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.

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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

 

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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.

 

 

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Whatever the Weather

The sessions that I am running at the lovely new mental health unit Hafan Y Coed have evolved into a combination of writing and art. As this is a new venture for me, it has been interesting to see how the planning of the course translates into practice.

We have taken a generic theme for each session, and this week was ‘weather’. As mindfulness is really useful in cultivating creativity, I’ve tried to incorporate it into the sessions. Learners initially used pictorial prompts as a focus, imagining themselves into  various natural scenes, engaging all the senses through a short guided visualization. From this, they did some free-writing – jotting down anything that came to mind without worrying about punctuation or spelling or whether it seemed relevant – anything at all. This free-writing often leads to some unexpected story seeds and associations that can be developed later into a poem or short prose piece.

We read poems by some well known poets relating to the weather, and discussed how we felt about each piece. Then I presented a few examples of expressive art such as Frank Auerbach’s  series of drawings he made after walking on Primrose Hill, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s watercolour, ‘Sunrise’.

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Working Drawings for ‘Primrose Hill’ 1968. Coloured chalks and black pencil on cartridge paper.

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Sunrise, 1916 – Georgia O’Keeffe

 

As we had access to the resources in the art therapy room, there was a good variety of mediums for learners to choose from to create their own weather-inspired art works. Within the work, they could incorporate their favourite words or phrases from those they had written earlier.

Two wonderful landscapes with text, using acrylic paint and coloured pencils.

 

 

Homage to Hannelore Baron

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There is something raw and deeply absorbing about Hannelore Baron’s multi-layered work. Found materials are combined with enigmatic text and abstract figures in her collages and box constructions.

The work suggests both the condition of entrapment and the possibility of release, no doubt informed by her early traumatic experiences of war in Germany in the 1930s. Unlike Joseph Cornell, her box assemblages are not wrapped — or trapped — in the air of poetic-romantic longing. Baron’s boxes and notations insist that the human spirit can persevere, however damaged.

 

 

 

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Hannelore Baron website: http://www.hannelorebaron.net/

The First Abstractionists

Two interesting exhibitions in London recently: Hilma Af Klint at the Serpentine Galleries and Georgiana Houghton at the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Hilma Af Klint (1862–1944), of Sweden was creating abstract works about five years before Kandinsky. Through her work with the group “The Five,” af Klint created experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896, leading her towards an innovative geometric visual language. She had no desire to be part of any contest, or indeed the art world in general. Her paintings would not be seen publicly until 1986.

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Hilma af Klint,The Ten Largest, (1907)

Georgiana Houghton (1814–1884) was also painting in a non-figurative way even earlier, from 1861 when she produced the first of several hundred intricate, abstract and richly symbolic artworks, which were, according to her, “without parallel in the world”. In contrast to af Klint, she was keen to present her work to the artistic establishment. The exhibition at the Courtauld was the first time this artist’s work has been exhibited publicly since 1871.

Interestingly, both artists rejected direct authorship of their work, claiming that they were guided by entities to convey important spiritual messages through their art – perhaps  a subconscious means to sidestepping the cultural marginalisation of women at the time and finding validation for their work. Through their spiritualist experiments, they were able to conceptualise invisible forces both of the inner and outer worlds and develop radically innovative styles.