The Indiscipline of Painting

2a Exhibition review

“The Indiscipline of Painting is an artist selected exhibition … it is also an exhibition that is about asking questions. Questions that are drawn from my own studio practice – and that I think about when making work…” (Sturgis, D. (2012)

Tate St. Ives, Cornwall held an Exhibition 8th October, 2011 to 3rd January 2012 entitled The Indiscipline of Painting: International abstraction from the 1960s to now. British painter Daniel Sturgis was the Curator who selected work by 49 international artists.

Sturgis states that ‘Painters have always had a very particular relationship to the history of their discipline. The Indiscipline of Painting is about this relationship. As such this is an exhibition that is framed by my own concerns as a painter, or more particularly as an abstract painter’. The question he raises is how can an art form that is so indebted to, and informed by, its long and rich history still make a space for itself in today’s world?

The works Daniel Sturgis selected for the exhibition relate to his own practice and how art is continuing to evolve. Each artist shows how they are managing to keep their own individuality whilst still being connected to art history.

Martin Clark, Artistic Director at Tate St. Ives, in a video tour of the exhibition, gives his views on the paintings and explores the connections with the history of painting. The important question being asked after the ‘end of painting’ had been proposed and the ideas in Clement Greenberg’s famous essay Modernist Painting, was How do artists make works that are not just pictures? How to re-introduce the authentic without just repeating a style or image?

Throughout the tour Clark talks about the works and the key ideas and explains connections with Abstract and Representational art history. The main problem that artists have to address is how to make their work after the so called ‘end of painting’.

I have included screen shots of some of the work being presented. The earliest work is Untitled No. 2 (1956) by Myron Stout, a very simple graphic painting which begin to show changes being made in art thinking prior to 1960. Sherrie Levine found the colours for her oblong portrait monochrome work Melt down after Yves Klein (1971) whilst working with sample colours for a digital reproduction for an artwork. Clark refers to Levine’s influences being Appropriation Art. When Michael Craig-Martin first exhibited his Mirror Painting in 1990, no one liked it, no one disliked it, no one commented on it or showed any interest in it, so he destroyed it. Daniel Sturgis asked him to reproduce it for this exhibition. It was felt that when it was first introduced it was ahead of its time. Because of the image in the mirror, as you walk along the painting it is transformed to either to all black from one side or or all red from the other side. It seems to be presenting the brain with something it is puzzling over. It is about how we see things.

The tour around the work in the exhibition with Clark was a good example of how to connect with the subjects and form a view of where the influences of past art came from. In Andy Warhol’s painting of an egg in its simplest form, taken from a greeting card, is a good graphic representation of eggs, it is not 3D, in all other aspects it is not an egg. Clarke says it is obviously referring to abstract painting. The egg is one of the ancient symbols of rebirth or is it something you could buy in a supermarket. Or, Is it consumerism? Nothing else is the same shape as an egg and I don’t think anybody would be able to patent the shape or claim commercial right to it.

Peter Young #16 – 1968 (Dot Painting) 1968 is related to Pop Art. It shows different coloured circular blobs the same distance away from each other. They are obviously hand painted marks which are energetic and primitive with splashes of paint. They are not perfect as Bridget Riley would have painted them. Clarke quotes Peter Young from the catalogue when Young was asked why he went to New York. His answer was – the question is not why I went to New York but why I went there in the first place. There is a painting by Bridget Riley Cantus Firmus 1972-73 which show bands of colour. The title means fixed song in Latin and Clark explained that Riley was interested in music, so there is a connection to her thinking about music. When I look at any similar painting by Bridget Riley and stand close to it, I see the colours dancing before my eyes so that could be the connection to music?

Are there any elements and ideas that relate to your own work?

Small Touching Squares Painting 1998 by Peter Davies used a pattern of colours that created movement and energy. The colour choices in some of my earlier fluid paintings gave a similar sense of a relentless tidal movement developing across the page.

Is labelling art works necessary, helpful or simply a hindrance to imaginative contemplation?

A label only helps if constructing a historical timeline, and reflecting on this, but it could block a personal imaginative interpretation by putting it in rigid boxes. I actually like to label my paintings.

In readiness for my next Exhibition visit I found Edmund Feldman’s Aesthetic Criticism (as set out in his book Varieties of Visual Experience).

1. Description – identifying what can be seen: elements and materials – describe the visual and literal qualities. Art Historically deals with where, who and when. Be objective.

2. Formal Analysis- how is this put together physically and compositionally and identifying style or subject matter. What relationships do the elements sustain?

3. Interpretation – Why did the artists make the choices he did about materials, composition, subject matter, etc.? What is he/she trying to say? Is there an emotional tone?

4. Evaluation/Judgment – How does this compare with similar works? Did the artist make the right decisions? Does the work say what he wanted to say? Is the work of high quality? What do you think the artist could improve on? Does the work communicate significant ideas or arouse emotions? Etc.


Fig. 1 to Fig 12 have all been photographed from my PC screen whilst watching the video tour by Martin Clark The Indiscipline of Painting.

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