Thursday, November 6, 2014

at Tenderbooks

Launch of Peter Dreher: Just Painting
published by Occasional Papers

6th November 2014
at Tenderbooks, 6 Cecil Court, London

"I do the paintings almost exclusively in my studio in St Margen.
It is the only place perfectly suited to the purpose. It is situated
over 3,000 feet above sea level, the air up there gives you the
feeling you get when you've drunk some sparkling wine, and I can
start painting straightaway. When I sit down and look at the glass,
it is like seeing an old friend. And then I'm happy and each time
it comes as a surprise, because I still think the same after forty
years: this glass is strangely unique."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Peter Dreher

Since 1974, the German artist Peter Dreher has made thousands of paintings of the same empty glass.

Under the general title ‘Day by Day good Day’, the paintings fall into two series, day and night, according to the time of painting. It is always the same empty glass, in the same place, painted life size.

The artist’s intentions seem to be both phenomenological and Buddhist; concerned with the attention that might be elicited from small differences and an emptiness or quiet that might be found at the bottom of such attention.

Unlike Opalka and Kawara, whose consistency is a possibility of conceptual art, Dreher’s single-mindedness perhaps arises from a daily practice of painting, and from the humility and gravity of the still life tradition.

The glass is empty but might be filled, or might have been recently emptied. It is a glass for water rather than whisky or wine. The poverty of the motif is an index of its seriousness, of what is at stake.

Addressed again and again, the object yields an infinite variety of lights and tones, of moods and reflections. The task for the viewer may be less one of comparison across the series than to be present without distraction on each occasion.

Nevertheless, all the paintings with this title are gathered, within the two series, into the one idea. The going on and returning, the again and again, the notion of a continuing practice, seem as essential, for both painter and viewer, as the act of looking.

Friday, June 13, 2014

James Howell

Studies in colour gradation were an integral component of Josef Albers’ teaching. It was a means of cultivating among his students a “more discriminating sensitivity” when it came to distinguishing between deeper and lighter hues. 

“We study gradation by producing so-called grey steps, grey scales, grey ladders”, he writes in Interaction of Colour. “They demonstrate a gradual stepping up or down between white and black, between lighter and darker.”

94.75 to 96.66
acrylic on canvas 
each 66 x 66 inches
October 2003

The painter James Howell has transformed this simple exercise in visual discrimination into a life project. He explores relational colour increments through the colour grey, which he works up from titanium white, ivory black and raw umber. They are mixed with the utmost care with a view to attaining the most equal modulations in shade that he can achieve. This has led Howell to delve deep into colour chemistry and to rely on computer aided technologies. This has been especially necessary in order to ensure that the temperature of the grey remains constant, in spite of the shifts in shade he might wish to apply.

s10, Set 91.14, 7.5.99
acrylic on canvas
40 x 40 inches

In earlier works, he painted a series of grey tones on separate aluminium sheets. But in his latest series, Howell paints horizontal bands of grey on a single, square canvas, always setting the lightest shade at the top, and the darkest at the base. These works are distinguished by the tonal range they depict. Some are calibrated so as to expose an almost imperceptibly narrow degree of variation, while in others the parameters are set further apart.

Set 68.98 12/27/94 
Acrylic on .25 honeycomb aluminium 
33 x 33 inches

At first glance, these works look monochromatic and almost blank. It is only gradually and from close up that the narrow bands become perceptible, and we come to notice the artist’s delicate, meticulous brushstrokes. Gradually the paintings' underlying order and rationale reveals itself. But no sooner do we have a sense that we have grasped the nature of this artistic project, and we start to enjoy the heightened sensation of knowing that our eyes have become attuned to these infinitely subtle gradations, then something strange happens.

The work ceases to feel like a mere rigorous optical exercise, and emerges as an unending, poetic meditation on the essence of the opaque.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reinhardt Over and Over Again

Alistair Rider, 'Reinhardt Over and Over Again', published in The Brooklyn Rail Ad Reinhardt Centennial, 1913-2013 (December 2013-January 2014), p. 54.

Feeding Plans II

On her 22nd birthday in March 2001, the English artist Ellie Harrison commenced a photo-diary of everything that she ate over the course of one year. The project was called Eat 22, and is now in the collection of the Wellcome Institute in London.

Image: 178
Date: 8 April 2001
Time: 13:13
Food: banana
Location: studio, Nottingham

Harrison established strict rules for the work:

'All food must be photographed before it is eaten.
All food photographed must then be consumed.
Any additional food eaten, not included in the original photograph, must be photographed separately (second helpings, extra portions, desserts etc).
In places where photography is prohibited (cinemas etc), food must be photographed prior to entering or not consumed at all.
In the case of party food (crisps in bowls etc), wherever possible all handfuls should be photographed.
Liquid is exempt, however drinks which are considered to to have some solid content should be photographed (soups etc).
Chewing gum is exempt as it is not consumable.
If any of these rules are broken, details must be recorded in the log.'

Image: 903
Date: 10 September 2001
Time: 19:37
Food: 2 baked potatoes with cottage cheese, 3 veggie sausages, slices roasted squash
Location: kitchen, Ealing

Harrison lists 1640 photographs on her web description of the work, Eat 22.

Eat 22 is subtly different from Knowles' Identical Lunch. For Knowles, consistency is a means of turning attention to ordinary everydayness, and a meal eaten is treated as suitably representative of this. The focus is less on recording every single lunch that she consumes (although the fact that we are led to believe that the lunch is 'identical' invites us to entertain the idea that - like Andy Warhol's soup-based midday meal - Knowles enjoys the same soup and tuna sandwich daily, and, following from this, that the artwork embraces every lunch the artist ever consumes).

In contrast, Harrison's project attests to a new digital era, in which data collection and data logging has become a simple and widely-available technology. Harrison's Eat 22 links eating with picture taking: the camera and computer become as essential as the crockery and cutlery.

A historical study could be written about the emergence of works of art that grow at a regulated pace. Maybe its beginnings date back to the late 1960s, and to the rise of conceptual art and performance-based practices. Almost always these are durational or long-term projects. They are distinguished by the fact that they develop accretively, unregulated by artistic inspiration or creative urges. Instead, they expand according to more ordinary factors, such as the ticking of a clock, or the needs of the stomach.              

Feeding Plans I

In the early 1970s, the Fluxus artist Alison Knowles prepared an event score which she called The Identical Lunch. It was based on her experience of consuming her daily meal at Riss Restaurant at 242 Eighth Avenue, Chelsea, New York.

The Identical Lunch comprises "a tunafish sandwich on wheat grass toast with lettuce and butter, no mayo, and a large glass of buttermilk or a cup of soup". Knowles invited many of her friends to participate in this performance, and she documents the records of their experiences in her 1971 publication, 'Journal of the Identical Lunch'.

Reading through the diary-like entries that comprise the book, it quickly becomes apparent that the only element that remains even loosely identical is the description of the meal as it appears as a meal option on a restaurant menu. 

The journal entries record the wide number of variables that the score permits, and which are contingent on the venue, the chef, the food products themselves, the waiter service, the mood of the performer, and so on. 

One entry by Jim Maya in Knowles' publication succinctly summarizes what other contributors also imply:

'The identical food demands little or no thought:
The surrounding activities take all your thought:

The waitress, her hair, her lips, the napkins,
Their embossments or lack of embossments.
The stools, the chairs, the heat.

When you've finished --
You hardly know you've eaten.'

Riss Restaurant closed long ago, but to this day Knowles continues to perform Identical Lunch in various locations.