The Doors of Perception

John Middleton: Painting Works at the Coningsby Gallery, 9 -13 June 2014

Abstract art is, of course, all about perception. Almost always, the viewer sees the work through their own lens, and the resulting mental impression is, in effect, a collaboration between artist and observer. John Middleton’s show definitely gives the spectator a lot to absorb and think about; however there seem to me to be certain underlying themes to do with place, fluidity and possibility.

Doors are exciting, representing as they do the transition from one place to another. On entering the exhibition, the first picture to catch my eye was Doorway. With its central arrow, whose direction varied with your point of view, it seemed to say that our personal doorways can take us to many different places. Temple Doorway is another obvious example of the same theme. In a wonderful touch, the artist has used sand from a beach near the temple at Chichen-Itza to depict the building, yet it is the completely dark open doorway which draws the eye, suggesting the endless possibilities of the other side, and the journey from the physical to the spiritual which is evident throughout Middleton’s work. Nearby paintings complemented this idea. Path to the Temple suggests that either the rugged route or the direct path will lead you to the same destination, and Kimono, with its eye-catching gold square suggested a doorway filled with blindingly bright light.

Hanging side by side, The Pink Bird and The Green Bird were both inspired by Edward Lear. Strangely, although pink is a brighter colour, it was the latter which suggested Caribbean islands to me – perhaps because the bird was in flight, or maybe because green is the hue of vegetation and growth. Green is also a powerful colour in Idiosyncratic Pattern, which has shades of mother-of-pearl and has, to me, a 1970s feel, and asks the question “When is a pattern not a pattern?” This painting is also a good example of John’s fascination with flaws, rather than hiding them he likes to draw attention to them in an “X marks the spot” sort of way. The Last Sighting of Bigfoot deals wonderfully with the problem of making visible the invisible, while Henri’s Fish and Socks deceives the eye and plays with notions of depth and dimension.

Know Your Place seems to me to sum up the sense of myriad possibilities presented by this exhibition. Perhaps the empty space at the centre is for you; or you are one of the surrounding circles or even a small dot of colour right at the edge? The potentialities are endless as, I suspect, are the responses to John Middleton’s work – as varied as the works themselves. I have only touched briefly on the range of watercolours and drawings on display, but I found the whole to be impressive, engaging and stimulating.

For more information visit John’s website www.johnmiddleton.uk.com.
GreenBird

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Re-examination Pays Dividends

New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies at the Piper Gallery

This exhibition presents the work of artists whose work became less fashionable during the 1970s with the rise of conceptual and performance art.  While these artists are still working today, most of the work on display is from this period.  This is a very diverse exhibition: all of the artists have very individual styles.  However, a common feature is an attention to craft, precision and formal values in painting.

The range of approaches is very clear when you compare the work of Tess Jaray and Frank Bowling.  Tess’ Alhambra (1979) is deceptively simple at first glance, but closer examination draws the viewer in and reveals the surprising complexity hidden in what you believe to be predictable pattern.  What at first appears to be a repetitive motif, on closer observation shows itself to have complex variation in colour, form and scale.  Frank Bowling’s Rush Green (1977) seems to be more the sum of its parts.  His deployment of paint by pouring it directly onto the canvas and utilising flow may seem haphazard, but on inspection the result is more mysterious.  There appears to be an equivalence with art from the past – for example, Monet’s paintings of the garden at Giverney – sustained attention is rewarded.

William Henderson and Barrie Cook both use a particular vocabulary to produce very different results.  Henderson’s Funky, Blackand Catch Me (1978) creates a feeling of depth and jaggedness, with a definite sense of illusionistic space, reminding one of the microscopic world when magnified.  Cook’s Blue, Red and Yellow Grid (1977) is an optical work which plays with the eyes.  It is reminiscent of cathode ray tubes warming up in a old-fashioned television.  There is a richness in the fact that the two paintings, both using repetitive linear forms, can produce such varied results.

Other highlights of the exhibition include Gary Wragg’s Carnival (1977-79), which is driven by the process of drawing; Patricia Poullain’s Untitled (1973), which has a lightness and openness whose accessibility reminds one of a childhood telescope; and finally, Trevor Sutton’s measured, well proportioned That Swing.4.K (1979) combines electric blue and black, demarcated by a delicate green line.  The piece is poised and balanced and seems to be very much of its time.

If you like your paintings to repay prolonged attention, then New Possibilities at the Piper Gallery is definitely worth a visit.

New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies is at The Piper Gallery, 18 Newman Street, W1T 1PE from 16 November to 21 December

Mary Tynan and Ian MacNaughton

(Pictures courtesy of the artists and The Piper Gallery)