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Cedric Christie:  “When Colour Becomes a Beautiful Object and an Object Becomes a Beautiful Colour”

Flowers Gallery, Cork Street, London,  4 September – 3 October 2015

A review by John Stephens

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

In his review of Donald Judd’s first solo show in 1963 at the Green Gallery, New York, Michael Fried refers to it as ”…an assured and intelligent show”, going on to refer to Judd’s expressed suspicions that easel painting was more or less defunct, and to his championing of “artists whose paintings are on the verge of becoming objects”.  

I mention this at the outset, because this show: “When Colour Becomes a Beautiful Object and an Object Becomes a Beautiful Colour” is also a very assured and intelligent show, yet seems to do the reverse; it contemplates objects on the verge of being painting. I also mention it because of conversations I’ve had with Cedric Christie in the past few years around the themes of sculpture, painting and Minimalism, a genre that 50 years later apparently still has currency.  And anyone with an interest in Minimalism might be forgiven for seeing some degree of deference to Judd and Minimalism in this work, especially because of their ‘manufactured’ material elements. However, times have moved on, contexts have changed and whilst there is undoubtedly a minimalist aesthetic at play here, the work, in my view, is not minimalist in its strict sense.  There’s something else going on, something more emotional, something more poetic.  Christie, who’s expressed the thought that painters don’t know when to stop (I think alluding to the nature of paint and the temptations for making ‘finishing touches’),  nevertheless seems to have taken on the problems of the painter, especially with his focus on colour, but also with the finiteness that his chosen materials impose, relieving him of the painter’s dilemma.  

Christie’s pervading refined aesthetic is immediately apparent from the street, as you see five of the pieces displayed in the gallery window. But it’s inside - where you encounter the remaining fifteen pieces - that the immaculate hanging creates a place of contemplation, allowing you to consider each piece carefully, the spacing giving just enough for each to draw energy into itself and exist as a plastic experience of colour.  

All the pieces, bar one, are a vertical 40 centimetres consisting of two sections of colour-coated angled steel, a kind of armature, sandwiching within the V section of the steel seven coloured epoxy resin spheres, perfectly round. As a result you don’t see the complete sphere but you know it’s there, as a whole.  

Each piece is restricted to two colours, the armature having one and the spheres another. The steel is matte and the spheres glossy. There’s no mixing of colours beyond this, and this is where the assuredness and intelligence comes in; it would have been tempting to vary the colours within each piece more extensively. But Christie resists this, and consequently he asks you to consider, with him, how to deal with just two colours, and how they relate through their very different materiality.  

This is their beauty, it’s the simplicity that’s enthralling. You can enjoy yourself as you stand in front of them, walk past them, as you approach them from the side with the mass of colour changing as you do so.  And this is where their plasticity has an advantage over paintings that you have to look at face-on.  

Black and Red © Cedric Christie. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

A characteristic of this kind of exhibition, where the format for each piece is the same and where the pieces are regularly spaced, is that you can read the show as a whole - as an installation - with, in this case, the walls being rhythmically punctuated by a series of different colour relationships, or as a series of individual opportunities for insights into the artist’s thinking.  The combinations and relationships and different colour experiences he offers us are a manifestation of his visual intelligence.  In this, the dimensions are critical; the relationship of the size of the angled steel armature to the size of the stacked spheres is just right.  This is emphasised when you consider the exception, the longer piece, Red and Black (15) in the middle of the main wall, which, with its 25 contained spheres, has a completely different characteristic, something reminiscent of Brancusi, having the suggestion of endlessness through repetition as it moves upwards, and in this it seems to be more about energy than colour.

Black and Pink © Cedric Christie. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

Black and Orange © Cedric Christie. Photograph by Paul Tucker, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

White and Blue © Cedric Christie. Photograph by Paul Tucker, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

But to return to the colour, it’s clear that the colour of the steel armature, which isn’t just a holding device, is vitally important in its dialogue with the colour of the spheres. There were those pieces with a sharp tonal or chromatic contrast that drew my attention first, such as Pink and Black (1), which for me had strong art historical connotations, White and Blue (13), or the more dramatic of these, Black and Orange (17).  

Black and Purple © Cedric Christie. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

White © Cedric Christie. Photograph by Paul Tucker, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

But then I found intriguing those pieces in which the colour of the armature is closer to the colour of the spheres (or of a similar tonal value). So, Purple (19) presents less of a monochrome and more of a subtle shift of colour by virtue of its difference in texture, matte and glossy, one soaking up colour, the other exuding it.  The same purple spheres in Black and Purple (10) make a different colour statement.  At the other end of the tonal spectrum, White (20) with the ivory of the spheres held in the white of the armature works well, invoking a sense of preciousness; perhaps because of an association with pearls.   And where the same white spheres are juxtaposed with a black armature there’s also a sense of a pearlescent inner light.  

Yellow (4) takes on the difficult challenge of handling the colour yellow; it isn’t one yellow, it’s two; a matte chrome yellow armature and mustard spheres. I found myself going backwards and forwards in the space, looking, revisiting pieces and discovering new colour experiences and smiling to myself. They really are uplifting.

Yellow © Cedric Christie. Photograph by Paul Tucker, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

Also showing in the upstairs gallery, opposite the wall objects, and in the passage leading downstairs, is a series of ten screen prints. Being flat, these offer a different proposition.  They too use one pictorial device; a slender black rectangle divided in half with a scallop of seven semi-circular shapes running down the right-hand half. These clearly allude to the spheres of the wall objects, but here they are all the same colour, set against the black.  But unlike the wall objects there’s no colour interplay between sphere and armature; you read the single colour contrasted against the black ground. The pared-down simplicity is what appeals, the regularly looping scallop ascending or descending, whichever way you see it – picking up on the Brancusi idea.  The one exception to this reading was one piece with a black scallop on a black ground (26), this was printed in gloss black onto a matte ground and had a more static feel to it; perhaps a similar sense of preciousness as its object counterpart, White (20).

In the downstairs gallery are three plinth-mounted pieces, which work in a different way; here, the angled steel armature appears to act as a vertical container, a fact emphasised by their not being filled to the top with the spheres. The pairs of angled steel are also of different colours, mounted on a different coloured baseplate - so they’re not as straightforward, the colour interactions are more complex, they demand a different reading from that of the wall pieces, involving a consideration of the colour orchestration. It’s a quite different challenge, one that requires concentration.

Pink, Orange and Blue © Cedric Christie. Photograph by Paul Tucker, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

The clear space in the upstairs gallery facilitates your contemplation of the pieces, allowing you to read the space and the pieces without any distraction.  So the contemplation of the plinth-mounted pieces downstairs doesn’t benefit from the pieces being pushed into three corners of the space, in close proximity to three large paintings in completely different idioms and unassociated with Christie’s show. Indeed, they militate against being able to give them the attention they need.  Nevertheless, for me, of these Pink, Orange and Blue (31) worked best; it was something about the colour orchestration, the chromatic proximity of the warm pink and orange of the steel mediated by the pearlescent white of the spheres contained by them, then sitting on the chromatically-opposite blue plinth.  This did, however, need its own space.

I’m not sure what Christie’s intentions are for future work, but I’d be interested to see these pieces developed further.  With this show Christie has built up a momentum and reached a position of assurance as an artist that has clearly allowed him to produce some beautiful objects, and beautiful colour.

John Stephens

September 2015

Cedric Christie, Installation View, When Colour Becomes a Beautiful Object. And an Object Becomes a Beautiful Colour, Photograph by Paul Tucker, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery