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Chance and Order at Eagle Gallery, 20 November – 19 December 2014

Andrew Bick, Katrina Blannin, Natalie Dower, Kenneth Martin, Mary Martin, Jeffrey Steele

A review by Laurence Noga

As I turn to encounter Blannin’s work I am reminded of a recent conversation we had in her studio concerning her influences. We talked about how she likes to work with a series of permutations, sequences, or a mirroring of symmetry and asymmetry. These can inspire ideas about sequential movement but also give an impression of personal experience, “I think I would call it a kind of visual ‘dance’, but also a kind of dissonance because you never quite know how each panel will fit together if the original structure has an unevenness”.

Kenneth Martin, Chance, Order, Change (two drawings) 1978. Pencil and ink on paper, 21.5 x 29.5cm. Copyright: estate of Kenneth Martin, image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art, London

Chance and Order is sharply curated by Emma Hill. The exhibition activates a set of impulses, bringing together and rationalising the relationship between the self-imposed clarity and ordering principles of the original British constructionist and systems group artists, and a wider conversation emerging in the work of Andrew Bick and Katrina Blannin. Chance and Order opens up a space in which we can consider a reading in-between the rationality of pre-determined systems and elements of intuition. The problematics of this relationship are recorded in a letter – presented in a shallow vitrine - written by Jeffery Steele to Andrew Bick. The letter documents a disagreement over Bick’s work, questioning his wider sense of aesthetic (digital approaches and hybridity) and establishes a dialogue around argued differences, interpretation and rigour.

Installation, image courtesy of the Eagle Gallery, London

Mary Martin's nature allows an approach that interweaves hand-crafted techniques and industrial mass production. Her strictly determined mathematical principles and permutations (referencing the Golden Section/ Fibonacci sequence) develop the works' structures, which are numerically based on a mechanisation of nature and shimmer transcendently on the surface. Martin makes use of this synthesis and not-so-flawless language in her Drawing for Cross made in 1968, pen on paper, which cultivates a claustrophobic puzzle with a thrilling sense of spiral movement and spatial depth that points us towards clues within the work of Blannin.

Mary Martin, Drawing for Cross, 1968. Pen on paper, 25.3 x 20.3cm. Copyright: estate of Mary Martin, image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art, London

Blannin’s grasp of concrete, constructivist and minimalist approaches, particularly Mary Martin, Lygia Clark, and Lygia Pape has added deeply to the exquisitely painted three diamond-shaped canvases. They have a high level of finish and spin in one's imagination, but it is the clear sense of the hand that allows that operation as they hover across the space in a cool theoretical logic. Repetition in her system is built around very carefully mixed and modulated colour, but also a sense of illusion concerning sculptural space. The choice of colour and support (often rough, open-weave hessian) build a dynamic system. The works are mathematically developed, initially from gridded drawn structures that provide an armature beneath the veils of thinly applied paint. Blannin is able to convey an extreme dissonance between the blue/black and pink /green lines drawn to bisect the pale angled planes, and also create a depth of complexity to the painting’s facture.

Katrina Blannin, Diamond Light 50 [Tonal Rotation with Pink/Green: Blue/Black Demarcation] 2014, acrylic on linen, 50 x 50cm. Image copyright the artist, courtesy of Eagle Gallery, London

The title of Kenneth Martin’s preparatory drawings Chance, Order, and Change, made in 1978 on graph paper in pencil and pen, is constructed upon a combination of chance events and a mathematicisation of procedure. Marking the drawing with points and moving clockwise round a rectangle, lines are evolved by taking numbers two at a time at random, pulled out of a bag (six pairs of numbers for each drawing). He then induced the ‘change‘ of the title by turning the drawing through 90 degrees and repeating the process. The working drawings in this instance site a position, a trigger of reference for the wider aesthetic values in the show. The most compelling aspect of this work is the sensibility of the hand-drawn marks that pull forward in the space, creating a clear and fragile spatial articulation.

Jeffrey Steele, Chance and Order installation Eagle Gallery, London. Images copyright Jeffrey Steele, courtesy Osborne Samuel, London

Jeffrey Steele’s series of five studies in coloured grey, have a very complete realisation of composition through a rigorous abstract formal system (syntax). The framed drawings are intimate and concrete in nature. The white and black squares float precisely and are constructed through a relation of forces on the grey ground; the in-between space is key to their ‘gestalt’. Steele remains sceptical concerning colour theory, and finds a greater truth in ‘colour as its own thing’; the phenomenology of each colour related to personal experience.

Bick’s highly atmospheric painting is hung, almost at the end of a wall, opposite Blannin. There is nothing else on that wall, except the ghosts of previous Bick paintings, which hover beneath the surface of OGVDS (Straightened) V5 2014. The work is made of an overlaid combination of marker pen, wax, acrylic, oil paint and Perspex, arranged in a concrete minimal argument. The pen grid is faintly visible at the edge of the painting and this supports the composition and structure. Our eye is drawn towards a matt shadow on one side of a central divide, which allows you to traverse the picture space. The other side is counterbalanced with a warm grey oil rectangle at the base, over which floats a black angled rectangle that pulls you further into the space. The constructivist work of John Wells and Adrian Heath employed a similar sense of space, as does the Belgium Artist Raul De Keyser (whom Bick admires) to elicit a peculiar sensation of depth. The registering of colour space causes a kind of myopia as the eye tries to interpret a complex number of devices, the flat vermilion planes activate a very deep sense of spatial tension in the picture space, and it is this emotional context that builds a sort of analytic distance.

Andrew Bick OGVDS [Titled Forward/Straightened] v 5 2014 mixed media on linen on wood  76.5 x 64.5cm  Image copyright the artist, courtesy of Hales Gallery, London

A relentless structural process is at work in the paintings of Natalie Dower, yet the sophisticated palette and mathematical principles seem to have a more lyrical approach. Both the Root Two Spirals works, painted in 2014, use a strict compositional device of rectangles whose halves have the same proportion as the whole, and is further developed by halving this again. The light blue violet triangles and rectangles buzz within the space, and the composition viewpoint pushes an element of secrecy and atmosphere of other rules fostered, such as things far away that are as sharply defined as those nearby, but reduced in scale. These are not mechanistic paintings; they have a richness and intensity in the spiral compositions: the Cerulean Blue adjoins the turquoise blue, which touches the Naples Yellow and closes the spiral inward. The emerald green/ orange completes the rectangle, the system, and the code. The relationship between this work and the other pieces in the show is deceptive and surprising, and has an authentic presence that is regenerative, towards re-thinking the concrete and constructive.

Natalie Dower Root Two Spirals No. 2 2014, Oil on canvas, 86 x 122cm

Image copyright the artist, courtesy Eagle Gallery, London

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