Abstract Critical

Questions for Lawrence Carroll and Onya McCausland: Enantiodromia Part II

Enantiodromia Installation image, courtesy of Fold Gallery

Enantiodromia Installation image, courtesy of Fold Gallery. L-R: Angela de la Cruz; Onya McCausland; Angela de la Cruz (on wall); Lawrence Carroll; Simon Callery

abstract critical asked a series of seven questions to the four artists currently showing in the Fold Gallery exhibition Enantiodromia. Below are the responses by Lawrence Carroll and Onya McCausland; you can read what Angela de la Cruz and Simon Callery had to say here. Enantiodromia is on until the 10th of May.

Enantiodromia Installation image, courtesy of Fold Gallery

Enantiodromia Installation image, courtesy of Fold Gallery. L-R Simon Callery; Onya McCausland (on wall); Angela de la Cruz; Lawrence Carroll (foreground); Angela De La Cruz (background, on wall); Simon Callery

Lawrence Carroll

Do you see your work as continuing or rejecting the tradition of painting? 

I am a painter and I have always thought of myself as a painter, that is what I simply do. I am always thinking what I can add to the thread of painting, what I can give it and leave there, this is what has always been important to me.

We leave something if we are lucky for the next generation to take and unfold into their own work. This is the thread that I am interested in continuing.

What does the word ‘image’ mean to you?

Nothing. I don’t think nor do I work in those ways of placing my work in the brackets of categories. I try to get away as far as I can from what I call the “noise” around making a painting. To be as independent and as free as possible from what I see as the restrictive nature of language surrounding painting and aimed at painting. I look at the vast landscape of painting and the world around me, and that is where I am inspired and moved to make what I do.

The works in the exhibition tend to the monochromatic – what do you think lies behind this avoidance of complex colour?

In 1984 I started to use this color I have using since that time when I moved to NYC from LA. My idea was to find a color as close to the color of canvas that I could find.

It allowed me to always paint away what was there, erase my path and start over. I always viewed this as an extremely optimistic belief that I could “always begin again”, that painting was never stalled and always had a potential to move forward.

For me there was never a plan to avoid a more complex color using your terms. As I see the colors I use to be deeply complex.

Are you an abstract artist?

I work between worlds, not only the abstract.

Who are your antecedents?

There are many, as for most artists. And they surround you and keep you company at different times during your life. Some are always around you, some visit awhile and then they are gone. I see them as stepping stones that in a way give you permission and support and shoulders to stand on, until you can do that alone and find all you need.  I think this is always the case for me, as I am always coming across artists and maybe I had seen them before but I was not ready or was unable to see what I needed from them. The door is always open. How could it not be?

I absorb things around me, and store them away and I never know when they will come out. This is the complex beauty of painting for me. I never know when these things I have absorbed will come out and I how I will use them in some way. What I do know is that I need to be in the studio, I need to be fully engaged in the studio. It is not something that simply comes to me, it is something I have to create, a place and room for them to arrive.

I work in cycles, in groups of paintings, this is always something I have done. For me it is a process and this process takes time and this time I give to the work draws me deeper and deeper in and it is in this place that something happens. It does not happen the same way all the time, this I am thankful for, as frustrating as it is. I simply trust my nature and in knowing what I need to find something. I am always seeing more in others’ work and that opens doors to ideas the feelings that I want in my own work in my own way. What a blessing to have the company of others around, and to visit when you need.

If you accept the idea that your work is three-dimensional or extended painting what distinguishes it from sculpture? 

I always approach what I make from the mindset of a painter. My work is not always three dimensional, although part of the vocabulary of my work is. As I mentioned before I need to be free to move my paintings where they need to move, whether on the wall the floor or in a corner, folded up etc. This has been true since arriving in NYC in the early 80s. Also, looking at the object quality of John’s, for example his stacked Flag paintings, I was conscious of how Mondrian would bend his line around the edge of some of his paintings and this opened up for me the idea that I could extend the painting. That painting had more than the facade. That the painting could not be seen in one glance.

In contrast to what Frank Stella said “what you see is what you see” I felt that what you saw was not what you got. And in my early “box” and “page” paintings this was indeed the case. What you saw was not what you got. It was impossible to take in the whole painting at one time. And often the alternate view would change the initial view of “what you got”. This for me was also a way of slowing down the viewer. In the early box paintings there where 5 views and then later when I would cut into my paintings as a way of bringing drawing into my paintings there would be also the view of inside, which added not only another view of the painting but also another psychology.

Why do you make physical objects when the whole breadth of the ever expanding field is open to you?

I love painting  in all it complexities and challenges  and made a decision many years ago this is how I would spend my life, making paintings. I enjoy looking at art in all forms and genres, but in painting I find something deeply personal and human that I have not found in anything else that feeds and moves me and motivates me and fuels me to make paintings.

The more I paint the more I realize how it allows me to understand my world and to give meaning to it. What I also believe deeply that when a painting is successful it has taken something from me, and that something now lives in the painting. However one would describe what that is.

Enantiodromia Installation image, courtesy of Fold Gallery

Enantiodromia Installation image, courtesy of Fold Gallery. L-R: Onya McCausland; Lawrence Carroll; Angela de la Cruz; Onya McCausland

Onya McCausland

Do you see your work as continuing or rejecting the tradition of painting?

I have always defined myself as a painter, so part of the western ‘tradition’ but also a little wary of this language and these terms, because they can be used as shorthand to achieve a consensus about what makes something a painting or not, or someone a painter or not, it sets up false parameters. It is important that if an artist who makes films describes their work as painting then it is painting – I’m thinking of Sophie Michael’s work for example. Because the histories of painting – going back to marks on cave walls if you want – are so incredibly rich, expansive and diverse, contemporary painting doesn’t need to be limited to ‘conventional’ approaches to the medium, processes, methods or forms because there is too much packed into this history for it to tolerate confinement. My paintings are just fragments, they are just as connected with the landscape they originate in as they are to the wall of the gallery space, they are fragments that belong with other fragments; of journeys in my car to places, collecting materials, the lengthy processes of turning the materials into usable pigment, and then paint, writing and films recording these processes. The paintings are a mark along this trajectory. In this way the monochrome painting is simultaneously a fragment of landscape.

What does the word ‘image’ mean to you?

Images define and transform our relationship to the world, they are our codes, signals, signifiers, reflections, mirrors, guides, and they fill our world and make it meaningful. Images are inseparable from the physical properties of their material ‘carrier’. But images have become separated from the material site of their production, from the world of things. Digital material is just a particular new carrier of image, a new technology that can (and does) homogenize image, a new technology that has the capacity to manipulate, distort, control and co-modify images. We all own and carry our own portable image-viewers and image-makers that we project onto, informing and filtering constantly into the psychic world, flooding – like a saturation of disembodied abbreviated information. In this un-physical world – the virtual world – images are like ghosts, there and not ‘there’. Images are also our psychic guides in the dream-world, where complex layers of imagery are absorbed into the unconscious from every waking moment of looking and seeing and feeling and thinking. I wonder what the screen-world does to the dream-world.

The works in the exhibition tend to the monochromatic – what do you think lies behind this avoidance of complex colour?

For me colour is inseparable from its materiality, and this is very complicated – hue and saturation, reaction with light, how it responds to a particular site, among other things and how it responds to other colours in the surrounding world – a single colour is loaded with associations, changing affects, multiple histories, these to me are already very interesting. The addition of a second colour (in a painting) becomes a relationship between two colours. The relationship somehow supersedes/overrides their individual qualities – two colours together are more than the sum of their parts, combined they are something intangible and illusive, and amazing sometimes – I’ve just seen the Matisse exhibition, and Albers immediately comes to mind. But it is too complex for me; to explore a colour as a material in it all of its physical, sensory complexities alone is enough for now.

Are you an abstract artist?

I am uncomfortable with distinctions like abstract / figurative. I am working with the material world, moving stuff around in different ways. I think any attempt to explore, question, understand our relations with the world is fragmentary and abstract by its nature. The first marks on walls might be described as ‘abstract’, yet there was not necessarily any separation in meaning between these abstract geometric marks and the marks that describe say an antelope or a banana which are also abstractions really. All art is an abstraction, a fragment.

Who are your antecedents?

I’ve just seen the Matisse exhibition. It’s Matisse at the moment.

If you accept the idea that your work is three-dimensional or extended painting what distinguishes it from sculpture?

Hopefully you won’t back into it while observing it. Seriously though, nothing really. Just the term. And although this question doesn’t apply to me as much as the others, my approach to painting is close to sculpture in many ways; relations to three dimensional space and, to use one of sculpture’s original definitions, the physical processes of ‘carving and modeling’ and a particular relationship with the matter itself. But since my work has manifested through the material of colour which has a particular relationship to the history of painting, I define my work as painting.

Why do you make physical objects when the whole breadth of the ever expanding field is open to you?

Everything is physical. Even Metaphysics is physicalwhose origins are derived from the naming of the physical volumes of Aristotle’s writings that came after or beyond his works onPhysics. (“Metaphysics” derives from the Greek words μετά (metá, “beyond”, “upon” or “after”) and φυσικά (physiká, “physics”) Wikipedia.

  1. Luke Elwes said…

    Having seen the show (which ends Saturday) it is Onya Mccausland’s pieces that really stand out – especially her large site specific piece ‘Separation’ where a large ply panel coated in warm dark ochre hovers on the white wall while its cool aluminium double lies on the floor beneath. If Matisse’s cut out’s clearly come to mind so do the panels of Ellsworth Kelly. But what make’s the work doubly interesting is it’s material origins, its physical connection to the earth: the patient process by which she tracks down & recovers minerals from the ground beneath us (in this case from Todmorden moor in Lancashire), and the alchemy through which the malleable earth becomes pigment. This is painting as excavation, a meditation on how the buried past might be released back into the present.

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      Hi Luke,
      Can you explain to me how “painting as excavation” would be a desirable, or even achievable, thing. What does it mean?

      Also, I’m not up to speed with the backstory – presumably you had to read something to make the work “doubly interesting”?

      • Luke Elwes said…

        Hi Robin,
        What I mean is that she excavates ground in various parts of the country which may for example be rich with iron ore or chalk deposits, motivated by a desire I imagine (without wishing to speak for her) to retrieve a historical process, to work directly with the substance and (unmodulated) colour of raw pigment as well as the history of the place from which it comes (thus the work’s site specific labelling).
        What is achieved is harder to say without encountering their physical presence in her minimal arrangements, which appear both tactile & provisional.
        I agree that it helps to have some backstory to the work though, and that seeing her work over time (most recently at the Piper Gallery before it closed last year) helps give it cumulative resonance.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Mmm, well, thanks, but I have to say I think it’s stretching a point, when in fact it amounts to no more, as far as I can see, than making your own paint. It just gets vaguer – I don’t see that this retrieves a historical process, at least not for scrutiny. I certainly couldn’t access any of that by looking at the work.

  2. Sam said…

    Hi Katrina. Thank you for the enthusiasm. Can you say what these more interesting lines of enquiry might be?

    • Sam said…

      That wasn’t intended to be sarky, I would genuinely like to know!

      • Katrina said…

        Well I am trying to get my head around some ideas about materiality and construction – here is the back cover description of the book I am reading and you’ll see at the Zero Books website some more from the comments:
        Color, Facture, Art and Design:
        Artistic Technique and the Precisions of Human Perception by Iona Singh

        ‘With its appeal to the most subterranean aspects of perception art was always destined to be one of the last bastions of the transcendental in the 21st century.

        Color, Facture, Art and Design investigates the “beauty” of art based on the somatic “magic” of the physical body and its relationship to nature, arguing that the sensual affect of expert artistic combinations of art materials: pigments and resins, in some paintings exploits a bridge between the intricacies of human sentience and the external world.

        Art is thus more accurately located next to the sciences of language, mathematics, physiology and psychoanalysis. As the “pure mathematics” of the discipline, this materialist definition of fine-art develops guidelines for architecture, design, cultural-studies and ultimately social change.’

        I am also looking forward to reading about the ‘picture-object’ (tableau-objet/Kahnweiler/Gris) that Brandon Taylor talks about in his new book After Constructivism, ideas about fabrication, ‘madness’ and the Russian word ‘faktura’. In my own work I have been thinking about architecture folding in on itself in a kind of ‘origamiesque’ sort of way…..

  3. Katrina said…

    Great stuff! It probably doesn’t matter but maybe a painting is a work of art that has got ‘paint’ (liquid colour or pigment) somewhere in the process… I agree with Onya when she talks about colour and the restraint needed in order to explore its materiality and relationship to the viewer/environment – basically perception. Most monochromatic or so called minimalist works/paintings have got a complex set of considerations, contexts and aims and it just takes a bit of time to look carefully, explore and think. This was a very good show that asked a lot of questions about materiality but also construction. I am glad that the questions about the word ‘abstract’ and ‘image’ were sidestepped more or less in these interviews. There are more interesting lines of enquiry here.