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.’

https://whitecube.com/exhibitions/exhibition/tightrope_walk_painted_images_after_abstraction_bermondsey_2015

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Re-inventing Presence an essay by Barry Schwabsky

painting had declared its independence as an autonomous reality

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This accordingly happened in 1911-12.

Objects can become enigmatic signs for human presences and absences.

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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?

Drawing the paper mache sculpture

HB – 2B Pencils

Detailed drawing. Transferring dimensions back onto paper.

I then traced this drawing with clean newspaper paper, and cut around it so I had a template for the next drawing.

Black and white thinned acrylic paint

I reduced the detailed painting down to lines.

It’s interesting how this drawing is so different from the original design for the sculpture below. The new drawing is far more organic than the design.

The problem with drawing this sculpture looking straight ‘up’ at it, and not including any shading, is that the shape loses all of its dimensional qualities that are so crucial to these structures. I thought drawing things looking straight up would help me work out the design of the structures better, but it now appears that just drawing the sculptures looking straight up misses half the point, since these sculptures are meant to be drawn from angles and have real dimension I shouldn’t just be drawing the sculptures like this.

Acrylic and a white POSCA pen to outline the structure

I had one more go drawing the sculpture looking straight up. This time I wanted to block in areas that the sculpture would cover of the sky / canopy above. (The painting underneath is also of looking straight up at the sky / canopy) This shows how much of the sky the sculpture covers! In my next design for my next sculpture I need to make sure there is less planes that block out the sculpture.
Also, adding lines as if the legs branched out was useful in imagining the sculpture standing up high. I definitely need to add legs to my next sculpture.

Learnings

Draw the sculptures from different angles of standing underneath, not just looking directly up – this is why I’m making these sculptures!! – to paint from angles and create dimension in my paintings, so PRACTISE THAT!

Less coverage of the sky and trees above the sculpture with finer coverage and more just lines.

Add legs! – This will mean I can draw the sculptures from angles more easily. And also photograph the sculpture in the woods!

I want to experiment with blocking in white areas in drawings when drawing the structure from different angles. Would it add or subtract from the finished painting? I haven’t done that before so would have to see.

Drawing from the clay sculpture

The reason I want to do these sculptures is to understand how I can better add dimensional shapes into my paintings. So once I finished the clay sculpture I wanted to draw it, to see how it would translate back onto paper – how easily could I translate the clay back into simple lines? This process would give me clues for how to make my next sculpture better.

I began with this pencil drawing, drawing the sculpture looking down on it as delicately and accurately as possible. I wanted to do a drawing like this because that would mean I had translated the drawing onto paper.
I am really happy with the rendering of this drawing, it is rare that I draw so finely and delicately! But it forced me to scrutinise the sculpture and translate it to a 2D image, which helped with the second drawing.

My original plan was to just do a simple pencil sketch on plain paper, like the last drawing. But after starting the sketch on plain paper, I realised the simplified structure is intended to be applied in thin white lights on a darker background, so it made sense to do this drawing in a simple version of that.
So I applied ink to the background. Then I used thin newspaper paper to trace around the detailed drawing and then relay those dimensions onto this new drawing. I did this because I wanted the two drawings to have the same size and dimensions, I wanted them to be as accurate as possible to the sculpture as well. Since I spent so much time carefully plotting the dimensions in the first drawing it made sense to transfer that shape across to the second drawing.
Once I plotted shapes in pencil I went over in white acrylic with a really fine brush.
The aim of this drawing was the shapes to be reduced to lines that represented the structural qualities of the drawing, and any important features that were part of that. I straightened the lines out slightly as well, and generally cleaned the sculpture up.

I wanted to see what this reduced shape would look like on an actual painting. I went outside and painted the colours looking directly up at an opening in a canopy of trees, intending to place the drawing in the centre. I made sure to layer the brushstrokes under and over the drawing as I have done in the past.

The outcome is okay. The simplfied shape does a good job at describing a canopy that is converging in the centre and reaching up. But the problem is the white lines look so flat, even with the layering of the brushes under and over. Perhaps it is the angle I am drawing it from?

Overall

I am happy with the process of drawing the shape, then refining the drawing, then applying it to the canvas. It is helping me to improve my sculpture but at the moment it is not producing successful paintings. Where is the great space, height and depth!?

Kunz’s drawings as sculptures: Visual Mindmap

Some sculptures that resemble the shapes in Kunz’s drawings, and appear to me as three-dimensional manifestations of her drawings.
What’s interesting to me is that looking up at a (linear) sculpture creates such symmetry and shapes that could easily be flattened into a drawing. But when you stand back from the shape and look at the same sculpture from the side, the shape of the sculpture is revealed and the impression of the lines as marks on a page are replaced with the build of the structure.
For example, the sculpture in the top right could be a flat drawing on blue paper, but if you stepped out from underneath, the height and build of the shape would be revealed.

The same experience can be said for cathedral architecture. When one stands directly underneath the architecture, it resembles a flat drawing, with symmetrical, cyclical shapes. But when you move, the build of the shapes are revealed, the dome shape and the support columns are revealed too.

The same thing can’t be said for woodlands? At least there is no geometry or symmetry when you look directly up at a treetop canopy. But I think it is the same when you move around in the space, the height and shapes are revealed.

So now I know I want my sculpture to have this quality:
– to be symmetrical when looking directly up at it
– to have ‘legs’/columns that define the height of the structure and create an inside space that is a mini version of the experience of these great woodland canopies and cathedrals interiors.

Artist: Emma Kunz

Kunz was a Swiss healer, researcher and artist. I saw her work for the first time at the Serpentine Gallery over Easter in the exhibition Emma Kunz – Visionary Drawings: An exhibition conceived with Christodoulos Panayiotou. I read about her work as we entered the exhibition and was immediately interested, and surprised, because I had not expected the drawings to be concerned with such issues! Here’s a quote from the exhibition description:

[Kunz’s] gift was an awareness of connections that contradicted both normal experience and scientific interpretations of the laws of Nature and art. This was a supernatural event, a miracle that, in revealing divine truths conveyed a secret impulse on a par with that of cosmic creation. Emma Kunz’s drawings are attempts to find a universal connection. They are the records of her concentration on the question of the Whole.

https://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/emma-kunz-visionary-drawings-exhibition-conceived-christodoulos-panayiotou

The idea that such simple tools – coloured pencils, a ruler, graph paper and sometimes a pendulum, can produce art about monumental issues is bold. Ideas of science, nature and spirituality aren’t the things I thought of when I saw the drawings. The exhibition didn’t have descriptions or names next to each work so there was no chance for impressions to be skewed by titles or descriptions. There was a free digital guide yey that had some information on individual pieces, but having the material paintings unaccompanied was great! It forced me to look at the drawing and the drawing only, with no distractions.

I took photos of my favourite drawings:

I really found my own meaning in these works. The ideas of spirituality and the whole universe etc didn’t come across to me, but I found the paintings interesting nonetheless. I do think the drawings have a mediative quality to them, the repetitive lines and simplicity made me think Kunz did these drawings as a form of moving meditation?
As well as this, I was immediately reminded of the structures in my paintings when I saw the drawings in person. These drawings felt to me like a colourful, more complex version of the structures I have been drawing. I imagined the Kunz’s drawings being the roof of structures, where I would stand directly underneath and looking up at the ceiling which was one of Kunz’s drawings.

I spent the time imagining how the lines and angles of the drawings could create 3D shapes, where points in the centre of the drawing point towards the sky or vie versa. I thought of this because all the drawings have lines that converge in one or multiple focus points. This to me appeared like peaks or troughs of a roof shape if looked at from another angle. This is a rough digital sketch of the kind of shapes I mean:

Seeing these drawings made me think about how I could push the structure shapes forward, using lines, and converging points for structures that are more complex than I have made before.

Studio Set Up

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Tidying and cleaning my studio puts me in a better phrase of mind to make more.

Taking down work that had become less relevant keeps my studio wall relevant and focused.

Ink drips on the floor and on the wall are building up. There is a clear history of what has been made before.