Natalie Finnemore’s ‘Arrangements’ are exactly that; carefully balanced orderings of three central elements, which are formally and numerically rearranged to create a subtly diverse body of work. A measured tension between the distinct aspects of colour, form, and production, brings surprising discord to what at first appear to be decisive, refined forms.
Structurally they easily connect with the exhibition space to establish an architectural dialogue, until their meandering geometry starts to pull their associations in unexpected directions. It feels as if Finnemore has mentally removed these structural elements from their origins, then set about remaking them in a way that acknowledges this journey from source, through thought, to a new, process driven form. They are the imagined bits that Gordon Matta-Clark cut from his building works. Another influence appears to be Donald Judd, and Finnemore’s works share the quality of having once had a practical, commissioned starting point, which in their reworking, become the residual ghost of a purpose. Her sculptures look like they remember serving a purpose, but can no longer quite define it.
This loss of context leads to a clearer focus on their form and production. There are post-minimalist sympathies in the human scale of the pieces, as if having been stripped of context and refined of form they hope to be useful again. Sit on me, lean on me, stand on me…their purpose might be as props to aid a consideration of themselves. If their process was more robust and industrially produced I expect these invitations would be neon lit and unavoidable. But in Finnemore’s handling of materials they are the opposite. The bruised MDF edges, hairline cracks, and dusty matt surfaces bring a clear element of fragility. Her colours develop this theme in their domesticity, the unmixed decorative hues repeating the sense of intimacy and privacy. Finnemore’s sculptures are an emotional translation of minimalist detachment. You are invited to feel the last turn of a screw, and then its imminent burial in wood-filler…
These contemporary re-workings of minimalism’s ambitions work as nuanced, textured declarations of spatial moments. Doors swing, corners draw us in, sound fills a room, air floods into a larger space. ‘Arrangement #18’ seems to drop the Olympic logo into this mix of expanding and collapsing space. Finnemore sets these moments in pinks and greens and they sit diffidently between our having noticed them and their being forgotten.
Jan May is interested in paintings’ relationship to immediacy and spontaneity. Historically these qualities have functioned as metaphors for the ‘unconscious/conscious’, ‘learned/innate’ dichotomies, motifs that inform large parts of the dialogues around abstraction in art. In contemporary terms, the work sets about reintegrating these modernist vocabularies into elements of our present visual culture, even if, in May’s handling, its forms feel temporal.
Themes include architecture, and the natural world. Gold, and the stock exchange, sit alongside paintings of hedgerows and saplings. There seems to be a measure of growth, and transition, both in terms of paint, and what it is depicting. May’s absorption in the hypnotic potential of his subjects is emphasized by the exclusion of a context, and we see them sitting flatly on matt banks of mid-grey. Buildings migrate, hedges are leafed with words, and holes punched from a piece of paper are remembered. Grapes grow, ripen, and then disappear as the canvas returns to blankness.
Central to these descriptions is a particular recognition of the minutiae of the materiality of painting. May wants to create, or recreate, a relentless gazing experience, and the momentum of absorption is passed back and forth between the subject and the paint. We see paint moving from thick to thin, in various stages of opacity or transparency. The paint is used in such a way as to emphasize the individual bristles of a brush, and the size of the brush. For all the brevity of the marks, there is a careful awareness of paint’s diverse optical possibilities.
The weight of painterly gestures should have a measured and deliberate interaction with the momentums inherent in an artist’s themes. The fact that the dense or pertinent contextual issues around subjects such as the stock exchange, migration, pollution or surveillance, are seemingly overlooked could lead to a frustration with May’s works. They seem at odds with a roll in concise debate, replacing dramatic clarification or succinct definition with a slipping away, a relentless hyperopia that feeds a fascination with exchanges of details.
Whilst the economy of the work, and the tension between brevity and pre-emptive ambition connects the work to artists such as Raoul de Keyser and Michael Krebber, or hint at the automatic drawing techniques of Hans Hartung, it is in their ability to draw these qualities into discrete subjects that makes them stand out as their own. Deceptively simple, fluid, and voluble, they are about surfaces, and aestheticized dramas.
As with Natalie Finnermore’s sculptures, Jackson Sprague’s work appears to emerge from a dialogue with minimalism. Where Finnemore moves towards the personal or intimate, Sprague leans towards those elusive and awkward terms, the ‘spritual’ and the ‘poetic’.
“The distilled harmony between these materials gives any semblance of a subject the dreamy reverence of fingers pressing at fog.”
Materially they are established from the mute, flat white base of crystacal, onto which colour and detail are meticulously added in watercolour. The distilled harmony between these materials – the whiteness of the crystacal quietly pushes light through the thin layers of watered down paint – gives any semblance of a subject the dreamy reverence of fingers pressing at fog. One eye-shaped piece hints at this absorption in ocular uncertainty, and the wall-based pieces, broadly speaking, develop his material accent on light in their window-like shapes. Here again the works harbor religious undertones. Never simply rectangular, these silhouettes are the filled-in frames of baroque church windows.
The repetitious quality of his minutely aggravated surfaces further develops the idea of monastic devotion, and the depersonalizing anti-biographical practice of mantras. The broader applications of paint on a cloverleaf-shaped piece make a connection to formalist abstraction, artists such as Agnes Martin, and the quasi-religious feel of some modernist manifestos.
‘Untitled’ (2011), a white ascent set on a pale pink plinth recalls paintings of The Tower of Babel, especially the leaner Flemish depictions of a tower more advanced than Bruegel’s famous arrested development. The compelling narrative at the core of those works – the loss of language, or the rendering useless of language, feels like an important aspect of Sprague’s work. There is a clear articulation of silence here, whether it is religious or personal in intent, a thing in itself, rather than a footnote to the argument on the adequacy / inadequacy of language.
Peeling back the fog these pieces seem to sit in, you are left with the realization things aren’t necessarily clearer for closer inspection. The slow density of these rhythmic, layered works absorb you in their minutiae. As we find that the top of the crystacal tower is no different in itself to the bottom, we are reminded of the ‘journey/destination’ fable inherent in good process based work, a philosophical tendency particularly inherent in these quiet, absorbing works.
Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2012 Copperas Hill Building, Liverpool 15 September - 25 November 2012 ICA, London 27 November 2012 - 13 January 2013 Links www.nataliefinnemore.com www.janmayblog.blogspot.co.uk/ www.jacksonsprague.com/ www.newcontemporaries.org.uk/2012 www.ica.org.uk/34583/Exhibitions/Bloomberg-New-Contemporaries-2012.html