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Deb Covell | Present, at Here and Now | OBJECT / A Gallery, Manchester
20 February -
A review by Andy Parkinson
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
It probably should come as no surprise that ultimate gestures tend to become conventions.
For Ad Reinhardt, back in the 1960s, the black monochrome was “the most extreme,
ultimate, climactic reaction to, and negation of the … tradition of abstract art.”(1)
Yet his negation, itself following a precedent set almost 50 years earlier by Malevich,
has by now become a well-
Deb Covell, Present, 2016, Gesso and Acrylic Paint, 140 x 140 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist
Here and Now at OBJECT / A, is a one-
I wonder what it weighs, and thinking that it might be quite brittle, how many pieces
it would break into if it were to fall. I surprise myself that the question “how
long did it take to make?” has already escaped my lips. (Did I really say that out
loud?) Perhaps better questions are “how do you transport it?” “How do you store
it, if indeed it has a life beyond this installation?” “Does the fact that it is
I cannot resist comparing it to Ad Reinhardt’s black monochromes where semi-
Viewing it is a strange experience. I already know beforehand that I will be unsure how to assign meaning, because there are multiple interpretations of the monochrome in circulation, and they are contradictory: it signals the death of painting, or its beginning, it is painting as a concrete materiality, or spiritual icon, or maybe a paradoxical merging, or dialectical mediation of such opposites. However, it is less my interpretation of its meaning that concerns me as much as my interpretation of what’s actually there in front of me. For example, is that a reflection of the artificial lighting that I am seeing towards the top left edge of the painting when viewed from the front or is it an area of near transparency? I try hard to work it out and I have to keep on trying or just give up because I cannot tell. And should the painting seem this optical? I am expecting to be impressed by its solid materiality, and I am, but suspended here in space it has a weightless, dematerialised quality. Or at least is does at certain moments. So, I vacillate in my interpretation of what I am seeing before I ever get to thinking about its possible meanings.
Deb Covell, Present, 2016, Gesso and Acrylic Paint, 140 x 140 cm. photo copyright Cathal Carey, by courtesy of OBJECT / A
Paint usually covers other surfaces, but here paint is the surface. Rather than a cover, it is a sheet. I might have said it is a screen upon which to project our own meanings, if a black surface could fulfil such a role. Instead, black absorbs light. It confounds my attempt to project onto it.
So I keep trying just to be present before the work in the here and now, but my here and now seems to contain so much ‘there and then’. Thoughts and feelings, come flooding in, which may well be what happens whenever we look at art, but when the thing presented is this stark, the experience appears to be heightened or emphasised.
If the invitation is to stop thinking and come to our senses, and that turns out
to be easier said than done, the painting presents us with ample opportunity to practise.
This mode of viewing, becomes a habit, both continued and renewed every time we attempt
to repeat it, much as the black monochrome in Deb Covell’s iteration both perpetuates
and updates a tradition that is no less radical in its re-
(1) Ad Reinhardt, Art-
Deb Covell, Here and Now, was shown at OBJECT / A gallery, Manchester from 20 February to 2 April 2016.