The online editorial and curatorial project for reductive, geometric and systems artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Interview with Sharon Hall by Charley Peters

January 2015

In Part Sequence (Terra Verde,Orange,Yellow) oil on gesso on linen 40x60cms 2014

CP    Sharon, what is your starting point for new pieces of work?

SH    I tend to work in series, and each new work is an organic development or variation on the last. Particular combinations of colours may prompt the beginning of a new work, but these are usually modified and sometimes completely changed as the work develops. I try to work visually, picking up on optical schema that the painting itself begins to suggest.  I often use pairs, stacks and multi panels, as this affords more flexibility when it comes to making severe shifts in the pictorial thinking.

CP    What are your current influences in the studio, and more historically speaking, do you situate your work within the traditions of abstraction?

SH     As my work explores certain ideas around colour interaction, I have been influenced by different trajectories of abstraction, with a particular interest in the work coming out of certain traditions within Canadian abstraction, such as the work of Guido Molinari. His vertical band paintings and zigzagged geometric structures took colour field painting in a purer, more geometric and more rigorous direction, but one that nonetheless remained intrinsically linked to the perceptual experience.

Similarly, I see a relationship to the work of Ellsworth Kelly and its concern with the physical and experiential encounter - art as a physical object in space and colour with its own shape and boundaries - the sensational aspects of colour and form being seen as free from any underlying compositional ‘narrative’.

In Part Stacked Painting(Green,Orange,Yellow,White) oil on gesso on linen 60x30cms 2014

CP    The installation of your work often appears to be part of the work itself, with paintings being hung deliberately in pairs, or in response to the architecture of the gallery space. Could you tell us about the decisions you make relating to how to present your work?

SH     This, again, always reflects the perceptual relationship to colour and the way it is articulated through the paintings’ architectonics: in the way in which it may occupy a particular space, both internal to the paintings themselves and external in the sense of being sited works or ‘situated’ paintings. They are autonomous, yet also invite the possibility of ensemble or installation, and interaction with the architecture.

 It’s not just the architecture of a gallery space.  It is also about the siting of the work in deliberately chosen, historic buildings and contexts (as with the Palagio exhibition in Italy in 2013), where the work was seen in connection with the embedded history of a 16C Italian palazzo, with its fragments of frescoed walls interacting with the placement of the paintings. I am interested in creating a slippage between the formal components and their potentially allusory ones, activating the spaces in which the paintings are shown and allowing for movement between the physical and historical location; location in terms of both time and place.   The viewer encounters the work as a temporal and perceptual unfolding; an ‘event’ in which colour is seen as live and always intercepting the present.

The use of pairs, as I mentioned earlier, is a way of breaking up the easy continuity of the reading, but it also accommodates a physical interaction with the walls on which the panels are installed. I have explored siting the works on painted, vibrant coloured walls which then become part of the whole installation.

Installation, Colour in Place, Palazzo del Podestà. Pescia, Italy 2013

In Part Painting(Terra Verde,Blue,Yellow) oil on gesso on linen 153x153cms 2014

CP    Could you talk about your relationship with systems in your work?

SH    Well, my work has a formal and visual relationship with certain kinds of systems art, but only in its broadest sense; it does not set out to be pointedly so.  While the Systems group in the UK has in some part influenced my thinking, I wouldn’t see myself as a systems artist.  Malcolm Hughes was, coincidentally, one of my tutors at the Slade, but back in 1979 I was not making paintings anything like my current work. There may be more of a correlation with process painting and another Slade tutor, Noel Forster, whose use of a kind of haptic or ergonomic system for making his paintings has more recognisably endured, certainly in terms of the paintings’ facture, as has his idea of the ‘concretisation of light’.

In fact it is more the case that I want to see the unifying system collapse -  there is frequently a breakdown in the pictorial symmetry and unity. The use of repetition and variation sets up a series of rhythmical pulses across the work, which is not so much a unifying factor as, more often, a disruptive one. The use of multiple panels and diptych formats  (in the sequence and stacked paintings) also adds to this ‘breakage’ or disunity.  Often deliberately dissonant in terms of colour (sometimes harshly so), or using chromatic contrasts to jolt the visual reception of the work, I want to make its viewing uncomfortable. or accentuate colour’s ‘instability’ - even difficulty.  In some ways this can give the works a ‘skewed’ appearance - deliberately awkward and making the work difficult to resolve visually, or even appearing incomplete.

In Part Painting(Yellow,Blue,Gesso) oil on gesso on linen 153x153cms 2014

CP    I recently reviewed Carol Robertson’s exhibition ‘Circular Stories’ for Saturation Point, and I was especially interested by the way her work combines an environmental influence from the French landscape with an ongoing commitment to working with an abstract language. During your career you have also worked internationally; for example, during your French Government Scholarship and your residency at The British School in Rome. Have these experiences informed or influenced the development of your work, and if so, in what ways?

SH     My residence at the British School at Rome nurtured some of my earliest historical influences.  The encounter with Roman tomb paintings and Pompeian frescoes, and their mannerist imitators in places like Villa Giulia, have remained as residues. The schematised representational modes that were both anchored to the surface as flat, and were simultaneously illusionalistically depictive, is a perceptual play that I still connect with in my current paintings. Likewise, the use of colour as descriptive (as light, for instance) and as substance (its optical weight and physical materiality) interests me still.

More directly, or environmentally as you put it, I am very influenced by the light, shadows and the intensity of colour ‘moments’ at different times of the day in my studio. On a very recent stay working in a studio in Rome, the colour relationships changed quite radically in response to the place and the particular quality of a perfect north light in the studio there.

Sequence (Blue, Black) Diptych Roma oil on linen 40 x 65 cms 2014

Stacked Painting in Four Parts (Yellow,Green,Blue,Greys,Whites) oil on linen 120x40cms 2014

CP    How would you describe your relationship with the materials and processes of painting?

SH    In recent works, (e.g. In Part Sequence Blue, Orange Whites, Diptych 2014 and In Part Sequence,Terra Verde, Orange, Yellow, Diptych 2014), the use of the original and literal ground of the paintings, (both as colour and material substance - gesso primer, white as colour and also the use of absorbent grounds in which the colour is physically embedded and soaked into the surface), serves to echo and reinforce the idea of the implicit and intrinsic character of both the work’s materiality and its manufacture, without becoming overly didactic. Similarly, the traces of gesture or the brush across the surface and the consequential accidents of handling and adjustment are left visible - but not theatrically so.

CP    What will we see from you next?

SH    Currently, I am using templates for the selection of subdivided units of the paintings’ overall surface area.  These are used freely as independent shapes, or unitary modules, which operate as indeterminate, independent elements that can be shifted around and used both to construct the positive/negative spaces, and to locate the colour areas within the pieces. This working process enables a more open-ended and fluid organisation of the compositional structure and distribution of elements;  I have moved away from the earlier use of a geometry that was anchored by visibly evident, rational subdivision, to one which gives the work a more ‘open’ and less rigid feel. Spatially, this creates a more active, at times even ‘twisted’, sense of space in the paintings, which develops a stronger, yet unresolved relationship between figure and ground.  Once again, it is something that we might see in early Italian painting: that tension between depiction and the actual space of the surface.

It is a methodology that facilitates a certain amount of improvising, and indeed intuition, while at the same time there remains a direct relation to original material, without appearing to be governed by it. There is still an organisational logic at work; a set of procedural strategies that remain, but they are hidden and referenced obliquely.

CP    Thank you, Sharon Hall

Installation, Colour in Place ,Palazzo del Podestà. Pescia, Italy 2013

In Part Sequence(Blue,Orange,Whites) oil on linen 40x60cm 2014

CP    You’ve referenced the significance of colour in your work as being a primary concern. How would you describe your relationship with geometry?

SH   The paintings evolve from a starting point that uses simple geometry for dividing up the overall surface area through an implicit and rational use of proportion. I have always tried to avoid complex mathematical or geometric permutations in my works, and I strive for a kind of structural simplicity that is then made more complex by the colour, and the emerging painterly and optical relationships. The initial geometric proposition serves only as an armature into and onto which colour is loaded. And it is only with the introduction of colour itself that the paintings really begin for me. While geometry isn’t paramount as a kind of mathematical set of relations in itself, it is crucial to define the colour in order to determine how it is perceived, through neutral shapes or spans across the surface. The divisions and parts of the paintings can appear optically as empty space by using close tonalities, and the underlying geometry is sometimes rendered almost invisible.  The eventual resolution of the paintings is ‘found’, rather than being predetermined or locked into an overtly rigid map, so they can proceed quite intuitively and imaginatively

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