Abstract Critical

abstract critical: Editor’s Pick

Written by Sam Cornish

abstract critical will no longer be posting articles, and in about a fortnight will cease to be active. The 400 hundred ‘Notes’ and ‘Articles’ in the archive will continue to be accessible, and @AbstractCrit will continue to tweet news, reviews and opinion. I have been editor since June 2012, and I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the site since then, both above and below the line. I would also like to thank Penny Harris, Robin Greenwood and John Pluthero.

The twenty articles below were difficult to chose. I have tried to reflect the diversity of the site as well as the mainstream which runs through this diversity. Inevitably it also reflects my personal taste, and I’m sure there will be disagreements. If I were to make the selection again next week I would likely arrive at a very different list. There are in no particular order.


Alan Davie: The Phenomenon of Expanding Form

Alan Gouk, 18 July 2014

“An anonymous obituarist in the Times said that Alan Davie in the 1950’s had brought to full realisation the implications of Jackson Pollock’s painting of the 1940’s, fulfilling, or filling out his vision and in the process surpassing it. This is true. Davie’s primary imprinting is indeed on the 1942-43 Pollocks, Guardians of the Secret, 1943, The She-Wolf, 1943, Pasiphaë, 1943, and especially Male and Female, 1942-43.”


The Rise and Rise of the Modernist Artist

Mark Stone, 2 April 2014

“Art is now produced, manufactured, valued, traded and admired from an entirely different set of criteria. The old fashioned idea that art should be appraised and vetted through its aesthetic influences, theoretical challenges and art historical importance no longer matters one wit. Instead our long held tenets, those valued by the Modern movement, espousing innovation, aesthetic challenge and radical style change have become passé. Contemporary Art has become more like a financial product, and it’s appraised through market values and economic realities in the same way that a commodity or security is valued. In other words the very concept of Art itself has become redundant.”

Frank Stella

Robert Linsley, 29 November 2012

“I’ve enjoyed Frank Stella’s art since my own beginning as an artist, and the crucial thing has been the enjoyment. The intellectual or theoretical side was always evident—the literalness or factuality, the deliberate voiding of the subjective—and I never needed to take a course or read a tract to feel its necessity or reason, but overriding for me was the pleasure that accompanied the fact that I could also feel the artist behind the decisions.”


Inventing Abstraction

Ben Wiedel-Kaufmann, 14 February 2013

“Dickerman reveals the underlying motives of a context stripped focus on abstraction as an ill-defined Idea. In merging abstraction with the wider pull away from ‘historical conceptions of art’ of which it was a part, she attempts to brand abstraction as the progenitor of the conceptual movement. To do so overlooks the fact that Duchamp’s ‘anti-retinal’ work is, at best, only tangentially aligned with the wider logic of abstraction.”


Brancaster Chronicle No. 10: Anne Smart Paintings

Those present: Anthony Smart, Anne Smart, Emyr Williams, Robin Greenwood, Sarah Greenwood, Alexandra Harley, Patrick Jones, Desmond Brett, Helga Joergens-Lendrum, David Lendrum, Sam Cornish, Mark Skilton, Hilde Skilton, John Pollard. Published 28 August 2014

“I like the way parts of it seem to actually lift off. I keep looking at the profile of it and am amazed at how flat it actually is, because from various distances parts of it seem to almost bulge out, so you get this funny rippling feeling and these warm yellows seem to almost come off the canvas. And those two do it as well, Folie Ba Ba and Logie La La. They both have this feeling that parts of the painting coalesce together and actually bulge away and lift off the canvas. It’s like particular areas seem to separate themselves. I don’t know how they do it, but as a strange illusion it just seems to be particularly prevalent in these paintings.”


Not Painting, Not Sculpture, Not Abstract?

Robin Greenwood, 6 March 2011

“The semantics of contemporary art criticism allow for so many meanings of “abstract” that one can just about choose for oneself how it is defined. Everything from a shark in a tank to a smudged landscape, from a perfect cube to a pile of oranges, from a walk across the Andes to the lights going off and on; all have been described as abstract art. I guess what is meant here (mostly) is that it is not a depiction or a representation in paint etc. of some recognisable other thing; in which case anything and everything can be abstract art because anything and everything can be art.”


Vanessa Jackson: Rough Cut and Faceted

James Finch, 17 September 2014

“Visiting this exhibition, I often thought of Matisse. Vanessa Jackson encourages the comparison by titling one work Homage a Henri, while ‘Rough cut’ evokes the jagged edges of Matisse’s papiers découpés. Amongst Jackson’s previous work, too, the wall painting Throwing Shapes (CPG Café Gallery, 2010) not only developed from a paper-cut maquette, but with its interlocking forms, like links in a chain, put me in mind of Matisse’s La Danse. But even before I became aware of this, I was convinced that the relationship between painting and collage was central to the pictures at Marcelle Joseph. The two media are contradictory—painting involves building up layers in an additive process (however much removal might be involved in between), whereas collage, before anything else, requires its components to be isolated, cut, removed from their context. “


Both Sides of Many Coins: an email exchange with EC

EC, Sam Cornish, 2 September 2014

“In the notes you sent me you write about the need you have for (unresolved) conflict in your work, for working with ‘both sides of many coins’. In a very simplistic way three different techniques active in your recent work – that seem to partly merge with each other, whilst retaining a separate identity – are a loose gestural painting, automatic writing and collage. Do you see any of these as having a precedent other the others?”


Provisional Painting, Three Hypotheses

Alan Pocaro, 18 February 2014

“If you’re interested in contemporary painting you’ve probably noticed that a massive realignment in the art-world is underway. As if waking from a culturally induced coma, abstract painting is back and ready to make up for lost time. Leading the critical charge are what’s been christened “provisional” or “casual” paintings; flagship abstract styles that seem to embrace aesthetic poverty as a positive factor. Wildly diverse in scale, scope, media and quality, these paintings share few formal or technical traits and are bound together mainly by their inexplicable appeal to artists and writers alike. However, if you find the hype disproportionate to the reality of this revival of abstraction, you’re not alone. Here then, are three hypotheses that explain its current popularity.”


Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings, Tate Liverpool

Gary Wragg, 9 November 2012

“A painting determines how you move in relation to it in order to see it, how you adjust to it, sometimes apparently in a random way or with a more conscious series of mental or physical adjustments. Time is needed to fine-tune, to just look, essential to make a genuine contact. In turn your temperament, mind and emotions determine how you relate to the paintings, which of your nuances respond to those in the paintings, as you look at the points of ignition within the exhibition. When they are good, as are many examples in this fabulous exhibition, you can be riveted to the spot, transformed to a state of stillness, manifesting movement within stillness, in which a sense of a man and his times, both vast and miniscule, materialises. The link between stillness and movement is the essence of the life and opens up when immersed in the simplicity and complexity of looking.”


Pretty Ugly: On Not Hating Jonathan Lasker

Written by Lee Triming, 12 December 2011

“In the early 90s, Jonathan Lasker could have conveniently served as an emblem for everything I hated about a certain type of painting.  My undergrad self, deeply beholden to Cy Twombly, held the work to be an ugly, dry, language-based exercise wherein painting played joylessly with the most shallow and hollowed out version of itself until it went blind.  Lasker’s vocabulary of deliberate faux scribbles seemed almost to parody Twombly (not an idea I was that open to at 21), while his ungainly colour choices and repeated shuffling of a restricted set of motifs seemed arid and off-puttingly self-conscious.  Yet within my disdain, I remained morbidly fascinated by Lasker’s images.”

What Paint Does

Robin Greenwood, 16 January 2012

“If… perish the thought… I were to offer advice to an abstract painter starting out today, I would suggest they copy the artist they most admired until they got somewhere near to competing with them, and then move on to someone better; and so on, until there was no-one left and they themselves were the best of all (I’m an idealist). Comparisons might be odious, but there is no better lesson than holding up what you do next to the work of someone better than you.”

Kim Lim – A Lightness of Being

Katrina Blannin, 15 April 2014

“My reverence for Kim Lim’s stone and marble sculptures stems from what I see as an uncompromising dedication to one central, measured and careful line of enquiry: sustained, meditative, cyclical and generative. Here are works comprising a true aesthetic rationality, which in turn inspire a rewarding aesthetic experience.”

Michael Stubbs at Cass Gallery

John Bunker, 26 February 2013

“Firstly, I’d like to share a re-occurring fantasy I have. It’s the one where abstract art suddenly becomes a vital visual challenger to the dominant hegemony of conceptually driven discourse. Abstract art becomes a piratical swashbuckling freedom fighter swinging through the masts of art history’s eternally sinking ship. It’s a version of abstraction that takes on the dead eyed zombies of the hyper-reality painting-as-cypher brigade. It elegantly duels with the maniacal painting-as-commodity fetish cohorts and those purveyors of an ‘institutional critique’ that has been so fully absorbed by the institutions they set out to critique.”

Naïveté and Truth in Modern Art

Robert Linsley, 3 December 2013

“Are we wiser than our great-great-grandparents? They may have been wrong about much modern art, and their grandparents were likely wrong about Cézanne, but we are not wrong, so we must know so much more, be so much more enlightened. That might be so, but to be sure we might also want to take a look at what actually happened to Cézanne so long ago – or was it only yesterday?”


The Case for Pollock

David Sweet, 12 December 2012

“Jackson Pollock’s ‘all-over’ paintings of 1947 to 1950 aren’t easy to understand. Even Clement Greenberg found them challenging, while the painter himself didn’t really fully recover from what he had achieved in those years.Because of these paintings Pollock’s place in art history is assured, but that place is easier to pass through on the way to somewhere else than to visit. His work fits into both the formalist and conceptualist canons, and his avant-gardist credentials are taken for granted. But precisely because his contribution is located where all the competing artistic narratives intersect, including the one connected to performance art, the work itself seems oddly neglected.


Constant Within The Change: Gary Wragg

Dan Coombs, 2 April 2014

“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 Ruthless Matisse

Patrick Jones, 28 February 2013

“The biggest surprise for this painter from the Matisse show were the surfaces of the paintings. They were amazingly distressed, with cracking, scratching, gouging and much obvious changes of form. This was particularly noticeable in the best paintings in the show, which were medium sized (3ft by 4ft), in which he had used black extensively. These were dark interiors, with goldfish bowls, or views out of the shutters to the heat outside; my favourite painting was Interior with a Violin which could easily pass for a figure, reclining in a darkening room, a sultry presence in the late afternoon. Richard Diebenkorn later turned these scrubbings and erasures into things of beauty in the Ocean Park series, but Matisse appears ruthless in comparison.”

All-overness: Polke and Richter

Dan Coombs, 5 June 2014

“My old friend, the philistine, is most impressed by realist painting. “Why can’t you paint a tree that looks like a tree?” he says. I try to point out that painting never looks real to me, its just a set of devices that aspire to be more than the sum of their parts. My friend wants something he recognises, that he can believe in. I remember when every film I watched seemed real, now none of them do. “What is painting for?” he asks. Its quality, I say, is beyond comprehension, and the most difficult thing to achieve isn’t realism – that’s something any old hack can achieve – its all-overness.”


Emyr Williams, 7 November 2012

“When looking at a work of art, we could measure our physical distance from it and get a number in either feet or metres, yet this measurement will be of little help in explaining the perception of distance we get when we look at the work. A work of art creates the sense of an illusory space in our minds, a space produced as a result of the interaction of colours, textures and forms. One has only to observe someone looking at an artwork in a gallery to see a judgment of this spatial distance in action – a viewer shifts their weight and moves in response to what they are seeing – trying to feel the work’s visual gravity and make sense of its inherent pictorial or object space against their own actual physical space. Looking at art is a physical activity.”


  1. Robin Greenwood said…

    Just noticed that sculpture – as usual – hardly gets a sniff here in anyone’s choices; not even mine. Nor (of course) does it feature in Painter’s Table’s tribute: http://painters-table.com/blog/abstract-critical-round-up#.VFNeDGe6ixl

    Oh well… better make sure we get on to it in the new forthcoming Abcrit site…

    • Jock Ireland said…

      Was going to say, sculpture feels kind of “over” in NYC: almost no students/young people interested in it. . .

      Then, since this thread is about Abcrit picks, mine might be the Alan Gouk essay, “Proper to Sculpture.” It wasn’t published at Abstract Critical, but that’s where I first heard about it. I’ve been able to get back issues of Artscribe via the internet. I’ve passed Xeroxes of the essay on to a couple of smart–even “figurative”–people: they were just as excited about it as I was. Point is: while I don’t really mind and even take some interest in Robert Gober, Chris Ofili/the sculptors and painters of “the moment”–Abcrit offered and might continue to offer more.

  2. John Bunker said…

    My pick. Greenberg and Modernism by Alan Gouk.

  3. Alan Gouk said…

    My pick……..Gillian Ayres: Painting from the 50s. by Robin Greenwood.

  4. Wagner Goldberg said…

    This is unacceptable, you sold out, why. You lame sh*thead. Keep this site going!!!

  5. Tim Scott said…

    A great shame; the only forum I know of in recent times that gives abstract sculpture space to breath. I will miss its serious dedication to all it has covered.

  6. EC said…

    Sad to see this forum leave us. Many thanks to Sam and everyone who has contributed over the years. I will also be returning here to read the things that I’ve missed. Best wishes to all, EC

  7. Katrina said…

    Very sad in many ways……. I hope someone will start up another one very soon but appreciate that it is masses of hard work and dedication.
    A special thanks to Sam for posting my reviews and for some useful editing – it has been an invaluable opportunity.
    I still look forward to reading all the things I have missed…and still worry that I never added anything to the ‘grids’ debate … and still anticipating a reply re the Moss ‘conversation’….? they will have to carry on floating…!
    One of my favourites:

  8. Noela said…

    For me it’s ‘What Paint Does’ by Robin Greenwood if I had to just pick one.

  9. John Pollard said…

    I think that Robin’s ‘Objectivity and Art’ was a highlight for me: a proper philosophical struggle with how we judge art.
    His video interview with the curator of the Twombly/Poussin exhibition was both interesting and funny: “these are clouds.” “Oh no they’re not!”.

  10. Robin Greenwood said…

    Thanks to Sam, and very well done.
    My favourite essay, BTW, is Alan Gouk on Mondrian and Nicholson: