The online editorial and curatorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

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Keith Richardson-Jones

Keith Richardson-Jones was known as KR-J. Tall and slender, he moved with assurance and grace. Light of step and economical of gesture, his was a presence at once imposing and, to an almost alarming degree, self-effacing. Not one of nature’s verbal spendthrifts, the peculiar quality of his silence was more that of the keenly attentive listener than the socially inhibited.

He had little time for small talk. His tone, soft-spoken and deliberate, betrayed passionate and deeply serious artistic commitments. These were matched by an unshakeable belief in the power of art, harnessed to reason, to bring about enlightened social change. But he was no dreamer. The artistic and social commitments sketched above were informed by wide readings of all manner of texts, literary as well as philosophical and theoretical.

Music, in its many moods, modes, manifestations – ancient, contemporary, jazz, experimental avant-garde/rock crossovers – was both a great love and the subject of encyclopaedic knowledge. KR-J had more than a passing interest in the experimental music of the ’60s and ’70s, particularly those strands in which generative rules or ‘laws’ were made explicit. Something of the musical concerns of the day – endlessness, repetition, the power of monotony of the drone, silence . . . – would, mutatis mutandis, inform structural aspects of KR-J’s visual work.

Rest. Silence. Near silence. These are to music what darkness and shadow are to pictorial and architectural space. No coincidence that it is to the concerted exploration of fleeting registrations of light through finely calibrated shadows, that KR-J will increasingly turn in his late reliefs.

On these and other matters, KR-J said only what he had to say. No more, no less. His visual-plastic work placed him firmly in the ‘less is more’, ‘minimal means’ school.

Respondents habituated to reading works of visual art as touching expressions of deeply felt human emotion could certainly find some of KR-J’s work austere and intimidating. For sure, little remains of the ‘human touch’ in the finished artefacts. A formidable array of human knowledge, technical skills and counter-expressive, artistic guile has indeed been brought to bear on the elimination of signature human traces. The commanding severity of the resulting visual artefact is beautiful. Drawing the attention of the respondent to the work, rather than its maker, is touching. ‘The work’ in this case, of course, is only qualifiedly the ‘objects on the wall’.

As KR-J understood in the day, the work is reading. ‘Reading’, here, is considered an interactive exchange between maker, made and respondent, unfolding in time. The reader is encouraged to question his or her positioning as a passive consumer of pre-constituted meaning – or ‘system’ - and engage in a process of co-authorship. This process does not conclude with the ‘looking away’ from the work.

The invitation to participate in such a process is one of the most touching gestures one human being can extend to another. The temper of the times in which I worked with KR-J was touched by scientistic rigour. Terms such as ‘beautiful’ and ‘touching’ would have been frowned upon as all too human. Times change.

As some of the numerical orders, of which only a tiny ‘moment’ is framed by some of KR-J’s works, are potentially endless, so reading such orders is a potentially interminable process. It moves out of the quasi-sacred aesthetic space of the gallery and into the profane social, political, legislative, moral and economic orders beyond. The formal register of discourse cued by ‘the work on the wall’, contributes to what KR-J’s close, long-term friend and collaborator, Malcolm Hughes, would have called the “social production of knowledges”.  

If the above paints a portrait of a subject too ascetically saintly to be true, I will say immediately that KR-J’s deep seriousness of purpose as a visual artist and his accompanying erudition were borne lightly. All were leavened by a ready and engaging smile, which rose, in part, out of a keen sense of the absurdity of the human condition, attuned by his scholarship of both Beckett and his mentor, Proust.

As any reader of Proust will attest, habit is a powerful force. KR-J was a habitual reader of Proust. He would no doubt have known and agreed with Kenneth Martin’s comment about the in-forming “power of sequence, monotony and changing rhythm”. Chance (and order) would be a fine thing. And chance would, in a limited and nuanced way, play a part in the construction of a limited number of works in KR-J’s oeuvre. The chance encounters between the rigorously ordered lines in [name/image of two part three panel piece] tension this work with a peculiar power.

KR-J was also a bit of a bon viveur on the quiet, as some of us found to our cost on an outing for dinner at a local curry house on London’s Brick Lane. Before ordering, the assembled company had decided that everyone would contribute equally to settling the bill. KR-J ordered curried lobster tail, the most expensive dish on the menu. Memorable because so uncharacteristic of his way.

Although he enjoyed the stimulation of discussion and working collaboratively, KR-J was not what you might call a ‘joiner’. A mercy in one way, as the disciplines of practicing systematic constructive art in the exacting way of KR-J required a certain stoicism and acquaintance with solitude. On the other hand perhaps ploughing a lonely furrow in the studio whets the appetite for conviviality beyond its confines.

KR-J’s disposition to stoicism, silence and solitude could readily have chimed with the establishment culture’s promotion of the lonely sovereignty of the individual-subject as originating author. Even as late as the ’80s, that culture remained fixated on the essentially romantic vision of the artist-as-loner, a view to which visual artists in particular were expected to sign up.

There is no shortage of accounts of the high times and wry times in the pubs and clubs, of the NYC pastimes of abstract expressionism’s radical, groundbreaking, original . . . improbably heroic-romantic individual-subjects.

But what of KR-J’s quiet, painstaking, methodical and equally groundbreaking work? Work that draws on, makes concrete, orders that have been socially elaborated and agreed: mathematical, logical, geometrical . . . Work made, moreover, by an artist mercifully free of the attention-seeking egotism to which his individualistic clan seems peculiarly prone.

The dominant culture is fine with celebrating art’s social dimension, so long as the jollity is confined to the informal domain of the pub, the club, the semi-privatised realm of studio-home. It is less inclined to enthuse about visual artists gathering to weave together the artistic and social dimensions of their practices in the public domain. This dissonance calls into question the obviousness of the individual-subject’s central, originating-authoring role in the field of cultural production. The obvious isn’t always as obvious as it seems, is it?

As a student and in early teaching posts, KR-J had become aware of what he described as the “reactionary character of British art school education in the ’30s and ’40s”. He saw Modernism, in all the arts, not just as an escape route from reactionary values but as constituting a more or less explicit critique of such values. Modernism’s ‘critique’ of the authority of the individual author-subject was one of its most significant moments. It was a critique KR-J “wholeheartedly” embraced.

There was obviously something in Modernism’s challenge to the dominant order in the idea of artists working together, that appealed to KR-J’s rebellious side.

So we have a person of taste with a commitment to working collaboratively who is wary of having to sign up to a set of ‘founding principles’ in order to identify as a member of a group.

The mix of qualities and skills outlined above equipped KR-J well to participate in the collaborative, non-hierarchical, anti-group proceedings of “Exhibiting Space”. This radical artistic, social and political intervention was dedicated to “raising the public profile of systematic and constructive art practice”.

Initiated and run mainly by artists, it had no fixed roles or centralised leadership structure. One hour, any participant could find him or herself leading a cross-disciplinary team, organising exhibitions accompanied by discussions and music recitals; the next, stuffing envelopes.

A highly attuned sense of absurdity, such as that exhibited by KR-J, certainly came in handy.

When “Exhibiting Space” was in session, he would, each month, make the 260 mile round trip to London from his fastness on the Welsh bank of a meander of the river Wye, near the Cistercian abbey of Tintern. He was always in the company of his London hosts, close friends and fellow constructive artists, Malcolm Hughes and Jean Spencer. All remained indispensible participants from 1985 until the project took in its shingle in 1989.

William of Occam (c. 1287 – 1347) was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher. He is famed for formulating the law of extreme parsimony known as ‘Occam’s Razor’ that enjoins the philosopher to: ‘Posit no more entities than are necessary’. Even so unforgiving a creed is open to different interpretations, one of the more obvious of which is the shaving away of all superfluous, extraneous, decorative gesture.

KR-J certainly took this injunction to heart. In his interpretation, however, it was almost as if Old Bill’s razor only cut one way. That was one too few. The old master had much to learn from his disciple. KR-J’s razor cut both ways. Throughout his démarche, on both the up and the down strokes, all that persisted in preventing the reader’s untrammelled access to the distilled object at hand was ruthlessly pared away. ‘The object’ in this sense, could be painting, more likely drawing or, at the close, the opening to the planar reliefs. In the latter, the object could equally be said to be an opening to registering fleeting and contingent effects of light. Randomness, contrasted to the conceit of chance in its monotonous determination as order’s safety net.  

If KR-J’s local Cistercians caught wind of his sectarian dalliance with Franciscan philosophy, their vow of silence obliged them to keep schtum.

A close shave with colour – in the commonly understood sense of the term – early in the turn to constructive practice, was resolved by dispensing with it. First cut: green.

In < Series 288 24/18 (ii) 6/8/10/9/7/5, 80 x 80 cm Acrylic on canvas, Arts Council Collection???>, what counts will be demarcated in uninflected matt black paint on a white-primed ground. The strategies deployed in the organisation of pictorial space, and in linking and separating the six ‘moments’ of the series formal economy, owe more than a passing nod to the contrapuntal figuring of fugue-form repeatedly explored by KR-J’s beloved J.S. Bach. (In Welsh, ‘bach’, meaning ‘little’, is a term of endearment.)

Etymological shavings. The term ‘fugue’ comes from the Latin ‘fugere’ – ‘to flee’, so it freights with it notions of impermanence and displacement. We speak of colours that change over time as ‘fugitive’; of those on the run from justice as ‘fugitives’; of those displaced by injustice as ‘refugees’.

The counting-measuring systems deployed in the regulation of the overall economy of Series 288 are relatively autonomous.

In contrast to the so-called ‘destructive creativity’ of capitalism, the economy at work here is, in the last instance, non-hierarchical, egalitarian, at rest, in a state of equilibrium. It metaphorically anticipates the kind of steady-state, zero growth economy, that, in the era of global warming, we may have to get used to if the planet and the species that inhabit it are to survive. So, an unexpected recycling in the field of politics, of green, the first chromatic casualty of KR-J’s démarche.

Sure as dawn shades into dusk, the areas occupied by the black elements begin to look too great. They too would become so many occlusions, opacities, cover-ups, impediments to the apprehension of the object to which KR-J increasingly turned his artistic explorations: surface. Surface, as support for the practice of regulated marking - ‘writing’ - and as reflector of light would become the object to which he wished to draw the attention of the respondent. His painstaking disclosure of surface as object, in the double sense of ‘subject of analysis’ and ‘aim’, will have been the outcome of an anti-archaeological process of undigging.

To ‘dig’ the materiality of surface, as the jazz fraternity might have put it, meant undigging it. The surface’s surfacing, if you will, had already been signalled by the reduction of the black monochromatic fields of Series 288, to lines – a move that foregrounded more of the support. <cf. Blue and red line work>

Thereafter, lines ruled on canvas or paper surfaces will replace area as marking the rules of predetermined numbering, measuring and sequencing systems. (For all that counting and number appear to grant the measure of things a reassuring certainty, there’s something immeasurable going on here.)

Rules marking rules. Or, more properly, a non-originary re-marking, assuming, that is, there’s any substance to the claim that the origin of the process of marking can be traced to an abstract mathematical order.

Red and blue – a nod, perhaps, to the Yin and Yang of Eastern metaphysics -  initially survive KR-J’s turn to monochromaticity. They will appear in line form only, never as area. Red, the active, masculinist force of the metaphysics in question will suffer the first cut, leaving only its blue, feminine side. The blues riff, too, will eventually go the way of red. In fact, colour seems to have neither metaphysical nor symbolic glossing, here. It will have been used as a simple way to code different numbering systems deployed within a single work. <Image: red and blue coding>

Next, the act of ‘drawing on’ the too-receptive surfaces of the later paintings and drawings will itself become problematic, an almost unwelcome intrusion onto, and violation of, surface.

In this period the canvas or paper support is divided into three, four or more columns, each hosting a different numbering system. Once in a while, a single column will host two numbering systems, each assigned its own colour: red or blue. In the works on paper, lines are drawn to mark the divisions between columns. Such lines are not strictly necessary to the marking of ‘system’. They represent an uncharacteristic rest-break from Master Occam.

KR-J executes a number of drawings comprising columns (rows? check orientation) ruled from side to side with equidistant horizontal lines. Secondary and tertiary orders are established as lines join across two or more columns. There’s an analogy here with the moving in and out of phase of different, strictly observed time signatures, in some types of ‘systems music’. In terms of formal structuring, there’s more than a nod here to the phasal shifts in some of Steve Reich’s music. His Clapping Music was a particular favourite with KR-J.

A nod also to the non-monotony of monotony . . . Sine waves to sign in the drone zone. The Columba aspexit of Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179) vies with Indian classical music . . . celtic bagpipes . . . the experimentalism of La Monte Young . . . and many more experimental composers and performers from these shores: John White, Cornelius Cardew, Michael Parsons, Howard Skempton . . . And then there’s the jazz thing, Scott Joplin to Theolonious Monk and beyond. I know nothing of jazz, so I’ll jam along with one of Ludo Witty’s wittier propositions: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

As the eye travels across the surface from left to right, the density of lines in each successive column increases. Typographers speak a font, even if it is black, assigning a block of text its distinctive ‘colour’. Different font densities produce different colours. Understood in this way, the typographic explorations of KR-J call into question the too-ready reading of black as the simple absence of colour.

Then there’s the distinct impression of gazing through a portal onto a strictly regulated process capable of endlessly repeating itself beyond the physical limits of the drawing. Respondents in thrall to the good Bishop Berkeley’s subjective idealism are left with the disconcerting sense of having come across a process that could continue in their absence.

KR-J also develops hybrid pieces that sit somewhere between painting, drawing and reliefs. The paring down is accompanied by a pairing up – and the pairing of pairs into series. In these multi-part, serial pieces the gaps between the different ‘moments’ that comprise the economy are replicated by physical splits within each of its ‘moments’.

I’m thinking of some larger, two-part works, <three panel pieces> in which each ‘moment’ is constructed from three separate, identically dimensioned panels. The central panel is flanked on either side by panels butted up to its long edges. At a stroke, this addresses the question of how to mark the divisions between columns, other than by drawing lines.

Each panel is made from Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) to which very fine, primed linen has been marouflaged. Each appears to have been measured and marked – spatialised-temporalised – independently. The assembly is supported by a cradling system on the back as elaborate as any employed in the construction of 17th century wooden painting panels. KR-J as a joiner after all.

KR-J has drawn attention to the fact that a defining feature of works of ‘systems art’ is their ability to be read and interpreted in any orientation. ‘Top’, ‘bottom’, ‘side’, ‘right’ and ‘left’ must be treated as relative, rather than absolute terms.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that in the case in point, counting departs from a common point of origin at the top of each three-part canvas. This results in what looks like a staggered start, with lines being equally stepped across the three panels. Thereafter, the measure of each numbering system is marked by horizontal rules running the width of the panel to which it is discrete. Each system is allowed to run its own relatively autonomous course. The spatialising-temporalising marking process is strictly followed – endless-music-style – into the virtual order beyond the physical edge at the bottom of the canvas.

At various conjunctures, the lines marking the order within each panel come tantalisingly close to resolving as a single straight line running across the entire surface. Ultimately, though, these would-be conjunctures become disjunctures.

Mis-steps, some tiny, trouble the respondent’s efforts to read between the lines, the desire to bring the different orders into phase. The subject of reading, precipitated into crisis in this way, is open to knowledge, to what the French philosopher Louis Althusser has called the “surprise of science”. And, I would add, pleasure.

Writing on his reliefs, KR-J cites the expectation that their “visual ‘objectness’ will bring an element of surprise as reward” as one of his spurs to practice. (Catalogue to Testing the System, Kettle’s Yard, 1996). In the same text, he also claims that “the manual work in making reliefs has few incidental gratifications and is often repetitive and irksome in nature”. The first statement rings true. The second sounds a wee bit disingenuous. The attention lavished on getting the white monochrome surfaces of the reliefs ‘just right’ was surely more than a chore.

Acrylic paint will not do. Too tacky. Skin too plasticky. Too glossy. Nightmare to spray. Titanium white? Too translucent. Too vacant. Althogether too white. KR-J has to re-learn oil painting. Only oil-based paint comes close to articulating all his exacting requirements. A surface that is neither too glossy nor too matt. A chromatic and tonal register that is neither white nor non-white, a semitone this way or that. Neither too reflective nor too absorbent.

The ‘drawing forth’, the uncovering and foregrounding of the supposedly neutral, white ground of painting, marked a significant step in his ‘critique’ of the practice of painting as a kind of polychromatic cover up.

Etymologically the term ‘relief’ carries within it the trace of its old French origins. Relevé means ‘lifted up’, ‘built out’, the ‘projection of a figure from the ground’. For KR-J, ever the attentive student of Occam, there was too much relevé in the English way. Too many bits, verticals, planes – real and virtual. Too many backboards – a residual echo of painting cushioning ‘the work’ - physically and aesthetically distancing it from the wall and the architectural environment in which it was hosted. Too much projection – unquestioning repetition of the settled order of figure and ground. Some, gesturing to the mass-produced, industrial aesthetic of the day, used too many different materials. Some even featured colour!

In terms of relief construction, the German way of Ewerdt Hilgemann and the Dutch way of Ad Dekkers in the early ’70s would be his model. In his quiet, deliberative, cunning way, he would push the formal issues announced in the work of the above relief makers further than either. The relationships between figure, ground, plane, line and edge, would all be subjected to relentless re-examination. All would be reinstituted in artefacts characterised by their extreme formal purity and the economy of means deployed in the production of powerful effects.

In these, the role of quill and brush has been usurped by plunge router and industrial spray gun. Straight horizontal lines running the length the MDF panel are routed out of its thickness. The impression is of virtual lines made material and held in vision through being routed out, absented from matter. Lines of absence without origin or end. Complex absence, a ‘hollowing out’ internally differentiated by shadow, cast by the top lip of the groove, and reflected light, from the bottom lip. The numbering systems deployed foreshadow the respondent’s attempts to read between, to get the measure of the distance between the lines. These systems are differentiated in two ways: setting the router bit at different depths, and using router bits of different diameters.

The routed panel is treated to a just off-white coating and an abrading process designed to optimise the reading of the play of light on its surface. Getting all this ‘right’ demands a vast range of skills. Plunge routing here is a once only affair. There’s no going back over your work, patching up mistakes. It requires commitment and a capacity for risk taking. Some degree of violence vies with extreme delicacy of gesture. The whole is governed by feeling for the respondent, to whom the artist is bound by a duty of care.

Too white, too bright and the experience of reading becomes a glary, painful business. Too matt, too shiny? More problems. Too tempered? Lose quality of shadow. In terms of time and effort, it’s a high expenditure economy. Pieces that fail to meet KR-J’s exacting standards are systematically routed from the oeuvre, often after much effort had been expended. KR-J would literally take to writing on those metaphorically written off reliefs, announcing their failure to make it to the hanging stage. At least one passed the high hurdle.

KR-J has just hung a relief for an “Exhibiting Space” event at the Ruskin School of Drawing, Oxford, 1988. Someone spots that one line is no more than .2 of a millimetre adrift. The error is imperceptible to the untutored eye but KR-J is nevertheless mortified and immediately withdraws the work.

Vision is as much a cultural and historical construct as a physiological phenomenon. Any claim to the contrary fails to recognise its own scotoma.  

Despite their cool look, these reliefs call into question strategies of reading that depend on physical, as well as aesthetic distancing. Detachment militates against the work’s passionate interrogation of its surrounding environment, an interrogative process in which the reader is invited to participate.

Inured to the poor design and general shabbiness of the physical environment by quotidian visual habits, the act of looking-reading would again become strange and with it the read, the ‘looked at’. KR-J evinced an enduring interest in the persistence of vision. Not so much as a short-lived, retinal phenomenon but as ‘living on’ in the respondent when s/he turns her gaze away from ‘the work of art’ to ‘the world’.

Dishabituated in and by the peculiar intensity of the gaze that, ‘paradoxically’, some would say, KR-J’s most reductive work actively invited, ‘the world’ would be re-framed, re-visioned, re-portrayed as an estranged after-image of itself.

The unglossed vision of the quotidian norm - uneven planes, wonky walls, floors and ceilings, the wobbly lines, duff corners, dodgy illumination, badly finished surfaces, scuffed edges - carries with it an injunction to respondents to share in improving, in making good the physical environment, the better to make good the everyday social comings and goings conducted therein.

For KR-J the act of ‘looking away’ from the work assumed the kind of importance usually reserved for ‘looking at’ the work. The eye of the respondent has been quietly ‘re-visioned’ by reading, spending time with this work. Vision re-learns the extent to which, through habituation it has become inured to the visual illiteracy of much of the quotidian world. (For more on the question of habit, cf. Beckett’s 1930 literary manifesto, Proust.)

Relief making of the kind KR-J turned to in his late phase was indeed a ‘critique’, both of painting, monochrome or otherwise, and the quotidian order. But it was equally a measured critique of relief’s simplistic positioning of itself as the three-dimensional, ‘material’ Other of painting’s two-dimensional artifice.

With the ungrounding of the ground of painting, the foregrounding in these late counter-relief reliefs, of painting’s background, the question of whiteness arises with renewed urgency. If anything, this question has become more intractable with the passing of time. In the field of the visual arts, as in other domains of cultural production, whiteness is no longer simply regarded as the neutral Other of charged polychromaticity. But this is not the place to enter that particular fray.

Suffice to say that the possibly irresolvable question of blanc, blank(et) monochrome whiteness in relief making was one to whose resolution KR-J devoted much experience, imaginative energy, and technical expertise.  Disclaimers of the ‘making-of-the-work as chore’, kind, even if they come from the artist, must be taken with a small hill of salt.

Were he with us still, reflection on the question of what it might take to make a surface coating of the requisite order of whiteness for the work at hand would no doubt continue to absorb KR-J. The ratio of reflection to absorption would be just one of many considerations informing the process of making surface-whiteness in the here and now.

In the project of Modernity to which KR-J subscribed, reason and the objectivity of scientific knowledge are the best weapons in the fight against obscurantism. The latter has a material existence. It is inscribed in everyday social rituals and practices, in which the ‘rules of the game’ are understood. It works through its very obviousness, its commonplace appeal to common sense. After all, we all sense and see the same things, right?

Read in a certain way, the work of KR-J might be regarded as contributing to the furtherance of the enlightenment project of Modernity. It is possessed of a visual clarity, virtually unmatched in its precision. The transparency of the systems deployed and their rendering in a counter-expressive materiality, have the uncanny effect of making the obvious obvious. Obviously, making the obvious obvious is not a trivial matter, especially for a visual artist. KR-J cites some of the practices of fellow visionaries that shaped them: Piero della Francesca,  Brunelleschi, Palladio, Cézanne, Mondrian, Lohse . . .

KR-J’s systematic explorations were enacted in and through the making of visual artefacts. Objects of knowledge and pleasure, they represent a constructive advance in the development of a science of visual literacy.

Grace note

And so to another order, another reading, another order of reading.

9th November 1987. Morning. Bright.

The weekend just past saw the staging of ‘Ricercare’, a joint presentation featuring the work of visual artist Keith Richardson-Jones and composer-performer John White. The event was organised and staged by the performing artists in the context of “Exhibiting Space”. The room that hosts the latter doubles as my studio and is adjacent to the residential quarters. I have the privilege of reading exhibited works outside ‘normal business hours’.

A pale, salmon pink relief by KR-J catches my eye. It is not so much illuminated as luminous. Light raking, left to right. Shadows that haunt the grooves of its routed horizontal parallels and those that define its relationship with the architectural space are a subtle blue-green. Bottom and right edges are defined solely by shadow. Left and top edges are haloed by lightlines. The relief seems to hover, relieved of heft. The differential play of light and shadow in the grooves is complex. Recession begets projection, figuring ground.

These beautiful reliefs are the culmination of KR-J’s relentless process of distillation. Verticals, aside from the sides of the panel, have been eliminated. Mark making, in the conventional sense of applying paint or ink to a surface has been brushed aside, penned.

Picture, in the conventional sense of the term, has never really featured. Image too has been problematised, relief itself re-imagined, re-defined.

Here the horizontal shadowlines-lightlines are routed into the material at intervals foreshadowed by different numbering-measuring systems. Delineations by absence. The different depths and widths of the routs entertain a complex relationship with the depth of shadow and the extent to which it is illuminated by reflection from below.

The look is of a kind of deconstructed music stave. It departs from the five-line model in the same way the work of some composers of ‘new music’ force the re-imagining of musical notation. High Modernism had drawn a line under the score as instruction set, less a script to be slavishly followed, more a text whose markings open to the interpretive skills of its reader-performers.

Scored-scoring reliefs, then, suggest notes, ligatures, a kind of non-phonetic ‘writing’, akin to other such types of formal notion: mathematical, dance, computer programming languages.

These measured, shadowy lines of a score have another valence. They hold in tension the respondent’s desire to fetishise surface, commodify it, make it One. No transcendence. Relevé, Aufhebung – in question.

Reflection as shadow, held in tension, affect-effect – orchestrating the dance, the writing of light. Leçons de ténèbres.

They will bear the name ‘Reflections’. Later, some – circular in form – will bear the name ‘Inscriptions’.

And the oblique reading? Shadowlines-lightlines, receding routs, re-routing, re-visioning a kind of exaggerated, monocular perspective, at the vanishing point of which is the recently commissioned National Westminster Bank Data Centre.

It’s a low-rise redbrick building, thrown up the previous year to help manage the de-regulation of the London Stock Exchange, known as the Big Bang.

We turn again, with relief, to our relief.

The experience is intense, unsettling. What’s with the salmon pink? Wearing the old rose tinted specs again? Re-discovering, ungrounding, disclosing, digging the Utopian impulse after all this time?

It dawns. The rays of a wintery sun, low in the south, are reflecting off the redbrick building, tinting the ambient light in the room. This is caught in and re-reflected by the finely calibrated whiteness of the monochrome relief. Subtle tint subtly registered. Vision re-visioned. Dishabituated.

The otherworldly clarity and precision of execution of KR-J’s relief, its quality of having been untouched, is touched by the quotidian world, draws it in from beyond the window, re-visions it.

The regulated economy marked in the scorings, the absences that traverse the surface of the relief make visible and constitute a ‘critique’ of de-regulated capitalism’s rose-tinted image of itself.

Blink and you’ve missed it. Sun gone, behind cloud or building, taking with it that fleeting experience of that fugitive tint. Intimation of fugue-form as refugee.

So self-effacing are some works by KR-J that it would be easy for the busy respondent to walk right past them. Easy but wrong, as the experience sketched above illustrates.

These works demand time. Time to linger in time. Not to be too hasty to dig down to the unchanging certainties of the ‘underlying’ system. Remain with surface. Remain in light.

And maybe for KR-J the object never was surface but light, in the materiality of all its changes. And maybe light cannot be an object. Maybe light cannot be deconstructed.

So, gentle respondent, take your time and give your time to working through the gentle but insistent presence of this work. Clear any notion that there’s some kind of diffidence at play. Open up to the tough-minded obduracy that informed its making.

G R Thomson

London 2015

G R Thomson is a painter, writer, polemicist and educationalist.

Series 288 24/18 (ii) 6/8/10/9/7/5, 80 x 80 cm Acrylic on canvas, Arts Council Collection

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.