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.
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.
Continue reading “Ryuji Tanaka @ Simon Lee London from 23/06 to 25/08 and New York from 13/09 to 28/10, 2017”
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
Patricia Treib, Hem, 2015, oil on canvas, 167.5 x 127 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London.
Speaking about the difficulties involved in producing a painting, Georges Braque said “I don’t do what I wish, I do what I can.” It seems a starkly pragmatic observation from a painter commonly known for having co-authored the wildly inventive language of Cubism. The reality behind Cubism’s apparently haywire grammar however, was one of hard analysis, careful observation of the physical world, and patient construction on canvas.
The idea of constructing a painting out of fragments of reality arguably reached its apotheosis in Cubism, but is taken in a sharp new direction in the canvases of Patricia Treib. I like to think of Treib’s work as sumptuous minimalism. Many of her canvases are built on a simple conceit linking painted gestures and abstract motifs to the process of assembling a garment. It is one of those enviously concise ideas which make other painters wish they had come up with it first. In Treib’s hands the paintwork manages to be lush but not overwhelming. The compositions are as fresh as cut grass, but never facile. These abstract arrangements appear to have been executed quickly. And yet they evidence a process of analysis by the artist which is undeniably paced and reflective.
Capgirat, 2005; Mixed media and collage on wood, 224.9 x 200 x 4 cm
© Comissió Tàpies / VEGAP, Courtesy Timothy Taylor
Photo: Sylvain Deleu / Image Courtesy Timothy Taylor
Watching footage of the Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies (1923–2012) at work, patrolling the limits of his large wooden panels laid flat on the studio floor before making occasional decisive lunges with brush or paint pot, we witness that very twentieth century model of an artist – one commanded by intuitive mark making, and as much led by their medium as leading it. The idea of the artist as an agent of aesthetic forces remains an intoxicating one today, but also one in which it is now harder for an artist to actively indulge. For painters working today, the marks they make and the placement of those marks on a surface are contingent on an acknowledgement that they may already have been enacted elsewhere with the same intent, and as a consequence, may never be viewed as unique. In short, a painter working today will often find themselves pausing to look over their shoulder. Continue reading “Antoni Tàpies: Revulsion and Desire @ Timothy Taylor / 16 February – 18 March 2017”
Bradley Walker Tomlin (1899 – 1953), Number 12, 1952, Oil on canvas, 66 x 48 inches, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, General Purchase Funds 1963
Regardless of how many convenient artistic groupings have been contrived by critics and commentators, the activity of painting has always been a personal one. Working on the fringes of a tendency in art, and being passed over by the first wave of public recognition can be a blessing, allowing an artist to be re-evaluated without the background noise which attends the appearance of a new movement or style. In his final years, Jackson Pollock was paralysed by the weight of expectation about where he would go next with his work.
Other more peripheral figures in the Abstract Expressionist movement such as Hans Hofmann and Bradley Walker Tomlin produced what were arguably their strongest paintings later in their careers. From the late 1940s up to his death in 1953, Tomlin made an unprecedented series of canvases typified by a trademark calligraphic mark distributed with remarkable assurance across the canvas creating a complex balance. His exposure to the less imagistic strand of Surrealism helped inform the artist’s late style. Tomlin’s attachment to the mark of the brush may have looked retrograde at the time next to Pollock’s innovations, but the intelligence and poise of these late paintings place them beyond lazy categorization.
Jackson Pollock, Blue poles, 1952 , Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, 212.1 x 488.9 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016
“At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act…”
Harold Rosenberg – The Great American Action Painters / 1952
A lot is made of the theatricality of the act in the term action painters. And indeed Harold Rosenberg’s reading of what was happening to post-war American painting, as typified by the statement above, emphasises the existential encounter of the artist with the modern world, and the individual as a protagonist within a dramatic event. It is an interpretation which might seem to encourage a one-way reading of the Abstract Expressionism movement, starting with a moment of schism and considering only what came after to be of relevance. Abstract Expressionist artists, alternately referred to as Action Painters, are sometimes portrayed as fugitives from the past, as though they had performed a jail break and were now desperate to erase their past. Whilst American painting from the 1950s on did perform radical reappraisals of traditions and produce breathless innovations in artists’ media, in the scale and delivery of the painted mark, and in content, it did so with profound awareness of what had come before.
There are several characteristics of some Abstract Expressionist painting that have become synonymous with the movement as a whole. Some of these characteristics, in no particular order, are: large scale of both the canvas and the painted mark, an all-overness to the distribution of the marks on the canvas, and -in part due to the tendency of an ‘all-over’ treatment of the surface to preclude the accumulation of marks in one area of the canvas- the absolute absence of anything which could be thought of as representational. The fact is that these characteristics are not to be found systematically throughout Abstract Expressionism, and in many cases they are nowhere to be seen. Continue reading “Abstract Expressionism @ Royal Academy of Arts /September 24, 2016 – January 2, 2017”
Song of the Nightingale, 1964, Oil on canvas, 84 x 72 in. (213.4 x 182.9 cm), Collection of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz, Photography courtesy of Josh Nefsky
“Art is always spiritual”. It was with such unequivocal statements as this that Hans Hofmann (1880 – 1966) established his reputation as a highly effective pedagogue, a motivator of artistic talent, and a convincing champion of European modernism. From the moment he relocated to the United States from Munich in 1932, he set about the task of instructing a new generation of American artists. His teaching was characterised by a generous self-confidence, and supported by a comprehensive set of clear principles centred on the act of painting, colour theory, and the purpose and limits of the painted form.
Throughout the 1940s and 50s Hofmann’s methodology would continue to inspire his students and emerging artists. His message however, representing as it did a Euro-centric devotion to the figure and the picture plane, would ultimately provide some of his students, such as Lee Krasner, with something against which to rebel.
Looking at Hofmanns’ paintings today, it is impossible to feel the same investment in the battles of theory which were fought across the lines of European Modernism and the emergent force of Abstract Expressionism. Nevertheless, Hofmann’s late work in particular, looks fresh and complex today, and continues to provide invaluable lessons to artists.
Installation view, David Korty, Sadie Coles HQ, 1 Davies Street, London, 01 September – 01 October 2016. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.
To read the critic Clement Greenberg writing in 1948 that “…the cubist tradition may enjoy a new efflorescence in this country (America)…” is to be reminded that American art was, until well into the 20th century, still looking over its shoulder at Europe. This ‘efflorescence’ never did occur, unless Greenberg had in mind some kind of sublimated re-presentation of cubism, on a larger scale perhaps – a scale befitting the art of an emergent superpower.
David Korty (born, California, 1971) is painting at a vast remove from a time when the futures of clearly identifiable movements in art were the subjects of earnest debate. If the current series of paintings on show at Sadie Coles employs visual devices familiar to us from the work of a range of cubist and post-cubist artists from the past, then it presents these devices in a way which has been researched. His work is cool, in the sense that it does not break a sweat or leave itself exposed to anything so compromising as spontaneity. Accidents, happy or unwanted, have likely happened during the period leading up to the commencement of the series proper, before the major choices involving colour, text, scale, and motifs had been made. The resulting work is sharp, consistent, and imposing. Continue reading “David Korty @ Sadie Coles HQ / Davies St. London, September 1 – October 1, 2016.”
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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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. Continue reading “Making & Unmaking / curated by Duro Olowu @ Camden Arts Centre, June 19 – September 18, 2016.”