Comprising 60 abstract paintings by some 49 artists, there is certainly plenty to talk about! This Saturday, Tate St Ives will be hosting a one-day seminar event which will encourage further conversation and debate around the themes explored in the show. Titled Abstraction Now, the discussion will focus on what it means to make abstract painting in the present moment and in particular how the visual languages of abstraction can remain urgent, critical and relevant to contemporary society.
Abstract painting is a medium with a long and illustrious past, forever entwined with modernism, the last century and the modern movement. Contemporary painters cannot avoid being a part of this tradition and must position themselves in relation to it. For the last five decades Mary Heilmann has been producing colourful abstractions which employ the basic elements of Modernist paintings: the grid, the monochromatic rectangle, stripes, spots, checks and drips. But instead of neatening up the edges, smoothing out the thicker areas and cleaning up the dribbles, Heilmann retains them as part of the character of her work. This adds to the spontaneous and lively feel of her paintings which are inspired as much by popular culture - Jazz and rock music and the language of cinema- as by high-culture - designers such as Charles and Ray Eames and composers John Cage and Arnold Schoenberg.
The hard-edged modernist grid revisited by artist Peter Davies becomes a rippling re-interpretation of a grid Small Touching Squares Painting, which embraces all the haphazard quirks and distortions that inevitably result from trying to fill three huge canvases with tiny hand-drawn squares.
Peter Davies is one of the invited speakers for Saturday’s seminar, along with Mary Heilmann. Also contributing to the seminar will be curator of The Indiscipline of Painting Daniel Sturgis, who will discuss how this extraordinary selection of artists and works was settled upon and how they reflect his own concerns as an abstract painter. The writer and curator Terry Myers will deliver a talk and chair a panel discussion. This is set to be a fascinating seminar, bringing together a range of voices to create a platform for critical discussion on abstract painting now. I for one can’t wait to continue the conversation!