Catalogue essay to accompany the exhibition Something Light at Glyndwr University.
Curated by Dr Alec Shepley and Lesley Halliwell
Ways of Looking
Abstract art frequently baffles people. Because it appears unrelated to the world of appearances we often think it is more difficult to understand.
When we look at a painting of a chair, for example, we feel confident that we have enough knowledge ‘of chairs’ to know whether or not it is a good representation.
Abstract art, on the other hand, often refers obliquely to the artist’s inner world or simply to itself. The manner in which paint is applied may appear crude or the composition infantile. Because it does not conform to general ideas about representation
Abstraction, even in the 21st Century, challenges the viewer and continues to raise puzzling and difficult questions;
What is it about?
Is it any good?
Is it Art?
The danger is that we slope off quietly, unsure whether ours were the ‘right’ responses. We assume other people know something we don’t.As the title ‘Something Light’ suggests this exhibition invites us to enjoy and take pleasure in the act of looking. All the pieces on show have an immediate impact and are capable of communicating without prior knowledge of abstraction. And, as the work of the nine artists testify, there is no one ‘type’ of abstract art; it exists in different forms and to varying degrees.
The paintings of John McClenagh for example are ‘abstracted’ from the landscape. Their starting point is the ‘real’ world, interpreted through the artist’s sense of colour and application of paint, altering the view almost beyond recognition. Similarly, John Rimmer uses paint to play around with distorting photographic images. His large canvases present visual traces or suggestions of images, a distorted fleeting memory, partly obscured by solid areas of colour.
At the other extreme of abstraction, there is the intimate work of Susan Liggett whose paintings bear little or no resemblance to the external world we inhabit. By focusing on colour the paintings, whilst not specific, suggest a range of responses in the viewer. It may be useful to bear in mind that the relationship between representational and abstract art is precarious and that “in certain essential ways, all art is abstract; and equally, all art is representational, in that it represents something – if only an intention.”1
Gallery 103 provides the space and opportunity to stop, let our eyes wander and enjoy the range of experiences on offer. There is a fine balancing act between informing us, the visitor, about what it is we are looking at and encouraging our own ability to see for ourselves. Questions such as, what do I see, how are things put together, what do I think the artist is trying to say and what do I think of it are good starting points for active and positive
Because the meaning of abstract art may not be immediately apparent this type of looking will require more time and effort. It may involve periods of reflection and contemplation or sudden moments of shock and amusement as we stumble across something unexpected. 3
We may be reminded of particular memories; experiences or feelings that we just can’t place. The work may draw us back several times as we examine it close-up and from a distance, each time taking in new information. Although it is not necessary to come away with any answers, we may be more aware of the questions or themes that the artist has explored.
It is not possible to explain each piece of work in the exhibition, only to offer some suggested ways of looking at them. Each piece has a short artist’s statement posted alongside. This statement is written by the artist and you may wish to use it to guide you in ‘how to look’ at the work. Remember each piece is different, with different qualities and intentions. You are invited to enjoy looking with an open and inquisitive mind.
Lesley Halliwell April (2002)
1.Moszynski, A. 1990 p. 9 ‘Abstract Art’ Thames & Hudson
2.Milner, M. 1950 ‘On Not Being Able to Paint’ Heinemann
3.Harding, A. 1990 ‘What is a Gallery?’ Exhibition catalogue, Kettles Yard