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?

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