releasing: Biologically Poor Endings, IX, 2016, quarter-inch birch plywood, canvas, crayon, acrylic, graphite, acrylic gesso, nails, 68.6 x 66 x 3.5 cm, 27 1/8 x 26 x 1 3/8 ins, courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London

There was a time when Richard Tuttle’s understated assemblages were considered by some commentators to be so insubstantial as to be an affront even to minimalism. Better to be made of nothing at all than to be made of almost nothing, they might have said. It might have been the almost-there fragility of his assemblages to which they took exception, cobbled together as they seemed to be, out of the most commonplace craft materials such as string, glue, fabric, scraps of timber, and acrylic paint. At a time when minimalist art was predominantly the slick, machine-made product of an extended process of intellectual refinement, Tuttle’s unkempt art school project rejects seemed outrageously unsophisticated and unfinished. Continue reading “Richard Tuttle / My Birthday Puzzle @ Modern Art / March 31 – May 13, 2017”

In The Studio #2 – Sean Penlington

In The Studio is a series of occasional interviews with emerging artists talking about their studio processes and the things that motivate, frustrate and inspire them. For the second In The Studio I spoke to artist Sean Penlington about his work.

Continue reading “In The Studio #2 – Sean Penlington”

200 words #17 / Richard Tuttle

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The Critical Edge I, 2015 fabric, wood, nails, hand-sewn brown thread, graphite; four black MDF panels and four fabric elements 36″ x 12′ 1″ x 3″ (91.4 cm x 368.3 cm x 7.6 cm) © Richard Tuttle, courtesy The Pace Gallery

I use the word minimal when I talk about Richard Tuttle’s work. But this is just a lazy reflex of mine to nominate an artwork according to the quantity of materials used, or evident labour involved in its making. Tuttle’s work deals in poetic economy, commanding the space around it with very little. His assemblages of lo-fi craft materials such as scraps of paper and fabric, string and nails, are sometimes loud agglomerations of unstraight lines and rough edges; not minimal at all but rather concentrated.

Fabric has never been an incidental medium in Tuttle’s work. However, in the current exhibition at Pace London, the artist presents fabric less as a component amongst others, as has been its function in much of Tuttle’s assemblage, but more directly, as the sole component. It celebrates fabric as a medium in itself through subtle detailing, in folds, stitching, and frills. What look like razor sharp seams when seen from a distance reveal the same handmade quality of the artist’s other work.

Tuttle’s fabrics, theatrically presented on black panels, are allowed their natural tendency to fall or fold in certain ways. They acknowledge, through lush detailing and colour combinations, fabric’s rich heritage as clothing.

Richard Tuttle at Pace London

(The next feature article to appear on the website, following an interview with the artist Sean Penlington, will be about Richard Tuttle’s current show at Modern Art, London.)

Richard Tuttle at Modern Art, London