Over the subsequent decade, Paterson has pulled off such combinations repeatedly. Indeed, she seems so full of them she has taken to making Sterling Silver wall texts: ‘an ice rink of frozen water from every glacier’, ‘a beach made with sand from hour-glasses’ or ‘a place that exists only in moonlight’ (from Ideas, ongoing). Perhaps these works will only ever be imagined, but if actualised they will be unmistakably Katie’s.
|Via Negativa II, 2014|
|Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015-16|
Installation view of the 20th Biennale of Sydney, 2016
There are plenty of reasons for artists to be interested in architecture, even if they didn’t train that way – like, for example, Francis Alÿs, Pedro Reyes and Tomás Saraceno. . There’s the character of building materials, for a start; think of Carl Andre’s emphasis on the qualities of brick. Then there are the aesthetic crossovers between two parallel streams of modernist practice – the frequent starting point of Ellsworth Kelly’s intense simplifications. Other artists might delve into the psychological effects of the built environment (Bruce Nauman’s charged appropriation of the corridor, for example) or its echoes in history or society (Cyprien Gaillard’s explorations of the consequences of architectural failure). And, as we all grew up in architecture, there are links to personal histories, too (a motorway bridge is the designated portal to childhood memories in the work of the 2008 Turner Prize winner Mark Leckey). The Polish artist Monika Sosnowska engages with all five of these strands.
In other whole-room installations, Sosnowska’s distortions can appear unconstrained by gravity, as if to mock the aspirations of soaring towers. Recently, she has mixed these large-scale interventions with groups of smaller works. That throws more emphasis on the construction materials used – concrete, steel beams, reinforcing rods – and how they are warped and misplaced (by, incidentally, fabricators who normally make the same objects ‘straight’). Sosnowska subverts the functional logic and underlying geometric aesthetics of market vendor’s stands, which seem to have been kicked in for Untitled, 2012, or Stairway, 2010, which bristles insectoidally while leading nowhere. Untitled, 2015, works the other way round: a plant seems to be overtaken by built elements, inverting how nature colonises an abandoned building.
|Untitled, 2017 at Hauser & Wirth|
August Sander: Turkish Mousetrap Salesman c.1924–30
'A Centenary' runs at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester -
1 July - 1 Oct 2017
John Minton (1917-57) is known – though he’s hardly famous nowadays – for his troubled, abbreviated life and as a leading neo-romantic, one of a loose group (often taken to include Sutherland, Piper and Nash) who sought to return to symbolic and visionary evocations of the English landscape tradition.
|'Children by the Sea' 1945|
|Time Was Away – A Notebook in Corsica, 1947|
|Landscape Near Kingston, Jamaica, 1950|
|Fishing Boats in Corsica, 1948 - lithograph|
Minton was highly productive and wide ranging. He was a particularly fluent draughtsman with a natural sense of design which made him an influential illustrator. There are surrealist aspects to the peopled landscapes of the 40’s. His precise and somewhat angular portrait style was different again. A late move towards history paintings saw him take on increased complexity and scale. He wasn’t notable, despite that range, for formal innovation. Minton believed that the choice of subject was ‘paramount’, calling for ‘a love of certain things’ that was ‘no souvenir, no memory, but the thing itself made again in paint’.
|Jamaican Village, 1951|
His own most fertile subjects, built on the many drawings he made when travelling, were exotic and homo-erotic. His 1950 trip to Jamaica was particularly productive: he responded to the tropical colour and the chance to depict semi-naked black bodies with an understated, but undeniable, charge of desire. Yet Minton also discerned ‘a disquiet that is potent and nameless’ – and palpable in Jamaican Village, 1951. Ultimately that’s what makes Minton worth re-examining: he was a natural existentialist, one who laid his self bare through instinct rather than theory.
|Self-Portrait, c 1953|
VICTOR PASMORE: TOWARDS A NEW REALITY
Djangoly Gallery, Nottingham 26 Nov- 19 Feb 2017; Pallant House, Chichester 11 March - 11 June 2017
The story of many 20th century painters turns on their passage from a relatively conventional representational mode into the mature abstract style for which they become famous. On the face of it, Victor Pasmore (1908-98) fits the expected narrative particularly well. Born in Surrey, his progress was slowed by the sudden death of his father in 1927, which forced him to earn a living as a civil servant rather than attending art school. Nonetheless, by the time war broke out in 1939, he had established himself on an amateur basis as a painter of assured landscapes, figure and still-life, and was a respected figure in the London art scene focused on the Euston Road School.
|Pasmore at the Festival of Britain, 1951|
Anne Goodchild, the curator of this survey of Pasmore’s work from the 1930’s to 60’s, says that ‘nothing seemed to suggest the radical change in direction his work was to take’. Yet, though it was very much against the London current of the time, that’s just what we do expect, looking backwards. Who, after all, who would remember Pollock or Rothko had they stuck to their early academic styles? What the 50 works brought together in Nottingham demonstrate is that Pasmore, more unusually, was a significant and original painter both before and after to his move to abstraction, and made many of his finest works in the transition.
|Snow Scene, 1944|
Spiral Motif in Green, Violet, Blue and Gold: The Coast of the Inland Sea, 1950
The great spiral motif series of 1948-51 bring full abstraction to paintings organised as if they were landscapes. These gave way to reliefs constructed from preformed industrial materials, embracing the machine age to ambiguate their space with quiet drama. Still, there’s room for doubt: they are in debt to the Bauhaus and, as John Berger said at the time, ‘remain slightly funny – looking like bathroom fittings’.
|Relief Construction in White, Black and Indian Red, 1961|
|Mural Relief 1958 at Staff Centre Pilkington Glass Works St Helens|
Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern - July-Oct 2016
|My Last Door, 1952-4|
|Sky with Flat White Cloud, 1962|
|Pelvis I (Pelvis with Blue), 1944|
|Pink out of a corner (to Jasper Johns), 1963|
|untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim) 3, 1977|
Then there’s the matter of pinning down exactly what we’re looking at. Is it sculpture, drawing, painting in light, installation or just the functional means of illuminating the surrounding space? The primary aspect varies: untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim) 3 has many of the qualities sought by colour field painting, whereas Untitled (to Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein on not seeing anyone in the room), 1968, shows Flavin as one of the first artists to think in terms of whole room installation: it illuminates a space from which we are barred, deflecting our attention to the architecture, and to the play on Lichtenstein’s 1961 painting I can see the whole room! ….and there’s nobody in it! The voyeurism of Lichtenstein’s man looking through a spyhole transfers to us.
|Untitled (to Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein on not seeing anyone in the room), 1968|
Those examples also illustrate the role played by Flavin’s titles, which alternately refer us to possible parallels, suggest meanings personal to Flavin, or make dedications to other artists which hover between homage and dry self-awareness of the potential for overblown comparisons. After all, Flavin’s style of “monument” – hence the quotation marks round those to Tatlin – has inbuilt impermanence: they can be turned off at any time and their parts need regular replacement. Is there also a spiritual aspect to Flavin’s eloquence? Light has a central symbolic role in the history of art, and even if he hadn’t trained as a priest before taking against religion, one can read Flavin as evoking ecstatic or transcendental states, whether divine, meditative, trippy, or even – as Pink out of a corner may suggest - sexual.
"monument" for V. Tatlin1964
Phaidon's Ellsworth Kelly Monograph
This timely doorstep of a monograph (Phaidon £75, 368 pages, 350 colour illustrations, five contributors, 3 kg) provides a comprehensive overview of the painting and sculpture of the late Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2016), known for a 70 year production of rigorously colourful forms which brought him fame without ever quite placing him centrally in the story of art. Lead author Tricia Paik, assisted by Kelly’s collaboration and the availability of his archive, lucidly explains his development and critical reception over four chronological periods (leaving a quartet of renowned writers to focus on themes). Her account of 1923-48 sets out Kelly’s background as a shy, stuttering boy from New Jersey, keen on bird-watching and drawing, who spent 1944-45 in the ‘Ghost Army’ of camouflage experts which deflected the German intelligence through such ruses as inflatable tanks. 1948-54 saw Kelly remain in France just as the New York art scene was taking off, facilitating the development of an independent style which came to maturity in New York City, 1954-70. Recognition was slow, but substantial by the time – in tune with his love of nature – he then moved upstate.
Kelly has often been miscast as a follower of Mondrian or as a minimalist. Yet Grünewald, Audubon and Picasso meant more to him. With none of Mondrian’s spiritual bent, the wellspring of Kelly’s art was always the world from which he abstracted shapes with the aim of catching the essence of an ‘already-made’. “My paintings don’t represent objects,” he said, meaning that he avoided graphic depictions of what he saw, “They are objects themselves and fragmented perceptions of things.” That’s the logic of multi or joined panel works, such as Yellow with Red Triangle, 1973; and fits how , for example, the relationships of form and colour in Kelly’s snapshot of a paper cup squashed underfoot can be traced to the typically voluptuous Blue Curve, 1994.
Three main achievements emerge. First the sensuous derivation of abstraction, while avoiding the expression of the artist’s own hand which one might expect to go with that, is Kelly’s own. Second, he has a way with clarion colours. There isn’t a system (“I don’t know what I want”, he said, “ my eye does”) but as Richard Shiff points out in his essay, Kelly seems unusually able to ensure that his colours reach uniform saturation within such works as the Spectrum series or Yellow with Red Triangle, with its equal colour values. Third, as Gary Garrels explains, Kelly took masterful account of how his paintings engaged with the wall which formed their ground, and with their setting as a whole. That led him increasingly into sculpture and majestically-scaled intersections of art and architecture.
The work of Alexander Calder (1898-1976) has rather disappeared in plain view: we’re used to the fact that every major museum has one of his famous mobiles, but find it easy to pass by without feeling particularly challenged. Tate Modern’s new show seeks to remind us of the radicalism behind making the sculpture move for us instead of us moving round the sculpture. It excludes the static ‘Stabiles’, which feature monumentally in many public squares, and the vibrant gouaches. Nor are there any films or re-enactments of how Calder employed his sculptures in dance and opera. The focus is determinedly on work interacting with the viewer: a substantial selection of Calder’s 200 mobiles, and the wire sculptures which led up to them.
The Brass Family, 1929
Calder was born – in Pennsylvania – into a lineage of sculptors, but delayed following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, training as a mechanical engineer before something of an epiphany on a naval voyage to Guatemala in 1922: the sight of the sun and moon rising and setting simultaneously on opposite sides of the ship started him painting, and he enrolled in art college in New York. That awakening stayed with him; the basis of his work, he said, remained ‘the system of the Universe’, in that ‘the idea of detached bodies floating in space… some at rest, while others move in peculiar manners, seems to me the ideal source of form’.
Red and Yellow Vane, 1934
Calder’s second source of fascination, arising from a journalistic sketching assignment in 1925, was the spectacle and choreographed action of the circus. He re-enacted its sequences through the 70 models of Le Cirque, 1926-30, which he housed in a suitcase to facilitate travelling performances. Calder had begun using wire to bring his drawings of animals into space: Le Cirque uses this technique within its mixed media, and separate, larger works employ just wire. The Brass Family, 1929, is typical of those, both for wittily exploring the analogies between the balance of acrobats and the balance of sculptural weight, and for an erotic edge which led Calder to describe himself as ‘more ‘Sewer-realist’ than Surrealist’.
Triple Gong, 1948
Those two inspirations meshed with the influence of the artists he met in 1920s Paris: Miró and Arp played a part, and Duchamp proposed the term ‘Mobile’ – but it was a visit to Mondrian’s studio in 1930 which led Calder to turn his love of motion and play towards abstraction. Now, too, his feeling for the interaction of the skies returns to temper those ludic instincts with an intimation of elemental energies. There is a long tradition of sculpture in movement – in religious processions, for a start – but Calder was the first to make sculptures perform by themselves. The restless mutability of his mobiles might stand for the experimental approach driving his art as a whole, which varies immensely across an oeuvre of 16,000. The most celebrated mobiles are delicate metal structures suspended from the ceiling, painted in primary colours and designed to move gently with the airflow like clouds drifting by (as there are no fans, the curators have taken pains to ensure that visitor movements will be sufficient to create the right degree of draught*). Other mobiles, though, are fixed to the wall or mounted on bases – such as Red and Yellow Vane, 1934, which is also simpler than most. The Tate’s show, then, is a chance to assess afresh the variety of spatial and kinetic effects Calder achieves through his universal circus of orchestrated movement over and around us.
* This was a preview: as it turned out, Tate failed miserably in this aim, delivering an embarrassingly static show