The online editorial and curatorial project for systems, non-
Charley Peters interviewed Andy Parkinson
CP You have cited the work of the visual cognition psychologists Christoph Redies
and Lothar Spillman, notably neon colour-
AP I think it would be OK to illustrate scientific theory, but you’re right, that’s
not what I am doing. I am appropriating a figure that these psychologists invented
to conduct experiments in the field of visual cognition. I have adapted it only slightly
as an element in a repeat pattern. When I use it in a painting I think I am re-
In my work I am very interested in the active role the viewer plays in constructing what is seen. I like to think of it as double constructivism, a collision of artistic and psychological constructivism.
CP You are working on a series inspired by what you term ‘everyday abstraction’,
informed by a series of ten decorative tiles along a Nottingham city centre street.
Although the designs suggest modernist abstraction, they originate from a more decorative
tradition. If we think about, for example, Islamic art, geometric and pattern-
AP I think I borrowed the term from Alex Farquharson’s exhibition, Somewhat Abstract, shown earlier this year at Nottingham Contemporary, but now I’m struggling to find the reference. I have in mind the way that abstraction has become part of everyday life and that new abstract works could in fact be representations because there is so much abstract art around us.
The series you mention is indeed a re-
I recall that when I visited an exhibition curated by Andrew Bick at Leeds Art Gallery,
entitled Construction and its Shadow, I was surprised to note that abstraction was
still quite shocking to many of the people viewing that day. Yet these decorative
tiles are not at all shocking to the people who walk over them every day. In fact
they hardly even notice them. When I was taking photographs, people would stop to
look at what I was doing and say “Oh! I never saw them before”. I want to bring attention
to them because I think they are quite beautiful. Once I have completed the initial
As for spirituality, whilst taking an entirely materialist standpoint I note that
Bateson’s formulation of mind -
Thank you, Andy Parkinson
Installation shot, About Painting group show at Castlefield Gallery, June 2014, curated by Lisa Denyer
CP How would you describe your relationship with the materials and processes of painting?
AP I have a certain sense of commitment to painting that I don’t really understand, because the more geometric or linear the works become, the less it seems to matter whether they are paintings. Perhaps they would be better as collages, reliefs or digital works. Some of them are already more like drawings. Yet it matters to me that they are painted, that the description reads “acrylic on canvas” or “acrylic on board”, even when they are clearly not about, for example, the sumptuousness of paint. Also, I am definitely making images/objects rather than manipulating digital means. So the materials and processes of painting have to be important, even if the questions become technical ones like “how can I achieve a straighter line?” Or “how can I effectively cover this area?”
CP Your work is concerned with a generative, systems, and geometric dynamic. To what extent would you situate your work within the traditions of abstraction?
AP I situate my work entirely within the traditions of abstraction. I think the
process/content distinction continues to be urgent and interesting, non-
CP What are your main influences and how are they translated into your current practice?
AP I returned to making paintings about five years ago, having previously felt unable to produce anything for years on end, and the inspiration that seemed to make this return possible came from the writings of systems thinker Gregory Bateson, whose interest in “the pattern which connects…” seemed contagious, and who proposed that good art integrates the conscious and unconscious minds. This integrative principle informs my practice as the goal I am constantly aiming for.
Artists that I hold in high esteem, and who also influenced my return, are Mali Morris and Estelle Thompson, whose paintings stopped me in my tracks, almost as if to demand an answer to the question: “Who are you?” Like Ad Reinhardt’s famous cartoon, where the abstract painting demands of the viewer: “What do you represent?”
Whilst this doesn’t translate to the look or style of my work, it continues to influence, in terms of showing what’s possible.
Contracheck 3, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 20" sides
Long Row (East) 3, Essensuals, acrylic on MDF, 20" x 20"
CP Andy, could you speak about how you start a piece of work?
AP Once I have begun a series, new pieces generally come from previous ones, a variation or a permutation, and when that’s happening I hardly notice the starting point. Perhaps the beginning of a new series is more problematical. I daydream a lot, working out the rules. When I think I know what they might be I will start to draw or paint something on canvas or board in order to check them out. Sometimes I do a sketch first but usually not. I often halt for a time, to reflect, before deciding whether to carry on. It’s not unusual for me to abandon a series and then return to it after many months, sometimes more than a year later.
CP Systems art is a somewhat neglected form of British abstraction. What is your relationship with the archival context of systems art? Are you, for example, working in a historical tradition and continuing to explore the mathematical underpinnings and geometric patterns that concern of the work of Jeffrey Steele, Peter Lowe etc?
AP I would be extremely flattered if someone related my work to this tradition.
I don’t think I am continuing anything, i.e. taking it further; just approaching
it would be an achievement. By the way, isn’t it amazing that we could have neglected
such a rich seam of abstract art within our own shores? That North America became
so much the centre of art after the war probably meant that artists situating themselves
in relation to Abstract Expressionism were more prominent. Today, Constructivism
seems to be undergoing a re-
CP There may be a belief by some – which may account for some of systems art’s
Long Row (East) 2, Anne Summers, 2014, acrylic on MDF, 20" x 20"
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
AP That’s a wonderful quote. I love its own precision, as well as its paradoxes. In the latter half of the 20th century, insisting on rationality suddenly seemed irrational. But now we have witnessed such a pendulum swing towards the irrational, I don’t know about you, I’m craving rationality.
Yes, the accidental has to be relevant, in the philosophical sense of the necessary vs. the accidental. Alfred Korzybski (who had a big influence on Charles Biederman) made a distinction between two kinds of abstraction. In natural language abstraction gets us further away from ‘reality’; particulars are left out of any description, however accurately made, whereas in a mathematical abstraction all particulars are included, because they have no physical existence. However, the moment we attempt to realize a mathematical abstraction the accidental comes into play. When I draw a hexagon I no longer have a hexagon; new characteristics appear that were not in the mathematical definition. Then there’s the interaction with the surface and/or what’s already there. In fact, this relationship between the necessary and the accidental has become a key theme in my work. My series of chequer patterns were specifically about this relationship, as I attempted to cover existing designs with the black and white checks.
By definition, any system has properties above and beyond its parts, known as ‘emergent properties’. These are often unpredictable and surprising, even in the very simple systems that I tend to work with. These emergent properties, whilst being strictly a function of the system, entirely ‘rational’, also seem very strongly to equate to the ‘accidental’ because of the surprise they engender.