Plates

The start of term comes on the heels of a summer where I more or less ground to a halt, my body clearly telling me I needed sleep. We’ve updated the VLEs for all the modules, so that they all look the same, but importing and updating old content took longer than planned because Blackboard is still clunky despite claiming drag and drop.

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Rainbow in Curved Paint

Bridget Riley – The Curve Paintings 1961-2014 (De La Warr, Bexhill on Sea, 13 June 2015-6 September 2015)

Stand still and look at the flat square.

The diamond.

Relax.

Look at the plane.

Slowly, inevitably, against your will, it begins to move. To dance, to ripple.

And yet.

Still a plane.

And yet.

You look away and there’s still an after image.

There’s no doubt a scientific explanation about the limitations of vision and the brain filling in the gaps – we can’t separate the white from the black or (later) the green, blue, grey.

Oh look, it’s Crest, again.

Riley’s curve paintings began with a black square, which seem to be everywhere at the moment. Malevich and all that. But she wasn’t happy – it didn’t express her failure as an artist enough.

So an experiment led to a circle and a square, Or rather a rectangle. The Kiss (1960).

And from that she got to her curve paintings – some black and white, others using greys, some playing with blue and green and red and grey. Take Cataract 2 (or 3, because I can find a picture of that one) and see how it refuses to lie flat. Cataract 2 is more like an arrow than this – note the stripes aren’t parallel, are offset.
In one room we see a wall of preparatory sketches, many of them on graph paper, and we consider how carefully the abstract must have been arrived at.

And then, in 1980, she stopped. She moved onto vertical lines.

The deckchair years.
But they didn’t vanish forever, as in 1997 there was a return. Lagoon 2 widens the vertical stripes and interrupts them, if not with curves then with segments of circles. The vertical lines are further disturbed by diagonals. In the area given to studies, we see variants that led to this and similar designs – trying out colours, rearranging segments, working on graph paper and tracing paper. “Lagoon” points us to something more organic than maths, something away from the abstract.

“The relation between the line and the curve can be compared to that between the circle and the oval,” she says in an interview. But it also breaks the apparent flatness of the plane.

The most recent piece in the exhibition I think (despite that 2014 date) is a wall painting, Rajasthan (2012) – red, orange, green, grey and the white of the wall. There’s not the same sense of the breaking of the plane, but there’s the breaking of the frame. Given what I’m currently reading about the (American?) battle between the wall and the easel, this feels timely.

Interference PatternBexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion is one of my favourite galleries – and in conjunction with the Jedward Jerwood makes a splendid day out. Indeed, although the effect may not work here, I’ve looked at the light-reducing blinds before and thought of them as op art. The Art Deco curves of the building seem to speak to Riley’s curves and the seaside setting seems to speak to some of those curves as sticks of rock (and I’m not entirely joking about the deckchairs, although none were on show here). It is a show to surrender to – even as it takes you over.

Abstract Goes the Easel

A Marriage of Styles: Pop to Abstraction (Mascalls Gallery, Paddock Wood, Kent, 28 March-6 June 2015)

This is, ish, very ish, the fiftieth anniversary of the second wave of British Pop Art and the University of Kent, and so Pop Art has decided to mark this by having three universities.

Ah, sorry, my mistake, the University of Kent have three exhibitions – one on campus, which I presume they didn’t feel the need to tell anyone about as I missed it, one on Paolozzi and Tony Ray-Jones, which I’ve written about for Foundation, and A Marriage of Styles at Mascalls Gallery. This gallery has a rather good exhibition policy, but it is a l-o-n-g mile’s walk from Paddock Wood station (thankfully on the flat) and is at a school, so I’ve not been as often as I’ve wanted to. I caught this show on the penultimate day and I’m so glad I did. I should note, also, that there are current two rooms at Tate Modern specifically devoted to Pop Art, even though you’d think that would be at Britain?

So what is Pop Art? Well, the word Pop was used in a slide by Eduardo Paolozzi at his presentation Bunk! at the inaugural meeting of the Independent Group in 1952 and Lawrence Alloway in 1958 was to apply it to art that drew on the visual language of advertising, comic books and everyday life, breaking down boundaries between high and low art. In the US, you’d put Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, who clearly pointed the way for the next generation of British artists, who were mostly at art college in the early 1960s. But if Pop Art constructs a reality through actual or implied collage, these artists were also influenced by more abstract, non-representational, images.

The Paddock Wood show had eleven paintings – I’m guessing one for each member of the the 1966 English worldcup football team – in its two rooms, mostly one to a wall. I’m going to talk about them one by one, mostly from my notes scribbled in the gallery. Continue reading →