Exhibition Reading: Tight Rope Walk at White Cube

I saw this exhibition at the White Cube in London somewhere between November 2015 to January 2016. I was impressed by a lot of the works there, but was quite young when I saw the show so the curation of the show and writing that accompanied it passed me by.
Since then I have thought about the exhibition fairly often, and the ideas that accompanied the collection of paintings sunk in.
Here is a description of the show from the White Cube website:

The group exhibition ‘Tightrope Walk’ brought together paintings by close to fifty artists in an effort to illuminate how the act of making a representational painting became redefined over the past century, following the emergence of abstraction as a competing proposition. Since then, representational painting has always been made in cognisance of abstraction – sometimes polemically against it but more often incorporating aspects of it into a new synthesis. The exhibition drew on some of the forms in which this contentious encounter has taken place and its impact on the many ways painters have revised their conception of what representation can be.

Francis Bacon explained his art to David Sylvester as ‘a kind of tightrope walk between what is called figurative painting and abstraction.’


Although this exhibition focused on portrait painting, the investigation into abstraction and representation is extremely relevant to my practice, and thinking about this metaphor over the past century will help ground my work I think.

Art transforms the initial perception into something with lasting force and presence… it is the force of the image that counts more than the recollection of an appearance.


There has been an encounter, but the form that flows from it is something else.


These statements are interesting. To think of the painting as a reflection of something else that isn’t the model present. Could this apply to landscape painting as well?

What interested me so much about this exhibition was how the paintings were curated. The metaphor: a tightrope, worked so well because one could place the paintings on a metaphorical scale next to each other:

Recreating a convention can be just as productive as reinterpreting an experience… the painted image find[s] the force behind the readymade image the artist has seen or remembers.


This is similar to the structures I paint, although the ‘readymade image’ comes from my own mind and experiments and experience instead of from something put in front of me ready to paint. But the force is definitely there and it comes from that process and the final image in my mind.

The process of painting can proceed, not just from object to image, but from image to image.


Above this text are examples of artists that rework their own pieces from photographs, or find images and then paint them etc. This reminds me of David Hockney’s process that I read about in Lives of the Artist, Lives of the Architects.
This process makes sense for me; I experience being in a place, then I make images of that, and then more images based on those images, and images based on those, and then a sculpture based on those images, then an image of that sculpture, then an image of that image of the sculpture…etc….! I had never thought of my process in this way, but that IS what I’m doing!
And then the painting I do en plein air completely cuts that process, slices it clean off. Because I paint immediacy, just reactionary marks immediately recorded. LOVE IT.
That contrast between the refining, remaking, reimaging, and the clean cut plein air work is LOVELY and refreshing. I have seen my work & process in a new light!

With abstracted painting:

there’s an image that goes in and out of focus, that one sees as random or manipulated matter and then suddenly takes form as something one knows.


Re-inventing Presence an essay by Barry Schwabsky

painting had declared its independence as an autonomous reality


This accordingly happened in 1911-12.

Objects can become enigmatic signs for human presences and absences.


Do the structures in my work have signs of human presence / absence? THAT’S something to think about.

Thoughts on the exhibition and the book…

What has struck me about this exhibition was how well the works have been curated, and relevant to the theme of the show.
The book was divided up into sections, with a short piece of writing at the start of each section, followed by some of the paintings in the exhibition. The writing at the start of each section linked so well with the paintings associated with it. This allowed me as a viewer to find clarity in the writing through examples of works, because I could feel and react the paintings in a way that confirms what the writing stated.
I wonder if the works were picked first and then the writing second or vice versa?

Notes on the book: Lives of the Artists, Lives of the Architects by Hans Ulrich Obrist

As I am reading this book I am folding corners or underlining bits I think are interesting. Here I am going back through the book and picking out all these flagged bits, which I can then categorise into themes to reveal channels of thought I have been having. Here are some bits I thought worth including here.

David Hockney

a camera doesn’t see space – it sees surfaces. Human beings see space


P.41 Hockney talks about returning to painting with more confidence always after taking ‘detours’. I love this. Painting as the place to return to strong, and also reflect on whilst making them.

P.48 Hockney uses a process of drawing, scanning the drawing, painting on the scanned drawing, scanning that and repeating as many times as wanted. This is an interesting process as Ulrich Obrist said ‘from digital to analogue’.

Here in Bridlington, the winter is more colourful than the summer.


^ Hm! Makes me think.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster

I’m very resistant with regard to the art object, because as I see it, the relationship to an object or a thing is all too obvious a relationship. I prefer to be in a relationship with something that’s around me, but which I am, at the same time, myself around. I’d rather explore that kind of complex situation.

Architecture is just that: you go out, you go in, and so on.


^My structures from paintings to sculptures bruh!

Ernest Mancoba

I cannot pick sentences out from this interview because whole pages are just so good. P.136-139 esp. My comment under the page is ‘art is real and human and messy!’, it evokes that. He talks about how African Art doesn’t abide to established ‘aesthetic rules’ such as proportion. Instead of following rules, African artwork is for ‘its capacity to evoke the inner being, by the strength of the outward aspect’, judgement of beauty does not come into it (p.137).

Frank Gehry

Discusses the exhibition building and architecture. How white galleries can be ‘sterilised containers’. What if for my work I thought consider that? How its displayed working WITH THE SPACE ITSELF, and requiring more than just a white wall/room. Think about this for degree show and showing coursework!!!!! exciting P.173.

Architecture and artists being the same and one! I love that. ‘one has plumbing the other is pure’. He makes so many interesting points, making me rethink architecture as relational to an artists work process. How could this link to my structures? Since that is architecture of the mind in some way.. blurring of art and architecture..? P.173.

He talks about the immediacy you feel from standing in front of a painting; ‘you feel like it was just painted yesterday’. Gehry is interested in how this immediacy can be achieved in construction:

how do you get that feeling of frozen motion that exists in the Elgin Marbles, or that exists in the Indian Shiva figures? I always felt that that immediacy was more powerful than nineteenth-century decoration… it’s to try and figure out how to build with bricks and mortar and achieve that immediacy.


^What do I feel in cathedrals? In the Baroque ones I saw last summer there was definitely this sense of immediacy, which came from the internal decor that gave everything motion. But what do I want my structures to have? Well if they’re painted they may have material immediacy, but the shapes may look frozen? But sculptures of them?
Gehry does not want to build artefacts.

Gerhard Richter

we make our own nature, because we always see it in the way that suits us culturally. When we look on mountains as beautiful, although they’re nothing but stupid and obstructive rock piles; or see that silly weed out there as a beautiful shrub, gently waving in the breeze: these are just our own projections, which go far beyond any practical, utilitarian values.


The title to a painting…

… is only obliquely related to the paintings; indeed it really doesn’t say anything, it only guides one’s way of looking in a particular direction, towards particular relationships and similarities.


Gilbert & George

Robert Louis Stevenson once said that art should be serious, but the way that children are serious when they play.


G & G want to deal with religion because it is a part of so many people’s lives, the same people that may see their work, so they want to address it.

(Haven’t finished reading book yet)

Artist & Exhibition: Alice Wilson, ISLAND

I read the description for this exhibition on a-n’s site and thought it sounded relevant to my work. Wilson’s use of so many mediums is interesting, but also how she considers access to landscape as well as our experience of it. Access is not something that I had considered before, considering this deals with things such as privilege, politics, relative location.
I have talked before about how a painting of a landscape is a reflection of the artist’s perspective (cultural, social, emotional etc) of the woodland space. But I have’t before considered how access to the land could affect the painters experience of a space, affecting the finished artwork.
If the land is public, private, easy to find, a long walk to get to? Up until now I have solely, I think, considered the emotional and sensory experience captured in my abstracted landscape paintings. Considering new things such as access, privilege etc. might steer my work in some direction, although this all seems very conceptual? Perhaps these thoughts would fit into my dissertation?
I can come back to these thoughts.

I read the interview in the exhibition catalogue and there were some artists mentioned that inspired Wilson that I may look at in detail.

I want to probe the infrastructure and privilege that allows us to access landscape but that is unseen in romantic images of it, where landscape becomes a mental space of escape rather than reality.

P.8 of ISLAND catalog, link to it here: https://www.jgmgallery.com/alice-wilson-island

This idea is interesting. Of an external landscape becoming represented by an internal experience. I guess I am finding the balance of that in my paintings. Saying that reminds me of the exhibition I saw a few years back at the White Cube called Tightrope Walk: Painted Images After Abstraction. This exhibition seems to sit just below my conscious thoughts sometimes! I think I should revisit it.

I have been naming romanticisation in my paintings irrelevant in the past. It has been: this is what I experience, I am figuring out how to record that experience, never mind what is being experienced or recorded.
Lots of thinking about things deeply here.. maybe I’ll return to this train of thought.

I don’t have too much else to say on Wilson’s work now.

Notes and images from a trip to Manchester Art Gallery

Lowri seems to treat each person in his image with equal importance. Equal importance and therefore equal unimportance. 

Each had their own story. 

Louis giovanelli

Darkening painting. 

Her work would fit into the tight rope exhibition at the white cube I saw a few years back. 

Egyptian party. I love how there are no descriptions / titles next to each painting. Very refreshing. As an viewer I feel as if I have creative freedom. 

Why the crazy colours? It’s like she’s having a party with these things. ‘Rave’ 

Incredible radiance to white lines. Suspect lighter lilac painting underneath white first. Depth very present of white lines. Oooo yum. 

Contemporary, fun , graffiti, sellable, rich. AHH 

What if I went to a workshop/ class led by Halima Cassel? 

Concentric circles and cross guiding shape is a ‘framework’ here. Perhaps more of that in my own structures. 

Online zine put on website as well as printed copy ? 

Looking back to go forward


I saved some screenshots before the summer started of some directions I wanted to go in. Returning to these screenshots now is a wonderful way to pick things back up with a fresh, if not dazed perspective.

I want to do a painting where the viewer feels as if they are standing inside a structure. All my previous paintings have been looking across or up at the structure from the outside. Being inside would change the experience and perhaps the atmosphere of the painting – the painting as a space. This will be the first thing I do when I get a studio!


I screenshotted this image with the file name ‘did I really do that!?’ it feels like a long time ago that I was painting like this. Feeling removed from this work means there are things to be learnt from it.
I never liked this ink and acrylic painting at the time, but looking back at it now I think it’s got some interesting components. I really like the way I have layered washes of white acrylic to wash out some layers of ink. It means the ink marks placed on top pop out of the scene, and appear further forward.

My big oil paintings of the woodland have always had as much saturation at the bottom of the paint layers, as the last brushstrokes applied on top. What if I tried washing out marks that represent shapes further in the distance, and used more intense, saturated marks for the shapes further forward / in clearer view? It does appear to me that in woodlands the trees further away are softer more washes out (on overcast days) so perhaps I can apply that to the way I apply paint. It may add more depth to my paintings.

I want to return to this ink painting and others like it, because there may be elements of the more realistic depiction of woodlands that I can learn from or pick back up today.


This screenshot has been on my laptop FOREVER.

It makes sense to add this in here now. David Salle’s work uses the contrast of detailed painting with big gestural, energetic marks so successfully in this painting. Having both loose and tight elements makes each part more extreme and therefore more effective. This method of placing tight and loose painting on the same canvas is the same thing I am doing with my paintings of structures next to abstracted woodland. Perhaps looking at his work more would be useful.

St. Mary’s Church in Gdansk

I had a friend send me these images knowing I would like the interior architecture and she was right! The white washed walls, symmetry, delicate geometric shapes and simple arches really inspire the sculptures I want to make more of.
These images are the perfect way to throw myself back into my practice after some time off over summer.

Big painting adding the structure

Exciting to imagine the sculpture on the painting.

Three stage of translating the sculpture onto the projector. I was about to begin drawing the sculpture free hand on the acetate but then I realised why am I not just printing the image and tracing it?
I did this and it worked like a dream! It meant the traced projection was exactly the right proportions and angles as the sculpture and photograph. I will use this process in the future.

This what the projection looked like on the painting. It was then a matter of painting the white lines on following this projection. For detailed as I went thought and techniques of this painting process see my mini sketchbook.

Finished painting

I’m really happy with the final painting. And it really demonstrates the potential of this new process! This term has really been about finding a process of making sculptures and translating them well onto the canvas, and this painting is a culmination of all my learnings and refinements on this process.

The depth of the dome part of the sculpture was far harder to capture than I expected. But with the help of the sculpture the depth of the paint brushes shows through. Having two layers of domes made up of the curves really shows here because you can see one of the layers is less covered by brushstrokes than the other and so not so high up.

Digital sculpture on painting

Before doing any sketches I wanted to see what angle and size would work on the painting. These rough digital sketches are really helpful.

First edit. Sculpture legs aren’t long enough because height of trees is captured although space and depth is.

This second one works because the legs are longer so a great height doing upwards is there. But I liked how big the roof was in the first edit, the roof seems a bit too small here.

An in between scale of the two edits would be best.