Comments on: Review of abstract critical 2012 Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 By: AYEJAY Wed, 01 May 2013 21:54:42 +0000 Mr Gouk,
I couldn’t agree more with you on the genius of Patrick Heron, his writing, insight and of course his artwork. I also greatly admire his term for the works of another artistic hero of mine – Pru Clough, her works were ‘…machines fo seeing…’ I see potential Cloughs every single day!!!! Thank you!

By: Alan Gouk Sun, 17 Feb 2013 17:28:01 +0000 I apologise to Maggi Hambling. Her Erosion is not vapid or vapourous. She is a better painter than Twombly. ________

By: Peter Stott Mon, 11 Feb 2013 19:14:36 +0000 No such thing as formless scribble, it’s total form scribble, utterly exact representation, that’s why it works.

By: Alan Gouk Wed, 23 Jan 2013 17:32:08 +0000 Comment on Review 2012 from Alan Gouk.

The qualities that attracted me to Heron’s paintings had nothing to do with orthogonal design. Those that I felt I needed to assimilate from him, to get beyond heavily impastoed surfaces, in preparation for large-scale pictures were : –

1. “Utter directness” – trusting one’s first impulses, and letting them speak, without overlaying them with consciously and laboriously worked up formal ambitions which bury the eloquence of brush moving on canvas – which I have been calling since the late 1960′s one’s “involuntary response to surface”.

2. “Brushwork is spatial” – the realisation that the same hue laid on with different touch (or by different people) will alter the spatial effect of an area. And incidentally so does palette-knifing – a smooth buttery surface in which colours grade into one and other has a markedly different spatial result from one composed of firm strokes.

3. From my Patrick Heron II., Artscribe number 35, 1982 – “The question that Heron is posing and answering in the paintings of these years (the late 1950′s) is this. Can painting create a palpable sense of depth without the sense at the same time that that depth is filled by or mediated by the sensation of the solidity of real objects? The answer would seem to be an emphatic Yes! – And a less equivocal Yes than one meets in Hofmann”

The intellectual or conceptual grasp of such an insight says nothing about one’s ability to realise it in one’s own painting. That takes a lifetime of trying, otherwise everyone would be a great painter just by taking thought.

Heron, Stokes and Hofmann all agree on one thing: –

Heron – “I believe absolutely in the formal equality of all sections of the painted surface – no section of the picture surface should be less of a shape than any other….”

Stokes – “A total identity, something laid out and instantaneous…..something that is calm, clear and demarcated”…… – “Of equal intensity” (to every part of the picture surface) – “something ‘out there’ resistant to the eye” Stokes, 1937.

Hofmann – ” When the two-dimensionality of a picture is destroyed, it falls into parts – it creates the effect of naturalistic space. When a picture conveys only naturalistic space, it represents a special case, a portion of what is felt about three-dimensional experience. The layman has extreme difficulty in understanding that plastic creation on a flat surface is possible without destroying the flat surface. But it is just this conceptual completeness of a plastic experience that warrants the preservation of the two-dimensionality.”

I know Robin will answer that there is nothing partial or incompletely realised about the best Constables – but Hofmann is talking in the context of the abstract picture and its own “special case” requirements. You cannot have both.

Matisse appears to have both, which is why he exerts such a magnetic pull for all tuned in painters still, but in Matisse’s most “abstract” pictures there are sly perspectival hints, and sometimes emphatically delineated ones, in for example Interior with Goldfish and Sculpture, 1914 (Barnes Foundation) Interior with Violin and Case, 1918-1919. As with all pronouncements in art, everything is relative and comparative and requires endless qualification.

I referr you to my article Letter from New York, on this site since April 2011, and To the Young Painter of Today in my book, published by Poussin Gallery in 2009.

Alan Gouk
19th of January 2013

By: Alan Gouk Sun, 13 Jan 2013 21:24:44 +0000 See my upcoming comment No 99 on your article What is Abstract etc.

By: Robin Greenwood Sun, 13 Jan 2013 19:04:10 +0000 Well, Mr. Gouk, you appear to have read at least half of the authors David Ryan refers to, and good luck to you, because it’s more than I have.

I have read some Heron though, and your comments about ‘Pierre Bonnard and Abstraction’ had me rooting out my copy of Heron’s ‘Selected writings’. Heron does indeed make a good case for Bonnard’s direct contribution to abstraction; in particular, to the sort of abstraction that Heron himself produced – now there’s a coincidence.

The trouble is, it directly promotes all of the worst symptoms of flatness in Bonnard’s work and the abstract painting which it influences. The concept of a fish-net dragged over the surface of a painting as a means of structuring the activity is one I find, to be perfectly honest, abhorrent. Imagine doing that to a Matisse! But in Bonnard, I can unfortunately see it; I can see all those little pockets of colour lined up in a shaky orthogonal grid; I can see all those separate and flattening shapes, pressurised into conforming to a picture plane of sorts; and I can see directly how Heron’s work in the late fifties takes very directly from those roughly squared-off circular shapes derived from plates and jugs and bowls on an upturned-toward-the-viewer tabletop. Heron is right to point it out, but wrong to think it is worthy of praise; It’s why I don’t really much care for Bonnard – he’s just too flat. He may be something of a colourist, though I need convincing of that too, but it seems to me he differs totally from the great Matisse, who harnesses colour to the service of the robust spatial architecture of his paintings (even, and perhaps especially, when he appears to be ‘decorative’). Bonnard, by contrast, seems to spend much of his time filling in shapes that are adjacent, without bothering too much, if at all, about what they do spatially.

Nevertheless, I can agree Heron is a genius (at writing); move on through his collected essays to ‘Late Matisse’ and he makes a brilliant case for Matisse’s ‘interior Rouge; Nature Morte sur un Table Bleue’ and it’s complete lack of flatness; he enumerates its implied distances by the foot; he demonstrates its extraordinary ability to communicate a darkened interior with blazing colour; and he unpicks the means to the magical separation of outer and inner space by the window-frame. All and any of which, for me, leaves Bonnard trailing in the dust…

Even better (and it takes some bettering) is Heron on ‘Constable: Spatial Colour in the Drawings’. It’s one of the most brilliant bits of art writing I’ve ever read. OK, so Constable is my favourite artist, but I would never have given too much time to his drawings without Heron sticking my nose directly into them and pointing out exactly what they are doing and how they are doing it so well. And it is in this essay that Heron cracks his own conundrum, about the reconciliation of depth with flatness in painting, which he has so eloquently set up in the Matisse essay:

‘Penetrating across the river, and over and across and through the meadows opposite, Constable’s eye proved over and over again to be the most accurate eye in the history of painting for recording recession. Yet always the deep distances and horizons are perfectly accommodated to the picture surface. Never in Constable was profound spatial accuracy disruptive of the most delectably organised surface-design.’

I could quote paragraph after brilliant paragraph from this profound essay, but let that suffice.