Sunday, 22 September 2019



At Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, London

Curated by Paul Carey-Kent

PV Thurs 18 July 6-8 pm

Runs to 19 July - 21 Sept (summer closure 28th July - 3 September)

Artist talks Wed 18 Sept 6.30 for 7.00. Curator's tour Fri 20 Sept at 5pm

Gradation: Installation views

Some shows are full of drama and sharp clashes, whether in their narrative content or in their formal language. That may be all well and good, and makes an immediate impact… but there’s a place for subtler transitions, for boundaries to blur, for one thing to become another by more gradual means. And just such a tendency can be seen, in various versions, in the eight practices represented in this show. One might be reminded of Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the tortoise. Achilles gives the tortoise a head start of 100m. But when he gets to the 100m point, the tortoise has moved a little further. Achilles runs on to that point, but by then the tortoise has again moved on a small way. And so on… Achilles can never reach the tortoise. This conclusion may feel wrong – after all, it is a paradox – but it does demonstrate the potential power of small differences. That’s the power which these eight artists bring to art, whether that is seen in how one tone or colour shades into another; how drawing transitions into sculpture or film; how the detail of mimicry can deceive; or how different registers can be intricately combined, whether the registers be printed impressions or types of meaning. Nor, as it happens, is ‘Gradation’ short of paradoxes: what looks heavy may be light; a re-enactment may be original; many may be seen as one; one material may actually be another; categories or boundaries may break down. The artists’ many gradations, then, add up to a show of some substance. If there is a little of the tortoise in such approaches, maybe it isn’t a given after all that the grandstanding loud statements, sharp contrasts and shock tactics of so much recent art will ever catch up…

Nicole Phungrasamee Fein: detail of '', 2019

Perhaps Nicole Phungrasamee Fein presents the most obvious case of gradation, as adjoining and overlapping visual planes transition edge gradually into each other in her gently luminous works. She methodically applies watercolour, slowly building – maybe it’s more like weaving than architecture or conventional painting – translucences which dissolve into each other. No wonder she says ‘slowing down is fundamental’ to what she does.  It isn’t too surprising to learn that she has trained in China as well as in her native USA. Fein’s titles are rigorously numeric, allowing the viewer to enter their tranquil, meditative zones without preconceptions, and opening up the possibility that the process of transition is itself the subject. It’s like watching a deconstruction of night falling, bringing to mind the place of distinctions in our language. When, for example, do we decide to say it is dark? That reminds us how what seem like binary distinctions soon collapse into degrees. Are we old yet? Are we happy? Is that art? Ah yes, this is definitely art.

Troika: 'All Colours White', 2015

Troika is a collaborative formed by the Germans Eva Rucki and Conny Freyer and Frenchman Sebastien Noel in 2003. The primary border they investigate is that between the digital and physical. All Colours White is exemplary in that respect: it consists of a mechanism which projects light onto a canvas structure over a 12 minute loop. Initially distinct, the colours gradually bleed into each other, creating an intricate spectrum until their collective amalgamation results in pure white light. Here the natural and digital collide: Troika explain that ‘the specific combination of red, blue and green references the colours that mediate our digital experience, while the composite colour spectrum inherent in white light is intrinsically natural’ so that All Colours White investigates ‘that which coexists but cannot be experienced simultaneously’. It is typical of Troika that a scientifically-styled process leads to an alluring aesthetic experience - such as when 15,000 volts of electrical charge burn bronchial forms into wet paper or thousands of dice enacting computer programmes form coruscating patterns.

Bella Easton: 'Angel Heart', 2018

Bella Easton’s practice is founded in drawing, typically homing in on domestic details such as the Victorian wallpaper which has inspired her works in ‘Gradation’. She develops, replicates and reflects on the source to generate a complex, intensely gradated, account of the multiple relationships and contradictions between inside and outside, natural and artificial, open and enclosed, chaotic and orderly, uncanny and familiar. Her method is a hybrid of painting and printmaking: the squares we see in her extracts from Angel Heart are lithographic prints each pressed twice onto paper-thin ceramic, in slightly different registrations, around the central axis. The Rorschach-like result is a coming-together that may look like one complete view, but is actually a doubling of two halves. Easton first used ceramic in this way for the 96 panel Angel Heart, which won the Jerwood London Original Print Fair prize in the Royal Academy Summer Show. Both ceramic works take their cue from a drawing, and Easton also shows another drawing – Where Stars Dissolve – alongside a rubbing rendered directly from the surface from which it developed. 

Katrin Bremermann’s abstractions operate on the scuffed edge of the minimal between painting as object, support and image; and between colour as surface effect and sculptural element. Her practice is rooted in drawing but – unusually – her forms edge literally as well as suggestively into space. That happens in three ways: coloured shapes escape the expected confines of the edges of their grounds, overlapping what seems set to constrain them; figure and ground are ambiguated to trigger shifting effects of relative advancement and recession; and the paper is worked – notably through the application of wax – so that it becomes a sculptural element. Bremermann first makes black lines and other marks on the paper, then applies a layer of wax which causes the relief and also makes the sheet semi-transparent, only then adding the final layer of paint on top. Add the working on both sides of the paper, and the combination of smooth surface with the marks and abrasions caused by her processes – which can include applying an iron – and the various gradations in her simple-looking organic shapes become stimulatingly hard to pin down.


Diogo Pimentão: 'Documented (blind-side)', 2019

Diogo Pimentão pushes further into the three dimensional potential of drawing, and gives it a performative as well as sculptural aspect. One expects a pencil to be used to make representations, but Diogo Pimentão is more interested in reflecting actions and movements – if he is representing anything, it is the work itself. That leads him into using paper and graphite to make forms which curve or fold into space. We might easily assume that the resulting sculptures are metal - given their density of surface and the way they reflect light, as well as traditional expectations of how such works will be constructed. That gives them a powerful physical presence, even as apparent strength and actual fragility are set in dialogue. Documented (blind-side), given its installation on the wall, edges back a little way towards the expectations of paper. The title suggests a narrative of its formation, but also teases us a little: how hard is it to draw blind if no image is involved?

Roland Hicks: 'Four Part Dissemblage (OCOM)' 2018
Roland Hicks first became known as a photorealist who explored the boundary between art and reality, often focussing on substantial depictions of small items. His more recent work results from finding that the idea of an art object interested him more than creating the illusion of pictorial space: now the material and its representation turn into each other. Gouache, paper and coloured pencil are refashioned to scrupulously reproduce the texture of plywood and Oriented Strand Board (OSB), so that first we are deceived, and then surprised by such an investment of time and effort in  what looks like junk.  It’s only at the level of finely graduated detail that we can tell what has been done. Get past that, though, and two other factors emerge: first, the pieces set up a version of minimalist but roughened geometry which relates nicely to established languages of abstraction; second, the titles suggest playful narratives: thus, The Tree, The Axe is either of those objects depending which side you can see – the blood red or the leaf green.

Erika Winstone makes use of moving and still images to capture the actions of people in both cinematic sources and her own life. The intensely layered installation ‘Hotel du Pre’ projects a film – which itself incorporates silverpoint drawings derived from the actions we see - onto part of a glass panel engraved with what becomes a shadow image. It is conceived, in Winstone’s words ‘to allow the dynamics between the glass panel, reflections, shadows and video to continuously shift’. The film features a re-enactment 35 years later of scenes from Jacques Rivette’s 1981 new wave film ‘Le Pont du Nord’, with Winstone and her daughter – Anna Dean - wandering round Paris. The 30 minute loop counterpoints Rivette’s original (which is shown silent) with the re-eanactment (with ambient sound).  Given that Rivette’s film itself stars mother-daughter actors - Bulle and Pascale Ogier – but the parts they play are of strangers who meet by chance, the ways in which the film can be read across to Winstone’s own artistic and personal setting become dizzying. Film shades into reality, original into re-enactment, who we are into who we would like to be. Then comes the play between media.

Melanie Smith: still from ''maps, mud and mundo(s)' 2014

Melanie Smith trained as a painter in Britain has long worked between London and Mexico City, during which time she developed a film-centred practice. She brought an outsider’s observations to the many contradictions of her adopted country – typically blurring the documentary and aesthetic registers by examining how socio-economic factors translate into everyday colour and materials. ‘Maps, Mud and Mondo(s)’, from 2014, is a 14 minute black and white video collage of seen and heard elements. Preferring accumulative conjunctions to orthodox narrative, Smith foregrounds how the film has been made and edited to emphasise how the content moves between image as representation, and as surface effect. In Smith’s words, the four registers of ‘archaeological, paleontological, erotic and primal overlap one another in an elliptical manner, suggesting a different ontological order between bodies of different types’. That mapping of a world takes in ants, fish, birds, photographs, mouths, rocks, water, spiders, the night sky, artefacts, caterpillars, eyes, lovers, a phone... and the unifying mud – or human clay - of potentially creative hands scooping up gloop. 

Opening: Katrin Bremermann with Patrick Heide

Opening: Erika Winstone (right) with Claudia Carr

Opening: Nicole Phungrasamee Fein (left) with Jyll Bradley

Opening: Roland Hicks and I


Four of the artists expanded on the above in a series of short talks under a heading which I gave them. A few of the points made were as follows:

Bella Easton: Wallpaper

Bella explained that she has renovated houses with a Victorian aesthetic, including wallpaper. She’s always been interested in pattern and repetition, and in various oppositions such as order / chaos, darkness / light and chance / deliberation. All are evident in her processes, but what she’s developed from wallpaper with floral patterning is a way of moving from the interiors she likes to work with to a result she sees as landscape, so inside and outside come together. 'Anaglypta Ombre' is a foundational study made by rubbing directly onto textured wallpaper using varying pressure across the surface. Similar themes are also treated in drawing, painting and ceramic.

Erika Winstone: Pascale Ogier 

Erika has worked extensively with two films starring Pascale Ogier, a French actress who died in 1984 on the eve of her 26th birthday, probably from an overdose. She loves her spontaneity, and how she worked with her mother. Erika works with her own daughter, now in her early 20’s, whom she described as ‘a performer from birth’ and 'what started me off with a video camera’. 'I don’t tell her what to do’, she said of the renactments they have filmed together, ‘she operates from her own memory of Pascale in the original film’. The results are complexly layered both physically and in time, including through a sheet of glass which represents fragility

Diogo Pimentao: Drawing in Space

Diogo thought his topic a little mischievous. He doesn’t see himself as a sculptor, but as rooted in drawing, yet if you google ‘drawing in space’, it is all about what sculptors and architects do. It would be more accurate to say that he draws ‘with’ space, allowing paper to take on volumes more associated with sculpture, largely though the actions of gravity. His works to this end primarily use graphite, but also concrete in two forms. When filling a space – as in xxxthe brain-like 'Matter (functions)' – it ‘takes on the shape of an idea’. But he also applies concrete to paper, as in 'Vertical (inversion)', so that the drying process alters the form. 

Roland Hicks: Am I Trying to Deceive You?

Roland explained that, although Trompe-l'œil is a valid tradition which aims to deceive, that wasn’t enough for him. He also wants his evocations of such cheap materials as chipboard and polystyrene to operate successfully as geometric abstraction and as found material assemblages. Why not just use the real thing? Because the time invested changes the status / value of the materials. He sees his work as a homage to those materials - playful not cynical. It's about ambiguity, being several things at once: in polarised times, he suggested, that may be something to hold onto. Roland also plays with setting up false narratives, as when a coffee ring is painted on…

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About Me

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Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09) and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.