Part of my interest in Modernist art comes from growing up in that context. However, a specific commitment to abstract art has followed me around, pursuing me and often annoying me!
Picasso and David Hockney were prominent artists of the twentieth century who pushed towards abstraction but who could never, in the end, abandon art’s connection with specific, ‘witnessed’ visual images and the actual world. But it has also interested me that it was Picasso who, along with Cezanne, pushed art out from a commitment to the actual, and of course Hockney himself got very close to abstraction at times – see the Very New Paintings of the early 1990s.
I have found that abstraction takes many forms, from the religious leanings of early non-objective work, to Constructivist, later Abstract Expressionist and Minimalist work. And one of the things that has interested me has been the emphasis on structure and structuring. We see this initially in Cezanne, then in Picasso’s cubist period, then in artists like Mondrian, the Constructivists and Minimalists such as Donald Judd. I have felt this in my own work too – a desire to create forms that are highly defined structures, although for me, without the regularity of more geometrical abstraction. So, with ‘South Bank 2010’ (attached) I was seeking to work with an architectural theme – my interest in Brutalist architecture – as well as being intrigued by Constructivist artists.
Brutalism always interested me because of the sculptural form of the buildings – they always seemed to speak of architects who sought an element of sculptural plasticity. So, in making some work that referred to Brutalism it was like returning the sculptural element in the buildings back to their art origins.
This is not a successful piece, though, it bothers me. But I am hoping to continue to develop this theme, in part because it takes something from the real world that is out there, and for me transcends the specific object that Picasso and Hockney could not abandon. I’m trying here to see what is actually there without the visual tropes that make up ‘realistic’ or figurative art. At a material level, what are we dealing with? This reflects, in some ways, a fear that this ‘materialism’ has an inner meaning too, for me as a person. What IS the attraction of the material devoid of image? What is attractive about concrete, as its used in Brutalist work? Why have so many modern movement foregrounded the material at the expense of the image? Even Cezanne did this – paint takes on a tactile quality, an unsentimental materiality, which Picasso took further, and later artists such as Richard Serra moved on with, offering a look into what lies behind the image. What, then, is this kind of work SEEING?