Abstract Critical

Beyond Single Panels

Written by Robert Linsley

Robert Linsley, installation view

Robert Linsley, installation view

For a long time I’ve been frustrated by the limitations of the single panel. Novels can have many voices, and large musical forms, such as symphonies, can have a wide range of feeling, but abstract paintings tend to a single voice and a single feel. In this show there is a free-standing two sided piece and a four sided piece made of two panels that notch together to hold each other up on the floor. Since the viewer cannot see both sides of a panel at the same time they can only put the piece together in their memory, and for me this enables a greater range of expression – the sides can be very different from each other. I’ve taken the opportunity to broaden my practice, and add brushes, spray paint, wiping and drawn lines to my usual poured shapes. The other works in the show are painted stainless steel globes. Again, since we can’t see all sides of the sphere at once, the painting changes as we move around it, becoming many paintings. Two of the spheres have holes cut in them, so the inside is another surface to paint. In all these works there is a lot of wet into wet, meaning that I pour shapes into shapes before the first shape has set up. On a sphere this increases the difficulty enormously – and then the results are better too. There are also a couple of shaped wall works in the show – each one is made of three overlapping circles with a poured image.

Robert Linsley, installation view

Robert Linsley, installation view


Robert Linsley, installation view

Robert Linsley, installation view

  1. Shep said…

    I was thinking especially of the relationship to sculpture when I was reading your commentary. In particular the work of David Smith, where there is a real dialogue between painting and sculpture–where sculptural viewpoints are tinted by painterly questions as in Hudson River Landscape. Of course the late Stella is in the vicinity as well, especially on the questions of technique. Anyway I was wondering if you were willing to make any totalizing claims for painting, like sculpture in the round simply is painting in the polyphonic sense. So does this broadening of your practice of painting capture sculpture? Admittedly the point is rather polemical and you put it more gently but I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

    While looking at your installation shots something else occurred to me. The problem of the discrete object. I think Anne Truitt struggled with this problem, as placement, over-lappingness and proximity of one sculpture relative to the next matters a great deal when looking at her works as well. Your paintings might be considered sculptures and conversely it could be argued as you do that these are paintings and not sculptures. The same paradox troubles our encounter with Truitt. And of course Greenberg was the first to articulate this and the inevitable push of the logic led some artists in the 1960s to embrace minimalism. This is most focussed in your third installation shot and I dont think its a merely coincidence precipitated by the angle chosen. As viewers we navigate our way around the works and the space–at times falling victim to moments when one object touches another, seemingly perches on top of another, or overlaps another in pictorial space, thus hiding part of the object behind. I wonder if the conjunction or proximity of painting and sculpture–whether in Truitt, Stella’s Moby Dicks, or Smith–always brings this on? What are your thought here.

    • Robert Linsley said…

      Interesting question. There’s some kind of enchanted space between the two mediums, where things could go either way, or are not easily definable, and David Smith is clearly very important for that. The optical kind of sculpture is far from finished, maybe because the object-like kind of painting also has unrealized potential. My feeling is that a painted plane always tends toward illusion. You can see the thickness of the plane, and walk around it, but because it’s painted the fictional space of art is still present – objecthood is real but something else is important. The paint tears holes in the plane.

      Sculpture is just polyphonic painting – funny idea. It didn’t occur to me but it’s worth tossing about.

      In painting, when one area of colour is laid over another the bottom layer is diminished, and the classic concern of modernist painting was always quantity of colour. You add one and subtract another at the same time, moving toward the right balance or whatever you want to call it. Stella helped me to see that if the planes are suspended in space you can have it both ways – the plane in front blocks out some of the colour behind, setting up a relationship between the two colours, but you can still “know” what’s hidden, still feel the whole back plane. Don’t know if that’s clear. It’s because we can move in space and we have two eyes that are always moving and giving us information about things we can’t see entirely. So the odd conjunctions of objects that happen in the photographs, which I also noticed and found amusing at least, don’t really occur in the real space, because we tend to see what we know is there rather than the accidents of placement. The tendency to see things that way, with odd match ups, is maybe a kind of pictorialist vision. Don’t know if it’s worth cultivating, because the double experience, to see the plane and behind it at the same time, is more interesting in a way.

  2. Evan Steenson said…

    To me, these works make a courageous attempt to have the viewer challenge their pre-conceived notions of what a painting is (rectangular, flat, mounted on a wall, etc.) Caro did this with our notions of sculpture and won accolades. I say bravo to putting this work out there for all.

  3. Noela said…

    Although the shapes illustrated here seem to have some interesting colours and textures I do feel that the experience and challenge of working on this kind of format could get very close to a kind of decoration rather than a struggle to create a credible painting.

    • Robert Linsley said…

      I found each one a struggle to create a credible painting, and felt the struggle was worth it. But there’s no merit in that, only results count. It was just a quick one week show.

    • jenny meehan said…

      It’s convinced me…

      I just don’t “get” the decoration matter. Decoration is a type of use, not a quality in painting, to my thinking. It could be seen as decorative, I suppose? What is the harm in that? However, the thoughtfulness is expressed in the positioning too, but this takes the paintings into an invitation for encounter which is nothing superficial. I find the opportunity to be able to encounter the paintings and the opened up possibilities of their spatial relationships with each other very inspiring.

      “Novels can have many voices, and large musical forms, such as symphonies, can have a wide range of feeling, but abstract paintings tend to a single voice and a single feel. ”

      So true. Gosh, and it can be boring sometimes. There’s a lot of “the same” around. I think it possible that this type of experimentation is the way forward. Dimensionality. And new ways of access. There needs to be an invitation into abstraction for people, and new ways of encountering can only be good.

      • Robert Linsley said…

        Decoration is a type of use, not a quality….very well put

      • Noela said…

        I am being pedantic I know, but I do see these pieces as decorated objects rather than paintings. I am not saying they are uninteresting but I feel there is a different mindset. When I look to see how Fred Pollock works he seems to have a dialogue with his paintings which seems to be a long assessment until the end. I suppose there is an intensity and attachment which seems to come through.

      • Robert Linsley said…

        A long pondered response. I can tell you that I had a long dialogue with these works to get them right – grinding them down to the metal and starting over, overpainting and all the other normal things any artist would do, and marks of that are visible in closer views. I’ve never seen Fred Pollock’s work, so I keep an open mind about them. But though I sweat blood to make these works conform to my feelings, and give them the objectivity that art should have, and make sure they are original and don’t look like anyone else’s work, clearly subjective accounts are irrelevant. What we can talk about are conventions, and it seems that limited surfaces and repetitive procedures signify “authenticity” to a lot of people. This illusion, which has less to do with art than with some need for moral certainty, seems to be spoiled when “the object” becomes more evident. All of which seems like a good reason to make pictures more object like. But what disappoints me about AbCrit, and this is not necessarily the case with you, Noela, is the enormous polemical energy dedicated to defending the normative and well understood. I don’t judge work according to a priori principles – actually, being an ordinary person I do make that mistake, but am open to the exception, so see no reason to dismiss Fred Pollock or anyone else who respects the familiar conventions. It’s the results that matter, not the theory, and I am very happy with the results I got.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        You are tying yourself in knots here, Robert. It is indeed the results that count, and in contradiction to your comments, it is your own massive over-intellectualisation of the means and methodology of painting that leads you work out of a theoretical position that ignores them. This work is as “normative” as it comes. Still, if you’re happy…

      • Robert Linsley said…

        nonsense

  4. jenny meehan said…

    My first response was “Well, I like the limitations of the flat surface” But even looking at your images I can feel myself jumping out of that mindset…I can imagine my experience of the painting being enhanced by its delivery via three dimensional forms and the way you have some flat surfaces there too but displayed not on the wall but in the inner space (I prefer that to the one on the wall)…It’s great. Because of the simplicity of the sphere it seems to keep it in my mind the presence of being a painting still… and I think because things are not standing alone but clearly relating to each other there is a type of painting integrity which comes across and this is very enjoyable. Where is this? Is it there right now, or is this a past display?

  5. Emyr Williams said…

    I do not share your frustration with the “single panel”. In fact I find it liberating…frustrating and infuriating at times to make a good painting yes, but that’s the deal isn’t it? It was never meant to be easy. Was it Anthony Burgess who said ” creativity should be surrounded by a ring of fire?”

    • Robert Linsley said…

      I still work with single panels too. Just looking for a way to make the work larger, more capacious, with more room for the mind to move. Of course everything is difficult. A pencil and a small piece of paper is a big challenge.

  6. jenny meehan said…

    “On a sphere this increases the difficulty enormously – and then the results are better too.”

    Yeah, I bet…I like the spheres a lot. It would be very difficult to resist pushing them a bit so that they swung back and forth though!!!