Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
The Sassoon Gallery, Peckham, London
9 September 2006 to 10 October 2006
Reviewed by: Lorna Collins »
By Lorna Collins
Martin Blake: Constructed Paintings’ consists of 29 coloured boxes hung on the walls of the Sassoon Gallery. These ‘painted objects’ magnify the small exhibition space as geometric flirtations with shapes, colours and dimensions which together immediately pose an aerial view of an urban housing estate – blocks of boxes.
Martin Blake is described as an ‘English academic’ (he teaches painting at Central St. Martins) showing ‘still life realities’ here, as ‘layers of unlocked space’ which demonstrate a studious examination of various modernist, ‘transatlantic’ and classic European abstract styles, whilst simultaneously being ‘devoid of reference, context or information.’
When asked for an explanation of this, and what is actually being constructed here, Blake says these works are created in response to the dismissal of painting as a ‘dead’ medium in the 21st century. Emerging from art school in the 1970s, when painting was considered ‘very seriously’, for Blake it still offers ‘a rich, fertile means of investigation… a very different and particular activity’, in a world now ‘saturated by electronic communication.’
Academic understanding, which can’t be devoid of reference, saturates his effort to extinguish ideas and produce pure ‘painted object’, presenting these linear shapes as barricades. These don’t immediately suck you in. Stepping forward you need to interact, Blake says, and ‘meditate on surface… in a dialogue with the world of painting.’ Approached in this way, looking at ‘Constructed Paintings’ perhaps requires lengthy, diligent attention.
This could be off-putting. But if you look closer the straight lines dissolve into subtle gradations which form a delicate dialogue between colour and mass as blocks of wood, canvas and paint build a solidity that hovers between two and three dimensions – at once a painted, sculpted and architectural composition.
When Blake tells me how he ‘constructs’ these, the scholar becomes a modest, sensitive man quietly inviting me to look. He begins by ‘drawing with blocks of wood, playing with space’ and it seems that those aesthetic complications about ‘still life realities’ conceal what’s really going on, which is, quite simply, like a children’s game. But playing with shapes and placing them in a box is here neither juvenile diversion, nor an erudite exercise – it’s a basic need: ‘I’m trying to achieve a space that works.’ Blake here emulates Matisse, who famously said that ‘the artist has to look at life as he did when he was a child.’
There is a tension, then, between Blake’s ‘intellectual rigour’, the theoretical or formal interaction necessary to apprehend ‘constructions’; and the tender simplicity of looking at building blocks which fit into place.
The former is interesting and shows the artist as a capable don, but conceals a more true picture that seeks to find foundation and mark ‘Territory’. Blake is ‘unlocking space for you to step inside; an equivalent world, [in] a painted object.’
As our digital world becomes increasingly dictated by ‘virtual’ space; painting remains ‘distinct’ and here offers the viewer some space which is ‘nourishing’ and real.
I am an arts journalist, philosopher and researching literature and culture at Cambridge University. I write to communicate what can be gained from the sensuous experience of engaging with artworks; to ask what contemporary art is for and can do - within the terrorism and virtual reality of our modern world.
Sassoon Gallery (The) »
213 Blenheim Grove, Peckham, London SE15 4QL
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