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

Website: Chestnuts Design

Philip Cole | Making Painting+-

Window Gallery, Phoenix Brighton. 20 March – 21 April 2019

A review by Geoff Hands

Making Painting+- constitutes a manifesto of sorts. Cole’s call to arms, his argument in favour of making (and for the audience experiencing) painting, is essentially embodied in the work, where the uplifting polemic is distilled and elegant. That this kind of constructed, material/ process-focused, object-type painting requires hard graft, perseverance and extended hours in the studio is, contradictorily, made obvious by the lack of any superficial tropes of endeavour, such as gestural expressionism or overtly and grossly-worked surfaces. However, in some of the works the unframed edges intentionally betray the white ground with irregularly spaced drip formations.

Phoenix Brighton entrance and notice board for Making Painting+-

Slider 2. 60 x 60cm. Acrylic resin on board, 2018, showing the l/h frame edge.

Slider 1. 60 x 60cm. Coloured polyester resins on board, 2018.

All but one of the 36 paintings listed in the catalogue have been made (manufactured might also be a valid term) over the past two years. Considering the intensity of labour typically required for the work, this is no mean feat; none of the pieces are superfluous or incidental to the selection. Given more space, and with extra works to display the various series, or projects, the exhibition could probably be split into four or five sections, but due to the unavoidable restrictions of the front-of-house corridor space at Phoenix Brighton, the curation was modified accordingly. Despite the presence of doors and glazing, the linear walk through the recently refurbished Window Gallery suits the serial nature of the works that have been hung singularly, in pairs or implied triptych arrangements throughout, enabling connections and contrasts. The selection and curation successfully showcases the range of Cole’s work, which is characteristically geometric in nature, abstract-colour-shape dominant and always immaculately made.

If it’s truly successful, refinement realised through visual acuity and fine craftsmanship can easily go unnoticed, or be taken for granted. Hence, in viewing Cole’s typically colour co-ordinated, smooth-surfaced, minimalist artworks, there is a demand for time for reflection, rarely possible at a busy private view. But, given some mental space by concentrated looking, each of the paintings has something to offer, despite the busy atmosphere. If interpreted as sound pieces, I imagine a gentle but insistent cadence expressed through colour and form - sometimes with tonal variation, serial repetition and subtle changes of pitch. Alongside the genial chit-chat of assembled visitors, the works purr like a well-engineered automobile, fine-tuned for cruising; they are not souped-up for showing off to the crowd by assaulting the senses.

Installation, L to R: Let’s Make Painting Great Again (B&W) / Life and Death / Lets Make Painting Great Again (B&M).

If anything has the potential for an alternative curation, or a more overtly conceptual approach to presenting visual statements, the two versions of Lets Make Painting Great Again (B&M) and (B&W), and Life and Death are possible contenders. But their presence at the start of the exhibition positively manipulates and prepares the viewer, through ironic humour, to enjoy the works on their own terms. The message might be that paintings can prove to be qualitative artifacts with a much-needed moral value in politically turbulent times. What follows are the non-text works that typify Cole’s practice, where the predominant geometric shapes are composed essentially of rectangles, and less frequently, discs.

The various configurations are characterised with colour combinations that sometimes suggest printers’ colour registration marks or aerial views of tins of paint – or even hints of perspectival forms as seen in the three Appendage works. But these associations are not necessarily of primary importance, even if a consequence is to reference similar organisations of colour and shape in the overlooked and marginal, or in architectural spaces (the interstices) of ‘real life’.

Appendage trio. All 24 x 18cm. Acrylic resin on board, 2019.

In general terms, in Cole’s work the viewer can be particularly struck by the combinations of colour and shape that generate a subjective feeling of reverence for the variations of simple geometry and for the visual pleasure and satisfaction of the systematic arrangement of component parts. Just as the possibilities of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi delights in the ephemeral, asymmetric and discarded, the human psyche also adores the orderly arrangement of repetitive forms and impressions of perfection. This is why we gather pebbles on the beach and irregular, disjointed sticks on a woodland walk, as well as pick up the paint colour charts that we do not really need from the D.I.Y. store, and survey the neat stacks of packets or cans on shelves in supermarkets.

Appendage in Red Orange. 24 x 18cm. Coloured polyester resins on board, 2019

If there is (almost) an anomaly in Making Painting+-, it is Paint Out, a seemingly half-finished wall painting, placed next to a series of six framed cut-out collages. These works on paper gave rise to a discussion between the artist, fellow Phoenix studio member Patrick O’Donnell, and me, about the inherent gestalt relationships within the gridded arrangement of right-angled triangles. What at first appears to be organisationally simple and uncomplicated quickly takes on a constructivist-type dynamism which animates the collages; they become visually active and transitional. Here too are isosceles pairings, quadrilateral formations, Vorticist-like diagonal bars (c.f. early Bomberg), and simple triangular polygons that can be read in various alternating series of colour combinations.

Installation view of Paint Out.  Acrylic resin and pencil on wall c.2.5 x 1.5 metres, 2019.

Section of Paint Out.

I first came across Philip Cole’s paintings in the ‘20 Painters’ exhibition at Phoenix Brighton in 2014, in which we both participated. Amongst the 70 or more works exhibited, the larger and more gestural pieces somewhat overwhelmed Cole’s paintings. Returning to his works for a more contemplative assessment later, while attending the ‘Painter to Painter: Discussion Event’, when Peter Ashton Jones (co-founder of Turps Banana) gave his assessment of the exhibition, the quiet impact of Cole’s paintings took on a dynamic equal to the larger ‘in-your-face’ images on show. In his discussion with art historian Peter Seddon, Ashton-Jones was emphatic about the discipline of painting and studio practice:

“I think painting is a membrane of consciousness. You have to construct that, you have to articulate that with discipline and foresight and intelligence, and it’s those things that are more… interesting to me than necessarily the emotional side of it. The emotional side is also important because… post modernism, or post-structuralism… looks to deconstruct, to analyse. It’s an anthropological discipline really and you’re looking to deconstruct it down to its finite components and I understand you want to build it up from there... It’s a real shame we have lost a sense of the classical in making art… any art, particularly painting, is about obtaining consciousness, is actually nailing what it is.”

Cole’s practice may well have vestiges of the deconstructive and the reconstructive that more painterly practitioners might disdain, but this fascinating notion of ‘obtaining consciousness’ can be applied to Cole’s works from a viewer’s perspective. The experience of active looking takes the patient viewer into the work as a thing in itself, visually and physically, allowing the imagination space to breathe. Possibilities come alive, in explicitly authentic, concrete, non-virtual manifestations. These are characterised by instances of reduction and variation: geometry, regularity and logical developments, measuring and assaying exactitude, craft and reductive simplicity. Ingesting visually exciting combinations of colour and shape, with Cole’s carefully formulated contrasts, definitions and edges, produces end results which generate a rich and diverse encyclopaedic experience of possibilities.

L. Keep a lid on it. 30 x 30cm. Acrylic resin on board, 2019. R. Funk colour theory. 30 x 30cm. Acrylic resin on board, 2019.

Making Painting+- enhances Philip Cole’s reputation as one of the most accomplished painters from the Phoenix stable, and further develops the possibilities for establishing this venue as the best contemporary showcase for art in Brighton. Let’s make galleries great again.


Philip Cole

20 Painters, ‘Painter to Painter Discussion’ on Vimeo

Peter Ashton-Jones interview for FLOORR magazine (January 2017)

Patrick O’Donnell

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.