Project 4.1: Reimagining the canvas

Art practitioners did re-visit the canvas as a stretched and framed picture since Modernism, e.g Barnett Newman, and especially in the evolvement of Minimal Art with Donald Judd or Richard Serra. The canvas as a surface dictated by it’s relationship to the stretcher was perceived as contrived, also at a wider visual cultural discourse. A key question could be what we would expect a painting to be located, and how we encounter it physically and embodied b moving towards, and around.

I looked at some aspects during my earlier coursework, e.g. Walk through Painting and my object-box (#Paint4OCA) – besides those earlier works that I made ‘on a side’ as reflected on in my current coursework.

Some time ago, I discovered during my visit to the Bern Kunsthalle (2018) the work Untitled Chair, 2015 of Nicole Wermers (b. 1971). Interestingly, that the work reproduced on the Art Basel webpage shows ‘just’ a chair with a fur coat. The Bern installation expanded this single viewpoint into a dialogue with a heater from the building, turning the latter into a piece of art work as well. In my visit reflection, I described my physical encounter as ‘my embodied perspective: distant, looking at it, looking down at it, sitting down and look in the direction’ (Schaffeld, 2018).  All together, installation of work can raise questions but also engage the viewer to look ‘beyond’ and to move into a physical dialogue.

Wermer’s work is not a painting, as apparently no paint was used, but it relates to the work Mundanza (green), 2015 or Mudanza (green), 2016 of Angela de la Cruz (b. 1965). The gallery’s artist description highlights how she embraces ‘deconstructing and reconstructing paintings into recyclable “Commodity Paintings” in a wider art historical discourse (Wetterling Gallery, 2016).  Here, she takes the canvas completely away from the stretcher;  compared to her earlier work Vacant, 2013, a canvas too small to fit the stretcher frame. The canvas as a glossy, shiny surface, emphasised with paint to make it a sculptural work, and even more, an installation.

I start to get a sense of how a sculpture could be seen differently from a sculptural painting. It seems, as the latter need to be installed. A sculpture as well, but the painting invites more for a relationship engagement, a sculpture possibly more for a face-to-face engagement. Possibly, that sculptural paintings like the ones of Angela de la Cruz do embrace much more a Minimal Art, a Gestalt approach as would be seen just at a first glance (or by looking at online screen based images alone). In this context one could see Frank Stella’s painting of shapes and lines with its own life, eliminating the support, letting the shapes and lines be the support in an open space. Similarly,  works by Richard Tuttle – or others.

I feel that Sarah Crowner‘s (b. 1974) paintings (as seen at Simon Lee Gallery) do relate strongly to an art historical moment of geometric abstraction, with large shapes painted with a limited palette but with high saturation that do extend the limits of the top surface and extend around the edges. I can certainly see some reference to Barnett Newman or Piet Mondrian and others. 

However, I am fascinated by her work ‘Garden Blue’ (2018) for the American Ballet Theater, New York (Morris, 2018). She made the customs and the props for the performance, reminding me of Robert Rauschenberg’s engagement (his series of ealier ‘Combines’ with Merce Cunningham’s Dance Theater (Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, 2019) or of Jean Dubuffet’s Coucou Bazar (1973, Foundation Jean Dubuffet). Both, painterly, sculptural and relational compositions to be engaged with (the actors) in a performative act.

Differently to de la Cruz, Dianna Molzan (b. 1972) engages at an intimate level with the stretcher. The stretcher functions beyond keeping a canvas tight and flat, e.g. untitled, 2014 (empty stretcher with suspended ‘cans’ inside the ‘picture plane’, or other works with suspended ‘pictures’ that build on art history and language to seek meaning from it. But not all works are embracing the stretcher frame, others look like side tables at the wall, with objects as pictures on the small shelf, e.g. untitled, 2015. I feel reminded of Nicole Wermers’ Moodboard #5, 2016 – as seen at the same Bern exhibition mentioned above (Schaffeld,2018). As stated on another site, Wermers  creates:

sculptures, collages and installations, whose humor and deep psychological resonance derive from their diverse subversions. They sabotage their objects’ original function, radically rethink unusual combinations of materials, and destabilize expected spatial and social hierarchies. – about Nicole Wermers (Art Viewer, 2017)

And her later work the conscientious objector, 2018 reminds me of Jutta Koether’s installation series ‘Seasons and Sacraments’ but also of Barnet Newman’s The Wild, 1950.

Fig. 1: SJSchaffeld - Presence and Absence, 2017

Fig. 1: SJSchaffeld – Presence and Absence, 2017 – an early approach to artefacts and releasing the frame. Re-staged as folded fabric on the stretcher (apparently new ones)

 

I can see other artists who work at the liminal space between painting and sculpture. With Sarah Crowner an example on the rather painting side and Nicole Wermers rather on the sculpture side. Somehow, all are in between, trying to get a physical demanding piece of work installed where the viewer can not relate merely on a dead-pan gaze of a flat surface, but need to put her/himself into a physical but also cultural and art historical relationship:

  • Alex Roberts (b. 1975) uses silk as a translucent supporting material, letting the stretcher shine through (Midpoint II, 2019) alongside an intriguing installation with fragmented painted parts on steel bars. Examples: Reds to blues, 2015 (Acrylic on wood, 23.5 x 17.5cm) as part of the installation The Room is the Resonator together with  Paul Abbott & Alex Roberts in an Old Police Station in Deptford, London (2016). The colored tiles resonating with the monochrome painting, questioning not only a White-Cube ideal but also the agency of a painting. 
  • Simon Callery (b. 1960) who embraces the textile materiality of the canvas to make sculptural paintings, e.g Undercut Yellow Wallspine, 2017.. Installed to advance from the wall into the open space. They remind me of large pocket filter units used in industrial air filter environments. These works seem to be a re-interpretation of the stretcher and the canvas as visible in Symmetrical Aluminium Wallspine, 2017. Fascinating to see how he even re-interprets the thread. In other works, e.g. Blue Horizontal Wall Pit Painting, 2014 the stretcher becomes a different shape and the viewer feels reminded of other cultural artefacts, e.g a toilette cover. An interesting approach can be seen in his work Flat Painting Bodfari 14/15 Ferrous, 2014 – 2015, painted on canvas with distemper and use of  thread, wood, and aluminium. (Distemper an interesting cheap material made from hide glue and wetted whitening chalk, with added colored pigments  – see here). Callery interrogates the material of the canvas as a fabric in all it spots and flaws, though installed as a flat wall based work.
  • Alexis Harding (b. ) looks at surface phenomena of paint on a canvas, e.g. Substance and Accident, 2012. The paint rather as a skin, peeling off the surface and extending the edges. Materiality of paint from a rheological perspective.
  • Sarah Sze (b ) is looking more at fragments of pictures in space through fragmented materiality of supports, turning the entire room into a colorful and painterly installation. She extends the dimension of painting <-> sculpture with the element of photography. Her installation are full immersive spaces of images leaving possibly the viewer uncertain whether to be an observer or an integrative part of the work.
  • Ally McGinn (b. ) defines herself on her webpage as a ‘conceptually representational painter and installation artist, working within a narrative that questions perceptions of art and the conditions of painting’. For her, paintings are paintings because of the materiality of it, not because they are painted. A very interesting shift in perspective on what is painting. The materiality of objects, used for work, are re-presented in a painterly manner. Perception of what material objects tell us. Her recent works after her MA (2017-2018) shows how the stretcher becomes embedded as an material object inside the picture plane of a painting.

Learnings:

  • The stretcher and the canvas, deconstructed in its structural elements (wooden frame, fabric, threads) are becoming materials for new interpretations and appropriations. Often applied, to raise questions in a wider cultural discourse – of rejected objects or commodities.
  • Materiality as such are combined with the visual energy of color. Paint as a mediator for new meaning.
  • It seems that a reduction on material  properties alongside linguistic signs (e.g. through shapes or cultural use) do open up new perspectives not only of meaning but mostly of creating, an exploration of material behavior.
  • Installation of such ‘sculptural paintings’  do question perception and can raise narratives beyond representational functions.
  • Re-staging painting as material performance, as Ally McGinn addresses a shifting perspective of what painting can be, as a very perceptual encounter.

Reference:

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(c) 2018, StefansJSchaffeld
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