Thursday, 14 March 2019

Shaun Morris: 'Quiet Signs' At Asylum Gallery, Wolverhampton

A lack of dynamism, and adequate forward thinking on my part, mean I'm posting this at unreasonably short notice - for which, apologies to all concerned.

Nevertheless, it would be remiss not to publicise the fact that my friend, Shaun Morris, has another exhibition of his paintings about to open at Asylum Gallery, Wolverhampton.  By the time I post this, the Opening Event will be only hours away (Friday 15 March, 6 pm - 9 pm), but the exhibition itself is in situ until 5 April, which at least provides three weeks to see the work.

I'm not familiar with Asylum, and the publicity suggests that visiting the show is by appointment - which may be a sign of the times, perhaps.  Anyway, it's probably worth a scan of the their website (here), or perhaps a phone call, before setting out.  I notice Shaun's also running a 'Wine and Painting Workshop' on 30 March.  That sounds like an admirable combination to me, particularly as there's not much Shaun doesn't know about pushing the gooey stuff around - with wine, or otherwise.

Sadly, I can't even show you any of Shaun's most recent paintings, as he's obviously keeping them under wraps a bit - at least until they've had a proper outing in real time and space.  However, I'm assured he's been pretty busy of late, and that the new stuff isn't too far removed (in subject matter at least) from the paintings he showed, when we exhibited together in Nottingham, last year.  As I understand it, some of those older ones will gain repeat exposure this time round too.  You can get a pretty good impression of what Shaun and his work are about on his own site (here), or his Blog (here), and he tells me he also has a healthy Instagram presence now; although being totally dim as to the workings of 'Insta' (as I hear the kids calling it) - I'll have to take his word for that.  For some reason, I can hardly find the enthusiasm to maintain even my existing low levels of social media participation of late, and I suspect this whole Internet thing is just a fad, really.

Hopefully that gives enough clues to at least follow the trail.  As ever, and particularly with work like Shaun's - there really is no substitute for looking at the real thing.  You know what to do... 

'Quiet Signs: Recent Paintings By Shaun Morris' opens on Friday 15 March, and runs until Friday 5 April, at Asylum Gallery, 21 Clifton Street, Wolverhampton, WV3 0TZ

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Completed Painting: 'Untitled (From The New School) 12'

'Untitled (From The New School) 12', Acrylics, Adhesive Tape, Ink & French Polish
On Panel, 30 cm X 30 cm X 10.6 cm, 2017

One of the advantages of my current to-and-fro creative process, is that individual works seem to emerge, almost by surprise.  Such is the case with this - the latest in my 'From The New School' series of paintings.

A lack of overall focus shouldn't really be a recipe for successfully resolved work, but it actually seems to have suited me quite well over recent months.  On reflection, '12' might not be exactly my favourite of the 'FTNS' series, to date - but it does feel reasonably well sorted out, and also pushes the ever-evolving series in yet another direction.

Whilst geometric formality within a standard format is the cornerstone of these paintings, this is one of the looser, grungier members of the family, and is wholly constructed from roughly-painted 'gumstrip' adhesive tape

'Flagging 7', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Adhesive Tape, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish
On Paper, 45 cm X 60 cm

The seeds of that particular approach lie in 'Flagging 7', from 2017, which is part of another series under the 'This S(c)eptic Isle' banner.  As with that flag-based image, there is, I think - a sense of something lashed together, or even bandaged.  If each of these 'FTNS' panels is intended to invite a new idea about, or interpretation of institutionalised education - I'll leave the viewer to decide what that might in turn imply.

The work on this particular piece was mostly done during lunch breaks, and after hours, 'on the premises', and at least one colleague claims to see the suggestion of a crucifix in it.  She's not religious (to my knowledge), and I'm certainly not - but it does lead me to question whether it's actually possible to employ any kind of cruciform motif, without someone freighting it with unintentional symbolism.

It's not the first time that's happened to me; which in turn makes me wonder if it might not itself trigger another body of investigative imagery, one day...

Thursday, 28 February 2019

The Bin Commandments 2

West Leicester, February 2019

Hardly topical - but I think it counts, nonetheless.  In the interests of full disclosure - I should reveal that this one's actually my own, although painted back in the day, by my home's previous occupant.  Stupidly, it was only after capturing the first 'Bin Commandment' that I remembered I had one waiting in my very own back yard.  

I should really have cleaned the text off years ago, but have always found it a quaint example of period resistance.  I guess it's also testimony to the durability of modern paints - even if the Tax has long since disappeared, in every sense.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Just Sink Into A Nice Comfy Chair

Both Images: West Leicester, February 2019

Sometimes, you're working away, but in a slightly haphazard manner, and without much serious impetus or intent; so you take the camera out for a walk, in glorious (almost worryingly unseasonable) sunlight, and without any particular agenda - and the world just gives you a gift...

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The Bin Commandments 1

West Leicester, February 2019

I've been cataloguing refuse bins for a while now.  In many respects, they seem to play a similar role to abandoned fridges, as sentinels of my local landscape.  However, the focus is more on the textual content, than the carrier (or indeed, the actual contents).

In a neighbourhood of tightly-packed, often multi-occupancy, terraced housing, the territoriality and etiquette of wheelie bin use is a matter of some importance - and potential trigger of social tension, on occasion.  And, quite obviously, as a motif - the bins also stimulate a meditation on our disposable, consumer economy, and current attitudes to the provision of public services.  As ever, though, the unofficial will always subvert the official; and observed reality will always short circuit any trite theory I might have formulated about the work I'm doing.  I honestly wouldn't have it any other way.  

I wonder if these will become another little blog series?  We'll see...

Monday, 18 February 2019

Working Methods: 'This S(c)eptic Isle: Childish Things 5'

All Images: 'Childish Things 5' (Work In Progress), Salvaged Trundle Toy & Spray Enamel

To be honest, I hadn't necessarily intended to make any more of these 'Childish Things', toy sculptures.  On purely practical level, they're pretty bulky to store, and the house is already pretty congested with the existing four (amongst a lot of other stuff).  In addition, whilst I've always felt generally positive about the 'Childish Things' pieces - they were, actually, the least commented upon element of my work, when exhibited, last year.

Nevertheless, when this little beauty was abandoned, practically on my doorstep - it just felt too much of a gift to ignore.  Of course one thing leads to another, and what would be the point of collecting such stuff - if not to use it constructively?  It's perhaps typical of my current, slightly unfocussed approach to my work, just now - that this one has reached its current state without excess urgency, and whilst working on other unrelated things. That in itself is quite pleasing - as the fettling and finishing of the toys themselves has always been the most labour intensive part of the 'Childish Things'.  The trike, as I found it, was actually even more complete than you see it here - allowing plenty of scope for some creative surgery, prior to the normally tedious prepping, priming and inevitable addressing of drips in my ham-fisted spray-job.

Another hunch was that the initial Brexity vibe of the 'TSI' project might be limiting its currency by now.  Would that were the case.  Even whilst working on the first flush of associated pieces - my instinct was to expand the scope of the project into a more open-ended 'how we live now' kind of enterprise wherever possible.  Two years ago, who could have honestly predicted that my fears of becoming tripped up by a narrow single issue might be so unfounded - or that the particular issue in question would consume the national debate in quite such a dispiriting manner.

If, as now seems inevitable, the ramifications of our current political crisis continue to ripple outwards for the foreseeable future - then adding to the existing 'TSI' work may not feel  quite so irrelevant after all.  There was always more that could have been done, and there is clearly still no shortage of raw material, or indeed national absurdity, to fuel it all.  And, if there is going to be more, I guess I should be looking for further opportunities to exhibit it all again, in the not too distant - assuming anyone can still afford to keep a gallery space open after March, of course...   

Sunday, 17 February 2019

R.I.P. Robert Ryman

Robert Ryman, 1930 - 2019

Whilst it grieves me to post two obituaries, back-to-back - it would be remiss not to mark the passing of the painter, Robert Ryman, a few days ago.  He was 88, and had seemingly ploughed one of the most enduringly single-minded furrows in the whole of Modern Art.

Robert Ryman, 'Classico 5', Oil On Paper, 1968

Ryman was one of those go-to figures, to whom I've repeatedly turned as an exemplar of a particular attitude to painting over the years, despite having only ever seen one significant exhibition of his works (on paper - I think), at London's Shoulder Of Mutton Gallery, some years ago.  All too often my acquaintanceship with them has only been in reproduction - making any direct encounter a cause of some excitement.  And when I turned to the keyboard to write this, I realised I knew very little of the man himself, or his life - despite the fact his paintings have always loomed vividly in my imagination.  

Robert Ryman, 'Director', Oil On GRP, 1983

I think this may be, in part, because a somewhat pristine sense of the hermetic seems to cling to his oeuvre - something possibly magnified by its appearing to have arrived almost fully-formed, back in the mid 1950s.  The work seems to stand less for the man, than simply for itself.  Indeed, its conceptual rootedness in the idea of how one might define or specify an artefact that might be labelled 'a painting', makes any sense of autobiography or personal expression pretty much irrelevant.  Some might find that alienating - but I've always found it strangely thrilling.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, perhaps.  Ryman was, of course, primarily known as 'that guy who just paints white paintings' (not technically true - his first significant piece was  orange).  That he should have compiled such an extensive and unfailingly elegant catalogue of monochrome ('no-chrome'?) abstract pieces, over more than sixty years - without ever exhausting the potential of such a seemingly simplistic formula, feels little short of miraculous.

If art historical labels are required, I guess he belongs with the Minimalists. Rather delightfully - I now learn, he supplemented the early years of his career by working as a gallery attendant at MOMA, in New York, alongside those other noted exponents of the genre, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin and Al Held.  But, whilst Ryman certainly shared a superficial aesthetic with such artists, there's perhaps also something a little too deliciously painterly about the work for it to fit into a strictly orthodox interpretation of Minimalism.  There's often a residue of the earlier Abstract Expressionism that first caught his eye on his move north.  In fact there are certain respects in which Ryman seems to bridge those two American art moments - perhaps just as Jasper Johns bridges Ab. Ex. and Pop with a similar visual elegance and philosophical detachment.  Either way, It seems Ryman's real agenda was simply to investigate what constitutes a painting - by stripping it back to its simplest essential components, then trying to find out in how many different ways they might be deployed without repetition.

Robert Ryman, 'Wing', Date & Medium Unknown

For Ryman, that might involve brushing his paint smoothly and uniformly over a variety of substrates, from canvas - to aluminium - to plastic; or squeezing it directly from the tube - to form wiggling worm-casts of whiteness; or building puddled impastos and snowy crusts of pigment; or exploring the potential of white to veil, mask, or not-quite obliterate another underlying colour.  Or, indeed - pretty much any other way you might be able to imagine deploying an endless variety of white pigments onto a flat plane.  White, it seems to me, was the obvious choice, not just to encapsulate the fetish of blank/blanc nullity, or to signify anti-emotion - but also because (as Newton proved) it contains all other colours.  It that sense, I suppose white paint might be said to represent all paint.

Robert Ryman, 'Untitled', Oil On Linen, 1965

Robert Ryman, 'Attendant', Medium Unknown, 1984

Robert Ryman, 'Untitled', Graphite & Pastel On Plexiglass & Steel, 1976

The by-product, is also that it allows painter and viewer alike, to luxuriate in the myriad ways in which a painted surface might absorb, reflect, modulate, energise, or otherwise interact with the ambient light it encounters, and in the most unencumbered way imaginable.  The subtle incidents of shadow on one of Ryman's refined and highly nuanced surfaces, thus become some of the most paradoxically breathtaking events in painting of any age.  Should all of that really be insufficient to hold your attention, he also went on to explore the physical construction of the painting/object too - either by leaving exposed portions of the raw substrate; deliberately drawing attention to the wall attachments; or simply asking whether a painting might not just as easily be presented horizontally, as flush to the wall.  I mean, really - what's not to enjoy?  Who really needs all that distracting extraneous meaning?

Robert Ryman, 'Checklist', Pastel, Conte Crayon & Charcoal On Paper, 1961

Robert Ryman, 'Record', Medium Unknown, 1983

Ultimately though, this is an obituary, and basic respect requires at least some fleshing out of the man himself - I suppose.  Robert Ryman was born in Nashville, in 1930, and moved to New York in 1952 - after a short stint in the military during the Korean war.  Interestingly, he initially set out to be a Jazz musician, and had studied under pianist Lennie Tristano, before committing himself to painting instead.  He married the art critic, Lucy Lippard in 1961, and later - the artist, Merrill Wagner.  Mostly, though, he was a painter - pure and simple.  He also claimed that the real purpose of painting was to give pleasure.  I can think of no better testament or ambition.