Abstract Critical

Abstract Painting: The Screen and the Interface

Written by David Ryan

David Reed, #617, 2003-2011, 44 x 190 inches, Oil and alkyd on polyester

To think around painting in terms of both the screen and the interface might seem to catapult discourse back to the 1990s when such relationships seemed imperative to the future of the discipline.  Behind such propositions lurked the need to think horizontally across media rather than negotiate the vertical depth that plumbed the medium in its specificity, often adopting a ‘techno-progressivist’ thinking and rhetoric: roughly meaning that any medium, paradoxically, that didn’t engage with ‘new media’ was doomed to extinction.  It is not insignificant that abstract painting in the 1990s was strewn with a kind of computerized space and an approach to linear articulation that was more reminiscent of computerized graphics than free hand drawing or gesture.  Mediation in this way, together with a suppression of facture, seemed to figure as necessarily de rigueur.  Rather than ‘structure’ or structuring in the traditional sense many works embraced a situation of ‘flow’ (often with more than a nod in the direction of a Deleuzian rhizomatic field, or viral contagion) – the tropes, in fact, of video.  By the end of the decade Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe could state, “Painting, I should say especially nonrepresentational painting, can nowadays only refer to the colors of plastic/color photography/video (all the same thing), either affirmatively or by ignoring them: their presence is implicit.” [1] An alignment, for Gilbert-Rolfe, was clear enough between ambitious painting practices and the ‘intensities’ of the ever-evolving video transmission in terms of light, colour and surface, the electronic instantaneous glow of the screen a touchstone.  Gilbert-Rolfe’s arguments around the dichotomies of discourse, criticality and the non-verbal beauty of ‘blankness’ (as opposed to always being at the service of invoking the sublime) remain relevant and provocative and too involved to do justice here.  I want to begin, however, by looking at two (perhaps paradigmatic) artists also considered By Gilbert-Rolfe in relation to technology– Gerhard Richter and David Reed.  As Gilbert-Rolfe saw it, “Where Richter is a realist, Reed is an impressionist but not of natural light.  Richter’s Habermasian interrogation of the means of production begins with pictures of things or marks whereas Reed’s paintings are not analytical but begin with the light contained by painting and how to extend and find within it an idea of mobility that can link it to the contemporary.” [2]  An interesting statement, but I think the deconstructive tendencies of Richter do not necessarily hold him hostage to critical discourse at the expense of the visual.

Gerhard Richter is, of course, a painter whose history goes back to the 1960s, but whose belated impact particularly in the 1990s in this country influenced a whole swathe of painters.  Is there anything new to say about Richter? Perhaps not, but in this context his work not only put a deconstructed abstract painting on the agenda but also examined its intertwined sense of ontology within both technology and as a means of representation.  In his photo-paintings for example, Richter sees the essential painterly gambit as one that must embed its own opposition, its perceived ‘enemy’ in the populist accounts: photography.  Here the tension between surface and image is played out – often resulting in an unobtainable flimmer, de-hierarchised and difficult to synthesize.  Richter’s surfaces, therefore, reveal a contradiction between the essentially incremental, heterogeneous nature of traditional painting and the embrace of the instantaneous continuity of the photograph.  This is the simultaneous articulation and denial of how these mediums create their own legibility.  If the abstract paintings develop rather choppily from the late 1970s in terms of this relationship between homogenous and incremental space (from the smooth photographic abstractions, to the gestural ‘inpaintings’ and on to the deconstructive pieces of the early 80s) then by the 1990s Richter had settled into the work being about a seemingly instantaneous surface.  It is worth thinking about this relationship briefly as it is about both time and surface, issues that are related to the screen as well as the photograph.  If we compare a piece from 1980s with that of the 1990s we get the idea. Static of 1982 with its typically (from this phase) acidic colour and interrupted obliterated claims to structure, operates within an accumulation of differences: each layer negating in some way the previous one, whether manifest as dark blurred areas, meandering coloured lines, jagged red slashed diagonals or intermeshing cutting green strokes, each pose highly differentiated solutions to moving across the surface and creating spatial relations.  This would be a kind of inverse structuring of painting in that it proceeds by negation rather than positivist construction and yet arrives at a sense of wholeness that is both fragile and porous. With Forest 3 (1990) we sense a different set of solutions have been painted through.  Richter’s increasing move towards the process of dragging, with giant squeegees generating the form, shows how he applies this sense of negative form in a more continuous, overall manner.  Colour is allowed to merge in a less artificial way, and each layer allowed its particular contingent formation in detail.  Here, negation functions in the sense of the form providing its own interference – rather like static or noise.  Richter described his abstract paintings as photographs, and here the analogy is with processing a surface – allowing something to be processually developed in order to be seen.

One of the conundrums of Richter’s output is its seriality and reciprocity; that is, the relationship of different aspects of his production to each other. To really get to grips with the abstract paintings one may have to negotiate the grey paintings, the colour charts, the inpaintings, to say nothing of the photo paintings.  To go back to Gilbert-Rolfe’s notions of colour, Richter may well be the exemplary overture to the condition he describes with the “gray test card the pure condition of colour photography” [3] – a kind of technological indeterminacy that runs through the work and seems to underpin the later paintings, where chromaticism reverts to colorlessness.  Perhaps one of the most successful and iconic of Richter’s installed exhibitions in this country was the show at Anthony d’Offay in the mid 1990s – with its exploration of contrasting surfaces: the clear glass panels, the mirror paintings, the painted photographs, the large dragged abstract paintings.  This enforced the idea that Richter’s concerns embodied a whole history of surface and screen – from the window, the viewfinder, the photographic surface to the backlit glow of the video or computer monitor: the foundations of viewing and seeing.

David Reed, #611, 2010-2011, 24 x 120 inches, Oil and alkyd on polyester

If Richter’s work traverses the screen in its multiple and historical formations, it reminds us that the screen, whether transparent, opaque or reflective, always entails a displacement of space, either within the confines of the screen itself or as a physical object interacting with the space.  As Rosalind Krauss has suggested,  “almost from the first painters imagined piercing the ‘luminous concreteness’ of the canvas by likening it to a window, the view both opening the picture surface and returning depth to its plane. After the invention of perspective the window frame became the signifier of painting itself.  The interdependence between painting’s specificity and the white cube derives in part from the resistance of the gallery wall but also from the rectilinear shape of the room as a support for the picture and its oblong frame.” [4]  This dialogue between the wall and the surface doesn’t need rehearsing here apart from the shift of the analogy of the window to the screen.  If the portable window still demands – or at least suggests – a particular relation with the wall, then the positioning of the monitor is more aggressive and interruptive in its nature. American painter David Reed’s installation in the Mirror Room in the Landesmuseum Graz in 1996 exemplifies this. Here, Reed showed in a Rococo environment with his large screen-like paintings floating, almost disembodied, in the space.  Reed’s work eschews direct physicality by working gestural activity back into the surface of the work (with the use of flat drying gels and sanding) – in this way the gesture appears cut-off from its bodily origin, signaling motion devoid of the body.  By almost exclusively focusing on an extended format (either vertical or horizontal) the works evoke a screen on various different levels – we might recall the decorative screens of Japan as well as the cinemascope experience so often cited by the artist himself.

David Reed, Vampire Installation for Mirror Room, 1996, Dimensions variable, Multimedia installation, Neue Galerie Am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz, Austria, Painting shown: #350, 1996, 54 x 118 inches, oil and alkyd on linen, collection Sammlung Goetz, Munich, Photo: Johann Koinegg

Around the time of the Graz exhibition I interviewed Reed and the conversation turned towards painting and technology, in particular focusing on the physicality of painting in relation to a kind of virtual space: “I’m very mistrustful now of easy entries into painting, especially through tactile materials and tactile material gestures [..] Paintings now hang on a wall as though floating on a screen, as if hanging over a TV set.  The wall is still there physically but it’s the desire for a certain social interaction, a page from a book. [..] I think [virtual space] has had a tremendous effect on all of us. We see the world in a different way. What is real and what isn’t? Usually [now] it isn’t very clear.” [5] For Reed then, this rethinking of materiality was essential to facing a more flexible means of thinking around how painting might connect with other media and other means of image production, and, importantly for him, for the recuperation of illusion.  Reed’s experiments with inserting his paintings digitally into films and TV environments attempt to examine this dematerialized free-floating space that the image of painting can occupy.  As questionable, in terms of success, these experiments actually were, they pointed to the problematic of the materiality of painting and its ever-growing accompaniment of electronic imagery, its own virtual image.  Rather than bemoaning a loss of presence, how do we incorporate this as part of the palette? This is what Reed seemed to be asking.  Illusion, he suggested, while usually read in a spatial sense was, for him, as much temporal, and connected with movement and peripheral vision.  This also binds the work closer to the movie screen with its back lit space and roving foci. Clement Greenberg whose apparent material prescriptions many of these artists were reactively moving away from, also saw the movie and TV screen as a source of a specific illusionism, “The reasons are obvious” says Greenberg, in that “a transparent or reflecting support lends itself better to illusion than an opaque and nonreflecting one. […] There’s a sheer aesthetic pleasure to be gotten from sheer illusion that can’t be gainsaid.” [6]  Similarly, Reed’s paintings, amongst others, would appear to accentuate this aesthetic pleasure of lllusionism withdrawn from the specifics of representation, and creating a kind of free indeterminate motion (again we could invoke Deleuze here).   Movement and the screen might also point to another painter and a particular series from this period, Shirley Kaneda, whose pieces around 1996 (there are some examples here) explored the juxtaposition of different processes of painting that might allude to expanded or contracted spaces/windows within the computer screen.  Kaneda’s work at the time questioned how we deal with abstraction and its histories, wholeness and fragmentation, as well as the temporality of ‘reading’ these differences.  How can painting be driven (not just by seemingly autonomous parts unified into wholeness ) through creating open and outright antagonistic contradictions? This could be seen as one of the questions that underpinned her practice at the time.  The technological connotations of the multi-space of the screen point to the complexity of negotiating simultaneity while searching for unity (which Kaneda at the time saw only as a byproduct of the diverse processes – only later where the works were directly informed by computer technologies, and in fact realizing a technological unity of sorts). Greenberg, as above, was interested in the unification of motion by the black and white television monitor creating a sculptural illusion – but we can equally transpose this to the more pictorial HD colour screen, which brings us closer to Gilbert-Rolfe’s articulation of it as the site of saturation – both in terms of its ability to reference the surfaces of the world (increasingly smooth, plastic, and chromatic) and the endless flow of motion as situated by the video and cinema screen (now – since the 1990s in fact – no longer a structural opposition but a shared platform).   If the window punched a hole in the wall and allowed us to look out into reality then the surface as screen offers a very different situation: It is an endless procession of simulated surfaces and spaces each edited into a seamless continuity and flow.

Tim Head ‘Treacherous Light’ 2000, digital projection from real time computer program, 360 x 480cm.

Artists have always been interested not only in technological innovation but also outmoded technologies, their subversion or even breakdown.  Tim Head’s work examines the process of the digital as an accumulation of noise. By focusing on the actual components of the generative image (while denying their capacity to generate anything specific) the result is, in the words of Michael Bracewell, an “electrostatic fog”.  Head’s development of computer programs to create a kind of autonomous scrutiny of digital production returns it to a medium specificity (albeit a random noise).  His drawings, projections and paintings create a dialogue between the contingency of the hand made and the technologically pre-programmed. Dan Hays similarly, in some of his work, uses the potential breakdown of the image to reveal the essential abstraction of the digital. Extreme magnification of the pixilation of the image transposes it into an abstracted colour chart. Speaking of this circulation of noise, or the ‘substandard’ low resolution image, philosopher Hito Steyerl suggests, “It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution.[…It is] thrust into digital uncertainty, at the expense of its own substance. The poor image tends towards abstraction: it is a visual idea in its very becoming.” [7]  A fascination with the degradation of the image has perhaps supplanted the romance with the ‘spectacular’ seduction of the high definition.

Colorado Snow Effect 1, 2007, oil on canvas, 76 x 101cm. Courtesy of the artist, www.danhays.org

If painting can point to these issues of how the contemporary world is viewed (and indeed constructed) then we can complicate things by moving away from the screen as a visual spectacle to the idea of the interface itself.  This remains ambiguous as a term – in that the interface can have multiple inferences.  Alberti’s veil, for instance, could be seen as an interface – between the painter and the screened world, while of late it has taken on much more a sense of user choice and manipulation within a designed environment. Lev Manovich, a key player in thinking through the digital and its relationship to the pre-digital, in particular cinema and screen media, discusses the interface as follows, “Just as painting before it, cinema presents us with familiar images of visible reality – interiors , landscapes, human characters, arranged within a rectangular frame. The aesthetics of these arrangements ranges from extreme scarcity to extreme density…It would take only a small leap to relate this density of ‘pictorial displays’ to the density of contemporary information displays such as Web portals, which may contain a few dozen hyperlinked elements, or the interfaces of popular software packages, which similarly present the user with dozens of commands at once.” [8]  This points to a key change in our conception of, not only relations between media, but how we use them.  While Manovich, here, is stressing a continuity, he also points to an interesting difference: from the spatial positioning (of the viewer) of the potentiality of scarcity and density through the interface (of the bounded painted surface, the cinema frame), to a mobility of accessing these contrasts through the informational environment/toolbox (portals and simultaneity).

Has this, or will it, ultimately lead to a different conception of space?  This is difficult to say as we could point to the fact that the conception of simultaneity throughout the post-minimalist spaces of installation have prefigured and later converged with the kind of negotiation of contradictory spaces that the computer screen facilitates.  Greenberg (of course hostile to such non-pictorial, non-unified conceptions of space) saw such spaces as pre-pictorial, such as in Paleolithic art, that are, “not pictures proper, but two dimensional images: self contained in a way more sculptural than pictorial […] When two or more such images are related on the same surface it’s in an ideographic rather than pictorial way.  This even in Mesolithic and Neolithic ‘compositions’ that show hunting, fighting, or ceremonial ‘scenes’; there, flat and schematic images hang apart in space that’s somewhere between the two and three dimensional. Pictorial space joins and contains, and by containing makes everything it shows discontain itself and surrender itself to a unity, which in turn contains itself.”  While Greenberg would see any return, presumably, to this ideographic space as a regression; that is, back to something cruder than the demanding syntheses of pictorial unity, I am of course not suggesting any idea of a ‘return’, but rather that the ‘breaking’ of the unity of the pictorial provides an alternative space, and yes, something spatially that operates “between the two and three dimensional”.  If this now has some affinity with the spaces of both the screen and the interface then it could, apart from this development of simultaneous diverse spaces, point to a recharged relationship to the aesthetic object and its facture.

Ellen Hyllemose, Untitled, Mdf, lycra, paint, 214 x 120 + 136 cm, 2009 Courtesy of Galeri Specta

Of late, facture would appear to be much more up-front, more present. The kinds of suspicions that David Reed suggested earlier would appear now to be perhaps even irrelevant.  Physicality and spatial physicality could be seen as a reaction to the ubiquity of the electronic image, and the smooth space of the cinematic.  Yet, ironically, in its extended, expanded form, abstract art might still owe (both reactively and through unconscious absorption) a debt to the shifts in looking, reading, and indeed, working patterns implied by the computer interface.   We might experience Danish artist Ellen Hyllemose’s work in his light, whose practice stems from painting, but includes handmade objects, placed materials, and sculptural interventions within a space: a hinterland between the pictorial and the sculptural.  Hyllemose’s paintings show a direct up-front physicality and gestural activity not unrelated to early Per Kirkeby, but in most of her installed works these are covered over – screened by Lycra swimwear material.  Covering the directness of the gestures with a membrane creates a surface where the image is submerged, and yet it is a surface that occasionally reveals its limits in its cuts and edges revealing what is being concealed.  Her works create multiple spaces, and yet remains concrete, about their materiality, and ultimately, their formal comportment. Works in the studio are like a palette, or an absent structure waiting to be activated in a specific location. Such activities ask questions about the nature of matter, work, placement, and lead back to the issue of what working outside of the bounded canvas in real space might mean?  If the viewer has to piece together the perception of these materials in time then it involves memory articulating the passage from one set of concerns to another.  Of course this might set in place the predetermined mould of another argument – that between Michael Fried and the minimalists.  As brilliant as that was (on both sides) we may need to step outside of it in order to think afresh what has become one of the dilemmas of installation – what Claire Bishop referred to as the tacit interrelationship between the poststructuralist notion of the fragmented subject and the literal viewer of installation being closely bound, indirectly we could say with an implicit critique of the screen as a device of unification. [10]  Stanley Cavell in his important text The World Viewed suggests that “The world of a moving picture is screened. . . .A screen is a barrier. . . . It screens me from the world it holds—that is, makes me invisible. And it screens that world from me—that is, screens its existence from me.” And that, “the screen-frame [itself] is a […] form.” [11] It was this invisibility and unity that poststructuralism sought to dismantle (Lyotard discusses this in terms of a normalization which “consists of the exclusion from the screen what cannot be folded back upon the body of the film”).[12]  This may seem a long way from painting but I feel once the work is displaced spatially then we are situated within these problems, as well as with the attendant problems of delimitation, how the work forms and acts upon reception, and the attendant dispersal of foci.

Ellen Hyllemose, Untitled, Mdf, lycra, paint, 80 x 151 cm, 2009. Courtesy of Galeri Specta

Rosalind Krauss points to Nietzsche “hunched over his typewriter and saying, ‘our writing tools are also working on our thoughts’” [13] For Krauss these questions are intertwined with issues around media and medium (these are ‘false friends’ according to Krauss) – as well as distinguishing between works that continue out of the constraints of the medium albeit in an expanded form (a form that no longer regards the medium as denoted by the specificity of its material) – and those that melt back, undifferentiated, into the world of ‘stuff’.  These are too complex to adequately think through here, but the question of installation and abstraction, the breaking out of the screen, and this extended notion of the medium in relation to media remain important to try and address. Joseph Masheck in his introduction to the re-publication (and expansion) of his essay The Carpet Paradigm – an essay in itself that attempted to locate the lost history of the intertwinement of the arts and crafts movement and abstraction – suggests: “the condition of painting in particular has a way not only of never quite withering away but of engaging new modalities of art-work, and even of work at large. Today it seems there is more need among a new generation for a sense of the matter of form and materials as conditioned by general human experience, including ordinary, everyday work – though now more often than not means work with little or no tangible materiality ay somebody else’s monitor, with all the alienation thereunto appertaining.” [14]  If this need is addressed then it could, be a space where the interface becomes a model for both the work of the artist and the viewer – not simply emulating the effects of the screen but in situating the eye, mind, and the time of labour back into the equation, albeit a technological one.


[1] Gilbert-Rolfe, Jeremy, Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime, Allworth press, NY, 1999 p.34

[2] Ibid., p.101

[3] Ibid. P. 33

[4] Krauss, Rosalind, Under Blue Cup, MIT Press, 2011, p. 106

[5] David Ryan, Talking Painting: Dialogues with 12 Contemporary Abstract Painters, Routledge, 2002, p.202

[6] Clement Greenberg, ‘Detached Observations’ in Late Writings, ed. Robert C. Morgan, University of Minesota, 2003, p.67

[7] Hioto Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, Sternberg Press, 2012, p.32

[8] Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, MIT, 2001, p.20

[9] Clement Greenberg, Late Writings, p.63

[10] See Claire Bishop, installation Art, tate Publishing, 2005

[11] Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed – Reflections on the Ontology of Film Harvard University Press, 1979, pp.24-25

[12] Jean-Francois Lyotard, ‘Acinema’ in P. Rosen, editor, Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, Columbia University Press, 1986, p.349-359

[13] This is Krauss referring to Freidrich Kittler’s ideas in Under Blue Cup, p.37

[14] Joseph Masheck, The Carpet paradigm: Integral Flatness from Decorative to Fine Art, Edgewise press,  2010, pp. 15, 16

  1. Peter Stott said…

    The digital revolution means art theory is going more like this:

    Like De Kooning, David Reed’s paintings aim at the concrete illusion of the form behind abstraction, the form that artists have been pursuing through abstraction for over a century. Filming paintings, though, is a signification of the Digital age to come, an age with a technology that can actually reify abstraction for real.

  2. Andrew Stooke said…

    I was slightly annoyed by this text. David Ryan asks rhetoricly, “ Is there anything new to say about Richter? Perhaps not, but in this context his work not only put a deconstructed abstract painting on the agenda but also examined its intertwined sense of ontology within both technology and as a means of representation.” I ask what does he mean by this? And why the italics? Deconstructed abstract painting? Is it the proposition that by frustrating the poetry of representation, and rendering it as technique, Richter does more than intervene and point to the contradictions of the surface? To me this is a misappropriated claim to deconstruction. Rather than going beyond the image and the technique, to short circuit their power to claim that they can be true, the proposition of Richter’s painting as described here both stabilises the hegemony of the image and the elegance of the act.
    The forlorn approach to Richter sets the tone of an argument that persistently conflates the very different moments and affects of TV, cinema and film or video installation, all rich and problematic in their discrete modes. Tim Head’s work makes a strong case for teasing apart the nature of these spaces; but it is dispatched here in such a cursory manner that the resonance is missed. Moving on, Hito Steyerl is not even accorded the status of an artist, despite her relevant shows last year at both Art Institute of Chicargo, and eflux in New York. In his New York Times review of the latter show, from 20/12/2012, Holland Cotter concludes that the work can be read, “as an act of moral thinking-in-progress. In a very of-the-moment, digital-age way, the logic of that thinking is fractured, the nature of morality suspect.” What more should we seek in painting’s relation to, “the world of ‘stuff’”?

  3. Peter Stott said…

    The digital revolution’s impact on art theory is to see image-as-data, data that has yet to be comprehended, according to current levels of scientific analysis. In essence, that scientific analysis is defining art theory, but this still leaves artists plenty of opportunity to create data for the scientists to analyse using whatever means available. It’s only natural for some artists to create works aiming to defy analysis, also because it’s a hell of a lot easier to obstruct knowledge than to actually discover some. Tim Head’s piece presents the digital field as a well of potentiality, for when some knowledge is actually garnered from abstract painting.De Kooning went mad trying to extract the knowledge, some would say there’s no knowledge to be garnered, usually the artists attempting to obstruct it.

  4. John Holland said…

    Yes- I’m not sure painting has anything very relevant or useful to say about the virtual space of the screen, except in an oppositional sense, or more positively, by articulating an alternative.
    Otherwise, you may as we’ll be gardening about Facebook.

  5. Sam said…

    I think this is a very interesting essay, with lots to chew on. I agree with the general premise that abstract painting can profit from the screen (not just be displaced by it, or be changed negatively by it – which seem the most obvious current consequences when one looks at the ingratiatingly folksy, hand-made and modest feel of a lot of current abstraction). However I find myself disagreeing with many of the value judgments and individual analysis…

    Perhaps the key phase is this: “contradiction between the essentially incremental, heterogeneous nature of traditional painting and the embrace of the instantaneous continuity of the photograph.” I agree with the identification David makes here, but not with what he does with it. It seems to me that it is the trap that both David Reed (though I admit I have not seen his work in the flesh) and Richter fall into. Both Richter and Reed hint that the photograph, the computer, video screen or movie screen can be compelling transposed into painting, however they both leave this possibility unexplored, as simply an effect rather than the beginning of something more compelling and complexly (incrementally?) visual.

    Reed’s work rather than ‘rejecting structure or structuring in the traditional sense’ (as if there the history of painting could be neatly separated off in such a manner – what is structure in the traditional sense?) seems to me to be a slightly loose and glossy version of post-painterly abstraction: of course it is likely that the cinema and television screens had already made itself present in the work of Noland, Olitski et al but without the limiting and overly-literal theory which is attached to Reed’s. Richter’s Static is for me the more successful of the two David discusses, if the similar painting shown in his Tate show is anything to go by. The combination of instantaneous, impossible to grasp ‘background’ with its sense of ‘a free indeterminate motion’ and incremental, gestural marks was exciting, a move in the right direction, but one which sadly (as far as I know) Richter hasn’t followed up or moved beyond a basic visual idea. The idea that his work should be seen in its ‘seriality and reciprocity’ for me in part explains this failure: why develop the visual power of a particular painting when ‘meaning’ can be constructed by deciphering the oeurve as a whole? (and the archive found through the internet’s screen is perhaps partly responsible for the ubiquity of this type of deadening analysis – though this is another story) The reason why everything has said about Richter is that these moves are very easy to understand: whereas Matisse (to pick an example at random) who progressively concentrated and condensed his powers within each picture is much richer, most less understandable.

    Though I can’t grasp the paintings at all through the screen (!) Kaneda perhaps gets further along in using the screen to create complexity, but they seem to me horribly cute and retro more than anything else…The digital breakdown of Tim Head and Dan Hays is obviously a cliche and a dead-end, and perhaps the less said about them the better.

    My main disagreement, though I confess I am slightly confused by David’s last paragraph, is with his idea that the screen and interface should be used to move painting into real space. Ellen Hyllemose’s work, which seems so clearly trivial, so limited by a gimmick, seems to me a good piece of evidence against this development, and whether one calls it a break or a regression seems irrelevant. Though thinking this through is perhaps beyond me I do not think wholeness and unity can be so easily given up on; the relation between wholeness and part is one that is constantly contested – is a relation which could be used to create a whole history of painting. To just say we are doing away with pictorial unity without acknowledging the constant presence of this contestation within painting is complacent at best (and for an essay which is so difficult seems alarmingly simplistic): what we need is our version of this contest. A ‘different conception of space’ stemming from the screen would be best explored within painting: as a way of enriching and complicating painting’s illusion its ability to render depth and ambiguity, space and structure. In this way though abstract painting does not need the screen perhaps it could use it. To do this it would need find a way to contain the feel – starting perhaps with Gilbert-Rolfe’s ‘light’, which is sometimes intense and eye-straining, sometimes soft, sometimes banal and distracting sometimes totally immersive of the screen – within something more complex and nameless. Perhaps (and I’m following a blog by Mark Stone in this) what is needed it not a literal moving of the screen into real space a la Hyllemose but a type of painting which can deal with the screen as part of the total physical environment we inhabit, that is which uses the screen as not an easily referenced piece of ‘content’ (i.e as a spring-board for writing or talking about contemporary experience) but as part of a total and translated spatial experience…. Right that’s enough pretentious meandering for one afternoon….

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      That’s quite a good bit of pretentious rambling, I think. I can at least make a little more sense of it than David’s essay. I particularly like the last paragraph and ‘…the constant presence of this contestation…’ for unity in painting.

      The problem I have in keeping track of the arguments in the essay is that I keep on getting distractedly incensed by the pictures. I presume the illustrations are here for a reason – as a demonstration of painting’s possible relation to the screen, maybe? Sorry, I don’t get it or see the point of it, if this is the result.

      I can’t off hand think of a worse successful painter out there than David Reed. You can go on his website and see dozens and dozens of paintings based on this one technique – a kind of trompe l’oeil representation of crumpled silk, spread across panel after panel after panel (in any colour you want). Why you would want to keep doing this all the way across a 190″ long painting, I cannot fathom. So then to do it to more than one painting is brain-dead. For him to become famous for this inanity is crazy. You can have all the intellectual theory you like, but take a look; this work is shit.

      • Sam said…

        Well – the pictures just illustrate artists David writes about… Of course you’re right that just investigating the screen without making good painting is pointless; which is what I was trying to get at with my comments on Richter and Reed (who for me are the most interesting, though unsatisfying..). However I see no problem with abstract painting approaching or having a source in things like the screen…

        I said I found it hard to think through and I think you have slightly misunderstood me – I didn’t quite want to say a contest FOR unity, rather a contest BETWEEN parts / internal organisation and the whole. I’m not sure if the distinction makes sense, but it seems important to me, especially with the modernist interest in clear wholes (parodied in painting as object) being something of a dead-end.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        So do you think that contemporary abstract painting should have a SPECIAL relationship with the screen today, over and above other possible sources or starting points?

      • Sam said…

        Because of its ubiquity – and because it changes how we relate to the world through vision – it seems like a good subject for abstract painting: however I realise that not ever abstract painter needs a subject (or certainly not one that is so specific); and no I certainly wouldn’t say it should be a privileged relation…

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Maybe the screen’s unbiquity and its ability to change/distort our perception are the very reasons for painting and sculpture to avoid at all costs having anything to do with it? Perhaps they should even mount a defense against its unreality? Would this be too ridiculous? It would be a shame if we all lost our ability to look at (real) painting and sculpture. Can we still ‘see’ Titian and Constable? If the result of the influence of ‘the screen’ is David Reed and similar, I’ll do without it.