Treatment presents us a selection of current trends in abstract painting, with six contemporary UK based painters. The exhibition has been intelligently curated by Lisa Denyer, selecting artists whose approaches to the exploration of abstraction differ yet form a chorus of voices for our discovery. The press release states “The title refers to both the physical act of paint application, therapy in the creation of work, and psychologically, making sense of the world from the maker’s point of view.”
Matthew Macaulay’s ‘Coventry Construction’ comprises four small canvases, one slightly smaller that its counterparts, all four assembled upon a shelf. The shelf encourages us to browse the canvases individually, inspecting them as products, weighing up the viability of each. Each surface displays a different painterly technique. Paint is layered and scratched into on the left, in a seemingly rapid motion undermined by the organization of this gesture into three roughly even rows. On the right this action is amplified through a similar painterly brushstroke, texturally provocative in contrast with the left side. Moving inward the painterly marks become more considered, more architectural, reflecting the angles and straight lines of the canvases themselves. The composition of the individual canvases is such that the smaller canvas is positioned behind the other three, denying us its whole self. The vibrant pink, blue, greens and ochre used on the component is question, contrast sharply to the palate on display throughout the rest of the work, which consists of a collection of earthly tones. This curious canvas draws us in, invites us on a curious journey to its domain.
A similar invitation is on offer to us in Richard Ward’s digital prints; ‘Unexpected Meeting’ and ‘Brief Encounter’. The titles evoke the unknown and the unexplored, but also the potential that experience has; In ‘Unexpected Meeting’ shafts of colour are suspended within the composition, dissipating in depth, drawing us in. The forms within this piece possess that hypnotizing quality of light reminiscent of HD technology, though the nails used to hang the piece prevent us from stepping through to Ward’s new universe.
Mark Kennard’s ‘Off’ pulsates with the same quality of light in Ward’s ‘Unexpected Meeting’. Except here we are up close to the form as if viewing texture through a microscope. The illusion of a 3D surface is brought about by Kennard’s application of paint, applied so thinly it is somewhat translucent in areas or layered to appear darker. The weave of the canvas is constantly visible throughout the surface so that the painted shapes appear to have been distorted or pixelated.
Kennard again uses the physical properties of his materials to create optical illusion in a much larger rectangular piece, ‘Untitled’. The landscape of the canvas is stretched by constant vertical brushstrokes in purple, which solidify the picture plane. However, the brushstrokes are interrupted around the middle of the canvas, arranging a delicate horizon line, enhanced by the use of lighter hues, which appear as shafts of light bursting out of this seam, distant and beyond the viewer’s grasp.
A desire to escape into the work is also explored by Neill Clements. In this body of work Clements used card for its immediacy. One can’t help but see a resemblance to Robert Holyhead’s exploration of negative space using paint. However the card creates a final, graphic style dissimilar to the lucidity found in a Holyhead piece. In this near uniform line up of ten photograph sized rectangles, boldly coloured snapshots creating space are explored. Our journey into any one of these infinite spaces is interrupted by the placing of negative space, where Clements has cut into the field using line and geometric shape to redirect our gaze in ambiguous directions. This ambiguity stops us stepping inside these works lest we choose the wrong path.
Whilst Clement, Kennard and Ward create space for us to step into, Laura Jane Blake is an artist who for some time has been concerned with structure, often within temporary forms. In her work ‘Fold Abstraction #2’, Blake’s shape imposes itself on the space in a potentially ever-evolving network of blocks. The overall composition of these geometric forms is an organic sprawl leading off in every direction. Blake’s use of watercolour exploits the gentle translucent potential of the material, yet borders between the blocks are enforced by the different colours contained within each. If Macaulay’s construction invites us in, Blake’s construction has us walk around it, and examine it cautiously from every angle.
Terry Greene’s work displays a painterly confidence also seen in Macaulay’s. Often his work becomes so layered in paint that the straight edges of the canvas are distorted by a build up of crust, reminding us of the material whilst encouraging us to inspect the painting as an object. Reminiscent of Richard Ward’s somewhat otherworldly titles, Green’s titles are playful whilst evocative of unachievable existence. In ‘An Ever-Expanding, Loving, Joyful, Glorious, and Harmonious Universe’, a Hodgkin-esque frame sits atop semi-circle corners forming a focal square peep hole. Layered acrylic paint on canvas, often washed thinly or with dry-brushing exposes the muddied colour underneath. Like windows we attempt to peer through each layer to view the other side. In this work and ‘Cathedral’, Green’s manipulation of acrylic paint’s properties results in a truly ethereal light, which glows from his work.
The mood of ‘Treatment’ is one of enthusiasm for contemporary abstraction. There are scatterings of references to the journey abstraction has taken so far; the Hodgkin frame in Greene’s painting, Clements’ homage to Carl Andre, comparison to Robert Holyhead’s experimenting with negative space. Clements and Ward abstract the process of painting itself and the exhibition shows us a future for the genre. Visually we are presented with the romance of the horizon, and the freedom we associate with it, the open road. There are new worlds out there for us to explore in contemporary abstraction, and each artist here offers us a door into their own place.
Treatment runs at PS Mirabel until 9th March 2013 (open every Saturday 11-5pm or by appointment).