Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bob Law

From the late 1950s into the 70s, the English artist Bob Law made a series of large drawings and paintings in which a drawn rectangle closely follows the edges of the paper or canvas. Unruled, bearing all the imperfections of the artist’s hand, the rectangle often leans slightly to the right. While framing pictorial space, separating it from architectural or literal space, the rectangle also frames a void, or a depth of psychological projection.

Early examples of these works have the artist’s signature and date at the bottom right-hand corner, as in a traditional landscape, but in later drawings the signature is dropped, leaving only the date. If the artist or viewer is to be plunged into the void, then the signature will be too much of a counter weight, betraying a fear of vertiginous space. If identity is tracked across time, it may dissolve within time itself.

These large, empty canvases, identified by a crudely-painted date in the right-hand corner, make an interesting contrast with the date paintings of On Kawara. In Kawara’s work, the date has moved into the central position. It is painted in modernist sans-serif letters and numbers from which all trace of the artist’s hand has been eliminated. The issue here is time, not psychological space. It is a common property not an existential moment.

Why does the date remain in Law’s otherwise laconic paintings ? Would an anonymous, ruled rectangle not function at least as efficiently as a window on space ?  There seems to be a vestige of shamanic ritual here. Through concentration, the artist draws a temenos or sacred space, in a magical act within time. The date records an occasion of shamanic flight. 

Bob Law: A Retrospective is published by Ridinghouse 2011.