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

Website: Chestnuts Design

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Eccentric Geometric

Arthouse1, 45 Grange Road, London SE1 3BH   4 May - 29 May 2017

Review by Tony Blackmore

Artists: Rana Begum, Colin Booth, Deb Covell, Jo McGonigal, Patrick Mifsud, Shawn Stipling, Finbar Ward and Alison Wilding

Eccentric Geometric is an exhibition, curated by Deb Covell and Jo McGonigal, at Arthouse1, an intimate gallery space on the top floor of a south London Victorian townhouse.  

One definition of eccentric is ‘not placed centrally or not having its axis or other part placed centrally… either of a circle or of an orbit’. The second is ‘a person with unconventional and slightly strange views or behaviour’. This appears more intriguing when applied to ‘geometric’, a noun that implies a geometric pattern. Patterns involve sets of rules concerning line, angle, shape, repetition, colour, and the relations between these properties. These same rules can determine the quality and experience of the world around us, as well as making sense of its complexities. Eccentric Geometric is an exploration of how each artist interprets their lived experience with geometry.

Spread across the three adjoining spaces: the hall, the main gallery and ‘the Dark Room’ (so called due to its charcoal-coloured walls), I reach the top of the stairs leading to the hall, and find myself naturally inclined to enter the main gallery, to take in the 360-degree panorama of the work on show. I begin my journey with the eye-catching fluorescent tones of Rana Begum’s work.

Main gallery view with McGonigal, Misfud and Wilding. Image courtesy of Tony Blackmore

Rana Begum, No.600 S Fold, 2015, stainless steel. Image courtesy of Arthouse1

Begum’s forms, No.446 SFold and No.600 SFold, are each created from a single steel sheet that has been decisively folded outwards at the edges to create triangulated forms. Each exposed plane has been immaculately painted. With the centre plane flush to the wall, the viewer cannot see the total composition all at once, so to experience the work requires some investigation. Hard flat planes of colour appear in relation to reflected hazes of coloured light and these intermingle with shadows that fall, not only on the perfectly white walls, but also within the objects themselves.

The striking blacks, whites, reds and touches of fluorescent yellow are reminiscent of the colours of the road signs that inform, instruct and articulate our movement out on the street, and which use the language of geometry as an tool. Creating the work using an industrial material, and reflecting the pointed edges and silhouettes of modern architecture, Begum has brought this experience of the street into the gallery.

Shawn Stipling’s works, 181 (blue), 197 (red), 197 (black) and 196 (grey) are positioned in the three separate areas of the gallery. They are all approximately 30 cm in height, painted with acrylic and gesso on plywood, and with no visible signs of brush-marks, they appear  to be manufactured images that represent interior space. They resemble technical drawings, and remind me of the isometric drawings and projections one learns at GCSE level to visually represent three-dimensional objects and spaces in two dimensions.  

View of 181 (blue) in situ. Image courtesy of Tony Blackmore

In recalling my knowledge of these methods, I become aware that Stipling may not be playing by the normal rules of vanishing points, perspective and foreshortening. Getting closer to the work and focusing further on the lines themselves, one can see that they are clearly painted, and my attention switches to compositional concerns. Are the lines deliberately misaligned within the framework of each painting, to hold those flat spaces of colour in place? Does this composition represent what I think it represents? These works do not so much relate to our lived experience of geometry, but break with the rules of technical methods of representation

As I move from room to room, Fold 1, by Deb Covell, catches my eye over and over again.  Covell’s art is materialistic in the best sense of the word; it explores the malleable properties of paint, thereby making paint its topic.  Covell explores a hands-on process that starts with a square mass of set paint resembling a double-sided thick skin. With Fold 1 this skin has been attached to MDF and folded back in a gestural fashion. Apart from glimpses of black, the fold obscures the original front-facing image to reveal its reverse.

Deb Covell, Fold 1, 2013, acrylic paint. Image courtesy of Arthouse1

In Fold 1, Covell appears to look inward to the traditions of painting and sculpture. Through this simple folding gesture, she raises questions about art-historic approaches to painting, picture making and image construction. This provides the opportunity for a wide-ranging and critical discussion about painting and sculpture, whose autonomy she has purposely destroyed.  But although looking inwards to art history, Covell’s black and white, tactile, technically accomplished pieces have a stillness and confidence that belongs to today’s world.

Finbar Ward also seems to have looked inwards at art history, with his avenging plinths. Although Caro made history in the early 1960s by abandoning the plinth, Barbara Hepworth’s innovation has more relevance to Ward’s work. Hepworth would place many of her sculptures on plinths made of concrete blocks. By rejecting the white-painted wooden stands traditionally used to present sculpture, she shifted the plinth from a neutral display mechanism to something engaged with by the artist’s hand.  

Finbar Ward, Untitled (from 'Head over Heels' series), 2017. Courtesy of Arthouse1.

Untitled (from 'Head over Heels' series), in situ. Image courtesy of Tony Blackmore.

Ward’s Untitled (from the 'Head over Heels' series) takes this engagement one step further by incorporating the plinth into the sculpture and into the fabric of the gallery. However, instead of rejecting the traditional plinth, this work whole-heartedly embraces it. Placed on the mantelpiece in the main gallery, and with its component parts of thick plywood and concrete and its traditional plinth, the work blurs the boundaries between itself and the exhibition space.  The same can be said of Ward’s second piece, also ‘Untitled’, in the Dark Room.  Situated in front of the fireplace, and with similar dimensions, it looks as though it’s ready to block the hearth, sitting on a combination of concrete and wood, directly on the floorboards.

This direct interaction with the gallery, which itself is reflective of a domestic space, continues with Gift, by Colin Booth. Gift appears to be a box of children’s building blocks constructed by the artist from tulip wood, cellulose paint and MDF.  

Colin Booth, Gift, Tulip Wood, cellulose paint, MDF, 2010. Image courtesy of Arthouse1

In ‘gifting’ these blocks to us in the context of Eccentric Geometric, Booth wishes to give them new meaning.  I try to recall the modernist ideals of Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, but then think about how children might play with these ten oblong blocks. The forms, and therefore their stories, would not be based on nature, but on abstracted forms of space.  For me, if I were to play with Booth’s Gift, its rectangular blocks would become the architectural geometries of soulless environments and big windowless sheds.

Opposite Booth’s Gift in the main gallery is Plan, by Jo McGonigal. Having just experienced Untitled (from 'Head over Heels' series) and Gift, I think Plan is also part of the gallery, as it appears to be the perimeter of a painting previously pinned to the wall. But this perimeter is not a painting with its centre removed; it’s a composition of several strips of linen. From its title, one assumes a formal comparison to an outline of a floor plan. Yet the plan doesn’t belong to Arthouse1.

Jo McGonigal, Plan, 2016, linen, distemper, chalk, staples. Image courtesy of the artist

Plan is situated on the lower half of the wall; its linear framework is composed of linen with varying intensities of distemper and chalk. The eye constantly follows the changes in the quality of line and materiality, and the body follows.  The closer the inspection, and the more focused one becomes on the line, the more one’s bodily movements are exaggerated. Indeed, if I keep a straight back and bend at the knees my movements are choreographed and governed by the work. I feel that it is not only the objective existence of the object that’s being analysed – but also my response, and the time taken in apprehending the object.

This reaction is also evident in McGonigal’s Untitled 2017, Spatial Composition in 2 parts. Composed of brass, paint and yarn, and installed in the Dark Room, the linear elements of Untitled 2017 catch the light. As one moves around the piece, the painted protrusion asks to be touched, and the horizontal brass beam tempts the viewer to limbo under, or scissor over. Due to its fragility and exposure, I resist.

Jo McGonigal, Untitled 2017, spatial composition in 2 parts. Image courtesy of Tony Blackmore

Situated at opposite ends of the main gallery, Patrick Misfud’s wall-based Fold II and floor-based Derived Space also focus on the relationship between the viewer and the artwork.

Derived Space is an inverted three-dimensional drawing of the interior space of the gallery’s skylight. Within sight of the skylight, is evidently site-specific.  The success of Derived Space is its 1:3 scale; if it was larger it would impose itself on the domestic scale of the gallery. Reducing it from architectural to sculptural scale also raises questions about the differences between how one perceives an object and an architectural space. Referencing Minimalist artist and writer, Robert Morris’s, essay The Present Tense of Space:  “in the first case one surrounds, in the second one is surrounded”.  

Patrick Misfud, Derived Space, site-specific sculpture, wood paint, 2017 with Deb Covell, Station 6, acrylic paint skin wrapped around MDF panel, 2017. Image courtesy of Arthouse1

Derived Space, whether intentionally or not, reminds me of aspects of geometry that are found in the urban environment, but less obviously so then Begum’s No.600 SFold, which it is situated next to. It places itself on the boundaries of both sculptural and architectural experience, similar to the spaces in photo booths or telephone boxes.

Mifsud’s Fold II is the sum of its glossy metal form and its shadow, that together provide striking reconfigurations of its form. If we were move Fold II, or move the lighting, the shadow would change.  So one could say that Fold II, in its entirety, is given its current being and identity by its environment, and vice versa.  Positioned near to McGonical’s Plan, it compels the viewer not so much to follow its linear form; more to focus on the interplay between form and shadow, and one’s position relative to them.

Patrick Mifsud, Fold II, 2014, metal and paint. Image courtesy of Tony Blackmore

Adjacent to both Plan and Fold II is Alison Wilding’s floor-based sculpture Rust, a model of a stealth bomber which has itself been embedded in a larger form, also resembling a stealth bomber.

Crouching to see it at close quarters, I find the larger form is constructed from a complex three-dimensional grid assembled from 12mm-wide stripes of steel into which notches have been cut.  This enables the whole form to be precisely slotted together by hand to create a tight but open form that has been constructed around the embedded model. The embedded plane appears to be in the process of submerging – or emerging – and with each facing in opposite directions, a tension is created between them. What marks Rust out in the exhibition and makes it so compelling is its unattractiveness.  The opposing tension of the facing bombers, together with the hard, grey, gridded steel and grey plastic reminds me of a formal vocabulary that reflects the physical barriers that geometrically divide our social and geographical landscapes.

Alison Wilding, Rust, 2008, mild steel, plastic scale model (detail)

What is apparent, and what contributes to Eccentric Geometric’s success, is its integration into the domestic setting of Arthouse1. Begum’s work has been selected to fit the gallery’s scale; Misfud’s scaling down of Derived Space is sensitive to the main gallery and creates conversations about sculptural and architectural space. Stipling’s paintings appear to be situated in the parts of the gallery that their imagery represents. Deb Covell’s enigmatic Fold 1, within the door of the main gallery, stopped me in my tracks every time I passed. Finally, I found that the work by McGonigal, Ward, Booth and Wilding incorporates itself so well into the gallery’s fabric that it looks as though it actually belongs there.  

In Eccentric Geometric the majority of artworks use numbers within their titles, e.g. Station 4, Elevated #2, Side #4, etc. This indicates that each work forms a part of an on-going investigation, which makes me want to see more of the work of each artist.  

The indexing is sufficient – no further ‘information’ is required, other than that which each artwork presents. The information draws the viewer into each artwork in different ways. Whether it’s physical investigation that’s required, a more choreographed movement, a leap of imagination or a look at the construction of the image itself, Eccentric Geometric explores how each artist interprets their own, and our, lived experience with geometry. I found the exhibition particularly relevant to several of the issues that it raises, such as how geometry influences our experience of the environment, and its ability to underpin our movements and to moderate our behaviour.