Sam Cornish, editor of Abstract Critical, the UK based website dedicated to abstract painting and sculpture, recently posted that the site will stop publication. This is sad news to anyone interested in abstract painting and sculpture. Since January 2011 the site has published thoughtful, long-form reviews, opinion pieces, and videos.
While quality content is crucial to the success of any site, a regular publishing cadence is also important. Abstract Critical had both, a fact which made me and many others regular visitors. While commenting has been integral to blogs since their inception, Abstract Critical cultivated an atmosphere conducive to debate. While they may not quite have achieved a Cedar Bar of the internet, they succeeded more than most blogs in fomenting discussion of all sorts, from the bitingly critical to friendly banter exchanged amongst frequent commenters.
Sam Cornish and Robin Greenwood are to be particularly commended for their efforts to make Abstract Critical a vital source of criticism and discussion around the topic of abstraction. Not only did both contribute a significant amount of writing to the site, but their efforts to spur conversation around the articles (no small task) was and is greatly appreciated.
Although no new content will be added, existing articles will remain online. The Abstract Critical Twitter account will also remain active and The Brancaster Chronicles, an ongoing series of transcribed studio visits, will also continue to be published as a new site.
Cornish’s last post to Abstract Critical featured some of his favorite articles from the site. Since Painters’ Table has featured many pieces from Abstract Critical I thought I would contribute fifteen recommendations of my own. This selection only scratches the surface of what is available at Abstract Critical, but any of the articles below constitutes an excellent launch point for perusing this resource.
Best wishes to the Abstract Critical team and thanks for a job well done.
"A wide-ranging engagement with the history of art extends throughout Wragg’s career, with Matisse’s framing, the lure of geometry, the tension between gesture, contour and space, and all sorts of notations for painterly drifts, forming some of the more recurrent preoccupations across the years. Despite this, Wragg has steered clear of the formalist insularity to which much late Modernism has been prone. His pronounced receptivity to a diverse range of “external” sources has no doubt been crucial in this. ... Wragg’s paintings thrive in their ability to transcend image. They lure us into their complex, overlapping webs of assertion: spatial, gestural, textural and chromatic — micro and macro... In a work like “The Studio III” (1989), we do not read gesture or action as definitive expressive moments, but instead follow their complex accumulation into a tentative and fragile totality — with an emergent sense of structure."
Wragg comments: "...one of the problems people have when they look at painting is that they are full up to the brim with notions of what painting is and what it should be, and meaning, and so on, and so on. And the answer is – and I think that this is what every individual should strive to do – is to empty out completely, let it all go and try not to have expectations of anything, but just to actually look, and look, and look. You might respond to it in a way that surprises you, because you let it in, because you are empty; but if you are full up it means you have resistance and you will keep it out, and you will be limited. If you are less limited you can go much further."
Coombs writes: "The problem, the crisis, the urgency of Wragg’s work emanate directly from his drawing. The importance of drawing to him is inaugurated by a 1976 charcoal on canvas Pirate. In it, various figurative and landscape motifs are hinted at but never resolved. Like early Pollock, the drawing points out of representation toward oceanic all-overness. The difficult negotiation between the general and the specific here is not necessarily resolved. It sets the tone for the rest of the show, where we can never be sure what it is we are looking at. Though it is clear that the paintings are meant to be apprehended literally as tableaux of marks, shapes and colours, we still can’t help imagining contexts, motifs, encounters and relationships within the compositions and can’t help looking for answers as to how the paintings have come about. Sometimes place names are referenced in the titles. At other times the paintings seem like a mixture of both internal and external architecture, as in Abandonment and Doubt (2006-9). Though we may look for clues as to how the paintings are configured, we’re unable to pull away and attach particular meanings to any of the components. The paintings are sticky: once you’re absorbed, its hard to extract yourself."
Ten artists - Graham Boyd, Alice Browne, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Alan Gouk, Robert Linsley, Jeanne Masoero, Rebecca Norton, Mark Stone, David Sweet, and Gary Wragg offer their thoughts on drawing in abstract painting.
Browne remarks: "When I think about it, drawing seems to be an innately abstract act: reducing matter and ideas to a series of lines and symbols for something that we may understand (such as these letters), or simply a trace of the movement a marking tool has taken, presumably at the end of a human hand... lines can be reminiscent of string, wire or fabric, but most often of outlines of a suggested form. They leave space for the imagination to fill, as well as being unequivocal. Drawing for me usually involves instantaneous decision-making between eye/mind and hand, which can be rewarding. On the flip-side, initiating this bold directive can be destructive and very hard to renege on. Drawings can be persistent; no matter how many times I paint over, they remain."
Andy Parkinson blogs about the exhibition New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies at The Piper Gallery, on view through December 21, 2012.
Parkinson writes: "In the seventies abstract painting in Britain was in crisis. At least that’s how it seemed to some. If during the sixties it had become hegemonic that privileged position was on the wane. Peter Fuller would shortly declare American abstraction to be not much more than a CIA plot, within the discipline of painting figuration was in resurgence, whilst outside it performance art and conceptualism were fast becoming the dominant art forms, leading to the stagnation of abstract painting. The exhibition... of fourteen painters from the period (all still painting today)... counters this viewpoint, demonstrating that instead abstraction in this decade was vibrant and varied."
Wragg writes: "I am fascinated by Twombly’s compulsion, shared with many recent and current painters, for urgency, here-ness, enveloping near-ness, and close-ness, beyond composition. Concomitant with science’s understanding of the expanding evolution and nature of the universe, I find it interesting to see how the mark-making of Turner, Monet and Twombly evolved successively bigger, nearer and more emphatically tactile from one to the other over the span of three centuries. Twombly’s application of paint is more splashy, gungy and physical than Monet’s, whereas Monet’s is more systematically flattened and emphasised across the surface than Turner’s. Nowadays bonkers erratic in your face scribblings and splashings or heightened-colour-flatness stems from a very real need for possession, for being thrown out, in and around, and gripped by a simultaneously in out of kilter connectivity. The spectator becomes a magnet catching the memory of fleeting sensations of being in the studio and has an empathy with the artist working directly with painting. The overriding power of making and resolution seems to arise in spirit as much as in feeling, in the hand; it is central to the experience of most of the paintings in this exhibition, that seem of their time yet as timeless as the first handprint in pigment on a cave wall, made forty seven thousand years ago."
Samuel Cornish considers the work of painter Gary Wragg in relation to provisional painting.
Cornish writes "Wragg is also an artist who avoids heroic, definitive or authoritative statements, who posits a vision of art which is as circular, or perhaps labyrinthine, as it is progressive. In all these senses he is provisional, almost with a capital P. Where Wragg differs – or at least the most crucial of the many ways in which he differs – from those artists gathered under Rubinstein's rubric is in his evident and overriding belief in art, and in abstract art, as a place of meaningful and compelling visual experience."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.