Comments on: Robert Motherwell: Beside the Sea http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/ 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: Ashley West http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/#comment-53434 Wed, 12 Sep 2012 11:45:49 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6088#comment-53434 Yes John, in a way it does. There is quite a lot of this sort of thing going on – very playful, very visual, toying with traditions, daring to be ‘off’ or even ridiculous. I’m just making the point that there is a lot of stuff going on that makes you stop and question. The directness of a painting like this – the ‘cutting to the chase’ is not something that comes naturally to me I have to say. The bottom left green rectangle jutting out into space like that, I find quite provocative. Paintings like this seem to say “why can’t you do this?” They open up ‘all possible worlds’. So with my light bulbs I’m challenging myself -”why not? what is it possible to include, what will it provoke” Though of course it’s not just about that. Perhaps there is a question as to ‘what then?’, what are you for, rather than simply opening things up. Take a look at this Philip Allen painting – crazy but stunning:
http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://www.artcornwall.org/PHILLIP%2520ALLENNNNNNN.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.artcornwall.org/chris%2520short%2520interview.htm&usg=__S3Rwy8tIhSG8s05fyAMUL89Ok94=&h=348&w=425&sz=234&hl=en&start=4&zoom=1&tbnid=vNMQWbRh-w7i5M:&tbnh=103&tbnw=126&ei=am9QUL_TC-Wb1AXDsID4BQ&prev=/search%3Fq%3DPhilip%2BAllen%2Bartist%26num%3D10%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Dvss%26biw%3D1366%26bih%3D571%26sout%3D1%26site%3Dimghp%26tbm%3Disch&itbs=1

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By: John Holland http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/#comment-53424 Tue, 11 Sep 2012 23:14:22 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6088#comment-53424 Ashley- though there seem to be some interesting things going on to the left and bottom of Lancaster’s painting, do you not think that it does that default thing that most abstract work does at the moment of setting up a simple contrast or contradiction between two tropes?

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By: Robin Greenwood http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/#comment-53422 Tue, 11 Sep 2012 20:30:03 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6088#comment-53422 Firstly, I never take offence, so you can say what you like to me.
Secondly, of course Davie had all sorts of metaphorical stuff in his art – in fact he turns out to be largely a figurative artist. But I’m not trying to promote or defend Davie’s (or indeed Gouk’s) reasons, intentions, back-stories, whatever. I’m only championing some of their individual artworks as good examples to learn from, and the best I could find. Personally, I think after 1965 Davie was almost always rubbish.
So you see, thirdly, I don’t really give a damn where anybody is ‘coming from’, only what I can see in the work.
I don’t see your Lancaster example as being challenging at all. 22 turquoise rectangles all repeating, in a sort of cartoon figuration. What’s new? Now this does have ‘blocks’, no? This is ‘literal’. This is not abstract. Ha!

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By: Ashley West http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/#comment-53421 Tue, 11 Sep 2012 19:27:59 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6088#comment-53421 This is an interesting experiment – using this format to discuss such matters. Does it work/get us anywhere? Not sure. We can only try and see. I do try to appreciate your points Robin and try to respond in as useful a way as possible. If I veer into crudities or offence do forgive me – it isn’t intentional. I can only try in my own work too. I don’t think Davie was averse to his metaphysical metaphors either, was he?. Interesting that Stephen Buckeridge had the same initial thoughts about Gouk too when I spoke with him this morning. You did cause me to go back to the Davie again. The more I looked the more affectionate I felt towards it and the more I regretted the ‘not very grown up’ comment, but this painting is maybe an exceptional Davie. Sometimes you go back to someone and the works don’t quite live up to the idea or memory you had of them. This one does. I agree with John about his recent work. I just found that for me, the kind of ‘full on’ colour, content and improvisation you get with a lot of his early work and which I was trying, needed ‘tempering’with something else. But his early influence on me was enormous, which was maybe as much to do with his philosophy as his work. I have his print ‘Celtic Dreamboat’ which is beautiful (and much more economical). The ‘huge colour range’ in the Gouk you talk about just doesn’t do it for me. Perhaps it’s a bit fruitless trying to argue for some kind of consensus (sorry, not a very well chosen phrase). Artists try to intuit ways forward through the act of painting, rather than talking. It’s delicate stuff, which is probably why artists don’t lay into each other’s work too much – it’s more about looking, listening, and paying a lot of attention and respect to where they are coming from as individuals, and amongst the better stuff going on at the moment there’s some really sensitive and quite challenging stuff. I was looking at a Brendan Lancaster piece (only on the screen) this morning and it made me stop and think:
images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQsYRGI8HQ-vsjrJLbpgC0K_f0EZCzpRDnf83KOrWZgxDrDXJzf

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By: Ashley West http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/#comment-53418 Tue, 11 Sep 2012 17:51:04 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6088#comment-53418 I have similar thoughts about Sam’s last comments about the Davie piece. There seems to be a complex drama here between very diverse elements – repetition, the grid, the ellipse, automatism, abstract figuration/personnages, deep space, flat space, centralised motif, forms going off the edge. This includes a lot that I find myself trying to envisage and links with a curiosity I have about a similar interplay across boundaries in Persian miniatures, early Italian painting and oriental rugs. I find the disruption of space/inclusion of outside space in rug fragments with irregular frayed edges and holes in them even more fascinating – connection here with the Davison collages? I don’t know if this makes any sense in relation to what we are talking about, but I find it has reminded me of something I need to explore further in my own work, so thanks for that!. Here are a few images that relate.

http://www.spongobongo.com/her97761.jpg

http://www.turkotek.com/misc_00058/fragments_files/Khor2.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/Baysunghur's_Shahname_001.jpg/270px-Baysunghur's_Shahname_001.jpg

http://www.ashleywest.co.uk/images/home/Painting%20with%20Elliptical%20Forms.jpg

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By: Robin Greenwood http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/#comment-53417 Tue, 11 Sep 2012 17:37:46 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6088#comment-53417 I thought I was patronising at times, but really Ashley!

‘a gathering of blocks of colour awaiting composition – for something to be done with them’; or ‘but it just doesn’t seem very ‘grown up’ any more’.

What nonsense. Perhaps you think screwing lightbulbs into bits of plywood and painting them yellow and blue more grown up? ‘They’re like guardians overseeing what’s happening below.’ Mmm, very mature.

I know you got the idea from Sam, buy there isn’t a single ‘block’ in either of those two Gouk paintings. This oversight by you might be indicative of our differences. I see very specific relational structures in them. I would say that ‘Lava Gull’ especially is extraordinary in the variety and extent of invention, its huge colour range, and its ambitious spatial coherence. In that structure, in that play of colour and form, that articulation of pictorial space, I see a great measure of human content, of meaningfulness. I see it far more than in something that might vaguely be reminiscent of something else in some vague metaphorical or metaphysical manner – far more than in lightbulbs ‘like guardians’.

You seem very intent upon summarising my views in a way that pretty much reflects the opposite of what I think:

‘Robin seems to be for a kind of abstraction that doesn’t seem to allow for much more than something very literal (in a visual sense) – formal, material based you might say, and devoid of humanity.’

No, the opposite of that. I have essentially a very simple agenda, which is to find the content of abstract painting or sculpture and drop the subject-matter. Since having a subject-matter seems to me to get in the way of making real art now, it appears helpful for the moment to try to define why abstract art could and should do without it. I care little for the definition in itself, other than to assist as a part of the task of focussing on what is real in what we make and discarding what we are all guilty of imagining we are investing our art with. I don’t become less human because I want to drop the subject-matter.

If you think you have outgrown all that, Ashley, and can now take on higher matters of the mind, I can only think you will have a rude awakening should you come face to face with some serious critical comparisons of your own work.

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By: John Holland http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/#comment-53410 Tue, 11 Sep 2012 10:28:04 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6088#comment-53410 That ‘s Davie, obviously.

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By: John Holland http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/#comment-53409 Tue, 11 Sep 2012 10:25:49 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6088#comment-53409 It ‘s a lovely Alan Davis – his eary work seems under-rated. Then he started doing all that atavistic symbolist stuff…

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By: Sam Cornish http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/#comment-53404 Tue, 11 Sep 2012 06:24:40 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6088#comment-53404 Though I find this difficult to think through, it is less that the landscape element in Gouk’s work doesn’t matter and more that it works on us without us necessarily having to identify it (of course this is difficult to prove, and reactions will differ)(perhaps it is like a grid to other artists – though admittedly a more productive impetus). It is also important to how the pictures work that their identity as landscape remains less specific than the identity of the other elements, which give a sense of themselves beyond the things we might find in the landscape (this is obvious, I suppose); it is perhaps like landscape painting turned inside out…

What I was tilting at, in a way that suggested a vehemency I don’t quite feel, was firstly that Gouk’s painting, in its relation to landscape / the world, seemed to go against calls you have made (maybe which I had misinterpreted) for abstract art to become more abstract; and then to use this as a stick to beat down other examples of (nominally) abstract art. Secondly full-blooded: again, it’s not that I think that abstract painting can’t be full-blooded, in the same way as I don’t think it can’t contain a relation to landscape. It’s just that full-blooded seems to me an example of an analogy; regardless of how specific and complex their elements are, a significant aspect of Gouk’s work – which some of his lesser work relies on – is the vigour with which he asserts his elements, and these bring in lots of shadowy things that you, at least in these discussions, want to deny to abstract art…. The blocks endlessly rearranged was a bit of low blow but I think it contains some truth..

On the Davie – I thought, as I think I said at the time, that this was one of the most impressive abstract paintings I had ever spent time with. It still is, in the sense I haven’t seen anything better since. In particular – beyond its simple success – I liked its strangeness, its ability to combine & keep separate different elements and levels (which seems a very productive way painting could proceed) and its ability not to submerge figuration within abstraction but to place the different languages against each other. I also liked its distance, and the way it moved away from painterliness (if is is graphic, so is Matisse’s Bathers by a River – more of that please!). Though this is clearly not how Davie worked, it seems to open up possibilities for an abstract artist who, whilst avoiding format painting, does not work out everything on the canvas, which is something I would very much like to see… I’ve got Delacroix’s Women of Algiers above my desk and this contains much freer form than any abstract painting, and was achieved without that sort of free-improvisation…

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By: Ashley West http://abstractcritical.com/note/robert-motherwell-beside-the-sea/#comment-53388 Mon, 10 Sep 2012 22:33:29 +0000 http://abstractcritical.com/?post_type=note&p=6088#comment-53388 Thanks for putting something forward Robin – look what it has unleashed! This warrants a lot of thought, but my initial response is that this seems to me to be a glimpse into the past, not the future. I was humorously relieved at Sam’s ‘just blocks’ comment, as I had been thinking more or less the same thing. Yes, Gouk’s works are very colourful, visual – almost impressionist, but to my mind quite primitive – a gathering of blocks of colour awaiting composition – for something to be done with them. They are TOO full-blooded for me – too much of the flesh, and maybe emotional impulse, and not enough of the mind. Davie too – he was my hero in my twenties (when maybe I was more full blooded too!) but it just doesn’t seem very ‘grown up’ any more. I feel I’ve moved on from that. It’s like moving on from Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ (which was a revelation at 22)to Bach. Having said that there’s much more of a complex drama going on in Davie’s – probably one of the most considered pieces of his I’ve seen. It makes me think of the early Motherwells and even the early Hodgkins where there’s more going on and a lot more composition too – using the grid, interestingly, in one form or another – so the automatic is balanced by something more measured. I prefer something like Gouk’s ‘Wine Iris Whoa!’where he seems to commit to something, although interestingly there’s more differentiated space here – more a sense of the figure/ground relationship. Of course you gather by now my interest in Diebenkorn. It took a while to get to him, but I can’t think of anyone else that comes close. George Blacklock said he thought Diebenkorn was the beginning of something, not the end. I wonder what he meant by that?. I do think there are people doing interesting things – I think Prunella Clough had a lot to say, and look at William Stein (www.sol-space.co.uk). Having said that I don’t see anything wrong at all with someone like Gouk digging around with something he finds interesting, even if it is ‘old ground’. Maybe I’ve been over judgmental. I think we need to be generous towards those who are themselves generous in their work. I also think getting hung up on the word ‘abstract’ can be a mistake. People like Lanyon and Hodgkin claim there works aren’t abstract at all. I saw some Morris Graves pieces recently at the Phillips Collection – another gull: ‘Wounded Gull’- they were stunning, let alone Degas or Bonnard – there’s more abstraction in those than many so called abstract paintings surely. But I’ll try to think of one piece I would put forward. Good that we’re getting down to it. It’ll be interesting to see what is possible in front of real paintings and in front of each other.

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