200 words #19 / Secundino Hernández


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

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


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.


Richard Tuttle, Releasing: Biologically Poor Endings, VI, 2016, quarter-inch birch plywood, aluminum flashing, canvas, graphite, acrylic, spray paint, nails, 86.4 x 86.4 x 15.9 cm, 34 1/8 x 34 1/8 x 6 1/4 ins, courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London

But Tuttle’s work has outlasted the exhausting exaggerations of the greater portion of minimalist and conceptual art, with their shared requirement that we place our very human instinct towards sensuality, visual stimulus, and the imperfect edge on hold in the service of a cold idea. And yet I reflexively use the word minimal to describe the economy with which Tuttle uses his very mundane materials. His work is sometimes shockingly reduced in its construction; barely applied paint marks on unprepared offcuts of timber, fabric, and paper, balancing against panel pins or dangling from a length of twine. Tuttle’s minimalism is difficult to pull off, relying as it does on the ability to exploit that energy which is produced at the very beginning of the process of making something. Where most artists would keep adding layer upon layer, reworking and transforming, Tuttle appears to say – That’s enough – repeatedly with each component he adds to his constructions.


Richard Tuttle, My Birthday Puzzle, exhibition view, Modern Art, 31 March – 13 May
courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London

It can be slightly confusing to talk about Tuttle’s work in relation to, or indeed in opposition to, either minimalism or conceptual art. This reflex of association arises from the fact that Tuttle emerged onto the art scene while these two movements were in full swing. When looking at the assemblages the artist has been producing consistently for decades, it is more useful to go further back in time to find an aesthetic with which Tuttle might share artistic territory. The delicate collages of Olga Rozanova from around 1916, or Kurt Schwitters’ assemblages of the same period, demonstrate equally well what can be done with so little. The work in Tuttle’s recent show at Modern Art in London was visually denser than much of the artist’s previous work, with more emphatic marks and busier surfaces, but still with his trademark lyrical economy.


Richard Tuttle, Pressing: Hole in the Head, VII, 2015-2016, styrofoam, metal, colored felt, heat-sensitive quilting backing, fabric paint, white glue, bond paper, enamel paint, acid-free museum mount board, metallic paper, acrylic, day-glo gouache, nails, 64.8 x 92.1 x 5.1 cm, 25 1/2 x 36 1/4 x 2 1/8 ins
courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London

Lyricism in language and the economy of poetry, have also been of importance to Tuttle’s art. Married to the poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Tuttle has collaborated with writers and other visual artists in the past on text-based works – but strangely, he sees the processes of writing and making artwork as two entirely distinct, even incompatible disciplines. The thought processes involved in producing one would be of limited use in the service of the other, according to the artist. What is common to both a certain type of poetry and Tuttle’s constructions however, is economy of expression. Poetry lends itself to this kind of reduction – the careful arrangement of words, with an allowance for their power to imply or to signify multiple things in the world, resonating with our memories and experiences. To speak about poetry in this way may be to risk a claim of something intangible in language. And to claim a lyricism running through both art forms can threaten to send us into the nebulous category of spiritualism. But when an artwork is so reduced, it is understandable that we start to draw on our reserves of memory and association.

Tuttle’s constructions are disarming in their simplicity; like a throw-away remark that has long-lasting consequences. And their lyricism is undeniable. They are beautiful statements in paint, paper, and fabric, with all the intangible associations an artist might care to risk.

Richard Tuttle at Modern Art

Frieze Art Fair /London / #4

Installation view of Annely Juda’s presentation of Yoshishige Saito at Frieze Masters 2016. Image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art.
Back at Frieze Masters there were yet more fascinating finds to be made. In what was another example of a well-presented mini survey, Annely Juda Fine Art was showing work exclusively by the Japanese sculptor Yoshishige Saito (1904 – 2001). Saito had a significant influence on a later generation of Japanese artists including Lee Ufan, Katsuro Yoshida, and Nobuo Sekine; artists who went on to develop what became known as the Mono-ha movement. Yoshishige Saito’s work however, is often seen as a bridge between European modernism and Russian Constructivism in particular, and the more conceptual art which developed in Japan in the 1970s. After most of Saito’s body of work had been destroyed in the Second World War, the artist began to create larger sculptural installations. After winning the prestigious New Artist’s Prize in Japan, Saito received international exposure at both the Venice and Sao Paulo biennales.
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Installation View, Wolfgang Paalen and Abstract Spiritualism, Gallery Wendi Norris, Frieze Masters 2016, Photographer: Charlie Littlewood. Image courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco
There is hardly enough room here to even summarise the career of the Surrealist painter Wolfgang Paalen (1905 – 1959), whose trajectory took him from a wealthy family background in Austria during the decline of the Austro-Hungarian empire to self-imposed exile and suicide in Mexico via the Abstraction-Création group and the Surrealists in Paris in the 1930s. His painting ‘Le Grain de Sable’, visible in the centre of the installation view above at Gallery Wendi Norris, is an understated work painted directly onto raw silk. There is not the slightest hesitation or doubt in any of the spare brushwork, which has passed surprisingly little of its oily residue through to the surface of the material over time.
Back at Frieze Art Fair for a last circuit of the booths to spot some more interesting contemporary painting. Marina Adams (right hand side of the installation view below) is showing a couple of large canvases at Salon 94 which demand a closer look despite their apparent immediacy and high-volume colour arrangements. They teeter on the edge of pure visual pleasure but the colour constructions are expertly disjointed and as a consequence, difficult to pin down. Look at one of these paintings for a few minutes and then try to remember the precise arrangements of colour and shape.

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Installation view courtesy of Salon 94, New York.

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Marina Adams, A Detail of a Late Afternoon, 2015, Acrylic on Linen, 78 x 68 inches, (198.1 x 172.7 cm), Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York.

One final selection which received a lot of attention was a cluster of sand portraits by Peter Böhnisch at CFA Berlin; more visual pleasure and plenty of speculation from visitors about the technique the artist used to create these gravity defying sand paintings.


Installation view of Peter Böhnisch at CFA Berlin, Frieze Art Fair 2016. Image taken by the author with kind permission of the gallery.

As Frieze 2016 has come to an end, I will be returning to coverage of London shows over the next few weeks including Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy, Picasso Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, The Turner Prize and Robert Rauschenberg, both at Tate.


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200 words #3 / Michael Krebber

Michael Krebber / MP-KREBM-00087


Michael Krebber, MP-KREBM-00087, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 2015.                                      

© Michael Krebber, courtesy Maureen Paley, London.

We might think of a painting as finished when the decision is made to stop working on it. Having over-cooked a canvas or two however, a good painter will know what it feels like not to be able to undo something and call the previous mark the last.

The decision to stop is just one amongst a sum of decisions that make up a painting. In Michael Krebber’s work this decision making process is laid bare in the scarcity of visible marks. If we look at a painting as a sum of decisions that have been made, then the fewer marks we find on a canvas should mean fewer decisions. A painting with very few marks would suggest a type of Minimalism.

If Krebber’s painting can be called minimal, it is of a different order to that of say Robert Ryman, whose decision to use just one colour gives an illusion of economy. Michael Krebbers’ paintings operate in a condensed field where some marks are presented but all are possible, and where the first mark is equal to the last.

Maureen Paley – Michael Krebber


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Making & Unmaking / curated by Duro Olowu @ Camden Arts Centre, June 19 – September 18, 2016.


Installation view of Making & Unmaking: An exhibition curated by Duro Olowu at Camden Arts Centre, 2016. Courtesy of Camden Arts Centre. Photo: Mark Blower.

To keep an increasingly sophisticated gallery audience engaged, large public galleries necessarily participate in a type of competitive curating.  In order to maintain visibility, it is critical for these institutions to put together programmes of high quality exhibitions. Many commercial galleries and smaller public spaces on the other hand will quite often cobble together group exhibitions on the flimsiest of premises. The results can be dispiriting, and it can seem like an exception to see a well researched group show in many spaces of this size. However, to call ‘Making and Unmaking’, curated by fashion designer Duro Olowu, simply a group show would be to undersell it. In the relative intimacy of the Camden Arts Centre, this assembly of work by over sixty artists has the feel of something epic.

Partly because of the amount of work on display, I found myself going back to this show more than a couple of times. The volume of work in the show, and more importantly the quality of so much of it, made it impossible to appreciate fully in a single visit. The selections that have been made and the expertly paced installation achieve precisely what they are meant to; they encourage the viewer to move back and forth between what seem to be superficially different works, in an attempt to spot possible connections and extract a thread of meaning from the whole. The subtle  connections and comparisons between the artworks multiply exponentially as we walk around the show; a testament to the curatorial skill behind this project. Without being intrusive, curator Duro Olowu emerges as a generous and confident presence behind the exhibition. It is unsurprising to find out that Olowu is a collector of objects, perhaps even a hoarder, and something of his collectors instinct comes across in the work he has assembled for this exhibition. It resonates with the thoughtfulness of the arrangements and the time that evidently went into their selection and acquisition.


Installation view of Making & Unmaking: An exhibition curated by Duro Olowu at Camden Arts Centre, 2016. Courtesy of Camden Arts Centre. Photo: Mark Blower.

Despite being a themed exhibition, the concept behind the show is not self-evident. It is even fair to say that what binds these works together is not so much a clear narrative or an overarching concept, but more the very personal connection a great collector-practitioner develops with the paraphernalia associated with their field of activity. In short, it is a labour of love, from which a kind of intuitive logic emerges, which becomes the ‘concept’. The paraphernalia in Olowu’s case is fabric, whether patterned or plain, depicted in paintings or upholstered onto modernist sculpture, as a backdrop in a photograph or suspended from a rail like a theatre curtain. The inclusion of so much painting in this show however can initially throw us off course when we are trying to grab hold of the concept. We are used to analysing painting, whether abstract or otherwise, to such a degree that it can threaten to exhaust all available philosophical tools.  Fabric and clothing however are so intrinsic to everyday needs that their significance as artefacts loaded with meaning beyond the utilitarian, as products which are the result of a sophisticated evolution tied to every aspect of human culture, can be overlooked.


Installation view of Making & Unmaking: An exhibition curated by Duro Olowu at Camden Arts Centre, 2016. Courtesy of Camden Arts Centre. Photo: Mark Blower.

The paintings in the show are either abstract with a heavy reliance on pattern (see Stanley Whitney’s modestly sized contribution), or representational with figures wearing patterned clothing (see Lynette Yiadom-Boakyes’ muted portraits or Alice Neel’s ‘Floral Shirt’). They are occasionally hung in such close proximity to garments or jewellery as to suggest a direct connection. And if the central element in this show is pattern, then it does certainly form a conceptual bridge between the individual works in this disparate collection. For example, the delightfully slow burning and subtle painting by Andreas Eriksson ‘Marble dust’ seems to speak directly to the large scale painterly fabric work of Brent Wadden on an adjacent wall.

Whilst this is not strictly speaking a survey show, if we were to imagine a point of origin from which much of the more contemporary work could be said to have taken its cue, it would be the 19th century Yoruba cloth which Olowu has included. There are obvious aesthetic comparisons that can be made between the very fresh geometric patterns of the Yoruba textiles and those of Bauhaus-trained Anni Albers.


Installation view of Making & Unmaking: An exhibition curated by Duro Olowu at Camden Arts Centre, 2016. Courtesy of Camden Arts Centre. Photo: Mark Blower.

No matter how expert the installation, there is something of death which attends any museum-style display of clothing. Clothes come to life when they are used and worn instead of empty and pinned to a wall. The photographs of Malick Sidibé, Hamidou Maiga and Leonce Raphael Agbodgelou document the effortless elegance of much African dress as it is worn. Agbodgelou’s ‘Muscleman’ series is a vibrant clash of live masculinity juxtaposed against a super-saturated background of florid patterns. Malick Sidibé’s Vues De Dos, a series of black and white photographs of women seen from behind, are delicate reworkings of a genre of painting that stretches back to Titian, and perhaps much further.


Installation view of Making & Unmaking: An exhibition curated by Duro Olowu at Camden Arts Centre, 2016. Courtesy of Camden Arts Centre. Photo: Mark Blower.

It’s a good time to see African photography in London, with MADE YOU LOOK, Dandyism and Black Masculinity at The Photographers’ Gallery from July 15th MADE YOU LOOK Dandyism and Black Masculinity and Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou – Borderlands at Jack Bell Gallery from July 8th www.jackbellgallery.com. For a rich and thoughtful exhibition experience make your way to Making and Unmaking, curated by Duro Olowu, at the Camden Arts Centre until September 18th www.camdenartscentre..org.


Installation view of Making & Unmaking: An exhibition curated by Duro Olowu at Camden Arts Centre, 2016. Courtesy of Camden Arts Centre. Photo: Mark Blower.

Mary Heilmann – Looking at Pictures @ Whitechapel Gallery, London, June 8 – August 21, 2016

Heilmann_Cup Drawing -®Pat Hearn Gallery.jpg

Mary Heilmann, Cup Drawing, 1983, Oil on ceramic, 30.48 x 48.90 x 4.45 cm.
©Mary Heilmann
Photo credit: Pat Hearn Gallery
Courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth

Lucio Fontana thought of ceramic as the most aristocratic of sculptural materials. And it is likely that at about the time he began to work with ceramics at the Manufattura Mazzotti in the 1930s, the medium was still held in some degree of reverence for the delicate craft it often demanded. Fontana was one of the first of several modern artists to appropriate ceramics as part of their wider body of work, to stand alongside paintings even. In turning their attentions to it however, they also tended to drift far from the aristocratic.

Mary Heilmann has also built up a body of work which incorporates ceramics and painting, but one in which the presumed appropriation of the traditionally ‘craft’ medium belies a more intimate relation between the two components in the artist’s work. Heilmann studied ceramics and sculpture at the University of California at Berkeley from 1963 to 1967, before moving to New York in 1968, where she took up painting. It is easy to see ceramics as an adjunct to the artist’s painting, especially given the scale of some of the early paintings we encounter as we walk into the first room of the Whitechapel Gallery. But it would be negligent to assume that this formative period spent working with such a raw and pliable medium did not have a sustained influence on Heilmann’s painting.

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Mary Heilmann, The Thief of Baghdad, 1983, Oil on canvas, 152.4 x 106.68 cm.
©Mary Heilmann
Photo credit: Pat Hearn Gallery
Courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth

The exhibition opens with some canvasses in which the impact of the male-dominated New York painting scene is tangible. There are some large and loose colour field works which seem to riff off the experiments of Joseph Albers or Mark Rothko. While the scale is substantial and the effect from a distance is one of a solid, carefully built up surface, these paintings are surprisingly unkempt. The slightly wobbling edge of an area of painted surface indicates hurried execution, as do the splashes and drips which enliven the chunky sides of the canvas. There are experiments with the square; often blocked in with thick satin interlocking strips of black acrylic over candy striped washes which bleed into each other like distinct river currents. These are nominally investigations into the kind of optics which occupied Albers over the course of a lifetime. With the newly arrived Heilmann however, we see a bold and almost irreverent hunger to work through what was current or recent in American painting.

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Mary Heilmann, Primalon Ballroom, 2002, Oil on canvas on wood, 127 x 101.6 cm.
©Mary Heilmann
Photo credit: Oren Slor
Courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth

Were it to be seen as no more than a period of sampling and experimentation, this early body of work might have been given a less visible presence in this Whitechapel survey. The most interesting thing about these early paintings however, is just how much of their treatment of medium and attitude to colour interactions was carried on into the next stage of the artist’s career, when there began to emerge a signature approach, almost a style, which was Heilmann’s alone. Despite an impulse to disregard the artists’ early explorations in New York as momentary, unstudied, and deferential, on closer examination it becomes clear that there is consistency of intent throughout. If Heilmann felt it necessary to try to emulate the heft of popular large scale painting of the time, then she still could not resist applying the paint as though it were a ceramic glaze. These joyfully sloppy lines and incidental drips are what Heilmann has gone on to ‘refine’ in the work which forms the mature period of her career.

Heilmann_Crashing Wave [-®Thomas Mu¦êller].jpg

Mary Heilmann, Crashing Wave, 2011, Oil on canvas, 127 x 101.60 cm.
©Mary Heilmann
Photo: Thomas Müller
Courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth

Heilmann’s work looks not so much effortless as like joyful effort, and this is partly down to the ease with which the artist manipulates paint. This ease, in turn, comes from those critical formative years spent pressing and shaping clay and applying glazes. For any observer who sees Heilmann’s mid-career work as an abandonment of the potential touched on in the early New York paintings, I would suggest that the application of lessons learnt from a traditionally craft medium constitutes a highly appropriate evolution from the era of AB EX. After all, the processes demanded by the medium, and the ways in which these stages inform the final product, mean that crafts such as ceramics or blown glass for example will always speak more of their own formal qualities than any illusory content we may hope to charge them with.


Mary Heilmann, Maricopa Highway, 2014, Oil on canvas, 106.68 x 106.68 x 3.175 cm.
©Mary Heilmann
Photo credit: Marie Catalano
Courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth

The idea of content then is the other key element in Heilmann’s work. The artist speaks of being influenced by music and movies; individual songs and individual scenes. One might expect this to push the work in many directions. We could end up looking at a roomful of paintings entirely different from one another. However, Heilmann never strays too far from her signature elements, either her colours or her fluid geometrics. There is rarely any musical or filmic reference in any of her paintings which is so explicit as to appear to have informed the look of the work. These are impressions which the artist has grafted onto the work or simply thrown into the mix. They hardly seem to be essential. Yet for Heilmann, these musical or cinematic references exist as equals in the work alongside the continued exploration of colour values and geometric abstraction, and alongside the immanent physicality of her paintwork that comes from the lessons of working with ceramics.

Mary Heilmann came to painting having already received an initiation into ceramics and sculpture. Coming from this direction, an artist is bound to view their new medium through the prism of the one they are more familiar with. She also came to painting at a time when the spell of large scale abstraction was starting to break, if not already broken. Perhaps it is due to her discovery of painting during such a time of transition that Heilmann is less beholden to the medium of paint, but instead allows everything to flourish simultaneously in her work. This is a very contemporary attitude; to see an artwork as a ground on which to work out patterns of interaction between disparate, sometimes irreconcilable elements. The artist doesn’t need to impose a hierarchy, but instead can admit content, form, craft and intellect into the work in equal measure.


PICPUS – Summer 2016 edition featuring an article from theglazelondon.


Image: Front cover PICPUS Summer 2016.

I am delighted to see the very first article from theglazelondon appear in the latest edition from PICPUS press. PICPUS is a free quarterly broadsheet featuring writing on a wide range of topics, mainly within the arts. It is edited by Charles Asprey & Simon Grant, and is available in various galleries, museums and bookshops, including the Camden Arts Centre. Keep an eye out for it!