Comments on: Intimate Abstraction at The Searchers Contemporary, Bristol http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/ 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 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: Patrick Jones http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/#comment-128576 Thu, 28 Mar 2013 20:57:16 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6768#comment-128576 Well,unlike several commentators ,I took the trouble to get out from behind my modem and see the show.I found nothing second rate in it.The work was modest in size and intention and none the worst for that.Franks paintings glowed rather beautifully,John Bunkers were many and lively. Go see it for yourselves and I dont think youll be disappointed.It closes on the 5th April.

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By: Robin Greenwood http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/#comment-128551 Thu, 28 Mar 2013 19:04:21 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6768#comment-128551 Mistaken though I was about the dates, John Bunker’s good-hearted response to my criticism (an attitude which in itself is admirable) only confirms that he was indeed channelling borrowed modernist ideas. No shame in this; I have no problem with artists trying out other people’s ideas, and I think sometimes it is foolish to insist always upon complete originality (if, indeed, that is even possible), particularly if it is at the expense of moving out of a personal mode of working that is unfertile. And why not borrow ideas in order to start oneself off down a new track? I think I would only say: don’t make a career out of it.

John B. obviously has no such intention, and has already moved on. As I have said, his brave and personal examination of modernism is to be applauded. I think the painting that has been of the most interest to me over the last few years (his included) has been involved in a rigorous examination and dismissal of many of the sacred cows (like flatness, for example, or the primacy of colour, for another) of abstract art.

This brings us back to Oehlen. When I first came across him a few years back, he certainly did look different, and possibly even exciting. He had indeed deconstructed a lot of the doctrines of abstract painting, and appeared to be breaking new ground. All well and good, and it’s got to be done, I think; which is the basis of my criticism of the work in this exhibition – that it does not attempt to move on from well-established positions.

The thing is, even breaking down those barriers is not enough. All very well to deconstruct painting; but you then have to put it back together again in an original way, and in a way which is proper to painting (and not graphics or anything else; or, like Oehlen, in a way that in fact reverts to being rather conventional because he has simply not made the effort to make ‘newness’ stick). Ambitious painting, figurative or abstract, can only be made to work by going out of one’s way to take responsibility for absolutely everything in it (I’m only just learning myself the lengths to which you need to go to). Oehlen, for my money, leaves us with the deconstruction, uncontrolled and unconsolidated. The days are over, surely, when the superficial innovation of this or any other half-hearted approach to abstract art could be deemed acceptable and interesting because of its novelty. You cannot have all the real freedoms offered by abstract art without the responsibilities and checks of a proper engagement with its fundamental properties as a discipline. (god, did I really say that! Must be getting old.)

So what is the ‘everything’ that you need to take complete responsibility for? It is, to put it simply, the controlled pictorial space that you are inventing from scratch in each and every individual abstract painting. That is the ‘everything’! (I can picture Sam’s hands hovering over the keyboard now, ready to type ‘absurd reductivist dogma’.) At some point in the long process of making each single and individualistic and fulfilling abstract painting succeed properly within itself (not just one of a series, please), you have to decide what it is doing and absolutely make it bloody-well do it – not easy, because you’re in chicken/egg territory. But the legendary fast and spontaneously flipped-out images of abstract art or the reliance upon simple geometric formulae can no longer be realistically entertained (more dogmatic policing).

I’m going to stick my neck right out here and say that the creation of new and original and inventive space, coherent and believable, is the only absolute imperative of abstract painting as it moves forward now (probably true of abstract sculpture too, though with a very different conception of space). What else is there? Nothing that I can see that could possibly take precedence in such a way.

I am prompted into putting this into words by seeing recently some of the new work of the painter Anne Smart, who herself a few years ago was cutting and hacking and rearranging her paintings in all sorts of adventurous ways, with varying degrees of success, but who has now seemingly got new and complex pictorial spaces absolutely under the sway of her imaginative creative control; and very particular and challenging they are too. (I don’t have any images of this new work, but in any case we intend to examine and publish a look at her new paintings in a few months’ time, along with other new developments. I mention it here and now only to confirm that what I am suggesting is achievable, though difficult, and is a not a speculation on my part unconnected to reality. Nor do I think we should all rush off and make Anne Smarts. There will be as many solutions as there are good painters, but my money is on all of them dealing in some personal, specific way with the inventive creation of new pictorial abstract space.)

I think we really do have to push on with abstract art, and not sit back and take ideas from yesteryear as justification for what we do now. Contrary to what Sam suggests, I have no constraining agenda to push. The door is open. Space, in all its manifold and wonderful variations, beckons…

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By: Sam Cornish http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/#comment-128327 Thu, 28 Mar 2013 08:00:51 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6768#comment-128327 Could you not say: Indeed. The arrangement of scraps of painting so that they look like they fall down the canvas, or so they approximate a dense object. Metaphors.

Robin, I agree with you that a lot of contemporary (and modern) art reaches for meaning all too readily, that a more visually orientated discourse would beneficial to abstract art (and that your comments in relation to Intimate Abstraction are at least theoretically valid – like you I haven’t seen it); and that there are a lot of familiar tropes around in general.

But this kind of policing by grinding and overly pedantic polemic is not actually helpful, because it does not understand the limits it is trying to set. A full response to John Bunker’s (sorry to involve you again, John) work would need to deal with all the particular ways his art functioned. I am not taking about his thoughts on the modern urban environment (though it is interesting that an artist with his head buzzing with the sort of ideas you consider need to be chucked once and for all out of thinking about art has managed to produce art of which you approve) but rather would need to confront how his structures existed: we can say that this bit here doesn’t work, or that this solution is overly familiar, and then stop there. That is fine. But if you go beyond that, and try to really engage (I’m not talking about writing, or even talking) with facing up to how his structures interact, I don’t think you avoid some kind of metaphor, some kind of analogy (even if these avoid being directly or easily named). You might likely respond that is because his art is somehow inadequate. But I think the same applies to Alan G’s paintings, or looking back Hofmann’s or Heron’s, and to your sculpture.

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By: Robin Greenwood http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/#comment-128133 Wed, 27 Mar 2013 22:15:29 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6768#comment-128133 Indeed. The treatment of inanimate objects as if they had human feelings, thought, or sensations. Metaphors.

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By: Robin Greenwood http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/#comment-128129 Wed, 27 Mar 2013 22:08:54 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6768#comment-128129 Needless to say, Patrick, I hope they do.

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By: Patrick Jones http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/#comment-128118 Wed, 27 Mar 2013 20:59:18 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6768#comment-128118 Second hand ,regimental modernism! Jesus ,I must get on my horse and rattle over the hills to Bristol and see this show!Well done Nick,you/ve rustled a few tail feathers and maybe the Abstract Critical audience will be so moved that they will make up their own minds by standing in front of the work, enjoying the whole experience of looking.

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By: Emyr Williams http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/#comment-128089 Wed, 27 Mar 2013 18:58:43 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6768#comment-128089 Ruskin’s “the pathetic fallacy” deals with the flavour of this argument.

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By: Sam http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/#comment-128070 Wed, 27 Mar 2013 18:00:34 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6768#comment-128070 I have to say that John’s investigation of Hoyland’s motifs stands up for me as an explanation more than his remarks on Frank’s work. It seems unlikely that an artist can make the truly new without to some extent working through the old, and this working through has obviously had beneficial effects in John’s painting. This does not seem the same thing as Frank’s quotation of Newman, which if I have the right works in mind are not Frank’s finest moments. Frank does enough exciting stuff not to have to quote?

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By: Sam http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/#comment-128067 Wed, 27 Mar 2013 17:51:29 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6768#comment-128067 The distinction is lost on me tbh

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By: Robin Greenwood http://abstractcritical.com/note/intimate-abstraction-at-the-searchers-contemporary-bristol/#comment-128065 Wed, 27 Mar 2013 17:42:12 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6768#comment-128065 ‘Truly’ visual, nothing pure about it.

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