The online editorial and curatorial project for reductive, geometric and systems artists working in the UK
Interview with Carol Robertson by Patrick Morrissey and Hanz Hancock
3 Nov 2014
PM Carol, can you describe the influences on your work?
CR When I started as an art student I was more interested in abstract artists who were free with the brush and didn’t use systematic geometric formations. Artists such as Kandinsky, whose loose, freehand abstraction appealed to me.
That interest lasted through art school, but when I left I started to unpick what I had been doing. Lots of people were exciting me, especially from America; artists like Rothko, Noland and Agnes Martin. I realised that the kind of abstract paintings I had been making were very much linked to landscape and to a sense of place. I was justifying the work through the place, and not the other way round. It was at that point I realised I was withdrawing from a pictorial relationship with the work, towards pure abstraction, reductive abstraction, geometric abstraction, whatever you’d like to call it.
I started to move in the opposite direction, looking at people like Mondrian and
the Constructivists. My husband, Trevor Sutton, introduced me to Sean Scully, who
at that time had been making hermetic linear or grid formations. Our friendship really
grew into something where we would talk a lot about the work. As his work evolved
he became very passionate about ‘earning’ the painting, ‘earning’ the surface through
touch, through hand-
PM Do daily experiences, references or emotions inform the act of making?
CR Yes absolutely. I make constant reference to what’s happening in the world, and to how I’m feeling. For example, I sometimes make what I describe as ‘day or night’ paintings that explore different aspects of my psyche. I’ve just finished two commemorative tributes, Day Painting For R and Night Painting For F, for departed friends, artists Roger Ackling and Ferdinand Penker. The pairing is important as they died within a few days of one another and as they knew one another, they will always be linked for me now. Making these paintings has helped me find the balance between my light and dark sides.
HH People respond more now to the sheer increase in available data. I used to listen to extraordinary music in the 70s and 80s that horrified people. Now the general public has caught up. The same is true of abstraction ... do you agree?
CR That’s a very important point. For me listening to music is a creative dimension
of huge importance. It’s certainly processed by most of us in our daily lives. I
believe the same is now true in our acceptance of abstraction. There will always
be people who want to express their own ideas abstractly. Abstraction, reduction,
simplification and refinement are the essence for me. Working abstractly takes the
chaos out of an impossible range of choices…where does one start? etc. By refining
images this way it gives us so much sensual freedom -
PM Thank you very much, Carol
Carol Robertson -
28 November 2014 -
Flowers Gallery, 82 Kingsland Rd, London E2 8DP
Opening Hours: Tuesday -
Tel: +44 (0)20 7920 7777
PM How do you evaluate your work in terms of what is happening outside the UK; for example, with CCNOA, SNO, Minus Space and similar International hubs?
CR Abstraction is alive and well in Europe! I travel a lot and am in touch with quite a few European artists. I show regularly in Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands, a;though I wouldn’t say I attach myself to any particular organization or hub.
PM What are your thoughts on education in art schools these days?
CR I taught for 25 years in art schools and loved it for many years. British art schools were the finest. As a student I was helped individually, one to one, and that was the way I liked to teach. Things got less interesting when art schools became more bureaucratic and a little less creative. I stopped teaching in 2009, but for the last five years or so of my teaching I felt that art education lost some of its freedoms and became more prescriptive. For example, students are now often taught in large groups rather than individually. They have far less studio space to work in. Without the generous grant system that I benefitted from as a student, they have financial pressures that constantly distract them. Some students seemed less motivated than they used to be and I found myself wondering what made them want to come to art school.
Many more art students opt for hands-
PM About systems… Trevor Sutton uses rhythm when creating work. Does this happen with you?
CR I’m interested in rhythms and measured logic but I’m interested in subjective
systems too. I want colour to read as light and disrupt the geometry. I often put
dark against light, or use contrasting colours, or close tonal variations. I don’t
deliberately set out to make optical paintings, but I accept that my colour can become
optical. It can produce quite strong after-
PM Scale, colour, and then facture. Your work has a reductive intellect/sensibility. Is this important to you? You mentioned Sean Scully as somebody whose work interested you… your works are highly finished yet the facture is evidenced in a reductive way.
CR Yes. Sean’s work has a much looser and more expressive ‘first hand’ touch.
But at the moment I’m making a big distinction between starting a painting by pouring
unstructured grounds of liquefied oil paint over the canvas and then contrasting
this with meticulous over-
PM The work we are looking at now, is this influenced by landscape? And your circles, basically how did this use of the circle as a recurring motif come about?
CR I first started using circles just before I did a Rome Scholarship in 1993. I’d been making circle paintings since around the late ‘80s. The starting point was architecture. When I went to Rome, there were circles incorporated everywhere architecturally; in the ancient classical ruins, in the churches, everywhere I looked. The circle means a lot of things to me; it’s not just about finding the form in architecture. It’s more cosmic than that, more symbolic. It has a cosmic relationship with the earth, the heavens, the sun, the moon and the circadian rhythm; it’s the line that has no beginning or end, and it’s the symbol of wholeness and completion; the purest geometric form. It’s an archetypal form that I constantly return to.
PM Is that reflected in the fact that these circular lines are fragmented or divided
up into sections -
CR Yes. I’m presently dividing circles into multi-
Circular Stories -
Light Catcher 4: 2014
Day Painting For R: 2014
Night Painting for F: 2014
Circular Stories -
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