17 May 2011

‘A Sort of Night to the Mind, A KIND OF NIGHT FOR OUR THOUGHTS’ exhibition @ Arch 402 Gallery, London

This is an interesting mixed show of contemporary painters in London at the Arch 402 Gallery, some abstract, some semi-abstract, figurative and cross-disciplinary. This is showing until 10 June, 2011 (gallery hours: Wed-Fri 11-6, Sat-Sun 11-3 PM).
Roger Kelly, 'Separator' 2011
Phillip Allen,  Edwin Aitken,  Andrew Bick,  Simon Burton,  Varda Caivano,  Leigh Clarke,  Nigel Cooke,  Moyra Derby,  Pamela Golden,  Mark Hampson,  Beth Harland,  Mark Harris,  Vincent Hawkins,  Claude Heath,  Paul Housley,  Roger Kelly,  Bob Matthews,  Andrea Medjesi-Jones,  Jost Münster,  Martina Schmid,  Joel Tomlin,  Phoebe Unwin,  Julian Wakelin

'A Sort of Night to the Mind, A KIND OF NIGHT FOR OUR THOUGHTS', an exhibition of twenty-three UK based artists engaged with painting. Curated by Moyra Derby and Bob Matthews, the exhibition will also host a series of talks and educational events led by some of the featured artists.
Two alternative translations of
Honoré de Balzac’s description of illusion from the 1832 short story ‘The Purse’ provide the title for this exhibition. First shown at The Herbert Read Gallery  at the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury, ‘A Sort of Night to the Mind, A KIND OF NIGHT FOR OUR THOUGHTS’ demonstrates the recurring relevance of illusion and in counterpoint, materiality. Illusion and materiality can be argued as so inevitable in the context of painting as to hardly warrant remark, but at the same time they muster such historically resonant responses and strength of feeling that they can feel like a prompt to take sides. However it is an interest in the productive play between these two qualities of a marked surface that has brought this group of works together, an acknowledgment of the imaginative potential of oppositions; “In the half light the physical tricks used by art to make things seem real disappear completely.... At that hour illusion reigns supreme; perhaps it comes with the night? Is not illusion a kind of night for our thoughts, a night which we furnish with dreams.'

Andrew Bick, oil on canvas, 2010

16 May 2011

A few thoughts on abstraction/political art and 'Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape' exhibition, Tate Modern, London

We shouldn't underestimate the significance of Joan Miro, currently on show at Tate Modern, 'Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape'. We can see the 20th Century unfold through his work, about 150 works on show, from early Fauvist pieces, through Cubism and into Surrealism. By the 1960's he was responding to the developments in abstraction taking place in both Europe and America. I wonder if we'd have CoBrA, Dubuffet, Tapies, the playfulness of Arte Povera and many other movements that have the same 'naivety' yet retain a strong political presence, if not for the likes of Miro. This work entitled 'Fireworks, I,II,II' is a great triptych about space and spontaneity, from a man in his eighties with fire in his belly.

Joan Miro 'Fireworks, I,II,III' oil on canvas, 1974 (c) Artobserved
Parallels to Robert Motherwell and especially his 'Elegy to the Spanish Republic' as well as his 'Zen' lithographs abound here, they almost echo each other across the Atlantic. Many of the critics in the British press have focused on the early Miro works as the most significant, but I think the curators (see BBC interview with Matthew Gale here and Marko Daniel) have done well in bringing a sympathetic understanding to the late works, showing his experimental and versatile approach to his art-making in the last few rooms of the exhibition.

Robert Motherwell 'Elegy to the Spanish Republic' oil on canvas, 1961. (c) Metropolitan Museum
Most poignant was the last painting in Room 13, entitled 'Tete' (Head) (I unfortunately can't find an image for it). It was a painting started in the 1940's and finished in 1974. It is a black, dark mass with one red beady eye in the centre and a hand in the top left, is it waving or drowning? It has a subtle power suggesting imprisonment, it reminds me of Paul Klee's 'Captive' or 'Embrace' from 1939, that echo a different oppressive era. This is where the strength of Miro lies, in his emotional and political sensibilities with paint as his tool. 

Paul Klee 'Embrace' oil on paper, 1939

Downstairs we passed through the Turbine Hall and saw what remains of Ai Weiwei's 'Sunflower Seeds' being demounted and bagged up. There were signs reminding the public of his subsequent arrest and I thought how apt that last Miro painting of show was, but also how powerful abstraction in painting can be in such difficult times.

'I understand that an artist is someone who, in the midst of others' silence, uses his own voice to say something and who makes sure that what he says is not useless, but something that is useful to mankind.' Joan Miro

Ai Weiwei's bagged up 'Sunflower seeds', Turbine Hall, Tate Modern (c) David Moxon