Brancaster Chronicle No. 64: Anne Smart Paintings
14th July 2018, the artist’s studio near Kings Lynn.
Taking part: Anne Smart, Anthony Smart, Hilde Skilton, Mark Skilton, Robin Greenwood, Sarah Greenwood, Alexandra Harley, Noela James Bewry, Steven Walker, Edward Pile, Richard Ward, John Pollard.
You know I really admire your paintings, so none of what follows is meant negatively.
I want to explain what I was trying to say about Rothko and lack of articulation.
It seems to me that you have discovered a way of intimately combining and balancing a vast and billowy, milky-way like space with an insistent and visually flat and intensely regular surface. This is the endlessly fascinating “perceptual treat” I referred to in the discussion. How you achieve this I do not know – a part of it may involve the independent distribution of colour from the scouring, gouging, scabbing and roughening that makes the surface so tangible.
The tiny size of the mark making and the comparative lack of distinct larger areas formed by agglomerations of smaller marks (some of these new works are almost monochromes) makes it more or less impossible to sense anything other than a vague, cloudlike articulation of the resulting pictorial space, just as it is more or less impossible to see any definite spatial articulation in the milky-way. One is simply aware of a huge but to all intents and purposes (on a human scale) undifferentiated space that as a consequence hardly differs from painting to painting.
The parallel to late Rothko concerns his discovery of how to get a field of colour to hover/swim/swing back and forth in its surrounding space. Simply stated, he then proceeded to apply his discovery to every possible combination of colours, but the perceptual effect – what is good about his paintings – and the surface articulation (the softly edged rectangles) are more or less the same in all of the later works.
There needn’t be anything wrong with this. I think I can remember Alan Gouk commenting somewhere to the effect that it was almost Rothko’s duty to roll out his discovery as far as was possible.
I know your paintings take a long time, and someday there will be a lot of museums to be supplied. I just wonder whether there might be a stage at which discovery turns into production. Is this an inevitable consequence of artistic maturity, of finding one’s own unique space? Or is the particular (and I repeat, hugely impressive) space that you have discovered somewhat limited in its potential for expressive variety? Would it matter if it was?
My immediate thoughts about your response to my painting would be to wonder what other painting you are using as a comparison [ the milky way cut it as a phononomen for me only when I realised it was not a piece of paper with pin pricks in]. I have made the point that you can only compare Hilde’s paintings to her previous paintings. Only then can you expose and enjoy her progress.
I wonder when did abstract painting have to have distinct larger areas? This has been floating around as a pre requisite concluding that those differences of internal scale will expose variety as a major component of successful abstract achievement, in sculpture as well as painting.
I hope to achieve a different sort of variety. In the work an initial discovery of some sort of visual should be able to fluctuate or change, looked at again and be rediscovered. It may become several smaller ares. My experience has taken me to believe that if those larger areas were more solid or fixed the possibility of figuration is greater. i think you are describing a more figurative world when you look for a more articulated space.
The sync would say that nothing you can make or think of has any originality.The Brancaster Chronicles can only hope to shine a light on anything that we may or may not have seen before or experienced before. That is a tall order, to believe it to be a good idea ,pulling free of academia. But using figurative examples to compare against something that is striving to be abstract will be a win win for figuration.
Any deployment of hope to try to achieve the potential of Abstract originality is OK with me.
When you look at a sculpture or painting and see something embedded in organisation, such as a grid or the elements of such , surely that stands between the work and the free experience that it can give? That structure in fact traps the reality of the Abstract and the challenge would be to eliminate those things which raises the fantastic question of what to put in the place of those…. Nothing!…For meIt could never be about replacing the with some THING but just holding my own breath to enable the work to breathe for itself.
Over on Abcrit you seem to have had a better time with Anni Albers.I put it down to the ‘weaving’ enabling you to carry your purpose and to her amazing sensitivity in her work which she lays out on that figurative framework. This sensitivity has for ever fascinated Abstract artists.
Could that sensitivity be invented as opposed to being imported ? Could it be made to stand alone in Abstract painting and sculpture?
All of that said,and not said, thank you so much for your comment. Thank you for making me think more about those thoughts and what I am trying to do .
your paintings are very extraordinary and I see what you are saying about the way you are trying to achieve your aims. They do have the capacity for discovery and rediscovery and the paintings that I appreciate the most are ‘Don’t Sound like a Sonnet” and ‘Probably Just Twisting’ which initially reveal marks that I can experience directly and which then give way to a myriad of other colour and textural sensations. I don’t find the ‘visually surface’ marks distracting, they just add an extra level of interest.
Is space itself figurative? And therefore, when the illusion of space is created in painting is it a figurative illusion? Richard Wards observation of a “Milky Way type of space” is a figurative comparison. Does this mean that we should forget about creating space in painting in order to be abstract, or should we perhaps forget about abstract?
Is it inevitable that anything we make has to be figurative in order to be understandable? As artists the best we can do is to bend and twist that visual understanding as much as possible, so that what becomes visually real as art, cannot be confused with what is known.
Having said all of this, we do find these paintings very satisfying and enjoy the feel of them tremendoudly.
Do you consciously create space in an abstract painting or is it something that is seen and imagined by the viewer?
Do different ways of painting create different kinds of spacial illusion?
Can an abstract painting work coherently and dynamically without spacial illusion?
I am still a little mystified by the notion of space in an abstract work, I like the idea of it but I think I see space in a figurative context.
I like what you say Hilde, ‘As artists the best we can do is bend and twist that visual understanding as much as possible ‘.
“Is space itself figurative? ….” and “..should we forget about creating space in painting in order to be abstract?”
Of course I am speaking for myself ,look forward to hearing other approaches to this question.
When I think about space in my own work it will be after I have already been working and begun to assimilate and work out what I may or may not be achieving. I have already made a lot of choices about what I do not want to have in the work and deliberately avoid them.
The ‘space ‘ thing being figurative is one of the key elements to my way of thinking. Relational art,in whatever form, is something I have rebelled against. For me there is aways a chance that a single form or shape in paint or a combination of those with or without a background allows the viewing of the painting to be enhanced by the variety of ways to be able to move around in front or behind the work.A dialogue between elements is then possible. That dialogue, in my experience,is only made possible by the isolation of such a form, giving it chance to become some ‘thing’ and that ‘thing’ would have space around it.The ‘thing’ would be figurative and I think so would be the space ,especially definable when bumped up to another form.
To promote the illusion in my work, I am trying at this time, to bring the painting to a place which is just in front of the paint surface.I hope to discourage curiosity to have a ‘walk about’ behind the paint but encourage the viewing to be all frontal. This in the hope that the illusion becomes a reality not a trompe l’oeil effect.
As I clumsily try to describe in this film, I hope the whole painting is space, and colour and its own form. That sounds a bit fanciful when written down !!
The inevitability of figuration is always there.
For me one of the biggest is some sort of multiple horizontality or verticality and all in between , [ stripes! ]
I try hard to to avoid this.I try to make sure the painting has proper and resolved edges which return back into the work and do not drift away into the world outside the painting. I think of that space as real not the illusion of real. I hope in doing that it helps towards making it become ..”more visually real..” and not be ..”confused with what is known”
Difficult questions. Hope someone else has a go at answering !!!!
At the Heron show in Margate, out of all the works in the show, Sarah and I both really liked best an early painting called “Interior with Garden Window”, 1955, which is obviously figurative… and yet the way that the colour and the space and the flatness of the space and the integration of the complex parts all working together made a really resonant wholeness that was much more defined than obvious figurative ideas. It certainly avoided the problems that both abstract and figurative art can fall prey to, namely of bits and pieces arranged on a background. I mentioned this work to Mel Gooding, and how much I liked it even though it was figurative, and he replied that it was of course actually very abstract. Can it be both? I certainly thought that quite a few later paintings by Heron were in many ways boringly figurative, despite being categorised as abstract in the manner that work is often superficially thought about.
I do think that there are more interesting questions than clear answers, and to some extent I personally have returned to the idea I gave up on a while ago of all kinds of painting having degrees of abstract-ness. I am not sure that any particular way of approaching this makes anything fundamentally better or worse. I cannot think that the way forward is quite as singular as is sometimes suggested. It is more nuanced. Sometimes moving in and out of these definitions are more productive than being conclusive. I think we all have the goal of “abstract”, but it can happen in various ways.
As someone said about space in sculpture, “space is space”, neither figurative nor abstract, but we can each see space operating in some way, more or less. I think Anne is really good at bringing together the “closeness” of space into a whole and making that all very compelling. I am less sure that this (small-scale) approach always makes work that is necessarily more abstract that other possibilities.
“Is space itself figurative? ….” and “..should we forget about creating space in painting in order to be abstract?”
“In painting, space and form are not actual, as they are in sculpture, but illusory. Painting, indeed, is essentially an art of illusion; and ‘pictorial science’ is simply that accumulated knowledge which enables the painter to control this illusion, the illusion of forms in space. But the secret of good painting – of whatever age or school, I am tempted to say – lies in its adjustment of an inescapable dualism: on the one hand there is the illusion, indeed the sensation, of depth; and on the other there is the physical reality of the flat picture surface. Good painting creates an experience which contains both.” Patrick Heron, 1953. To me, that was Heron exploring abstraction, not abstract. I saw the exhibition is St. Ives and do not feel he created an abstract painting, they were all derived from reality, with each holding some link to it.
How can you avoid space? Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ comes closest to removing space, but even the smallest nuances of colour change can still offer an indication of depth, or creation of space. Then the eye naturally scans the painting from edge to edge, into the corners and over the surface. Even when there is no intention to create space, humans instinctively scan space, looking for clues to latch on to. As soon as you place different colours together there will be some creation of space.
Space in a painting could be described as figurative as it encourages the eye to move in the present tense. Eyes naturally locate similarity; colours, marks, shapes. Even in Anne’s finely constructed paintings, there is still eye movement. If you are determined to remove all space in a painting, how many black squares does the art-world need? In abstract painting and abstract sculpture, space is inevitable, if only expressed by the extent of their material(s). In abstract sculpture, the space is physical. Between each piece of wood, metal or plastic, there is three-dimensional space X, Y and Z. There is also the space in which the sculpture sits and the closeness of the viewer. In abstract painting, space is illusionary. There is the X and Y, with the Z axis created through layering/overlapping forms, or the way colours react; as with push/pull. Environmental space, it is much more limiting than with sculpture, but can still influence how we see/read a painting. Depth in painting, will never be as real as in sculpture, but in some abstract paintings tremendous depth can be achieved e.g. Ian McKeever’s ‘Hartgrove No 2’. When first saw that painting, I was taken aback by the depth created by veils of black and white.
After all that, what I am saying, is that space naturally exists within each work of art, including abstract. Some abstract painters embrace and expand the qualities of space, within the X, Y and Z dimensions, while others try to eliminate space. Rather than being perplexed by defining space, simply except it exists; and always will, in whatever work of art you produce. That I would suggest is ‘natural’ space. The control of space within a painting, is a matter of choice and individual to each artist, even each painting. I believe, Anne’s paintings and those similar by Brancaster painters, slow down eye movement, by using small, subtle changes. The elements that our eyes recognise, are close together and often lead the eye in circles, scanning the whole slowly, rather than dashing all over the place. But it is still space. In contrast, the paintings by Emyr, push you along the snake-like lines, often from top left to bottom right (the Western way of reading/looking). In exploring the purity of abstraction, there is a desire to remove every element of realism. It will not happen. But as artists, we can control ‘planned’ space. Surely, the answer lies in one question; how do I want the viewer to read my painting? Or sculpture!