Celia Cook ‘Rhanjo’ 2013 Oil on linen 46 x 46cm
Among the axioms of painting arithmetic nowadays is the principle that visual sensation into language doesn't go. The two substances seem downright incommensurable; yet to the advantage, so it appears, of both. A measure of independence is prized on both sides; yet a further feature of this strange calculus is that language and the visual seem to seek compatibility - or translation, to vary the figure - as strongly as they seem to resist it. We might agree that, in the face of a work of painting, artists and viewers need the semblance of a shareable language if only to certify to each other that they are seeing the same objects in the same way; as well as, on a higher level, to modify the visual with language or vice-versa; eventually to the point of erasing one or the other; eventually to reassure the philosophers of art that singular objects can be significant stepping stones in a journey of thought about the world, about qualities, even about Being. Even for works of small or medium scale, such ambitions really do matter. For while every viewer will be able to grasp each artwork's fundamental terms of deployment - a curve here, a tangent there, certain nodes or points of intensity that define the energies of the whole - further description will be needed to articulate the work as a particular; to raise to full reflective consciousness the ontological qualities presented in and through the made thing. At the most basic level we can agree, too, that a painting arises from the application of substance, generally pliable, to a surface - paint, principally, but anything else that can be squashed flat by an implement, or got onto the surface in some other way. We can very happily set aside the style labels that historians and critics like to associate with visual art, the largely rhetorical 'isms' of the trade and market-place. Here are three painters with an interest in the intention-patterns that rhyme and articulate the substances of their work. In the work of one artist (Cook) we find turning, billowing forms that bulge and die away in accordance with principles that stem from the fact of the square format of the picture itself: here seem to be energies replicating those of galaxies that spiral together in dialogue, each curvature bound by the disposition of every other, now appearing as the combined effects of painted areas and densities on a scale at which cosmic evolution and studio practice can make a claim to be the same thing. 'Finding an order out of nothing' is how she describes a process in which the making of a painting functions like the mutual accommodation of liquids in a container, perpetually seeking balance while never fully achieving a state of rest. Even the smallest work of painting, she would say, needs the 'esemplastic power' that Coleridge believed brought opposite forces together in the interests of the whole entity thus formed. A second artist (Jackson) likes flat bands that are sized somewhere between thin lines that define the edge of something and the broader planes whose very edges those same lines might almost be: bands that hook larger planes together as in crocheting; hiding or masking others, while revealing or announcing yet more. She looks closely at arches, and upwards at cupolas. She likes dancing. And she thinks a lot about Heidegger. Each painting shows a rhythm of some sort, premised upon kinds of musical architecture having irregular thematic shapes, not unlike the sonata. 'Studio perceptions are not the appearance of the world reported on', she tells us, 'or sketched in, but the slow revelation, the unfolding, the unconcealment, of being present now'. 'I travel a lot in books', she adds in provocation. A third artist (Taylor) is drawn to ostensibly primitive shapes, here mostly triangles, organised in a manner that tries to mimic processes of growth, real as well as imagined, upon surfaces that are perhaps microbial, or whose miniature scale has been dramatically enlarged with an instrument of visual inspection. At such a range of magnification nature has no surfaces, of course; only forms colonising other forms, substances attempting to coalesce with other substances in given fractal dimensions, and where inscrutable rules of self-organisation are a guiding and governing key. He likes to recall the phrasing of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, reflecting on the Cubist painters of his acquaintance who used to tell him that a painting was a tableau-objet or picture-thing, each with a personality and a Being for others - un être pour autrui as the existentialists came to say.
Vanessa Jackson ‘Riff II’ 2015 Oil on canvas 153 x122cm
Brandon Taylor Signal I 2015 Oil on canvas, 41 x 27 cm
(left) Sonia Delaunay 'Nocturne Matinale' c.1970 Lithograph in colours
Signed in pencil and numbered (edition 75) Image: 50 x 50 cm Sheet: 71 x 66 cm
(right) Sol Lewitt 'Irregular Curves' 2001 Gouache on paper. Signed and dated ‘01 38 x 33 cm
Courtesy of Adam Gallery
Supplementary works by two other practitioners of visual ontology complete this modest show. When Sonia Delaunay began her wheeling colour circles many decades ago she was able to claim a particularly original bond between the immateriality of light and the matter of the painted surface. She emphasised repeatedly that applied colour must be grasped 'as such' and 'as rhythm'; 'as inner vitality that emanates and communicates' and does so at the opposite pole to mass production. Sol LeWitt on the other hand likes to make work by nominating a single basic process and the rules that govern its application in the service of both the definition and solution of a particular pictorial problem. For him, disavowing intention is just another way of putting intention to its test, namely to give the impression that no effort has been expended in the unfolding of a certain kind of Being. In this sense he is like the earlier European romantics, as well as like us. Yet that is only the beginning of the story. As Sartre famously insisted, the viewer's part is no less dialectical than the artist's: it is only the joint effort of an artist and a viewer 'which brings upon the scene that concrete and imaginary object which is the work of the mind. There is no art except for and by others'.