Exhibition: Pioneering Abstract Artists

The exhibition Surface Work (11 April – 16 June 2018 at the Victoria Miro, Mayfair) was a rich feast, with abstract work by more than 50 artists, all women, from five continents, spanning every decade between 1918 and 2018.

surface workII

I knew of some of the artists who have “shaped and transformed, and continue to influence and expand, the language and definition of abstract painting”: Helen Frankenthaler, Yayoi Kusama, Lee Krasner, Agnes Martin, Mira Schendel, Gillian Ayres to name a few, but the majority were new to me, and it was revelatory to ‘discover’ so many artists who had been there for years, producing fantastic work in obscurity.

The exhibition gave me the opportunity to see work I had only seen small reproductions of in books such as one of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets.  Kusama began painting the Nets in the early sixties shortly after she moved to New York, living in poverty until she began to sell work through a dealer. I love the intensity and repetition of the repeating loops that seem to expand and contract like a murmuration. There is a tension between a random and systematic aesthetic. Apparently, Kusama would paint the Nets for uninterrupted sessions of 40 to 50 hours as a way to channel and contain her mania. She has repeatedly revisited and expanded this body of work throughout her career.

 

Kusama

Infinity Net (HNBKY) made in 2012

 

 Yayoi Kusama

 Kusama with early ‘Infinity Net’ paintings in her New York studio, 1961

 

Also immersed in the tradition of the sublime is Loie Hollowell’s work. Link Lingam (yellow, green, blue, purple, pink) 2018, has an intriguing undulating surface that folds into the design giving it a sculptural element.

Loie Hollowell

 

         LH2

 

Jessica Warboys’ large canvases are ‘painted’ by the sea shifting and scattering mineral pigments into them. The coast and landscape are a source of inspiration and influence for Warboys, who draws upon pagan history and folklore in her films and performances. She had a solo exhibition at Tate St Ives recently that included Hill of Dreams, a film that draws from Welsh fantasy writer Arthur Machen’s book of the same name.

jessica warboys

See here for the online catalogue with overview of every artist.

 

 

Advertisements

Natural Abstracts

Some stunning paintings in response to two stories from Africa today: ‘Why the Sun and Moon Live in the Sky’ – a Nigerian folktale, and ‘The Lion’s Whisker’ – an Ethiopian Folktale.

africa1

Elements by Jim age 9

 

africa16

African landscape by Paddy, age 9

 

africa15

Camouflaged Lion by Iolo, age 6

 

africa9

Sun by Paddy, age 9

 

africa10

Witch Doctor by George, age 7

 

africa11

Witch Doctor Dance by Jim, age 9

 

africa12

Elements II by Jim age 9

 

africa13

African Landscape By George, age 7

Preliminary Drawings:

Lion, by George; Winged Lion with Horn by Paddy, Mask by Paddy, Compound of Sun and Moon for the Water by George, Sun and Water by Iolo.

Awkward Objects: The Work of Alina Szapocznikow

This weekend, I travelled to Wakefield to see Human Landscapes the first UK retrospective of the work of the much-overlooked Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow (1926–1973). Powerful, innovative, disturbing, these pieces have dark undertones, which isn’t surprising when you discover that Szapocznikow survived several of the Nazi camps as a teenager, and bouts of severe illness. Her sculptures were born out of trauma, expressing it obliquely for those who could not, while at the same time being an extraordinary affirmation and expression of life and female experience.

Image result for alina szapocznikow        Image result for Alina Szapocznikow in 1968, photo Roger Gain

She emerged as an artist from the Soviet sanctioning in 1950s Prague, educated originally as a classical sculptor in Paris, rapidly moving into semi-abstract, amorphous forms: huge, organic sculptures,  such as ‘Bird’ and ‘Maria Magdalena’. Later, she began using her own body, and that of friends to make casts of body parts, including a particularly poignant full body cast of Pietr, her son. Long haired and naked he lies at a diagonal, suspended in space, recalling the dead Christ in Mary’s arms.

Semi-abstract sculptures from bronze, concrete and iron.

Through casts of the human body, I attempt to preserve in translucent polystyrene the ephemeral moments of life, its paradoxes and its absurdity. (…) I am convinced that among all manifestations of impermanence, the human body is the most fragile. It is the sole source of all joy, all pain and all truth, and this thanks to its ontological poverty, which is as inevitable as it is (at the conscious level) absolutely unacceptable.

 

P1100242

Photographs set in polyester resin

Her work centres around the fragmented body; like many post-war artists, she has an acute awareness of the fragility of the body. Bowls of breasts recall Lee Miller’s critique of female objectification in Severed Breast from Radical Mastectomy, the 1930 photograph she composed after observing a friend’s mastectomy. I was also reminded of the work of Eva Hesse, known for her pioneering work in materials such as latex, fiberglass, and plastics. Dynamic but mysterious erotic themes are an element shared with Louise Bourgeois for example in her Unconscious Landscape, 1967-68.

Image result for Alina Szapocznikow

“Dessert III”, 1971, dyed polyester, porcelain vase.

 

 

Drawings and monotypes.

Sculptures using polyester resin and polyurethane.

The essence of Szapoczikow’s work seemed to lie in the search for completeness that she could only express through fragmentation and abstract juxtapositions. Her feeling that: “The fleeting moment, the trivial moment – these are the only symbols of our earthly existence”.

In the final room of the show, we see at close quarters Szapocznikow’s sculptural manifestations of her body’s invasion by cancerous tumours. Even in her final months, she continued to find innovative ways to express the reality of her experiences. “Recalling the broken statuary of fallen civilisations, Tumours Personified (1971) is the artist’s attempt to own the illness, with a scattering of head-size lumps, bearing her own face.” – Skye Sherwin

P1100251

I produce awkward objects. This absurd and compulsive mania proves the existence of an unknown, secret gland, necessary for life. Yes, this mania can be reduced to a single gesture within reach of us all. But this gesture is sufficient unto itself , it is the confirmation of our human presence.

My work is difficult as sensation that is felt in a very immediate and diffuse way is often resistant to identification. Often everything is all mixed up, the situation is ambiguous, and sensory limits are erased.

Nothing is definitive in my work. If not the immediate pleasure of feeling the material, of touching and palpating the distinct material of the mud as children do on a riverbank.

_ Alina Szapocnikow, 1972

 

Seeking Transparency

For our Saturday afternoon drop-in session to experiment with cyanotype, or sun prints, participants brought along an assortment of things to try out on the photo-sensitive paper. Beads and seeds, feathers and flowers fresh from the garden were laid out and placed under the UV light bed for exposure.

Creating compositions using a variety of materials.

The most effective were often the most transparent or delicate items. Mary brought along a tracing on acetate of grasses she had made for a lino cut, and this worked beautifully, with small skeins of wool for clouds. Experimenting with double-exposure techniques added depth and interest: netting placed over the exposed grasses gave the effect of light rippling through them.

20170918_112207[1]

 

Rosalind, who is a wonderful illustrator, began to draw her designs on tracing paper, adding photogram items such as glass beads to enhance the composition. The tracing paper also adds varying tones.

P1080893

 

Glass bottles from a flea market became ghostly alchemist’s wares. Sally’s double exposure using feathers and dried hydrangea flowers was also magical.

 

 

 

Cyanotype Workshop

This was a Cyanotype Drop-in Session  I ran at Cardiff Print Workshop. After my short introduction about the history and process of cyanotype printmaking, participants experimented with a variety of objects and techniques to produce interesting, abstract photograms.

 

20170820_143121[1]

Jenny syringing water designs onto the surface before exposing

 

20170820_145619[1]

Derek’s space-inspired piece using glass beads, agate, seeds and water.

 

cyanotype drop-in day4

Rinsing the pictures after exposure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making a Mark: The Art of Automatism

cropped-cosmogony.jpg

Automatic drawing or painting can be described as “expressing the subconscious” using any technique that eliminates conscious control and replaces it with chance. The basic techniques originate from spiritualism, practiced by artists such as Georgiana Houghton and Hilma Af Klint, both of whom have recently had their work exhibited in a revival of interest and appreciation of automatism and early abstraction.

Surrealists such as Andre Breton and Andre Masson, were keen to experiment with automatic drawing and promoted it as an art movement. By this time, ofcourse, psychologists of the unconscious had dismissed the idea of spirits speaking through the artist: it was the subliminal self that could express itself in ways that could lead to the development of real artistic genius. The new interpretive framework was now wholly secular and based on the insights of psychoanalysis, but the basic techniques were adopted from spiritualism.

Whichever way you wish to interpret it, drawing randomly without rational control is a good way to avoid inihibitions that freeze the flow of creativity. It is a way to bypass the ‘I can’t draw’ mentality a lot of people develop when the natural artistic confidence of childhood is abandoned.

Making simple marks and considering the relationships between them bypasses jugement by the logical brain about what is  “good” or “accurate.” It opens the doorway to the intuition, allows the emotions to be engaged, and allows enjoyment of the pure physical experience of artmaking.

Some of my experiments:

20160815_140243                  peacock

 

006                   river piece

 

One of Georgiana Houghton’s spirit drawings – The Eye of the Lord (1 Sept 1870), and  Joan Miro – Preparations for Birds, detail, 1963.

Image result for GEORGIANA HOUGHTON

 

 

Automatic Drawing