Saturday, 18 June 2011

you cannot not?

Abstract painting is non representational, isn’t it? I remember when I first started to make abstract paintings, over 30 years ago that it seemed all about struggling not to represent. It was like the well known exercise where you sit next to someone and attempt not to communicate. Gregory Bateson used it to show that ‘you cannot not communicate’. There I was attempting not to represent, and everything I put down seemed to represent something. Even with a monochrome canvas, a vertical was a figure and a horizontal was a landscape. Here are, at least, figures on a ground.
Why do I find it pleasing that the pink ground becomes more like figure in the centre? And why was I less pleased when somone pointed out that the pink ground-become-figure can be read as a phallic symbol?

There is also autobiographical content hidden in the form. The scale had to do with my wealth or lack of it. When I had no money, the paintings were small or I painted over existing work. When I couldn't afford studio space, larger paintings were made by joining smaller stretchers together. When the paintings were monochromes what interested me were the subtle differences between virtually identical paintings. This had nothing at all to do with the fact that I am myself an identical twin. This was unrepresented, wasn’t it?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Constructivism casts a shadow

At last I got to see the show Construction and its Shadow at Leeds Art Gallery, that I had seen on the Abstraktion blog a few weeks ago. I just made it, a week or so before it closed.

When I mentioned to the museum attendant how good I thought it was she seemed pleased that I liked it.
She said: "most people who comment say that it's rubbish".I was surprised by that, could it be that the fact of abstraction is still something of a shock for some? Yet here it didn't exactly seem new. The show felt like it was a reminder of a tradition.There was even that old museum smell (I like it).

I know it is still possible to hear it said of abstract painting that a child could have done it. But surely not this work. Most of it seemed complex, mathematical even (not easily done by children) and I would have thought difficult to dismiss.

It is a continuing quest of mine to see abstract art outside of London, so I had a good day in Leeds. At the Construction and its shadow exhibition I was particularly interested in the work by Jeffrey Steele. Later, I noticed that at the seminar I missed, about the influence of the British Constructivist and Systems groups, Jeffrey Steele had been speaking and I wished I had been there.

In the permanent collection of contemporary art I saw a Robyn Denny that I haven't seen for ages. When I saw it, I remembered hat I had seen it before, at Leeds many years ago. I also imagined that, back then I saw a big John Hoyland painting, but if I did it wasn't there today. (Just checking the catalogue I downloaded from the gallery website, there is a Hoyland in their collection. I would have liked to see that.)

There were three impressive John Walker paintings, as well as some by Terry Frost (not his best), and one by Gillian Ayres (Helios 1990, not my favourite). In the other collections, I particularly enjoyed looking at an Ivon Hitchens landscape.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Integrating conscious and unconscious minds

In the wonderful big book Painting Today by Tony Godfrey, he says that
Making a painting is all about hand, eye and brain co-ordination: no other art form links mind and body so totally. 
I think this has similarities to Gregory Bateson's suggestion in Steps to an Ecology of Mind that
art integrates the reasons of the heart with the reasons of the reason, i.e. those multiple levels of mind "of which one extreme is called consciousness and the other the unconscious"?
To co-ordinate mind and body and to integrate conscious and unconscious seem to me to be slightly different descriptions of the same thing. If I understand Stephen Gilligan correctly, he seems to identify cognitive mind with conscious mind, and somatic mind (body mind) with the unconscious.

When I am working on small scale 'sketches' especially, I experience a relaxing of conscious control that I think, for me is an important element of this integration.


Friday, 10 June 2011

Lost and found

From a series of small paintings, acrylic on paper, more or less a4 in size, all completed quickly, and many years ago. Recently, I had a dream reminding me where I had hidden them. Finding them, I discover that they seem to open up lots of new directions for larger paintings. I like the separation of time. Finding them now they seem like a gift from my unconscious or somatic mind.