the seed of its opposite @ Gallery North

the seed of its opposite @ Gallery North
26 Oct – 11 Nov 2015

Private View: 29 Oct. 6 – 9pm

Shelagh Atkinson, Karl Bielik, Lauri Hopkins, James Lumsden, Elfyn Lewis, EC, Terry Greene, Erin Lawlor, Jai Llewellyn, Richard Caldicott, Fieroza Doorsen, Vincent Hawkins, Shawn Stipling, Gwennan Thomas

Gallery North
Glasgow Kelvin College
75 Hotspur Street
Glasgow
G20 8LJ

Contemporary British Abstraction @ The SE9 Container Gallery

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Public Viewing
11am to 3pm Saturdays
28 February – 11th April 2015

Private View
5th March 5.30pm to 8.30pm

Contemporary British Abstraction is a group show including thirty-five artists selected by artists Matthew Macaulay and Terry Greene.

Artists include:
David Ainley, Ralph Anderson, Chris Baker, Dominic Beattie, Andrew Bick, Katrina Blannin, Claudia Boese, Julian Brown, EC, Ben Cove, Clem Crosby, Pen Dalton, Lisa Denyer, Andrew Graves, Terry Greene, Susan Gunn, Alexis Harding, Sue Kennington, Sarah R Key, Phoebe Mitchell, Matthew Macaulay, Ellie MacGarry, Katrin Mäurich, Sarah McNulty, Mali Morris, Andrew Parkinson, Aimee Parrott, Marion Piper, Clare Price, Geoffrey Rigden, Gwennan Thomas, Trevor Sutton, David Webb, Mary Webb, Gary Wragg,

Why Abstraction Now?

Abstraction is no longer new. Abstract painters today are not doing what Malevich did a hundred years ago, things have changed, nor is theirs a stunned response to two world wars, so how is it that, when everything in abstraction has already been done, painters today continue in this tradition? Why abstraction now? The 35 artists in this exhibition might each offer a different answer, or their answers might naturally fall into numerous categories, at times overlapping and at other times contradicting each other.

For some, abstraction continues to be compelling simply because of its content-free status, in the same sense that mathematics or arithmetic is devoid of content. We don’t need apples, pears or other objects in order to add, subtract, multiply and divide. These operations are best carried out abstractly, just as in formal semantics or formal logic, removal of content allows concentration on structure and relata. Maths and logic aren’t new anymore, but people continue to contribute to them. Furthermore, these disciplines, like abstract art, are in a sense removed from our everyday lives yet at the same time intrinsic to them.

At the opposite extreme, some artists here will argue that the terms abstract and representational are misleading or irrelevant and will claim not to see themselves as abstract painters at all. Any representational painting is always also an abstraction and, non-representation seems impossible, so perhaps the distinction falls away.

For others, form is process that has halted or become ‘frozen’, so their key focus is the process of painting which itself becomes content or, alternatively, it is discovered as part of the process. There is often an element of ‘primitivism’ in this approach, as Craig Staff highlighted in his book Modernist Painting and Materiality, the paint is paint in the same way that in the writings of D H Lawrence flesh is flesh. Could it also be, that the static materiality of the painting offers a kind of antidote to the digital, screen-based experience that has come to characterise the technological? Painting here is a bit like jazz in that meaning or structure is the result of improvisation. Jazz may no longer be in vogue, but lots of good Jazz music continues to be made, and music that rightly deserves the tag contemporary.
Other abstract artists prefer to emphasise not so much the painters’ heroic quest for content as the part that the viewer plays in “reading in” their own meanings, or allowing associations to come to mind, perhaps specifically anticipated by the artist and perhaps not. Meaning is both invented and fluid, that’s our everyday lived experience, yet we hardly pay attention to it, as if meaning is readily supplied. Abstract art challenges us to engage in multiple acts of interpretation, and better still, at least potentially, to become aware of those interpretive actions.

Some artists working in this field, employ a methodology that, far from improvisation, is pre-planned, programmed, determined, by a preordained system or sequence. The results of such an approach cannot not relate to the determined-ness of contemporary experience. Without in any way attempting to depict or illustrate life within a technological system, their art is entirely congruent with such a life. Furthermore, that some element of free play is introduced may act as a metaphor exploring the extent to which such play within our everyday systems is possible, or not.
Many years ago Jacques Ellul, author of The Technological Society, argued that contemporary art is either an imitation of, or a compensation for, technology, seeing abstraction’s loss of the subject and its focus on means as technological phenomena. Much more recently, David Trotter coined the term techno-primitivism for a technologically-mediated primitivism, or that which “draws back from the technological only in order to get a better grasp upon it”. The two positions “drawing back from” and “getting a better grasp of” are contradictory or opposing poles, yet here they are held together. It’s the continuum that unites them and allows for overlap. Borrowing Ellul’s language it may be possible to both “imitate” and “compensate” for technology at the same time.

If there are perhaps as many answers to the question “why abstraction today?” as there are abstract artists, and their viewpoints may well be contradictory, in this exhibition we seek to hold some of these contradictions together in an attempt to get a better view. And this is a question better answered by viewing than by speculating, so we invite you to take a look at the multiple “answers” on view.

Text kindly written for the show by Andy Parkinson

The Exhibition Location

The SE9 Container Gallery
St Thomas More Catholic School
Footscray Road,
Eltham

EC on colour paint and painting

EC on colour paint and painting

“In the late 90’s I spent a few years making black and white paintings. These new paintings were mainly in acrylic and not oil, and that was because when I wasn’t at university I painted in my bedroom so I couldn’t be surrounded by turps etc. It was just more practical for me then. At that time I was mainly using Liquitex and Golden. I spent this time mixing my own blacks – a red black, a blue black etc, and would also add minuscule amounts of colours to my whites to alter them very slightly. I would work with these slight differences within one painting or within small groups that would relate to one another with these subtle changes when placed side by side. It was a very focussed way of working with colour and quite disciplined. I set up a limit for myself to work within, or a system, but within limits a lot can be discovered and learned I think. I would also use mixed papers and other materials in these works and handle the paint in different ways so that not only were there the slight changes in the blacks or whites, but also in surface, texture, breathiness and looseness of paint and denser areas. I would also underpaint more gestural forms (and sometimes automatic writing in charcoal, pencil etc) beneath the geometric areas, in one colour and on unprimed canvas. There would be a kind of hovering of colour beneath, influencing the blacks or whites above. These differences would be most visible when two paintings were placed side by side, for example two white paintings that at a glance could appear the same but were not at all. It was to do with really looking and not hurrying. I’d bring in materials like varnishes to alter the surfaces and insisted on working on unprimed cotton duck because I liked the colour to sink and stain the canvas first and then build over that, some areas sunk and others very much pushed forward, sitting on top as I built up the paint. I stretched the canvases myself, mainly over stretchers I’d make or buy. Atlantis was just round the corner from where I studied so it suited me to go there to get many of my materials.
My earlier way of working taught me a lot about colour. It was not ‘just’ black and white. These days I’d say that I deal with materials and qualitative aspects in ways that have unfurled out of what I did before, although it might not seem obvious. Perhaps there are more condensed rhythmic qualities present, a different kind of visual organisation and some of my work physically comes out of the boundaries of the ground I start on, perhaps more robust, tough and physical in feel, uncontained at times.
I must experiment to really get to know anything – Experience matters to me rather than theory, or to put it another way; I need to do it to really know it. I work with colour in such a way now that might appear more chaotic at first, when seen in relation to how I worked years ago. There are no rules as such, more a kind of free-association-rule-making, questioning and finding out. It’s only in the last two years or so that I have brought in more ‘high key’ colours and really pursued colour ideas that I subjectively may not have liked. So that’s a kind of objective visual exploration maybe. The ‘pleasure’ might be in the materials, the stuff and it’s handling but the colour relationships might be more jarring and upsetting at times. I still like to mix up my own blacks, play with different whites and mix colours with some subtlety but that might be alongside a luminous yellow or high key pink straight out of the tube for example, or an oil based paint I’ve had mixed at the DIY shop.
I would love to be able to spend away on pots of Golden Cadmium red for example, but I can’t. Anyway, I find that a battle with materials is satisfying, and that luxuriating in my favourite choices is not necessary. My paints and materials are usually from the DIY store down the road, mixed with oil and acrylic paints from Cass or Atlantis, mail order art suppliers, as well as found materials from skips and things like marker pens, tippex, pins, papers, card and so on. The oils, acrylics, gouache, ink, watercolour etc that I use are not bought with a brand of paint or highest quality materials in mind but the spray paint tends to be the Liquitex low-odour, water-based one as it’s best for use in my studio which is at home. Stuff I find myself surrounded with might enter my work from my studio environment – detritus, discarded stuff is put back into my work. As for my brushes, some are over twenty years old and others are bad DIY shop ones that don’t really load any paint but are great to brutalise, work on large areas, or scratch away at the paint to lift some off, making large areas more breathy. On my big canvases I like to use these brushes particularly because their limitations work for me. I’ll also use other materials I find to hand to push the paint about.” ~ EC

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