The online editorial and curatorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Counterpoints: Eagle Gallery, London

6 April – 5 May 2017

Julia Farrer, Jane Harris, Mali Morris, Peter Rasmussen, Dan Roach, Trevor Sutton, David Webb

Review by Laurence Noga

The simple premise underpinning the current exhibition at Eagle Gallery is the way in which seven artists’ paintings, and their counterpoints (works on paper) operate together. This is often in a measured and syntactic manner, through directly perceived relationships, perhaps observed in nature, or through system as arrangement, or in a more emotive sense. It is pivotal to the show that the drawings or prints are hung fairly close to the painted works, as this sets up a tension - but also a fusion - between the pairings.  

“I almost never start with an image. I start with a painting idea, an impulse, usually derived from my own world” (Robert Motherwell).

Motherwell activated his early paintings through animating and transforming collaged material. But this imagery simplified in the 1960s; his drawings in ink, and particularly his mezzotints in Indigo or crimson, allowed an understanding of spatial control. He also made smaller works on paper like Open study #8: in blue with black line (1968); these feel incisive in the way they moved his work forward. Motherwell was aware that in painting he was dealing with a relational structure. He knew that he wanted his work to be an intensely-felt experience, but he also wanted that feeling to be immediate and direct.

Installation shot

The relationships in this exhibition are often mutual, but sometimes ask questions such as: What impact do the works on paper make on the paintings? Do the two works, in each case, carry the same weight for the artists, or is there some kind of hierarchical perception in these juxtapositions?

Dan Roach works with a sense of molecular repetition (the Laboratory for Molecular Structure Analysis was established in 1979). This ongoing analysis may have some impact on his approach, but it’s important for Roach that the making of his work is open-ended, and to some extent architectural. He wants a memory of a particular space to interplay with a variation in the clusters of tetrahedral, octahedral forms (often macroscopic).

In the painting Right Ascension the strata of colours used in the ground application are visible at the edges of the work. It feels as though Roach has used combinations of wax and whiting marble dust on top of that ground to cancel out the initial intuitive start, cleverly building another type of surface for the compound structures to sit on. The transparency and the colour choices are integral in this floating world of microscopic sampling.  

Westerlands Halo (2017), an etching, concentrates the viewer more on the cluster. The connotations feel more specific, personal and seen.

Variation VIII, by Julia Farrer, is precisely executed and hung separately from its counterpart. It works in her favour that the drawing is allowed to breathe, while other areas are flooded with a single tone. The drawing calls to mind a work by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, GAL ABI, (1930) in which he zooms us in to linear sections in distinct zones.

In Farrer’s painting, these distinct zones are carefully composed, and tautly balanced (helical in nature). In Commedia (2015), the split from cooler greys to oxide yellows and warmer greys allows the image, in a poetic sense, to contradict its own logical system. The acrylic on birch ply gives a delicacy to the work, but its feeling of scale reminds me of Uriel by Barnett Newman, where the shift from light to dark (twilight) seems to echo Farrer’s pitch of colour and compostional control. It feels critical for the viewer that the complexity of composition in the work operates as a borderline between image and actual life.

Jane Harris, Passing Through, 2017, oil on panel, 40 x 40cm

Jane Harris, Orbiters 12 (Passing Through), 2017, pencil on paper, 40 x 40cm

Jane Harris’s drawing generates a puzzle that is both hypnotic and mesmerizing. Orbiters12 (Passing through) is created by the application of a continuously evenly-applied pressure of the pencil across the paper surface, leaving no trace of the hand. I like the way that this is a calculated stimulus for her painting, driving the immaculate surface and the layering process in the companion work (which also has perhaps five or six layers in each part). In some way the drawing reminds me of one of Yves Klein’s Fire paintings, with their primordial light, universal patterns and physicality in the making. The panel used in the painting enables Harris to exert different types of pressure with the brush; the tension builds for the viewer, as we search for some kind of fallibility in the technique, while at the same time we are interpreting the colour choices (cerulean blue, light blue, and prussian blue) and experiencing the impact of the visual spaces created by them and between them.  

David Webb, Meeting Two People (Yellow), 2016, Acrylic on card, 15 x 21cm

David Webb, Lemba, 2016, Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 61cm

David Webb uses a personal emphasis in his approach to temporality in both the painting and his smaller work on card.  He explained to me recently how he feels at home on his visits to the Cyprus College of Art. His memories of his time there with his friend, the painter Geoff Rigden, have been influential and immersive. The edifice of those experiences effect the casually-built totemic compositions in a painting like Lemba. We immediately feel that Webb’s work is overlaid with his research on mid-20th century design and architecture, or the acoustics of Byzantine churches in the Troodos region of Cyprus. Yet it is his knowledge of poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Pablo Neruda and Robert Lowell (that kinship) that underpins the points of balance and rhythm of his colour choices. There often seems to be a mirror /poetic logic at work, reminding me of Raoul De Keyser’s Zeilen (1979). Here, the grey ground is pulled across the canvas, but our eye is directed to the corner of the painting. Webb finds a way of pulling us into those corners, testing out what happens at the edges, reconstructing the lives of people he knows well.  

Peter Rasmussen, VH, 2016, oil on tracing paper, 79.5 x 67cm

Peter Rasmussen, VH, 2016, oil on canvas, 41 x 36cm

The quality of transparency, and the embedded sense of sound, is central to the work of Peter Rasmussen. The change in speed is particularly noticeable in this pairing. In the drawing the paint feels muted; the almost woven quality of the grid on the tracing paper creates a sense of ephemerality - this feeling of something paused or on hold slips into our interpretation of the work. We notice the paint’s substance and the discrepancies in the painting. The colour and its assigned values are important, but it is the sense of interference, and the pressure of the marks in the meticulous drags, which creates an acute impression.     

The irresistible effect of the light emitting from the painting by Mali Morris (Wilbury Six, 2015) holds our attention across the gallery space. It oscillates across a chromatic range of colour, and the dramatic light source is activated by initial ground rectangles of laid-down colour.

I am reminded of how Morris Louis operates through a system of chance, with his veils and drapes of acrylic and magna. In Floral V Louis first lays down luminous variations of poured high-key colour, and these are then accentuated by the darker earth tones that sit in front and conceal the initial trails. Morris takes advantage of this use of chiaroscuro.

But key to the process of production and atmosphere are the improvised wipes and repainted sections that occur as part of the work. The structure has an architectural depth reminiscent of 1920s architecture, like the Brooklyn Bridge, where the internal structure is visible. This bridge was constructed in phases, and this seems to tune with Morris’s technique. The work on paper is elaborate and contains pockets of structure which are hard to penetrate or decipher. The titles may perhaps allude to the Traveling Wilburys: Dylan, Lynn, Petty, Harrison and Orbison.  Visually, then, we are looking at a collaboration between the two works. We hold on to the circles that suggest depth, or float towards you, while all around improvisation is taking place.    

Trevor Sutton, Unforeseen (2014)

Trevor Sutton’s Shadow 6 (2014) uses oil on paper to create a transparent depth of field. We watch the interplay of shadows and feel the emotional impact that is situated in the space beyond the pencil grid. Further, we sense the memories that come crowding into the image. This is because the blurred colour choice echoes the rhythm of modern life. That rhythm is picked up in the painting on a panel within the more compressed framework of the larger work. In Unforeseen (2014) the colours are pared back to very light Naples yellow, azo yellow and cobalt turquoise. These are compelling combinations, perhaps reading as interactions and patterns of behaviour, or as sounds on the edge of hearing.

This exhibition is about intangible bonds; about finding ways of keeping the struggle with the materials alive within each work; and about allowing each pairing to activate a multiplicity of potential artistic counterpoints.