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

Website: Chestnuts Design

Possible Architectures

University of Greenwich, Stephen Lawrence Gallery

9 Nov - 14 Dec 2019


©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

It was a Frank Stella protractor painting, first encountered in 1991 at the Ludwig Collection, Cologne, that made me think about art and architecture in terms of the kind of expansive interplay now commonly accepted. Housed in a gallery with a distinctive roof-line of curved architectural forms, the painting, installed high up in an open plan double-height space and about to tumble down an adjacent stairwell, was somehow familiar, dynamic and entirely logical.

No one enters this gallery without first admiring the sculptural form of the building, etched against the sky in its multiple repeated curved slices of semi-reflective metal cladding. Aggressive yet serene in its position adjacent to the Rhine, it sets the scene for the experience of art inside. In related fashion, through an interaction between curved geometrical form and a largely rectilinear surrounding, Stella’s shaped painting was an instant hit. A sculptural form activating the gallery space, flat but full of movement, it presented a mass of contradictions. Luminous coloured shapes cut into the white wall, and despite the artist’s efforts towards an inartistic non-expressive painting, its poetic form and interplay of colour was disconcertingly at odds with the system it set up – beautiful, where beauty was not supposed to exist.

When reflecting on the Polish Village series that followed immediately after, Stella commented: “…they seem more like architecture to me than they did when I made them.” Similar thoughts might be generated by the Protractor series (1967-71). Here, the monumental scale of the individual pieces, the complexity of their construction and the multiple variations on each of 25 templates, were produced through an estimated one million 5/8” cuts to make the rounded wooden frames. This was a process of construction on a scale normally associated with architecture, and involving techniques borrowed from furniture making, albeit to present an idea which was so simple as to be perfectly clear from the small coloured pencil drawings that were developed as prototypes for each work.

Stella’s career, progressing from his pure geometrical paintings of the late 50s and 60s towards the more complicated interplay of contrasting material, surface and form that characterise his later work, somehow echoes the influences and developmental curve of more recent artists. The certainties of Modernist purity and design aesthetic, exemplified perhaps in these late 60s works by Stella, have been replaced by myriad conflicting influences - social, technological, environmental - and with ever-widening material options. Against this expansive background and multiplicity of form, it is interesting to note the extent to which geometrical art still holds an omnipresent role, reconfigured (perhaps inevitably) through ubiquitous design processes presented by digital technology, which artists now freely adopt.


And so it is with Possible Architectures, and the range of artists presented, each of whom has an underlying curiosity about structured or geometrical art, and its continuing role in relation to wider debates around architectural form, pattern or design, often with a playful approach to construction. Tim Ellis exemplifies this tendency through his folded pillowcase paintings. Rendered anti-heroic by their ordinary materials, and their cheeky hang-out-to-dry presentation with bulldog clips, his paintings create a familiar sense of a prototype Modernist form from an earlier era of great invention, reconfigured with a crafted DIY aesthetic, its measure of success a diverse range of cultural references where the museum curator has turned both artist and inventor.

Tim Ellis, Chosen Time, 2019

Alongside this, the multi-disciplinary practice of Zarah Hussian builds on the tradition and history of Islamic art, and is comfortable with coded digital animations of repeated geometrical form alongside meticulous sculptural constructions or paintings. Highlighting the improvised temporality associated with the conditions of much contemporary practice, Ellis and Hussian have a modus operandi in which beautifully crafted objects or animations embed geometrical form or repeated patterns within an expanded idea of geometric art - shaped, sculptural or time-based form.

Zarah Hussein, Hexagon Series, 2018

Zarah Hussein, Root 2 Series, 2018

To varying degrees, all 14 artists in Possible Architectures address these concerns. Moving beyond the 1960s zeitgeist of minimal or systems-based practices, the enquiry now reacts to a more complicated legacy, one that whilst acknowledging the formal innovation and conceptual certainty of earlier artists, looks to explore the operative space opened up by subsequent developments in the use of geometry within the visual arts. This can be seen in areas of practice that have their own geographic and historical location; e.g. the Neo-Geo Art of 1980s New York, or the post-1990 re-evaluation of British Systems Art. In places an intimate scale has replaced heroic proportions; in others a playful approach to construction improvises around ideas of surface materiality. Lucy Lippard’s identification of a “third stream tendency” in 1965 [1], as art involving shaped canvases, painted structures, or commercial materials, can be seen as prescient for developments in art which now encompass a wide range of working approaches, and ever-expanding models of practice.


Benet Spencer, October 2019

 

 

1. Lucy Lippard, ‘The Third Stream: Constructed Paintings and Painted Structures’, Art Voices, Spring 1965, pp.45­–9

Carol Robertson, Quarry#7,2007

 

 

1. Lucy Lippard, ‘The Third Stream: Constructed Paintings and Painted Structures’, Art Voices, Spring 1965, pp.45­–9


Dominic Beattie, Chair Piece 2019-2

Hans Kotter, Light Code 02 White, 2015

Morrissey & Hancock, TQID series 2019

Stephen Jaques,Proteus Series, 2019-03

Trevor Sutton, A Private Place, 2018

Tony Blackmore, 2-1-1-2 Grid1, 2019

Laurence Noga, Deep Red Filtered Pink, 2019

Benet Spencer  Untitled City 1, 2011

'Architecture makes form: Trees make space, (For Aldo Giurgola) 2013. Photo courtesy Anna Mossman

Morrissey & Hancock, TPIAR, 2019. Photo courtesy Anna Mossman

Carol Robertson, Quarry#7 and #8, 2007. Photo courtesy Anna Mossman

Marrissey & Hancock: TPIAR and Rotational