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Mechanical Abstract | Turps Gallery, London

Lothar Götz | Jonathan Parsons | DJ Simpson | Neil Zakiewicz

4 June - 25 June 2016

A review by Laurence Noga

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

The current show at the Turps Gallery, Mechanical Abstract, is meticulously curated by Neil Zakiewicz. He employs an acute sense of spatial tension and luminosity, which oscillates between a two-dimensional and a three-dimensional experience, and which constantly shifts between a conceptual and a perceptual reading of the environment.

The rhythm and structural relationships hinge on an understanding of negative space, and the way this can work on our perceptions, activating our reading of each work’s mechanical process. The sense of mechanical pressure, both impulsive and automatic, situates the position of the spectator.  

DJ Simpson, Sulphur Yellow Extension, 2012, powder coated aluminium, approx 140 x 270 x 25cm. Courtesy of the artist and Turps Gallery. Photo by Lucia Scerankova

That potency is sustained in the work of D J Simpson. These works have openness and pliability. Both Sulphur Yellow Extension and Reverse Start draw strength from each other and from their architectural inter-relationship with the space. The physical insistence emphasizes the totemic anti-form, mobilising their behavioural qualities hidden beneath the powder coating. The sprayed surface deliberately obliterates - masks out - the underlying complexity of the hand-folded process (1mm sheets of aluminium).

Simpson has always wanted to get away from the usual painters’ tools, perhaps to emphasise his facility with the drawn mark. Here, there is no fear of his making changes or destroying the image. Like Jackson Pollock, Simpson uses a distillation of the surface, thinning, pressing, tugging at its structure, breaking down the support to achieve an atmospheric, atomized quality. In this way his relationship with what lies beneath the layers of paint, that network of irremovable traces (technological strata) is the key to his reconceptualization of the form. The syntax uses a technological/historical dependence of the hand-made, his gestures operating in the hinterland between autonomy and an art-historical context.

Neil Zakiewicz, Aufgeschlossen, polyurethane spray-paint on MDF, hinges. 52 x 45cm, Courtesy of the artist and Turps Gallery. Photo by Lucia Scerankova

A chromatic specialization is revealed in the MDF paintings of Neil Zakiewicz. These hinged works emit a visual interference that comes from the physical placing of the two works. The mood is both elusive and systematic, hinting at Warhol’s disaster works such as Atomic Bomb 1965, or - perhaps because of Zakiewicz’s clear sense of humour - the 1970s ‘Protect and Survive’ UK public information films on nuclear war.

I like the idea that there is a kind of diagrammatic pamphlet for these works. The domestic hang suggests something of the everyday activity in the studio, the formal devices and decisions made; for example, to spray with one, two or three colours. The impact on the work, in terms of the colour and the template shapes, is all about the limitations which he imposes, yet he makes it feel as if everything is inherent in his daily rituals. The perceptual and the iconographic are combined with the instinctive handling of the spatial / temporal siting of each painting. As the colour radiates from the centre we get a double image from the closing and splaying of the surface, but it’s the impact and the phenomenon of visual Interference that stays with you as you look at the other works

Jonathan Parsons Chromaticity (1) 2016, oil on linen. 152.5 x 157.5cm. Courtesy of the artist and Turps Gallery. Photo by Lucia Scerankova

Jonathan Parsons One of Those Things; One of These Days, 2007, oil on linen, 53.5 x 79cm. Courtesy of the artist and Turps Gallery. Photo by Lucia Scerankova

Jonathan Parsons creates optical super-structures. The psychological associations of the colour, combined with a sense of sonority (comparable to linguistic glides) open up potential new readings of these richly articulated paintings. Although there is a mechanised characteristic in the physical structuring and ordering of the elements, I found myself looking for those clots of pigment, the glitches in the pressure of the brush mark. The gesture and its calligraphic signification seem slippery and full of the fluid, raw materiality of the paint.

The physical structuring in a work like Chromaticity 1 is derived from the weight of gesture in the use of the oil paint in each individual brush mark. Parsons uses very fine hog-bristle brushes for the ground white application. The colour operations use draggers (specialist brushes) which enables him to sequence the implication of speed and movement, both undulation and acceleration. Close up, the weight and shade of colour activates the aesthetic and subjective choices found in a system in which composition, time, and memory work in a hierarchy of importance. I am reminded of the work of Gene Davis (Hot Beat, 1964). With Davis we get rhythm, sequence, and an ordering dynamic. Parsons is committed to that kind of strategy; each action has a visible tension, but beyond this he questions our awareness of the world we live in, and asks how we position ourselves in the mayhem of contemporary existence.

Lothar Gotz, Soho Room #1, 2014, Acrylic, gouache and pencil on plywood, 222 x 160cm, Courtesy of the artist and Turps Gallery. Photo by Lucia Scerankova

The representation of a space in a work like Soho Room by Lothar Gotz derives its vocabulary from imagined locations or situations. The composition reads symmetrically and vertically, reminiscent of the material approach in Robert Mangold’s Attic series (1990s). But with Gotz we also get the understanding of site-specific space (c.f. Sol LeWitt) and that dialectical tension between line/structure and surface/colour. This understanding makes us feel the connection between interior and exterior space, and fixes the spectator on Gotz’s innovation with surface compositional devices, drawing us very close into the four connecting panels.  

The opaque green ground allows the viewer to see the irregularities of the grain of the panel. Comparing it to the spatial structuring in Figure Seated in a Café (1914) by Juan Gris, the planes in the Gris are differentiated both tonally and through a textural layering; he uses solidity against the graining effects and frottage techniques.

With Gotz the diagonal segments remind the viewer of part of a diamond structure. They are composed of five flat colours and the ground colour. These works have a heightened sensitivity to the edges of a space, as the diamond structure touches the centre of the drawn parts of the other panel. This creates a tension between the two parts of the painting, in a mutually dependent atmosphere. I like the obsessive quality of the pencil drawing; the elongated geometry points to a technique that allows the work to have two kinds of time-scale. The drawing makes us feel traces of human experience, while the geometry, in this case, holds within it a hidden quality of narrative.

Installation shot. Courtesy of Turps Gallery. Photo by Lucia Scerankova

This exhibition explores both real and illusionistic experience. The systematic procedures used by the artists accelerate our recognition of an ongoing engagement and our need for an exploration of materiality. But it is the way the curator has made a connection to the space that takes us on a journey, not just a juxtaposition of the cultural, urban and architectural, but a depth of understanding of the relationships between the works.  

Mechanical Abstract is at Turps Gallery, London, until 25 June 2016