Abstract Critical

Constant Within The Change: Gary Wragg

Written by Dan Coombs

Pirate, 1976, charcoal, acrylic and Rohplex on canvas, 244 x 312cm

Pirate, 1976, charcoal, acrylic and Rohplex on canvas, 244 x 312cm

I entered the financial hyperzone via a mall of classy brands: Tiffany, Austin Reed, Hublot. I wondered – do the members of the one percent consider themselves rich members of the middle class, or representatives of a new aristocracy? Across the plazas around Canary Wharf public art is the way big corporations create symbols of aristocratic aspiration that complement the bourgeois facade. Examples include a gigantic fibreglass geranium, a torqued spine of jenga-like columns in alert tension, or Igor Mitoraj’s Centaur (1984) half horse, half man, atop a plinth. The symbolic ideal of the mighty worker-aristocrat. I half expected to see a briefcase, an iphone, a tablet or jogging bottoms as part of the centaur’s accoutrement, but the set-up was generalised – classical, nothing too demanding, in bronze, with a neutral finish matched only by the imperviousness of the endless straight edges of the surrounding office towers.

In the sun lounge on the thirtieth floor of Clifford Chance, the view through the plate glass windows over the Isle of Dogs was aeroplane high. Sun streamed into seating areas and small side rooms  connected by vastly long corridors in a space designed for business gatherings. A grand piano, a dining room with crystal decanters, a kitchen at the centre of the floor where staff were beginning to prepare the canapés for this evening’s function; this was the setting for a stately retrospective of Gary Wragg’s paintings. His large works take the viewer round all four sides of the building processionally. The sheer square footage at play has allowed Wragg to get a large number of his huge paintings together in one space. We get a sense of his development, and the changes his work has gone through.

The Snake & Crane I, 1987-89, oil, oil pastel and oil stick on canvas, 245 x 244cm

The Snake & Crane I, 1987-89, oil, oil pastel and oil stick on canvas, 245 x 244cm

The paintings are abstract-expressionist and driven by a desire to use gesture and colour  to open up a new space within each one. Sometimes this new space seems to take on a sense of place. Some of the paintings appear built on similar principles to de Kooning’s 1956 painting Easter Monday in the Met in New York, an urban abstract landscape complete with windswept newspaper, painted when de Kooning was still an urbanite who wandered alone through the city streets. Some of Wragg’s paintings  express something of the texture of urban existence. The Snake and Crane I (1987-89) has found its own contingent hard-won structure and contains something of the surprise and sense of juxtaposition that can be seen in the corresponding aerial overview through the windows. The painting is dark and brooding and conveys the sensation of moving through a city at night. It would be interesting to compare it to the almost contemporaneous urban landscape / portrait by Basquiat Untitled (Skull)  (1984). Wragg’s painting would undoubtedly seem more lyrical, less blunt than the Basquiat, but also more romantic, more elusive, more like Turner.

Abandonment & Doubt, 2006-9, oil on canvas, 100 x 100cm

Abandonment & Doubt, 2006-9, oil on canvas, 100 x 100cm

The problem, the crisis, the urgency of Wragg’s work emanate directly from his drawing. The importance of drawing to him is inaugurated by a 1976 charcoal on canvas Pirate. In it, various figurative and  landscape motifs are hinted at but never resolved. Like early Pollock, the drawing points out of representation toward oceanic all-overness. The difficult negotiation between the general and the specific here is not necessarily resolved. It sets the tone for the rest of the show, where we can never be sure what it is we are looking at. Though it is clear that the paintings are meant to be apprehended literally as tableaux of marks, shapes and colours, we still can’t help imagining contexts, motifs, encounters and relationships within the compositions and can’t help looking for answers as to how the paintings have come about. Sometimes place names are referenced in the titles. At other times the paintings seem like a mixture of both internal and external architecture, as in Abandonment and Doubt (2006-9). Though we may look for clues as to how the paintings are configured, we’re unable to pull away and attach particular meanings to any of the components. The paintings are sticky: once you’re absorbed, its hard to extract yourself.

English painting often likes to put its feelings into objects and treat them as  elements within a still life. Howard Hodgkin for example, is able to twist the brush into a hot gesture, but the placing of gesture within the composition is balanced more coldly. His paintings have a detachment, as though a moment’s emotional imprint has been placed under glass. In contrast it’s harder to get any distance from a Wragg. They fill the viewer’s visual field both optically and physically. They demand full submersion and create an immersive field. Because of this they can never fully master themselves, as to master the painting would entail stepping out of it and Wragg wants to keep us on the inside. The paintings attempt to pull themselves together out of the chaos of pure immediate sensation, and Wragg often achieves this in the handling of the paint, which is totally involved and boundlessly energetic. The problem for him is finding the right armature for his gestures. What is the function of drawing in his work?

Stepladder & Standing Man, 1996, acrylic and oil on canvas, 236 x 206cm

Stepladder & Standing Man, 1996, acrylic and oil on canvas, 236 x 206cm

When he draws on his canvases, is he drawing in actual space, or virtual space? Is he 1-1 literal, or shifting scale and creating illusions? Is he describing a thing or creating a process? Are the forms his own or found elsewhere? If they are found elsewhere, are they from nature, from the collective unconscious, from the urban landscape? Or from the work of historic painters, or the works of other abstract painting colleagues in London? Wragg seems to want a similar quality to that found in the  paintings of Gillian Ayres or the work of the sculptor Phyllida Barlow, where an ugly brutal literalness gives way to a paradoxical delicacy. At times the paintings can feel bootsy and masculine, emphasised by the striated grooves he often draws into the thick paint with a plasterer’s tool, making of the painting a pitched battleground. At other times he seems to want a fragrant bouquet of colours that open out and bloom in a sweet array. Underpinning all this is the underlying problem of drawing, of structure and composition. How to find a composition, how to organise the raw material? Should the initial drawing bend itself to accommodate the new structures thrown up by the painting, to eventually simply be painted out, to let the layers of paint speak for themselves? Or should the painting be divided up, with drawing creating boundaries between elements, in order to impose a structural rigour around which the gestures can organise themselves?

Partita, 2002, oil on canvas, 208 x 165cm

Partita, 2002, oil on canvas, 208 x 165cm

The kinds of meanings involved in conceptual or symbolic art are entirely absent here. What we’re involved with are more fundamental conditions of being – orientation, direction, velocity and energy. It would be tempting to describe the process that goes into making Wragg’s paintings as performative, were it not for the fact that the emphasis is so entirely upon the painting as a finished product, as an object that lives beyond the fact of its maker’s existence. What is impressive (or brave, or gruelling depending on your taste) about Wragg’s work is his refusal to pin anything down and to let all the elements remain as open as possible, for as long as possible. Wragg has truly turned painting into a trip into the unknown, and it is the extraordinary energy that is required to undertake such a mission that makes the whole show irresistible. Wragg has let himself go all out to explore what is possible for him within the vortex of abstract expressionist action painting. Yet despite early success he occupies a surprisingly marginal position within the London art world. Despite the obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm the paintings elicit, they remain ignored and out of fashion. Why?

Webzones @ Vyner St, 2005, oil on canvas, 262 x 269cm

Webzones @ Vyner St, 2005, oil on canvas, 262 x 269cm

Part of the reason perhaps is that in their reliance on the gesture, the paintings could be associated with an era where paintings were created out  of a masculine will to power. He  likes the viewer to feel the heft, weight and struggle of his intentions. Even when he prints paint onto the surface using bubble wrap one can still feel the physicality of the artist bearing down onto the painting. This is a characteristic of painting of the nineteen-fifties, before Warhol or Cage amongst others liberated art from being the product of a individual, isolated, heroic will. In only a couple of paintings in the show, such as Vyner Street (2005) or Partita (2002) does Wragg let the poured paint find its own form independently of his hand. Here, he comes close to the relatively non-interventionist abstract painting of Polke or Richter, where process, either by pooling chemicals, or effacing all the marks of the hand with a squeegee, serves to efface the will or ego of the artist, allowing the painting to becoming effervescent  and veiled. Wragg’s experiments in this vein are uncharacteristic though. There is something powerful about the way Wragg refuses to let go, refuses to give up possession of his motifs. Yet paradoxically the strongly willed nature of Wragg’s paintings is at odds with their open-ended character. They don’t give way to calculation, perfection or resolution and in this can seem frustrating. The hard wrought gestures however begin to make sense when you understand their struggle, despite appearances, is in fact towards a lightness of being, and forms that at first might seem rasping actually give way to a dense pleasure in sensuous immediacy. They  seem to embody what Maurice Denis once advised Matisse: “You should resign yourself to the fact that everything cannot be intelligible. Give up the idea of rebuilding a new art by means of reason alone. Put your trust in sensibility, in instinct.” (1)

Bending Zones & Shifting Accents (Magician’s Hand II), 2005-6, oil on canvas, 249 x 305cm

Bending Zones & Shifting Accents (Magician’s Hand II), 2005-6, oil on canvas, 249 x 305cm

The most pervasive influence that I sensed throughout the work in the show was Bonnard, in the often rich, dense and highly pitched colours that offer oases of intensity and pleasure within a landscape that has become pure field. More recent works from the noughties are thinner in their texture and the drawing becomes more elastic; the grey triangle to the left of centre in Webzones @ Vyner Street (2005) is one of the most effortless moments in the show. Similarly the paintings on black grounds allow Wragg to make simpler, bolder forms. In Bending Zones and Shifting Accents (Magician’s Hand II) (2005-6) the red swooping oil stick leaps from the surface of the painting like a firework, a crazy comet. Ultimately Wragg’s paintings begin to work on you when you accept the disorientation and confusion and liminal uncertainty of their structures and give yourself over to the sheer exuberance and elation with which the paintings have been made. You have to accept their immediacy and understand that though they are static objects they exist within the moment. Within the neutral perfection and efficiency of the surrounding corporate environment, Wragg’s paintings are ecstatic anomalies. He presents us with something that is a challenge to understanding. The paintings are hard to assimilate and undoubtedly would change within different contexts. To appreciate one completely, you would have to live with it and devote a whole wall to it. Then the painting could just be, like birdsong, or the roar of traffic.

(1) Quoted in T.J.Clark “Madame Matisse’s Hat”, London Review of Books ,Vol.30 no.16,14 August 2008 

The exhibition celebrates the publication of Constant Within The Change: Gary Wragg: Five Decades of Paintings: A Comprehensive Catalogue by John Sansom & Company. Two volumes in slipcase, each volume 240 pages, 280 x 280 mm.  Edited by Sam Cornish, texts by Hilary Spurling, Matthew Collings, Terence Maloon, Sam Cornish and Stefanie Sachsenmaier.

Exhibition open until the 2nd of May by appointment only – contact jane.hindley@cliffordchance.com / 020 7006 5384. Clifford Chance, 10 Upper Bank Street, Canary Wharf

More information at www.garywraggstudio.co.uk



  1. Noela said…

    There are some powerful paintings in this show demonstrating energetic application of paint on a huge scale.Some of the works are difficult to get into but, like Wragg mentions in his interview, you need to give them time. The layout of the venue forces you to look at some of them very closely . I found the very definite combing and spotty mesh texture could sometimes be distracting and a little too prominent for me, and so I preferred the paintings with less of it. The pieces that had immediate appeal were,’Partita’ with jewel like colours peeping through black expressive gestures, ‘Saltinbanque’, perhaps a bit Auerbach like, but, light and fluid with rich warm oranges, and ‘Windows and Wedges’ with mint and burnt sienna and white light pockets and red accents. The composition of Webzones@Vyner St. worked well but I was disappointed in the paint quality which looked rather thin , something which was not obvious on the screen. Wragg’s work has such energy though , and there is so much of it (bought the books vol. 1and2) !! Really good exhibition.

  2. John Pollard said…

    This is a very good and enjoyable exhibition to be highly recommended. The variety is a great strength both in the types of individual works but also in the different shapes, colours, marks, etc that are often contained within each painting. There is a kind of integration or eclecticism which isn’t contrived; of drawing/mark making, complexity of colour, layers. There is painting out, marking over, scraping/drawing through, light washes. Wragg also manages to incorporate ‘dirty’ colours into his work in an interesting way that generally works well and adds to its originality.

    Not surprisingly for a Tai Chi expert Gary combines a variety of delicacy, strength, light and dark, and rhythm often broken. He has a way with layers that is often very subtle which adds interest and curiosity to the viewing experience. As Dan says in his article many of these paintings are “sticky: once your absorbed, its hard to extract yourself”.

    The ‘Snake and Crane 1′ was one of my favourites while ‘Webzones’ the most interesting to ponder on. This may have had an advantage over some of the other larger works hung in the relatively narrow ‘corridors’, as it had a larger viewing space and a comfortable seat which all helped. There was also a smaller painting, which isn’t on his website, that impressed with its subtle, slightly washed out, broken colour, and quite fascinating shape and composition.

    So, variety in all ways, yet individual works with a powerful, self contained strength.

    In comparison it was interesting to see the small exhibition of Alan Davie’s early work at Alan Wheatley afterwards.

  3. Patrick Jones said…

    Can I say that this is Abstract Critical working at its best,providing a platform of discussion about an artists work which would not exist elsewhere.For reasons of cultural disfunction,an artists as good ,complex and difficult as Gary ,would not get the air time.Robin Geenwood is at his best when he is trying to get to grips with something new and his contribution is fascinating to read,as are the other commentators .I hope Gary is encouraged by this interest,altho Im not sure how many artists who wish for a retrospective can really handle this amount of critical over -view afterwards in the studio.Its better to keep the nose-bag on and munch on truffles in your own yard.

  4. ken pammen said…

    Reflect for a moment on the title for this show and you have what appears most apposite for Gary Wraggs singular and most remarkable journey as an artist. If he alone is the “constant” within the changing output of his creativity over several decades then this dynamic creative force is still very much a work in progress. Many of the paintings in the exhibition are big in size and at times one wishes for an extra metre or two extra floor space to be able to step back from them. But the paintings that work best are not necessarily the biggest in scale but those that seem to zing with exuberance of colour and brashness that delights rather than merely delivers an experience of looking. Gary Wragg is a painters painter and the physicality of paint count for much of the surface engagement of what he delivers. The best in my view, albeit from a limited selection in this ample space, are the paintings from this decade for example ‘Abandonment and Doubt’ (2006-9, though tiny by comparison,(100X100cms)is a gem for just sheer colour and exuberance. Its as if Gary had finally decided to let himself enjoy the candy store of colour. When you finally see the catalogue of works of this period you see the same thing over and over again in all of the paintings colour married to exuberance and the physical handling of the paint, not superficial gesture mind you, but a bravado that really counts. If this is the summation of work that Gary has been building to over the decades it requires a follow up show and soon. A space where we can view the work from circa 2000 onwards and enjoy this so amazing constant and singular achievement.

  5. Shelley said…

    Having just looked at the work of Joanne Greenbaum and read an interview with her, I am struck by the simmilarities between her and Gary Wragg. Or should I say, the similarities as interpreted by the reviewer of Gary Wragg’s work.

    • Noela said…

      It is interesting how people see things differently. I had a cursory look at Greenbaum’s website and to me her work seems to have completely different handling to Gary Wragg’s. Her work seems to have a far more mapped out quality perhaps , more deliberate , whereas Wragg seems to have a more immediate attack and energetic application. The colours in Greenbaum’s work seem to look brash in comparison to Wragg’s. It is not really fair to be too critical about images on the web but I think comparisons can still be made.

      • Sam said…

        Yes I agree – I’d like Dan or Shelley to say what the links are, because I can’t really see them (likewise I’ve only seen Greenbaum’s work on the web).

      • Dan said…

        Well I think the links are in the way both Wragg and Greenbaum start from a “void” and attempt to fill an emptiness with something.How do you drtaw in a void ? ( what Malevich called “playing football in outer space” ? Often people educated in art school are educated to an understanding of abstract art as a historical inevitability, but if we step back from that we can see what a strange perverse place the abstract expressionist artist places him or herself in- because you have to create everything out of nothing. Sure , it wasnt any easier for Degas, but his problems weren’t to do with motivation – they were to do with maybe not letting precision flatten out feeling . Whereas the problem for the abstract expressionist is how to conjure something out of thin air .
        I have huge respect for this show and the work of Gary Wragg, particuarly the way he’s continually resisted any formula. Its a really exciting retrospective with all sorts of twists and turns and Id highly recommend a visit to anybody interested in painting.

  6. Robin Greenwood said…

    Changing one’s mind about art is an exciting process. So too is changing one’s mind whilst making art.

    Deviation; digression; divergence; departure; difference. These are some of the words that describe Gary Wragg’s art. Despite now and again resorting (if that’s not too conscious a word) to a rough and ready approximation of a “configuration” of some description, Gary Wragg seems to be able, come success or failure, to keep his pictures lively and animate. He wrestles with and subverts pretty much every format in the book, and then some. He invents “non-formats”, that he repeats with variations. In a career survey such as this he can appear to be restless and indefinite, all over the place. That was certainly my view of Wragg’s work until very recently. After getting used to the complexity of his output, and finding a longer perspective from study of the book, these digressions take on a more positive aspect, becoming accumulations of yet more potential variation of content, the lack of which is a bane of much other abstract painting. When this variety gets brought into focus within the context of a singular work, he starts to look properly ambitious for painting.

    “Webzones@Viner St” is an example of a non-format painting that brings with it a degree of this unexpected variety, and it’s perhaps as good as anything painted by anyone in the last ten years. It’s ambitious and brave and original. The colour is excellent without being bombastic, especially that dark section at the bottom; the space is vast and active; the paint application has virtuosity and diversity. Its architecture takes a while to get at and is unforeseen. When I first saw it at Flowers East in 2008 I didn’t particularly take to it like I do now, but I may have been unduly influenced then by the rest of the show, which contained some pretty poor paintings, some of which are reprised for this outing.

    There is this problem (widely acknowledged) of the works that don’t work, of which there are a lot. And of course, this is in part a subjective process, sorting out what’s good and what’s not. It’s hard, too, because you can’t sort them into those that “punch” up front and those that don’t. Perhaps the nearest Wragg gets to upfront “punch” is in earlier pieces like “The Snake & Crane I“, which has a bit of an early Alan Davie vibe to it. No harm in that, and it’s actually a very good painting; I had thought it initially to be the best work in the show, but I think that was just familiarity or recognition of something I know about, whereas “Webzones@Viner St” is a new proposition altogether, entirely Gary’s own; “Abstract Expressionist” it is not. Major paintings not in the show (from the book or website) that also look like they could be on to something both new and good and “non-formatted” are “Rue Gambetta II” (it’s forerunner, “Rue Gambetta” is another very good but slightly familiar work) and “Tesco’s ATM”. And there are a lot of good earlier works in the book and on the website. There is a lot worth looking at in some of the more dubious works too. Perhaps Gary Wragg’s greatest achievement is the continuation throughout his career of an irrepressibly unformulaic approach to abstract painting.

    On the whole I favour the big later works with their dizzying brushwork which seems to subsume the cubist-type drawing in many of the earlier/middle-period paintings. As other people have mentioned, drawing is a big thing in Gary’s work. Generally, if I become too aware of it, and especially if it looks like a reference to a figurative beginning, I’m put off by it; then again, “Blue, Beige & Green Circuit”, a very recent work (in the show), is comprised almost entirely of drawing of some kind (though not cubist – abstract, perhaps, if there is such a thing as “abstract drawing”), yet I think it is very good indeed. It was probably the overt drawing and the occasional weird lack of clear colour that put me off the scent for so long. That, and the high proportion of paintings that, even now, do very little at all other than flaunt their unfulfilled ambiguity.

    But in the end, the numerous failures don’t seem to matter too much when there is an amount of real success, and such a buoyancy to the whole proceedings; we can argue about what’s in and what’s out (though probably not with Gary), but it’s all part and parcel of his methodical madness. As Dan says, he’s always very much inside of his work, rather than stepping back with a critical eye. It’s a good place for an abstract artist to be (mostly). I’ve changed my mind about Gary Wragg; for what it’s worth, I think he’s a very significant painter, and getting a measure of his work recently has gone a considerable way toward re-igniting my flagging belief in the prospects for abstract painting. And though Wragg has not been short of supporters over the years, I think Sam Cornish deserves credit for being adamant in starting a new and positive critical assessment.

    One last point, about Dan’s essay. He suggests that Wragg expects us to see the marks and gestures as “literally” what they are (rather than, say, figuratively or metaphorically or allusively?). It’s a pedantic point perhaps, but my use of the word literal is the opposite of Dan’s, and I would think that wanting his paintings to be read “literally” is the last thing Gary would wish for. Surely he is after synthesis, whereby the elements of the painting combine from their literal separateness to produce something “abstract” or “visual” or “form”. Or all three; transcendent “abstract visual form”. It’s when that sense of wholeness fails that the paint returns to the merely literal.

    Wragg, though, might just have enlarged a little our notion of what constitutes wholeness.

  7. Iain Robertson said…

    I havent had a chance to catch up with all the coments,but am looking forward to doing so,I would echo Patrick’s thoughts on Gary’s ACME show in the 70′s I stumbled upon it attracted by a black and white image in an art mag and found it stunning, it was exactly what I needed to see at the time totally inspiring to see a British painter working with such ambition, vigour and scale. Some of the examples shown here illustrate the sheer invention and searching for new ways to deal with the space, from the depth and mystery of The Snake and Crane to the floating motif in Abandonment and Doubt. It is a joy for me to see such truly important work especially as we hear of the passing of one of our great painters Alan Davie

  8. Terry Ryall said…

    Noela, the question that I keep returning to,in relation to at least some of Gary Wragg’s paintings that are reproduced here,is what the function is of what could be referred to as the ‘overt’ drawing (obvious lines, marks etc.) in contrast to the drawing that occurs when areas of paint of differing colour, tone, texture, size etc. meet each other. Of course this last point might not be universally accepted as being a genuine matter of drawing but it seems to square with Cezanne’s ‘as one paints, one draws’ and If I may refer again to what Alan Gouk has said “when my larger area-shapes reach their perimeters,and butt up against one another, there, drawing of a sort is created” (from the article ‘Drawing in Abstract Painting). I’m not entirely sure that it would be correct to look at Wragg’s paintings with that last statement of Alan Gouk’s in mind but it is tempting to do so in the context of Wragg’s use of what I referred to earlier as ‘overt’ drawing. I look at,for example, ‘Bending Zones…’ and find myself trying to erase the lines and to imagine the work without them, how those different areas might function together with less of the structure that the drawing imposes.

    • Noela said…

      The lines used in Bending Zones and Shifting Accents, and Webzones , suggest rhythm movement and containment of colour areas. Abandonment and Doubt (seemingly without lines) has a more floating quality which is again expressed by the title. I am hoping to see the exhibition to gain more insight but looking at the screen,the drawn lines create a more complex way to experience the colour areas , which I assume Wragg wanted. The massive charcoal drawing, Pirate, seems to work really well , with strong and energetic marks, and seems very powerful, more so than the drawn elements in the paintings perhaps.

      • Terry Ryall said…

        The lines in the paintings that you refer to are very different in both character and function from for example the use of the drawing in The Snake and Crane 1. In ‘Webzones…’ there is such a strong sense of flat design with the partitioned areas filled with colour that it is almost like looking at the way a stained glass artist might work. I find ‘Bending Zones…’ more satisfying because there is less of that sense of structure or design. Maybe that perception of them would be very different on actual viewing though.
        In ‘The Snake and Crane 1′ the drawing is doing something rather different, seeming to lead the viewer rhythmically through the work from the lowest area right through to the top. For me it has a real sense of place, though not a sense of a real place in the particular way that Dan suggests (although I mean no disrespect to that view). I’m struggling to articulate what kind of (if not real) place that ‘The Snake…’ suggests and in the spirit of wanting to let it ‘just be’ analogy or metaphor doesn’t seem appropriate. In many respects it rather reminds me of the ‘Hell’ panel in Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights which also has this sense of ‘place’ and a similar dark unfathomability.

      • Noela said…

        Yes there is a lot going on in the Snake and Crane,and the lines do also have a very rhythmic quality to them. As well as it being a dark painting it seems to have quite an oppressive quality, whereas Partita seems to have a lighter, maybe even more playful feel.There seems to be a visual buzzing going on where the drawn elements look like a bit combing, very difficult to comment really ,like you say, they need proper scrutiny. Wragg is good at creating variety.

  9. John Bunker said…

    It’s great to have Mark Stone’s thought provoking essay right next to Dan Coombs’ excellent take on the Gary Wragg show. The idea of or the nature of subjectivity remains an under developed area of discussion when talking about art as political or social critique. Gary Wragg’s work presses a few of these buttons as Dan Coombs has pointed out in his thoughtful review. I feel that my generation grew up with the idea that ‘gesture’ was hopelessly gendered or mired in over-heated masculinity. One only used gestures if they were in the visual equivalents of quotation marks. I think this has lead to a very constipated, choked up art that chases it’s own tail and expects an audience to enjoy the pretty meagre spectacle.

    Thats why Wragg’s work feels so refreshing to me. He uses physicality, erasure and veiling- all sorts of handling and attack. He risks impenetrability where the viewer is concerned- a highly personal language that could so easily turn in on itself. But at its best it is a polyphony not cacophony. I’m not sure if I’m right in saying drawing is central to his work but this aspect seems to separate him from the more predictable and pedestrian architectonics of many ‘coluor painters’.

    ‘Windows and Wedges’ (?) is my fav at the moment but that might be because I’m comfortable with its tighter structure. Can’t wait to get back there for more visual vertigo!

    The books look great too but I’ll have to wait for them to get in the library!

    • Terry Ryall said…

      I haven’t seen this show so I’m concerned that making comments on the basis of viewing compressed images of such large works is risky. However, JB, the question that you raise of the place of drawing, the type and importance of it in relation to at least some of these works (and indeed to abstract painting in general)is what instinctively struck me on first viewing. I of course appreciate that the compressed image will not convey the same visual/physical impact as would be felt by standing in front of such large works but there is sufficient information to be able to perhaps look more closely at matters of drawing and how well (or not) the paintings are served by it. From my admittedly limited experience of trying to make abstract paintings(by which I mean broadly starting with nothing except raw material and a ground) the question of drawing seems all important. The problem is that I’m not quite sure what is meant in practice by drawing in relation to abstract painting, or perhaps more accurately how to describe it, or yet more accurately still, how to ‘do’ it-I guess that sense of attempting to discover visual answers is the rewarding dimension to abstract painting. Also if one has a fluid, varied attitude to making abstract painting ie a willingness to change and not stay in one place overly long, the role of drawing will be likely to change too, presenting new problems with the different directions taken. Perhaps the ability to re-invent the role and purpose of drawing within abstract painting could be one definable (or at least describable)and objective measure of the value of any given artist.
      In the article ‘Drawing In Abstract Painting’ Alan Gouk quotes Cezanne: “as one paints ,one draws” and David Sweet says of the same painter that he “fused the actions of painting and drawing”. This fusion of painting and drawing characterises the task that lies at the heart of the kind of abstract painting that I like to look at and would like to make. In relation to drawing and Gary Wragg’s paintings (those reproduced here) which is I think JB where this rambling began, I’ll try and add something at another time. For sure it won’t be as eloquent or elegant as Dan Coomb’s insightful essay and thoughts on Wragg’s paintings so thanks for that Dan.

      • Noela said…

        I feel drawing can definitely add an exciting element to a painting if it is needed. Drawing integrated into a painting has a very different role from a drawing in its own right. The drawing seems to be very much part of the work in Gary Wragg’s paintings. When is a drawing a drawing in a painting as opposed to a gesture, I suppose it is the thickness of the line as it cuts through.

      • Noela said…

        I do of course get the ‘ as one paints, one draws’ , that produces a different effect again.

  10. Levent Tuncer said…

    I’ve always been excited by Gray Wragg’s work, yes in late seventies when I was at Hornsey and also had a studio in the same building wit him. He is the true talent and a great painter. I point out him to artists here in NYC. when ever possible…he is a guy who makes me proud to be a painter, and I love his work.

  11. Robin Greenwood said…

    I find myself being asked some very serious questions by the work of Gary Wragg at the moment – by the show and by the book (both of which I recommend), by the work on his website, and indeed by Dan’s rather good review which at moments catches well at the difficulties and contradictions of the work (though I could have done without the florid contextualising). It’s not that I haven’t seen Gary’s paintings before; indeed, I’ve seen shows at Flowers and Wheatley’s, etc., and been to his studio a couple of times and even shown a few paintings at Poussin in the past. I’ve been, if I’m honest, at times a little underwhelmed by what I’d seen. But there is no way that I had a measure of Gary’s achievement overall, until the publication of the complete catalogue on his website. I look forward to seeing the show again soon, though that is a very modest part of his whole output. I have an appetite to see even more. I feel a little like I’m being turned over in my opinions; and I feel like I’m being offered something very new and perhaps very big. Whether that sets into something substantial, I shall have to wait and see, but that process – of evaluating and discovery – is always exciting.

    I hope we can get a big range of opinions on Gary’s work, because there appears to me to be important issues surrounding the relationship between quality, originality and variety which need teasing out. “Originality” is the one that keeps pressing on me – he is unlike any other painter I know of, and doesn’t share their concerns or methodology, and certainly doesn’t share their focus over long periods of work, or their more-or-less self-critical stance. “Quality” is the one that presses back on the work – I suspect Gary is guilty of not knowing his best work, but is that such a sin? There is no compunction for any artist to be a critic, even of his own work. He certainly has found for himself the freedom and scope to both fail and succeed, perhaps big-time, and in an age of “niche” painters, that has to be applauded. He certainly has the “variety”…

    • Sam said…

      Which would you say (in the show or in the book) are his best works?

    • anthony seymour said…

      Yes this is so interesting because if Gary Wragg was an art student these days he would be dismissed as a very silly fool whose work is all over the place!

      His show in that little gallery next to White Cube a few years ago was such an excellent and most strangely subversive riposte or extremely embarrassing as contrast to what goes on in art schools which are more like cages down the vets where probably nobody has heard of Joan Mitchell or is allowed to look at Baselitz or whatever…..

      It often seems a mystery that London or England has managed to hang on to Wragg – It certainly does not deserve him at all!

  12. Patrick Jones said…

    I always respected Gary Wraggs work since his signature show at ACME in Covent Garden in the late 70s,which was the most exciting thing in town.I will journey from Devon to see this show ,not just because he is a British painter of note,but because he has been working for 5 decades and that experience is so important to painters.He has kept going through thick and thin ,which takes true grit,and I am keen to follow his journey.Personally I am always moved to resolve my conflicting energies in my painting and dont buy provisonal painting.Its either finished ,resolved and complete or a failure.