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Website: Chestnuts Design

Neil Zakiewicz | Working


Domobaal, 3 John Street, London. 9 Nov 2018 - 15 Dec 2018


A review by John Stephens

Neil Zakiewicz at Domobaal: installation shots

The title Working gives a clue to this show in as much as each of the pieces involves craftsmanship and the workings of a process, the central focus of the works’ form and structure.  

Despite all the work in the show being attached to the wall it all relies very much on three dimensions. There are two sets or types of work with the first set I’d like to talk about being the more overtly sculptural. There are five in the set, all referred to as Clay Work. Within the set each piece comprises an exquisitely crafted hardwood frame set at an angle on the wall and providing two small shelves, each at the opposing bottom and top truncated corners of the frames. A fired terra cotta sculptural element, the product of clay being extruded through an hexagonal opening, is arranged on each platform. Despite the mechanical nature of the extrusion they have a powerful organic, almost animated quality and sit in contrast to the sternness of the frame assuming some kind of gestural relationship with the one in the opposite corner. It’s a simple arrangement repeated in each piece. Whilst the work is primarily the product of a sensitive and masterful handling of materials and the crafts associated with the materials, I found my focus to be less on the craftsmanship and more on the expressive, almost narrative nature of the work.

Within this set of five, two are arranged as parallelograms flat on the wall and three are set into corners using the adjacent wall planes. They appear as rhomboidal shapes but as you shift your point of view, just for a moment, you see them as parallelograms.  And, already the simple arrangement has a number of articulations.

They are a combination of the intuitive handling of clay with an evident spontaneous decision-making and a carefully designed wooden frame with its two ’shelves’ providing a small platform for the extruded clay in its raw unfired state to be trailed onto, or placed by the artist. They have been allowed to flop and bend. Sometimes to creep along the flat surface, to drop over the edge or to be pulled up into an attentive position, rearing up; sometimes beckoning totheir partner extrusion across the parallelogram, coiled languidly with an air of contemplation on the shelf above.  There’s no apparent evidence of their having been handled or manipulated by the artist; no finger marks.  They assume uncanny gestural attitudes, sometimes pointing, sometimes reaching out, sometimes reclining, hugging themselves.  The working process seems to have animated them and one can’t help but see them as organic entities assuming a persona and adopting whatever attitude they like despite being fired into some final petrified state and fixed in time. They activate the space contained within the frame by a kind of gestural pose suggestive of a choreographic dialogue with their ‘partner’ across the frame.

In the absence of titles for the pieces I shall refer to these Clay Work(s) numerically and relate them to the inserted illustrations.

No.2  sits in a corner with its two clay elements almost in identical attitude, lying back on themselves with one end ready to jerk up.  And whilst they look quite relaxed there’s a pent-up energy ready to be released.  At the same time the frame’s lateral angles appear to be pushing out of the corner in a counter movement that contradicts the idea of the frame being just an armature.

Clay Work (no.2), wood, terracotta, 2018


In another corner in No. 1, there’s predatory alertness; assessing, listening; the form below reaching off its shelf and looking back up at its partner above, who stretches off its shelf to gain maximum vantages point, waiting, as if ready to pounce.  

Clay Work (no.1), wood, terracotta, 2018

Outside on the landing in another corner piece, No.5, the elements seem to be aloof of each other, one folded back but reaching up while the one below, also folded back on itself, seems to look from side to side. I have to add though that each of these pieces change as you shift your viewing position, not least, as I’ve mentioned, the wooden frame changing from a rhomboidal shape to its momentary parallelogram guise.

Clay Work (no.5), wood, terracotta, 2018

The two that are flat on the wall don’t offer this shift, but they offer something else in terms of motion.  No.4’s frame seems to stride across the wall, so that rather than motion coming from you the viewer it’s implicit in the piece. As it appears to move from left to right so the clay elements seem to react.  The lower one seeks to find its lowest point of gravity, so that it doesn’t fall off while its counterpart above seems to have lost its balance and throws itself up in an almost choreographic way to counterbalance itself.  

Clay Work (no.4), wood, terracotta, 2018


By contrast, No.3 is in a much more stable state, its frame appears more static and the stability allows its residents to assume more inquisitive attitudes.  The lower one, curled, peers out below while the upper one, in similar repose, looks upwards.

Clay Work (no.3), wood, terracotta, 2018


I hope to be forgiven for seeming to discuss this set of work from an unashamedly subjective point of view with an inferred narrative. Notwithstanding the animated quality that gave rise to that interpretation, they were in fact very eloquently articulate pieces dealing with completely differing physical properties and very different requirements in their working and shaping a fact that very much vindicates the title of the show.

The second set of works, flatter on the wall and therefore less sculptural, operates in an entirely different way.  Nevertheless, they too are the product of the working of material. But also, the idea of working, for me, was evident in the creative/intellectual process especially with an allusion to the notion of indexicality, which I shall explain by considering Open/Close.  It’s a functional piece consisting of a MDF rectangle with hinged pieces of MDF on each of its sides.  They’re trapezoidal in shape and can be closed down in turn onto the central rectangle.  It’s what’s been done when the whole thing has been sprayed with blue paint so that, when they’ve been raised again, they’ve left shadows of themselves on the central panel leaving an indexical record of them having been there.  Add to that, though, the shadows that are cast by the ambient light of the gallery and you have quite a complex of shapes, which can presumably be varied according to the degree by which the side planes are opened or closed.

Open/Close, polyeurethane on MDF, hinges, 2014


Spare Rib and Paper Work, too, use the idea of ‘paint shadows’.  Spare Rib, comprising two squares, one overlapping the other at an angle to create one flat object, has regularly spaced ridges arranged vertically across its surface.  The object has then been spray painted in chrome yellow from the left-hand side and then in a maroon from the right-hand side.  The effect inevitably is that of a fading of one colour into the other.  But, not before the paint has created a ‘shadow’ as the mist of paint has been impeded by the ridge.  

Spare Rib, polyeurethane on MDF, 2018


Paper Work uses a similar idea in which three shapes, a circle, square and triangle have been partially overlaid over each other to create a single distinct and flat shape, reminiscent of a shadow of three geometric objects.  The paper shape appears then to have been scored on the back to create ridges on its face.  And again, paint has been sprayed at an angle across its surface.  This time, however, it’s a little more enigmatic.  It isn’t just a question of the paint having been sprayed from two sides but rather that the ‘object’ in its entirety seems to have been spray painted in yellow.  Then blue has been sprayed at an angle from the right-hand side.  The paint creates a blend of green somewhere in the middle whilst at the same time throwing long, raking, paint shadows across the surface of the object caused by the folded ridges. What emerges is not only chromatically and tonally intriguing, it also transforms an ostensibly flat object into something that appears to be three dimensional.

Paper Work, acrylic on paper, 2018


The somewhat enigmatic gallery notes to accompany the show refer repeatedly to the idea of ‘getting things sorted out’. It strikes me though that the work is very much sorted out.  It’s a ‘sortedness’ that seems to me to have come about by some very careful reflection on the development of ideas and some quite profound thought to ways of working.  


©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Installation Shot with Clay Work (No.1) (right corner) and Clay Work (no. 2) (left corner) and Open/Close (centre) and Clay Work (No.5) through door on the landing


Installation shot with Clay Work (No.5) and Paper Work on landing


Installation shot with Nos. 3 and 4

Installation shot with Clay Work Nos.4 and 2