Brancaster Chronicle No. 83: John Bunker Collages

“Wild American Prairie” (2021), acrylic, ink and collage on denim on board, 85.5 x 49.5 cm.

Introduction.

I’m showing work from 2019 and 2020 to highlight a transition from working without borders in a ‘shaped’ manner to working with the rectangle again. I really don’t want to say a lot at this stage, but very much look forward to hearing your responses to the different approaches.

Here’s links to a very short film showing stills from 2020 works in the context of an exhibition giving a sense of size and scale. https://youtu.be/KIP_O5ElX08

Here is a long discussion about the 2020 works: https://instantloveland.com/wp/2021/01/05/john-bunker-phraxos-lets-do-the-show-right-here/

Here is an article by Robin Greenwood concerning the 2019 works:  https://abcrit.org/2019/11/09/118-robin-greenwood-writes-on-john-bunker-faint-young-suns/

Please don’t feel obliged to refer to any of the above!

All the very best

John Bunker

 

‘Rocheradius’ (2019), 82x70cm, shaped painting, acrylic & mixed media.

 

‘Coriolis’ (2019), 77x78cm, shaped painting, acrylic & mixed media

‘Coriolis’ (2019), detail, 77x78cm, shaped painting, acrylic & mixed media.

 

‘Jotunn’ (2019), 115x108cm, shaped painting, acrylic & mixed media.

 

‘Catastrophist’ (2020), acrylic, ink and collage on canvas on board, 66 x 86 cm.

‘Catastrophist’ (2020), detail, acrylic, ink and collage on canvas on board, 66 x 86 cm.

 

‘Meltemi’ (2020), acrylic, ink and collage on board, 74 x 83 cm.

‘Meltemi’ (2020), detail, acrylic, ink and collage on board, 74 x 83 cm.

 

‘Kardaki’ (2020), acrylic, ink, collage on canvas on board, 66 x 86 cm.

‘Kardaki’ (2020), detail, acrylic, ink, collage on canvas on board, 66 x 86 cm.

 

‘Sirocco’ (2020), acrylic, ink and collage on canvas on board, 66 x 86 cm.

‘Sirocco’ (2020), detail, acrylic, ink and collage on canvas on board, 66 x 86 cm.

 

‘Arethusa’ (2020), acrylic, ink, collage on denim on board, 63 x 128.5 cm.

‘Arethusa’ (2020), installation view, acrylic, ink, collage on denim on board, 63 x 128.5 cm.

 

‘Petromax’s Mirror’ (2020), acrylic, ink and collage on canvas on board, 66 x 86 cm.

‘Petromax’s Mirror’ (2020), detail, acrylic, ink and collage on canvas on board, 66 x 86 cm.

 

 

 

 

28 comments
  1. harleysculpture said:

    Tip top John! There is a far greater painterly quality to these. Earlier collages were split apart and had a sculptural feel. To some extent I still see this in Arethusa with the darker tones highlighting the bright areas

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  2. noelajamesbewry said:

    Hi John, I am really enjoying your board works, I can move in and round and pick up on rhythms and feel the expanse of the world they are creating.
    Whilst the free form pieces are very individualistic and richly made I find I get too fixated on the outline, probably my problem rather than that of the works.
    I especially feel the dark backgrounds in ‘Arethusa’ and ‘Wild American Prairie’ add a potent depth to the collages.
    Fabulous!

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  3. smart said:

    From Anne
    My simplified analogy of your “without borders” pieces was that they had been let loose into the world of space….or even escaped.
    I thought that was an amazing abstract achievement because they rarely had objectless..always seemed ‘up in the air’
    Starting to work within the rectangle again initially seems like retuning to the scene of capture.!
    In these rectangles there seems such a lot of trapped information.
    Back to the “without borders ” pieces I have read back last May some comments on various pieces . Matthew Collings writes about a piece called Tjorn saying ” So enjoyable. Red against Blue lovely.Negative space lovely”…i completely agree with him. But how easy is it to reach that analysis ? …just wondering if there is too much information in these rectangles of the moment
    But do you want that easily grasped aspect …or do you want both easy access with a mountain to climb you’re in the mood..
    The original premise of collage is of an assemblage coming together to achieve a whole.Its the way you use ‘form’ to get this. Forms would generally detract from the abstract.
    For example when I look at “Meltemi” in its rectangle I see weaving around pieces of stuff which look to be from the same source.This weaving enables them to visually distance themselves from each other. They can move around. It is difficult to pin them down. You give them a a chance not to make form
    This I see as a positive { as good or better than the “free pieces” ?] ……..
    ..but i have yet to work them all out .[ but do I need to ?]}
    What I am fascinated by is the contradictions.Those “free pieces” are probably not as free …
    In the rectangles you are choosing great positions …eg “Wild American Prairie” alternates its darks and lights so that sometimes they become back ground, sometimes more actual ,sometimes not and sometimes both. They change [ how?]
    Also ,in others , the buff colour and the vanillas do the same, moving around not wanting to be pinned down….not just themselves but helping the whole thing to not be held back .

    Such a lot of information John. A real feast…I think a buffet
    I will be back for more

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  4. Arethusa seems the most comfortable in the rectangle as it’s not ‘in’ the rectangle as such and has a more familiar overall quality – quite sumptuous in places with a rhythmical mural-like scale. This has the best use of yellow, too.
    I have seen how John has moved his works further towards painting with more painterly components than found – it would seem (not that it matters). The free formed ones have more reach at the moment. This is the territory that John has made his own and I feel the rectangles are searching more for their expression. The detail is always rich and wonderfully inventive, maybe the superstructures of the free formed ones have yet to take hold in the rectangles. As a comparison with much open sculpture seen on here the way the forms meet the edge is reminiscent of the way sculptures can sometimes tip toe on the ground. John has a distinctive palette which I enjoy and it uses its tonalities of colour to unite the diverse elements. This is something I see in collage: close tonal shifts can be negated in the surface changes and the crackle of more electric colour changes jumps and overrides this. There is an almost theatrical quality to them, centre stage elements which acknowledge the wings without wishing to venture in there. To counteract this I can see how John is using neutral grounds and exposing this inside the work. I keep changing my favourites – Kardaki maybe does the most unusual things with colour as it’s the least tonal work. Lovely one, that. They have a trustworthiness – I believe them.

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  5. harleysculpture said:

    The sumptuous complexity of each part in eg Kardaki is creating a massively rich whole. Rocheradius without a rectangular base has a sculptural quality, perhaps because it is not pinned down by borders

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  6. Hi John

    Fascinating to see how your moving back and forth between rectangular supports, and ‘shaped’ pieces that incorporate the wall, shifts the emphasis of your work so radically.
    Put simply, the shaped works are actors, whilst the rectangles are action; or I think it would be equally true to say, the shaped works are things, whilst the rectangles are events.
    Despite there being not one single instance of depiction, illustration, or allusion in any of them, the contorting, coiling movements of the shaped works against the interpenetrating whiteness of the wall can’t help but feel ‘creaturely’ (I’m thinking in particular about ‘Rocheradius’ here). Things overlap, your gorgeous colour advances or recedes, all of it ‘abstract’; but for me, there’s no getting away from the sense of the work as body, as entity of some sort. The work in these shaped pieces is happening on something, like decals on a model airplane, or tattoos on skin; or in something, like the contents of an overstuffed Christmas stocking; or along something, like coloured stones threaded onto a necklace. I never feel as if I’m being invited to look through, or beyond, because the obdurate objectness and part-by-part articulations of the work act against these sorts of readings. I might, if I had the time and space to make the case fully, argue that these are coloured wall sculpture. Or I might not.
    The ’Phraxos’ works, on their fabric-covered boards, are doing something different. However blatant and declarative the materiality of their grounds, and of the elements fixed to them, they still carry the traces of what the rectangle has meant in art: a place, a space, a stage, a view; and therefore whatever there is inside that rectangle can be understood as a kind of happening. The space implicit in these works feels like it opens onto some sense of elsewhere, whether that might be the subjective space of your encounters with the history of abstraction, or with John Fowles’ novel, ‘The Magus’, or your childhood memories of a family holiday on a Greek island that you revisited while making these paintings. I’m not for one minute suggesting that it’s necessary to know any of these specifics in order to appreciate the work; only that I think that the paintings point to things beyond themselves in a way the shaped pieces don’t. And even if I’d come to ‘Arethusa’ knowing nothing about the thinking that accompanied its making, I’d have said it’s suffused with a nostalgic, golden, end-of-summer sunset glow.

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    • noelajamesbewry said:

      I really like Matt’s description of the shaped works being actors and the rectangles being action.
      And I love Anne’s notion that the ‘without borders ‘ pieces ‘ had been let loose into the world of space…….or even escaped’
      There is a great deal of layered complexity and imagination in these works, very distinctively and recognisably your work John.

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  7. tim scott said:

    …” A transition from working without borders in a ‘shaped’ manner to working with the rectangle again…”

    John – I read this and then looked through your works, as illustrated, and thought as I went that how free and untramelled the ‘without borders’ ones were in relation to the ‘imprisoned’ ones in their rectangles.
    Then I came back to ‘Coriolis detail’ (2019), and it struck me how much this became (perhaps accidentally) a resolution between the two. Maybe good old Noland/Olitski ‘cropping’ had a point ?

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  8. In Wild American Prairie, some of the sections drop back into an almost atmospheric distance – the dragged brown over the watery orange creates a light haziness. The inky blue areas which set up a rhythm surging through are very subtly washed in (the cactus shape in the top left sets the tempo). I can see how the witty title was arrived at. I like the way the smaller reds and greens add extra staccato stresses. The top shield like orange white has a drip turned horizontal which holds everything in check. Look how the lower left hand side blue edged choppy curved piece leans in off the edge. This work is packed with visually intelligent decisions. Sometimes I wonder if a few areas could be emptied out to clarify some of the more strident decisions and also get more of the centre to edges relationship, rather than the dominant centre to corners forces. The rectangle contains things but doesn’t stifle them, though. The dark-light throughout gives it an all-over quality but the richness of colour manages to build a greater complexity. The top right claret and blue seems slightly out of kilter as does the red strip under it – remove these though and the whole area needs a redress -heh-ho the joys of making art. This is what John is engaged with, all these actions and reactions. More of the component parts feel made rather than found in this one, and for me this is where lies the harder challenge as you haven’t really got as much to riff off; you’re more exposed…like camping on those plains with a harmonica but no tent.

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  9. smart said:

    From Anne

    Emyr..please could moderate your late evening analogies !
    I have spent my night dreaming {…or was it a nightmare ?…] I was riding bareback on a palomino in a desert searching for a campsite full of rectangles !..{ i’m pretty sure Stevie Wonder was in there too …on harmonica of course ]
    I’ve had coffee so I am ok now….

    ……and i believe you have pointed out something about John’s work I did not recognise properly before
    Your comment on Wild American Prairie is full of description of the work itself. Something special happens when an abstract piece can be considered in such depth and detail without any reference other than to itself.
    i think this piece of John’s has that something and importantly is without ‘ real ‘ reference.
    Another point …you never mention that it is collage ?……….. you never mention such aspects as torn edges , ‘found’ materials etc etc…
    From an analogy point of view….maybe it is like a painting ?

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  10. Hi Anne, you’re right – the title is an after the fact thing and I’m fishing about as to its (ultimately unimportant) connection- the work stands on its own merits. I implied collage when mentioning the “component parts” being more made than found and the subsequent challenges of that. I could wax lyrical about all sorts of stuff in the work and edges are something I am highly interested in. I really like Mark’s comment: “strong ideas can be restrictive” as collage such as this is due to open responses in the moment of making. Speaking as a painter the continual mobility of a work is an important quality.

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  11. smart said:

    From Anne

    Actually Emyr I think you expressed very well what John is doing …I think John expresses very well what John is doing
    Working in a rectangle “without boundaries”…maybe ?….
    Yes titles are a distraction I agree, but can be funny …
    Love your analogy trait x
    …….” Maybe it is like a painting “…
    Love John’s contradictions … [ perhaps ]…..

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  12. smart said:

    from Anne
    ps…… not a big fan of torn edges…..

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  13. Hi all. Great to see the Chronicles back on the airwaves. Great to be seeing all your works again, and hearing your voices, even if it’s just in my mind as I read.

    Like Matt Dennis, I think there is a stage like aspect to the rectangular works. A theatre of sorts. I don’t know if that is a problem. But I suspect it is largely the result, not of the rectangle itself, but of the coloured ground of the boards that is allowed to show through the “gaps”. My initial thought, was that were those “gaps” to be, if I may so clumsily put it, “filled in” (and this is completely hypothetical and wholly dependent on the nature of that “filling”), then form might generate across the whole arena and mitigate the sense of there being seperate events or actors contained in space.

    That being said, I really like those coloured grounds and they way they weave in and out of the action of the work. They are anything but a backdrop. And also regarding my above thoughts, John would have made rectangular collages that already do the very thing I have tried to articulate. So, these newer attempts with the exposed grounds are an interesting new challenge that could lead him into a whole other territory.

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  14. I always enjoy looking at John’s work.
    I prefer the ‘shaped’ works, although the rectangles are powerful, have some interesting content, and feel/look very balanced, maybe poised? (I’m not sure that ‘poised’ is always a good thing). The kind of found materials available for the shaped work creates interesting and unusual possibilities and along with the overall shape gives further dimensions to a work, although bringing everything together is a challenge.
    The rectangles all have some kind of distinct figure – ground relationship, which separates content off too easily into a dualistic relational dance, which my eye keeps coming back to, and I can’t ignore.
    ‘Rocheradius’ is my (at present) favourite of these pieces. I saw it in the flesh at the Deal exhibition and enjoyed it then. The part that I struggle to get beyond is the more solid black area/shape, centre left, which becomes a distinct entity providing the bridge between the area/shape above it and the rest of the work, but somewhat cutting it, abruptly, into two.
    What would happen if this was more in keeping with the rest of the broken content (which is fantastic; pretty much as good as it gets). The good thing about these works is that it is much easier to experiment, as some changes can probably be easily reversed.

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  15. ti said:

    John (Bunker) – I would still be very interested t know what you think of my observation (opinion) that the “cropping’ of the edges of Coriolis (detail) 2019 either arbitrarily or deliberately (?) by the rectangle of the photograph, produces a very powerful image, which lies somewhere between the ” working without borders…” and “…working with the rectangle…” of your introduction statement.

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  16. John Bunker said:

    Hi All, Thank you for your considered and insightful comments and the generosity of spirit required in taking the time to reflect and write about another artist’s endeavours.

    I really wanted my Brancaster to be an opportunity to listen rather than speak and take a little time to reflect on how things have been developing in the studio. It’s always interesting to get a gauge on how the work is being thought about and received by other hard working practitioners- even if it only via a screen.

    So please bear with me as things gradually sink in.

    Tim, That’s the funny thing about cropping, working with collage means a sort of ‘extreme cropping’ is a big part of my process and the latest works like “Wild American Prairie” are moving further into painting too. Cutting for me is becoming more like drawing- drawing responding to the movement of paint rather than representing anything; and also cutting responding to colour rather than shunting colour against colour, part to part, as in ‘Coriolis’ and other shaped works. I want to get underneath or challenge the sense of arrangement that is so much a part of collage. This is something Matisse seemed to deal with so well in the cut-outs. I want to get at something more fluid and alive. Interesting that John P used the term ‘poise’ and is suspicious of it.

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  17. smart said:

    only a test

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  18. tim scott said:

    John(B) – I would have thought that a major characteristic of Matisse’s ‘papiers decoupes’ is that first and foremost they are ‘decoupes’; only later arranged on a flat surface and rectangular- fied (to coin a term) into being like a painting; just;as your ‘without borders’ are first and foremost ‘constructed’ (?) i.e. collaged, and only then looked at on a wall as a ‘picture’
    (rectabgular-fied)…

    My feeling about the ‘Coriolis’ detail,was that exactly this process took place (for whatever reason) and the ‘decoupe’ / collaging without borders was suddenly heightened in intensity.by being ‘cropped’.by straight edges..

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  19. smart said:

    From Anne

    Tim… with respect to yourself ..John is saying he could be searching for” something more fluid and alive”
    I’m not sure that Matisse or the other two croppers Noland/Olitsky were looking for that ..successful as they are at breaking the ‘boundaries’ of their own rectangles with the use of cropping
    In collage…It”s not the actual cropping….
    …it’s not the literal cropping….or actually using scissors…or actually using a knife..or actually ripping the paper…or literally tearing the tissue…or actually piercing the card..or actually ,literally, actually. and on and on…..is it not actually just utilising the possibilities of a chosen material ?…
    If you actually do those things in your head first you sort of know the outcome. The abutness…the wonkiness..the oddness
    What would be the point you know its going to look good?
    Why not go on for ever and ever…there are infinite possibilities…
    The big question { for me I think ] is where are the unexpected possibilities going to come from ?…
    and we will never know if they have any connection if we don’t have look around for them…

    If John is looking for fluidity he should look again at many of the passages in the rectangles we see here. Maybe, in passages, they are very nearly very fluid ?….As i look at them today I can’t ‘crop’ any of the rectangles to make a single ‘free form ‘ or ‘shaped’ piece ……?…..

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  20. tim scott said:

    Tony / Anne – I would have thought that the ‘without borders’ pieces are far more ‘fluid and alive’ than the rectangle ones.. Of course iy all depends on how one sees ‘fluid’ and ‘alive’
    “…If you actually do those things in your head first you sort of know the outcome…”
    I agree.
    Perhaps it is the sculptor in me talking; but I think that is the antithesis of what happened, let’s say when the papiers decoupes were being made.and how ‘fluidity’ happens. That act (in Matisse’s case) of getting hold of the scissors and slicing colour up, (he had pre prepared a lot of the colour), was crucial to their NOT being like paintings, and therefore “unexpected”.
    My observation about the “passages in the rectangles” was again that they lost something of their freedom (i.e. fluidity) from being thus restrained;.But that at the same time, to intensify their impact, they did require some sort of plastic alteration as shown in ‘Coriolis Detail’.(in my view).
    “… the big question…unexpected possibilities…” are as likely to come from the ‘scissors’ as from
    “…looking again.. at..,other passages…”.. In fact what I saw in ‘Coriolis Detail’ was actually totally ‘unexpected’.

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  21. Hilde Skilton said:

    I have been enjoying looking at your work! The shaped collages seem to be less fluid than the rectangles. Is this because the edges are more exact and in the rectangles less so? Having said that the shaped collages sometimes have a twisting movement not apparent in the rectangles. The shaped collages are more physical, the rectangles more visual. This is intelligent work with sensitive and imaginative decision making. I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite.

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  22. On the figure-ground issue on the rectangles here is a link to a tweet showing another recent rectangle work (‘Wazra’) where the figure-ground issue is more varied, complex and, I think, more interesting and less obstructive to the whole:

    That doesn’t mean that I think the work is better (but it might be: that would take proper viewing time).

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    • S Greenberg said:

      Technical question John, how did you insert the image into your post?

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  23. Hi Saul. I opened the tweet and then copied and pasted the link into the comment, which included the image.

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    • Saul Greenberg said:

      Ahhh thank you. Is there anyway to upload untweeted images to illustrate comments?

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      • I’ll look into it tomorrow. I think it might need a special plug in.

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  24. Mark Skilton said:

    Hi John. I have been enjoying the feathery edge in “Jotunn”. The edge in your irregular shaped pieces seems to be quite a strong boundary, constraining the internal dynamics. In the framed pieces I can ignore the edge and float around the inside freely. Have you ever tried doing an irregular collage with a majority of feathery edging? I am wondering if it would allow more space in to the work?

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