Abstract Critical

Intimate Abstraction at The Searchers Contemporary, Bristol

Written by Nick Moore

Intimate Abstraction, works by John Bunker and Frank Bowling

Intimate Abstraction installation shot, works by John Bunker and Frank Bowling

‘Only he who conceives art through sensuous feelings can grasp it whole; whoever would master it conceptually will possess it only in its parts.’

Karl Scheffler, The Gothic Spirit, 1917

The title of this exhibition derives partly from the size of the gallery and the choice of smaller works to include in it, but more importantly from the layers of meaning in the word intimate. Intimacy is usually thought of as the feeling of being in a close personal association, a belonging together; a familiar and very close felt connection with another. Genuine intimacy requires dialogue, transparency, vulnerability and reciprocity.

John Eaves, Magenta Music, atercolour and found paper, 31 x 26cm, 2012

John Eaves, Magenta Music, watercolour and found paper, 31 x 26cm, 2012

The adjective, “intimate” also indicates detailed knowledge and experience of the other, be it a person or a thing. And so the working processes of the painter with the depth of knowledge and experience of the material they use, have experimented with, investigated and tested through a long relationship (possibly thirty or forty years). This can result in a connection in which there is an emotional range involving both robust conflict, and intense loyalty to the medium being used, a dynamic partnership in which there is give and take. It is this sense of connection with the process that initially drew me to these four painters and the richness of the particular way paint is extended through the inclusion of other materials.

What interests me in painting, and indeed collage, is the directness and energy in the facture of the work, be it considered or improvised, or a combination of the both; the intrinsic energy is important. The work in this exhibition has a very direct relationship not only between the painter and his material, but also with the viewer; a directness that short circuits concept and fashion and encourages an engagement with the materiality of the work and felt experience of it.

John Bunker, April Is... 1, 37 x 30cm, 2008

John Bunker, April Is… 1, acrylic and sand on canvas, 37 x 30cm, 2008

‘We paint as a bird sings. Paintings are not made with doctrines.’ – Claude Monet

Patrick Jones, No A La Guerre 1, acrylic on rag paper

Patrick Jones, No A La Guerre 1, acrylic on rag paper

Intimate – deep, profound, personal, direct, close; (intrinsic, essential) all words one could use to describe these small paintings; small in size but expansive in scale. Rothko said ‘I paint large pictures because I want to create a state of intimacy. A large picture is an immediate transaction; it takes you into it ’, meaning that you could walk into the paintings and be in them, surrounded by them, immersed in them; he also said – ‘the reason I paint large pictures is because I want to be very intimate and human’ and as a painter of large works I agree with this. For this exhibition the pieces were chosen not only because of their life and vibrancy, but because of their small size; I feel that there is an immediate transaction that takes you into them and because they are small, the relationship of the paintings to the body is different – one has to get up close to see them, find the complexity, detail and subtlety that lies in wait for the patient observer. Perhaps the same way that one might study the features of a companion over time, slowly getting to know the nature of that individual’s appearance, and some of what lies beneath.

The word “intimate” used as a verb means “to state or make known”. So this is also relevant to our thinking about the work of these painters; they make known and demonstrate the qualities of abstract painting in the different ways that they approach it, and in this way we can get to know something of them too. Mostly working with the legacy of improvisation or notions of automatism that was key to some of the exponents of Tachism and Abstract Expressionism, they work without any hint of irony; this kind of intuitive painting flies in the face of much current work that is bland and empty, decorative, derived from graphics and some of it unrepentantly conceptual and/or ironic and ‘knowing’ – the painters in this show paint for nobody but themselves. They have an intimate relationship with the painting process and we the viewer have a possibility of sharing that intimacy as the work does not shut us out or bounce us back off a hard surface; it lets us in.

The artists are each represented by a particular body of work made in series, demonstrating different approaches to the painting process and using different formats and supports. Working in series lends itself to an unfolding over time much as a piece of music does, with variations on a theme or movements related to each other – the relationship between the pieces can be obvious or more subtle. Worked in series, paintings have time to develop through continuity and change; they have their own pace and it is through this that the experience of the painting is given form. The work is built up of layers of material and each series is a particular body of work, a way of questioning, leading to revelation and discovery – a way of following a thread or seam to see where it leads. Each work in a series relates with another in a continuous non-narrative flow linked by inquiry, intuition and improvisation rather than following a logical, linear development. For each artist, the making of a painting is a journey into the unknown, the outcome is never sure. As Frank Bowling put it:

‘the material landing on the surface (of the canvas) gives me back the information that I need to continue the search – I see if I can find the right balance and make it have meaning for me.’

Frank-Bowling, Shattered-Mirror, acrylic and mixed-media, 60cm x 50cm 2012

Frank Bowling, Shattered Mirror, acrylic and mixed-media, 60cm x 50cm 2012

So, what is this exhibition about? It is about everything and nothing – abstraction, bullfighting, colour, death, energy, fruit, ghosts… in fact it is not about anything at all. It is an experience of the way four individuals approach the work of painting through the particular focus of ‘abstraction’, offering a continuity in painting through four decades with the artists born between 1929 and 1968. It is an invitation to a particular way of looking, looking not at pictures but at paintings; to let go into a complexity of relationships without searching for the obvious or the familiar; to engage in a particular process that is without parallel in reason and which goes against our seemingly hard-wired desire for making sense of things in a logical way. It is an invitation to enter into a dynamic interaction with the works, to experience them, appreciate their sensuousness, to give them time, to get intimate with them; ‘Paintings …are also to be meditated upon and to be engaged by the senses; to be felt through the eye’ as the late John Hoyland suggested; or in resonance with this, as the blinded Earl of Gloucester, in a scene towards the end of King Lear puts it, to see feelingly.

Intimate Abstraction, curated by Nick Moore, is on at The Searchers Contemporary, Bristol until the 5th of April.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Patrick Jones said…

    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.

  2. Robin Greenwood said…

    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…

  3. Patrick Jones said…

    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.

  4. John Holland said…

    Without wanting to agree with Robin too much (his harsh comments about the Searchers show anyway), I do think that the problem with invoking irony as a quality of an artwork is that, unlike the other gestural qualties mentioned by Sam- forcefulness, strength, fluency, etc.- irony can’t be meaningfully talked of without conjecture about the artist’s intention. I can form a possible picture of what all of them might look like- but not irony. There cannot be any perception of irony inherent in either the painting itself, or in the viewer’s direct response. It is always conjecture about intent.

    To follow Sam’s analogies, one can only suspect someone of wearing a shirt ironically if you think you know her attitude to fashion, ie they know it’s hideous, but knowingly wear it anyway. Otherwise they’ve simply got appalling taste. A shirt or a hat can’t, as far as I can see, display irony as visual qualities independant of the particular wearer. The talk of different types of mark and their surrounding context in Gary Wragg’s work is interesting, but surely none of them can be percieved as ironic by Sam without bringing in Wragg’s putative intentions, and this never ends well whan discussing art. Conflating or contrasting the explicitly gestural, say, against more measured passages is not specifically ironic- there are many other ways you could talk about these juxtapostions. If Mr. Wragg denied any attempt at irony at all, could that interpretaion still be applied to them? I don’t think so. Irony has to be in his intentions, or it cannot be said to be there.

    • Sam said…

      Irony doesn’t have to judged against intentions but against generally acknowledged norms: in Wragg’s painting these norms are actually present elsewhere in the painting. The point is not that any contrast between gesture and a more measured mark is potentially ironic, but that in the specific instances I have in mind the contrast seems (to me at least) to be ironic, or at least to tend in that direction.

      Having said that I agree that there are lots of other ways to talk about these marks, and my argument with Robin has blown out of proportion the extent that I think these quality is important to either Wragg or John Bunker’s paintings.

    • Emyr Williams said…

      Ruskin’s “the pathetic fallacy” deals with the flavour of this argument.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Indeed. The treatment of inanimate objects as if they had human feelings, thought, or sensations. Metaphors.

      • Sam Cornish said…

        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.

  5. Robin Greenwood said…

    My contention that talking about abstract art in terms of myth and/or irony is a complete waste of time has been characterised by Sam as reductionist thinking. Of course, I regard the opposite as true – that to dispel these irrelevances from how we talk about and think about abstract art is important for artists working now (maybe less for writers?) and will actually free up the work, making it broader and stronger and more adventurous. This won’t be the first time I’ve made this point. I previously suggested that the work of Robert Holyhead and David Webb, for example (which John Holland reviewed) is incredibly similar, despite the fact that they start from radically different viewpoints (so what’s the point in nuancing those particular myths?). When the thinking is occupied with intentions or subject matter or process or any other guff peripheral to art, we inevitably fall back into familiar modes of expression. But working against that default setting is exactly where much if not all of our focus should be.

    If you want an example of reductivist thinking, there it is: that two radically different temperaments end up using the same painterly tropes. So, too, the work in this show, from what I can see from the photographs, here and on the gallery website. All this work looks familiar and unadventurous. Even John Bunker’s work, which has had until of late something of an irreverent and fresh look, an ability to turn itself inside out a little, has seemingly now got ‘serious’ as abstract art and imported John Hoyland’s blobs and stripes. Is this not abstract art’s true reductivism, in the sense of diminishing the actual (not theoretical!) scope of abstract art? All the works in this show deliver ways of painting that we know already. How many more paintings with a blob in the middle (the Frank Bowling, for example) do we need to plough through?

    So maybe it would be more instructive to ask of John B. not whether he uses irony in his work, but why he uses a side-stripe and a central blob (seductively disguised though they may be), and what he considers to be precisely the relationship in that configuration that has potential, and what that potential is; and why he has done it (at least) twice. We might also ask why there is a recognisable configuration at all.

    Nick Moore has quoted Monet: ‘We paint as a bird sings. Paintings are not made with doctrines.’ A nice quote; but surely the work here is as doctrinaire as anything can be – straight down the line, regimental, second-hand modernism. Discussing its subtle non-visual qualities – ironic or not, mythic or not – does nothing to change that.

    And how I do dislike Nick’s talk about working in series – it’s surely one of the worst ideas that an artist can get stuck in. One really good piece is worth a thousand second rate works. So, come on, somebody defend a specific single piece of work. What’s really new on offer here? Continuity be damned…

    • Sam said…

      I know you are completely consumed with the purely visual, but you might have noticed the date under John Bunker’s painting…

    • John Bunker said…

      First things first. I’m quietly pleased about your insightful take on these pieces of work Robin. As Sam pointed out I made them in 2008 and I hope I have been dealing with some of the issues you’ve raised more successfully in the last couple of years developing work with “….an ability to turn itself inside out a little…” – as you very nicely put it (collage has helped me enormously with this).

      BUT, I have to say I was also very pleased when Nick Moore asked if he could use these particular pieces in his show! When I dug them out of the o’l cupboard box I was pleasantly surprised! If you went to SEE the show, I wonder if your impressions might change……? Especially in relation to the other excellent and far more experienced artists on show and the challenging curatorial premise!

      I was re-visiting certain tropes in these pieces, it is true. But I wasn’t trying to suck the living daylights out of them in some kind of post modern vampirish manner. Nor do I wish to plough over and over the same old rusty romantic gestural signs. I wanted to see if I could understand how these tropes and signs worked and then see if I could add anything to them with the processes I was developing in my own studio practice at the time. Looking back now, I can instantly see what you have seen. There is a particular body of work by Frank Bowling from around this time that directly ‘quote’ and then develop Newman’s signature ‘Zip’ but also conjure aspects of Terry Frost’s overt playful skits with symmetry and Hoyland’s later paint application. Frank brings into play such confounding combinations of painterly references with such ease and make them totally his own. Alas, I have such a long way to go!

      I guess every painting is like a marker in a journey, no? Nick has selected a group of paintings from a very particular moment in my life. He has arranged them with real sensitivity and real curatorial attitude! He’s certainly got a few people’s knickers in a twist hasn’t he!

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        With apologies for missing the date, but I think my main points stand.

      • Sam said…

        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?

  6. Patrick Jones said…

    As an exhibiting artist in this show I have to say I dont do intimacy or irony! I was inspired by a Miro childrens playground mural I saw in Catalonia ,Also a picture of his painting on a scaffolding plank,1ft by 15ft.I couldnt see the whole mural due to a fence,so I imagined a painting with gaps of different information.The titles come from the tradition of throwing a blanket over the balcony,all houses had them with NO A LA GUERRE crudely painted in protest at Blair /Bush war in Iraq.No Irony in sight.

  7. Robin Greenwood said…

    To be serious about irony, I don’t see how you can have it in visual art other than through some literal or literary content. I don’t see how you can be visually ironic. Breugel, for example, has lots of sardonic humour, as does Goya, in his subject matter, but the works themselves are surely not ironic. In contemporary art, is it not the attitude or intent of the artist that is ironic, rather than the painting or sculpture? So I don’t see how you can be visually ironic in abstract art. I think Sam may be in danger of being able to put the ‘ironic’ label on many things, due to context, which in themselves are not actual irony (this is a little like the conversation we had about myth, wherein nothing seemed to escape from the definition). His comment about clipping ‘gestural marks’ being an example of irony ‘put to task’ is surely a metaphoric description.

    Irony, much as I enjoy it, seems to me to be a sort of literary double-bluff, the linguistic complexity of which visual art is incapable of. I’ll stand corrected if anyone comes up with examples that are not metaphoric descriptions.

    • Sam Cornish said…

      For someone who values it so highly you seem to think visual art is a very, very limited thing…

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        I don’t see the impossibility of irony as a limiting factor. Literature can certainly be ironic, because it deals in language; and visual art has properties that language and literature do not. I rather insist that to describe a mark in a painting as ‘ironic’ is a descriptive metaphor, in a way that to describe it as ‘small’ is not. It may be a good descriptive metaphor, but I cannot see how irony can be intrinsic.

      • Sam Cornish said…

        What about fluent?

      • Sam Cornish said…

        Or more importantly how is anything intrinsic?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Well, OK, so you don’t believe anything is intrinsic to a work of art? That everything about it depends upon context and interpretation? That the artist has put nothing into it that remains as a constant (whether we see it or not)? It’s a very old argument. We shall not agree on it. Carry on metaphorically interpreting… but it won’t help the art.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        irony: the USE OF WORDS to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.

        So you have to have a literal meaning first, before you can have irony. Then, using words, you invert it.

        I’ve just been to have a go at that with a bit of metal and a large hammer, but (ironically) it didn’t seem to work.

        You can have ironic subject matter or titles (I’ve done that!); and you can have an ironic commentary from an interpreter such as yourself, but ironic abstractness is impossible.

      • Sam said…

        This is frustrating (and as you say pointless). But art isn’t helped by holding absurdly reductive opinions about it (except as a form of myth-making). Of course the artist needs to put everything in there in the most literal sense, though I’m pretty sure only the uninteresting facts about a work of art are completely objective or unequivocally intrinsic and can avoid some kind of interpretation (height, width, volume occupied).

        The process of really looking at a work of art is something fraught with prejudice, with personal interpretations encoded in how we look, how we understand what it is that has been put in the object we see before us. It is not that everything is simply there, present; neither is everything interpretation: but a give and take between the two. A mark is not, for example, just a square of green 2 inches wide (which everyone could agree on as long as they understood how a ruler and a Pantone strip worked): instead someone who is attentive, and versed in looking at whatever art they are looking at would see it as a thing with a whole load of spatial implications, hierarchies, visual suggestions or even metaphors (movement, force – perhaps irony) built into it. Some of these the artist may not have even been conscious of. There is no end to this process, no terminal point when you finally get it, and then interpretation stops. You bring your previous experience to bear, and this in turn feeds back to when you look at different things. As is obvious, some people will see more than others: I’m sure Alan G and you, for example, will see more than I do.

        This does not mean that anything can be said about a work of art, or that anything can be seen in it. It is – perhaps – the reason why it is worth talking about and discussing art: because other people’s experience is otherwise alien, and because their interpretations may reveal something about the work that we would not have otherwise seen.

      • Sam said…

        Didn’t see your last comment before I posted mine. But really posting a dictionary definition is pretty desperate

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        I’m being pedantic (not pious) but art isn’t served by being sloppy about the language used. Other than that, I mostly agree with your last comment.

        Presumably you think any quality can be ascribed (metaphorically) to any kind of art? Like a novel with ‘verticality’?

      • Sam Cornish said…

        I don’t know about vertical novels, but I have seen something like irony in abstract paintings. People smile or raise their eyebrows ironically, they can wear hats ironically, they can dance ironically: these are obviously fall outside your language based definition. There are many types of irony. If you don’t want any of them in your work (or in art in general) then that is fine: but to say they don’t exist in art, or even more strongly, that they cannot is just bizarre.

    • Sam Cornish said…

      Robin there is a real sense of you piously inserting your head into the sand. You say: “In contemporary art, is it not the attitude or intent of the artist that is ironic, rather than the painting or sculpture?” This is something that both me and John B have already referred to, and attempted to move past.

      If a mark in a painting can be soft, or strong, or hard, or fast, or forceful, or direct, or stuttering, or fluent, or large, or small, it can surely be ironic. If you are going to see all these things as metaphors (and so to be banished from the painting’s pure myth free realm) then we are dealing with a very thin form of painting! That a mark has these qualities does not mean it cannot be visual, or have a visual effect: in fact I would go further than that and say these qualities are part of how marks are visual, the very particular ways they are embedded in the space or structure of a painting (i.e as I attempted to say before we are not dealing with the all too common ironic stance, but a localised irony and so a possible expansion of expressive possibilities – of course more expressive possibilities doesn’t necessarily equal better painting, but I don’t think an attenuation of them does either).

      In Gary Wragg’s paintings the sense that some marks are direct, authentic (as in much gestural painting) is often counterpointed by a sense that some are ironic, that though they look gestural they actually appear in something like quotation marks. This has a distinct visual effect and these marks often appear slightly lifted away from their immediate spatial context, as if they had been cut away it, or, as in Robert L’s definition you were looking at the meeting of two incompatible worlds. I don’t think this has very much to do with “context”, outside of the context the painting creates for itself, and the fact that inevitably a thinking person visually interprets the painting as they look at it. Of course I wouldn’t expect or even want all abstract painting to include these sort of effects.

  8. John Bunker said…

    Whoops! Cut out ‘never’ . Should read ‘But this distanced way of thinking/working seems to have grown out of…. Sorry!

    Hear, hear Nick! Go and see the show and don’t bother with my ramblings!

  9. nick moore said…

    sorry to interrupt the flow, I wonder if anybody could come down to Bristle and write about the painting rather than writing about the writing????? its not that far from London and you might get a cuppa too xxNick

  10. Terry Ryall said…

    Never mind about the trawler, the seagulls and the sardines, how about this from Eric Cantona – “I am searching for abstract ways of expressing reality, abstract forms that will enlighten my own mystery”. Not bad for a footballer!

  11. Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe said…

    I like the essay a lot, wish I could have seen the show.

  12. matt said…

    fantastic piece of writing, really hits home.

  13. jenny meehan said…

    Thanks for writing such a great article…This looks like an amazing exhibition of very high quality painting. Gave me a lot of pleasure to see it, my only sadness being Bristol is too far for me to venture to see it in the flesh right now, but thank you for giving a taster!

  14. Amanda Collis said…

    I disagree on the point about irony. It can’t besmirch the purity of “intuitive” markmaking or painting as the unadulterated pouring out of feeling. There can be no innovation, no striking individualism in painting without irony, because irony has to do with expectations being confounded. Without it artists risk becoming trapped in a stylistic dead end.

    • Sam said…

      I think I know what mean, though I guess it depends on what you mean by irony, always a slippery word…

    • Robert Linsley said…

      I agree – the best definition of irony I’ve heard is that it is the meeting of incompatible worlds. Modern art is supposed to be at odds with contemporary life – not so? The shock of the difference between what is and what we desire is irony.

    • Sam said…

      Perhaps could say there is an irony which is the ability to look at and evaluate feeling, to be distanced from it. This is not incompatible with feeling or with intimacy (and perhaps the ability to make art about feeling depends on or at least involves distance such as this??). And there is irony (which was probably what Nick was tilting at?) which is a pose that denies the existence of feeling, or the ability of art to express it.

    • Noela said…

      It would be interesting to hear if the artists in this exhibition agree with Nick Moore about this whole question of irony in relation to their work.

      • Sam said…

        John B – over to you…?

      • John Bunker said…

        An ironic and parodic approach to abstraction might have seemed appropriate in the face of an overwhelming conservative political backlash and the rise of monetarism in the 80s echoed in the Me, Me, Me culture of Neo Expressionism. But this ‘distanced’ way of thinking/working seems to have never grown out of a passive/aggressive relationship to a rather myopic notion of Modernism’s past. These approaches have set such a heavy lump of academic/conceptual concrete around discourse about painting that is only just beginning to crack now. We’ve overdosed on a certain kind of irony. I want to break the standard ‘knowing’ , ‘worldly’ model of the artist that so quickly degenerated into pragmatism over action, careerism over politics, hands off nihilism over engaged agency.

        I’m really impressed by the honesty and openness of Nick’s writing, painting and sensitive curation of ‘Intimate Abstraction’. Great to get away from the glib and the jaded rhetoric!

      • Sam Cornish said…

        John – completely agree on the existence “passive/aggressive relationship to a rather myopic notion of Modernism’s past” and the need to move far beyond it – Keith Coventry springs to mind. But could you say that both yours and (perhaps to a lesser extent) Frank’s work has elements of irony? Contained in sleights of hand, particular ways of framing gesture, or of cutting from one element to another. In yours it is particularly linked to the sense of artifice with which you create gestural-type structures, which are in fact carefully managed. This is not the irony which cuts down the work to pose, but can act as both a counterpoint to feeling and a way of delimiting feeling, and so making it more real, more believable (so it doesn’t fall into the trap of 4REAL absurdity). It can be humourous, but is more a sense of appropriateness, and a expansive of expressive range rather than a denial that expression is possible.

      • Sam Cornish said…

        Obviously this needs to avoid too much mannerism, tastefulness, or cleverness and still maintain a connection to honesty, directness

      • John Bunker said…

        Yes, very well put! It’s a bloody hard balance to keep. Frank has talked to me a lot about root rectangles, structure and geometry- but, and its a big but, he is also working with the dynamics of the medium of acrylic paint. The immense rage of the potential expressive qualities inherent to the medium and how it can be applied ( with other stuff of life) to the canvas. In this respect he is incredibly self aware/ reflexive and historically aware. Irony? Maybe, but irony put to task!

        The other artist that springs to mind in this respect is Gary Wragg. Through him I see de Kooning in a different light. If you strip the ‘action painting’ rhetoric away from de Kooning we see a real ironist at work. The application and erasure, the painting process under constant observation. (“…the sum of destructions”…?) Maybe this is the aspect of de Koonings work that Rauschenberg picked up on….. But I see Wragg running with this aspect into really exciting challenging and visually complex territory. And you don’t get that critical tension/awareness without real engagement with your materials.

      • Sam Cornish said…

        My never-ending essay on Wragg contains a bit on his use of irony. I saw a late de Kooning at an art fair last year. The way he clips his large gestural marks are very good egs of ‘irony put to task’.