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

Website: Chestnuts Design

BORDERLINE (beyond a rational aesthetic) curated by Laurence Noga.

21 February – 22 March 2015

A review by James Campion

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

This review begins with an analysis of the curator's text and then, informed by its approach,  looks at four works that together make up a spectrum of outcomes in this exhibition. The reviewer proposes a 'decision-process-based' analysis,  discovering structures and systems in types of work that are not usually associated with a systematic process.

Curator’s text:

“The artists in this show explore borderlines through a geometry of boundaries. They ask questions about their comfort zones and question the in between through an expanded notion of painting. That expanded notion often takes an intuitive or anti intuitive position between two conditions, which impacts on the density of surface facture, and allows judgement in breaking of a system. There is a deliberate provocation through flatness uneasily composing itself with what it sits upon, or a mechanistic strategy that is hard won, testing viscosity and matter through protracted physical engagement. The atmosphere and specificity of colour, realign the reading of the works, asking questions of the site as a model for the in between, shifting the idea into material form, asking transformative questions of space and place.

Harding, Starling, and Verheul approach their work in a very physical manner testing the behaviour of the paint, manipulating a fusion of the material world with the plastic, emphasizing visual hierarchies and allowing the possibility of a physical extension of the works structure. Blannin, Renshaw and Noga test the relationship between the geometry of architectural spaces and the subjective experience of these structures. Applying a carefully modulated approach, they employ an urbanized geometry, like a cartographical assemblage of signs that gradually shift towards a more systematic internal logic or unexpected disturbance. Phenomenological and structural Implications are combined with elements of secrecy and code in the work of Clark, Batchelor and Crossley. Pushing the element of deciphering further through the density of colour relationships, allowing a metaphysical interpretation, allowing a slippage between the image and the space.”

I approached this show assuming it to be a genre-based selection. With this in mind I was initially sceptical about the declared categorisation, because it seemed to be too broad; surely most painting veers between the intuitive and non-intuitive?

However, on closer examination we can see that the show is not so much about a genre within painting but instead, through the accompanying text, it considers some very interesting terms in which to analyse paintings in general. And the works in the show have been deftly selected and arranged so that they act like test cases for this analysis. Of course, the individual works can also be evaluated on many other levels, but I will focus on the relationship between the ideas in the text and four of the works on show.

The important phrase in the text is 'a geometry of boundaries'. The term ‘boundaries' is used here metaphorically so, for example, we could have the idea of a boundary between site-specific and non-site-specific art; or representational and non-representational painting. The phrase proposes  that such intellectual boundaries can have relationships akin to the visual boundaries of shape and line in geometry. Taken literally this would be absurd: clearly, an idea cannot be at 60 degrees to another idea. But as a metaphor it works very successfully, giving a sense that there can be a deducible structure of intellectual properties in a painting.

I think this way of looking at things is on the right track. It gets away from the idea that painting consists merely of form and concept. Instead, it conjures an idea of how paintings can have hugely complex intertwining features that can be put into a multitude of categories, more specific than just ‘formal’ or ‘conceptual’. This is not an easy thing to do – it could lead rapidly to a tangled mess of cross-categorisation. But as a short cut, we can at least rely on the decision-making process of the artist to bring it all together. Therefore, a decision-process-based analysis is a potentially fruitful activity in understanding a work.

The text especially encourages us to think about the play between intuitive and non-intuitive decisions, and when, and to what extent, the artists are in control. The piece most overtly appropriate to be considered on these terms is Double Rebound (green spots), by Alexis Harding, with its structure designed to fail, as it were, under the effects of gravity. The artist is totally calculating in setting up certain conditions, but he then allows these conditions to be acted upon by an external influence. The final result can, to some extent, be envisioned by him. For example, he can influence the direction of the slide by changing the angle of the canvas, yet he knows the colours will stay the same. The exact structure of how the paint slips and crumples is unpredictable and there is very little trace of the artist's hand.   

Aptly hung on the adjacent wall is Katrina Blannin’s work, Diamond Light 100, which makes for an interesting comparison. As with Double Rebound (green spots), there is very little trace of the artist's hand, but unlike Harding, the artist is actively involved in the making from start to finish. The resulting piece is an immaculately crafted, hard-edged composition of flat geometric shapes. But importantly, Blannin creates a very tight structure overlaying a particularly heavily-textured linen substrate. The semi-opaque washes successfully emphasise the surface idiosyncrasies, and inject a fittingly subtle element of disorder into an otherwise tidy affair.

It is difficult to discern, solely through observation, the decision processes behind Blannin's line, shape and colour structure. But one imagines that she starts within a given framework and proceeds in a semi-planned fashion. Looking at the painting’s diamond format and triad colour structure, one might speculate that there are Mondrian allusions here, acting as the starting parameters. We are then taken through a series of departures via the colours, which are non-primary and de-saturated, with the line structure breaking away from the horizontal in diagonal non-perpendicular directions. We cannot be sure to what extent Blannin is using external forces, such as contextual reference, although the subtlety with which these are navigated, and the room she leaves for speculation, are definitely assets of the work. It is almost like a psychological equivalent of the textured linen substrate.

In contrast to the speculation surrounding  Blannin, Sophia Starling’s piece, Lapping (Mint),  reveals a clearer narrative behind the process. The artist makes a gloss monochrome on a shaped support, unpicks it, then re-stretches it, skewed onto a differently shaped support. Substantial components of this format are clearly owed to  the deconstructed canvas genre, most notably the work of Angela de la Cruz.  Starling manages to re-appropriate this aspect of deconstruction, and re-inserts a process of delicate judgment and arrangement, thereby changing the attitude of the work from being a provocative message to something more academic. Starling knocks the format back into the realm of painting, whereas the Angela de la Cruz format is installational-contextual-message-art that just happens to take painting as its victim. Starling inhabits the foggy area between pure concept art and pure reductivism. She should be commended for the intelligence of this position and the elegance of its implementation.   

Finally, I have chosen to look at the piece by Jake Clark. With its relatively casually applied paint, awkward semi-illusory depiction, and use of craft material string, it seems at first rather unkempt. However, this is a ruse to disguise an underlying virtuosity in Clark’s colour structuring. He uses collaged sections of patterned ’70s wallpaper to act as a starting point for his colour palette. Oranges and lime greens are echoed, and then harmonised with purple. These colours are then laid out in a very considered fashion, to play off each other and move the eye in a certain way. There seem to be three stages.The box-like structures are coloured with the collage in mind; the bean-like shapes follow the boxes, and finally, and most understated, the little splashes and smears on the string sit casually - as if by accident, but serving perfectly to accent the larger planes of colour.

It is interesting to observe (on the artist's website) that his other works lean more towards the figurative, depicting poolside scenes, for example, although he has used the same strategy for the colour structure. To observe this applied to different source material, and yet achieving results in a consistent style, emphasises the sophistication of this format.

Clark’s Low Rise had a particular impact on me, because my assessment changed so much after studying it ‘in the flesh’. Without wishing to state the obvious, this show demands live perusal; each work has visual characteristics that are obscured in photographs, and cannot be appreciated without live viewing.

This exhibition is strong because the work it contains is solid, and the curator’s selection successfully illustrates the ideas explored in the text. The works illustrate a spectrum of physical outcomes, but when considered in the terms suggested by the text, allow us to find common ground between them.

Sophia Stirling, Lapping (Mint), 2015, oil on canvas, 190 x 170 x 6 cm

Katrina Blannin Diamond Light 100 (Tonal Rotation with Pink/Green Blue/Black Demarcation), 2014, acrylic on linen, 140 x 140 cm

Installation shot

Alexis Harding Double Rebound (green spots), 2015, Oil and acrylic on panel, 116 x 146 cm

Jake Clark Low Rise, 2014, oil and mixed media on canvas, 90 x 120 x 5cm, signed