Monday, 28 December 2015

Ellsworth Kelly, 1923 - 2015

Ellsworth Kelly, Train Landscape, 1952-3
Ellsworth Kelly died 27 December 2015.
In both reproduction and literal description Ellsworth Kelly's Modernist abstractions can seem banal; however, this belies the grand, voluptuous physical presence of these majestic paintings experienced in a gallery.
The often subtly shaped canvases (frequently curved), the precisely scaled, toned and juxtaposed expanses of pure colour achieve a rare spiritual and sensual effect that is unique to this artist. Indeed, it is difficult to locate Kelly tidily amongst his forbears and peers: his work is more cool and subtle that most of the Abstract Expressionists, more sensual and spiritual than the Post-Painterly Abstractionists such as Stella and Noland, and more expressive than the Minimalists. Mark Rosenthal aptly describes Kelly's work as exuding "an ineluctable presence, an aura of something palpable" and traces his aesthetic to the artist's interest in Romanesque and Gothic architecture, to Egyptian pyramids and Sung vases as well as to the Modernism of Mondrian and Brancusi; Kelly also collected archaic stone objects for what he termed their "aura of shape". (1)
Alongside his bold, simple colour abstractions Kelly throughout his life drew from nature - his spare outline drawings of plants contributing to the shapes of his paintings. But it will be for the potent distillation of colour that Kelly is remembered as a major post-war American painter.
Read a recent interview with the 92 year old Kelly by Jason Farago.
Read obituaries by Christopher Masters, Holland Cotter, and in The Telegraph
(1) Waldman, D. ed. (1997) Ellsworth Kelly: A Retrospective, London: Tate Gallery, pp62-3
Click on images to enlarge
Ellsworth Kelly, Window, Museum of Modern Art, Paris, 1949
Ellsworth Kelly, Painting for a White Wall, 1952
Ellsworth Kelly, Rebound, 1959
Ellsworth Kelly, Orange Red Relief, 19596
Ellsworth Kelly, Gate, 1959
Ellsworth Kelly, Red Blue Green, 1963
Ellsworth Kelly, Orange Green, 1964
Ellsworth Kelly, Yellow Piece, 1966
Ellsworth Kelly, Dark Blue Curve, 1995
Ellsworth Kelly, Four Sunflowers, 1957

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Hoyland, Caro, Noland - Pace London

Kenneth Noland, Salute, 1963
Hoyland, Caro, Noland is at Pace London until 16 January 2016.
You wait years for a John Hoyland exhibition then two come along at once. Hot on the heels of the Newport Street Gallery's JohnHoyland: Power Stations: Paintings, 1964-1982 (continuing to 3 April 2016 - see below) Pace London  presents a selection of his work alongside his contemporaries and friends, Anthony Caro and KennethNoland. It's a triumvirate which harks back to the heady days of 1960s Post-Painterly Abstraction when all the talk was of colour, form, 'staining', 'flatness', 'openness and clarity' (Clement Greenberg) and 'shape as form' and the 'primacy of the literal over depicted shape' (Michael Fried). The present grouping calls to mind Michael Fried's championing in 1965 of Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella and Jules Olitski. (Noland's and Stella's reputations seem assured - Stella currently being celebrated at theWhitney (a show I would love to see) - but Olitski has remained largely invisible, at least in the UK.
From the Pace Gallery press release:
Hoyland, Caro and Noland all emerged in the wake of the first generation of the New York School and sought to continue the legacies of their abstract forebears. Hoyland first met Noland in 1964 having already been deeply impressed by Caro's historic show at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1963, the year before his own appearance there with the influential 'New Generation' Exhibition. Caro's work had shifted ground dramatically during his time in the United States, and his capacity for inventing new forms had made Hoyland recognise the value of meeting the artists, including Noland, who had had such an impact on his friend...
The friendship of Caro and Noland had first begun in 1959 when Caro found his ideas sharpened by his encounters with the American artist, who was a leading figure among the post-painterly abstraction painters that critic Clement Greenberg was at that time championing. Already well established as an important colour-field painter and figure in the Washington Colour School, Noland left an indelible impression on his British peer with his commitment to the exploration of colour’s psychic and phenomenological effects through serialized forms, including horizontal bands.
Read review by Robin Greenwood.
John Hoyland, 5.11.65, 1965
John Hoyland, 22.1.67, 1967
John Hoyland, Ait 10.9.72, 1972
John Hoyland, 18.6.73, 1973
Anthony Caro, Survey, 1971-73
Anthony Caro, Stainless Piece C, 1974-75
Kenneth Noland, 3 by 3, 1963
Kenneth Noland, Silent Adios III, 1969
Kenneth Noland, Cove, 1976
Hoyland, Caro, Noland - installation view, Pace London
Hoyland, Caro, Noland - installation view, Pace London

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Michael Craig-Martin - Serpentine Gallery

Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (light bulb), 2014
Michael Craig-Martin: Transience is at the Serpentine Gallery until 14 February 2016.
It's been a busy year for Michael Craig-Martin: in the spring his excellent book On Being an Artist was published, in the summer he was co-ordinator of the Royal Academy Summer Show and now he has an exhibition of his distinctive paintings at the Serpentine spanning the years 1981to 2014.
Craig-Martin has been making his crisply-delineated drawings of common-place, manufactured objects since the late 1970s and has assembled a lexicon of archetypes. In On Being an Artist he explains that he chose "objects so familiar that they had become invisible" and he set himself a rule  that "I would never draw something that could not be recognised instantly". (p171)  However, along the way many of those consumer objects which were once so familiar have become obsolete as new technologies and social habits have emerged. Transience charts a cultural transition from the days of clipboards, portable TVs, audio cassette tapes and Palm Pilots to the digital world of laptops, smart cards and smart phones - all rendered in his signature black outlines and clashing hyperactive colours.
Read reviews by Adrian Searle, Alastair Sooke, Laura Cumming and Waldemar Januszczak.
Read an interview with Tim Adams on the occasion of the publication of On Being an Artist. (Click on images to enlarge.)
Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled battery), 2014

Michael Craig-Martin, Cassette, 2002
Michael Craig-Martin, Eye of the Storm, 2002
Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (watch), 2015
Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (xbox control), 2014
Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (iPhone purple), 2013
Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (laptop turquoise), 2014
Michael Craig-Martin, Biding Time (magenta), 2004
Michael Craig-Martin, installation view of Transience, Serpentine Gallery 2015-16

Sunday, 25 October 2015

John Hoyland - Newport Street Gallery

John Hoyland, Advance Town 29.3.80, 1989
John Hoyland: Power Stations: Paintings 1964-1982 is at Newport Street Gallery until 3 April 2016.
When it was announced that Damien Hirst was developing a gallery to exhibit his collection, who would have guessed that it would open with a show dedicated to John Hoyland? Not me, for one – but so it has, and what a delight it is. The gallery is fabulous and the show is a knockout.
Hoyland (1934-2011) was a major figure in British abstract painting and this exhibition includes work made at the height of his powers. Hoyland and his peers were, perhaps, never fashionable: British abstract painting was at its most vital when American Abstract Expressionism had been displaced as the last word in avant-gardism by Pop, Minimalism and Conceptual Art; as a result the work effectively went underground and  Hoyland and others have not generally won the attention and respect they deserved.
This exhibition is thus both a pleasure in itself and a valuable opportunity to rediscover a great painter.
My favourites here are the early large-scale pieces dominated by reds, oranges and greys and the later works keyed to blue; personally I find some of those featuring a rather sharp and acid green a little ‘difficult’ and the gold and pink ‘experiments’ of the early 1970s lacking in both the cool, solid structure and the intense colour of the best work.
The gallery, designed by Caruso St John, has been developed out of former warehouses and presents a beautiful sequence of large exhibition spaces over two floors connected by beautifully finished and detailed spiral staircases. Hirst is on record saying how impressed he was when, as a student, he visited Charles Saatchi’s original gallery at Boundary Road, in St John’s Wood (1985-2003); I, too, recall that gallery as a revelation: in the 1980s there was nothing like it in the UK either for the scale on which it displayed the likes of Judd, Kiefer, Serra, Twombly, Warhol and others, nor simply for the literally dazzling huge white spaces it presented.  Whether it is inspired or not by Boundary Road Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery is a wonderful addition to London’s art scene.
Watch a short video of a conversation between Damien Hirst and Tim Marlow about the Hoyland show and featuring some views of the gallery spaces; read exhibition reviews by Waldemar JanuszczakMark Hudson, Emyr Williams and John Bunker (Abcrit); read an architectural review of the gallery by Oliver Wainwright; don't bother to read a grumpy Jonathan Jones dismissing Hoyland as 'second-rate'! 
John Hoyland, 29.12.66, 1966
John Hoyland, 9.11.68, 1968
Installation view of 9.11.68, 1968
John Hoyland
John Hoyland (detail of painting above)
John Hoyland
Installation view

Caruso St John (architect) Newport Street Gallery, 2015
Caruso St John (architect) Newport Street Gallery, 2015 - detail of staircase

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Matt Collishaw - The New Art Gallery, Walsall

Matt Collishaw, Insecticide 24, 2006
Matt Collishaw is at The New Art Gallery, Walsall until 10 January 2016.
This is a terrific exhibition in a very fine gallery.
Matt Collishaw is an artist who works in a variety of mediums, employing whatever means most effectively manifests his generally rather dark and disturbing vision. This exhibition includes dark and intense photographs, sculptures, videos and a jaw-dropping zoetrope featuring 300 3D printed resin models. The whole exhibition is beautifully installed and lit.
The earliest work is a black and white photograph Narcissus (1990) showing the artist, cable-release in hand, lying in an urban street staring at his reflection in a muddy puddle. This witty reworking of a classical theme sets the precedent for his sustained, intelligent engagement with the history of art. Last Meal on Death Row is a series of rich still life photographs which have the gravitas of C17 Dutch vanitas paintings; the deeply disturbing Children of a Lesser God revisits the theme of Romulus and Remus in a photograph of two naked babies on an old sofa accompanied by two large dogs - one child sprawls contentedly while the other appears to suckle on one of the animals. Albrecht Durer is revisted in the beautiful and transfixing Whispering Weeds in which grasses gently sway in the breeze and water ripples. The Insecticide series presents enormous images of squashed butterflies which appear like cosmic explosions; For Your Eyes Only is a tryptych video of a pole dancer - images and soundtrack slowed - with the appearance of an altar piece.  
All of the above - and more - is excellent. However, the pièce de résistance is All Things Fall: a circular domed building containing some 300 figures representing the Massacre of the Innocents. This object begins to rotate: when it hits full speed, stroboscopic lights kick in and the figures suddenly come alive! Babies are tossed in the air as the infanticide is enacted - it is a sight that is both horrific and grimly hilarious. The magic spectacle of the bodies coming alive before your eyes is pure delight. This, alone, is worth a trip to Walsall. (Watch a video of the zoetrope in action here.) Read reviews of the exhibition by Waldemar Januszczak, Louisa Buck and Jonathan Jones. Click on images to enlarge.

This was my first visit to the New Art Gallery in Walsall - though it has now been open for 15 years! - and what a fine building it is. Designed by Caruso St John (who have also designed Damien Hirst's Newport Street Gallery - opened this week (8 Oct. 2015) and to be visited shortly) it is an impressively solid and generously spaced gallery.
Matt Collishaw, Narcissus, 1990
Matt Collishaw, Last Meal on Death Row: Bernard Amos (detail), 2011
Matt Collishaw, Last Meal on Death Row: Gary Miller (detail), 2011
Matt Collishaw, Children of a Lesser God, 2007
Matt Collishaw, Whispering Weeds, 2011 (View moving version here)
Matt Collishaw, For Your Eyes Only, 2010 (View video here)
Matt Collishaw, Insecticide 13, 2006
Matt Collishaw, All Things Fall, 2014 (View video here)
Caruso St John (architects), The New Art Gallery, Walsall - opened 2000