Hello, I’m Holly the Trainee Assistant Curator at Tate St Ives.  A ‘huge conversation’ is how the American abstract painter Mary Heilmann chose to describe The Indiscipline of Painting exhibition in her Tate Etc. article, Conversations with Paintings.

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, 'Small Touching Squares Painting' 1998

Peter Davies
Small Touching Squares Painting 1998
Acrylic and pencil on canvas
Confirmed: 2542 x 4572 x 34 mm (displayed) Each component is 2542 x 1524 x 34 mm
Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1998© Peter Davies

View the main page for this artwork

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!

Comments

d.mcardle

yes Augean stables ; but there is a Stygian flood - of different styles of painting existing simultaneously which can be confusing for people as their values can appear to contradict each other. And anti gravity - because painting already hangs up on the wall (usually) so the image/field is free from having to bother about that (although often engages with that aspect visually very much so) unlike sculpture which on the ground/floor must have an integral mechanism to deal with gravity (hidden traditionally ,revealed or even subsuming in contemporary work)

Julia Cooper

It is important not to miss other painters in this tradition for instance those at Poussin Gallery. In particular John McLean. http://poussin-gallery.com/

Julia Cooper

That's why Matisse's paintings always look 'like a newly ploughed field'(A.Gouk?) hanging the abstract on to figurative base. Even Heron tried to hang his abstract vocabulary on to a figurative basis re his last 'garden' paintings. By then his mark making came as a natural extension of thought process so flowed and human. Human endeavour may pose as tarty sentimentalism but painting is really a searching mechanism.

d.mcardle

yeah yeah of course,you're right,drawing is the answer.lots of women making interesting and quite powerful inventive drawing based paintings these days. One last batch of interesting drawing ,post cubist of course,were the Sigmar Polke notebooks being quadruple projected downstairs somehwere ,blimey that was 2000 I think.But yesterday at Olympia some teeny weeny Picasso drawings and some Leger and they just blow out of their frames with power,very hard indeed for pure abstraction to do that.Well OK Picabia and the Constructivists,Mondrian and the Bauhaus Klee and Mondrian ! for a few, but NOW ? Howard Hodgkin seems to block out more than he reveals there's a claustrophobia somehow that I don't understand ,like looking at paintings on television.Paint left to its own devices has a natural tendency to modulate with a sort of tarty sentimentalism which can be mistaken for sensitivity ? A lot of that drawing being done by women does evoke say,Victor Pasmore,no bad thing ? quite 'organic' perhaps its 'green painting'but it does also have a 'built' element,so, humans are present?

d.mcardle

but I'm afraid to say Alan Gouk for example, hasn't "found" much.

d.mcardle

I dunno - water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.Somehow someway somewhere along the line (ha) our symbol formation (for want of a better paralympic paragliding paradigm ; paragliding:anti-gravity; paralympic :somewhat hampered; paradigm: nothing's perfect) We used to carve classical references on our buildings ,decorative and glory evoking ? Everything got cluttered and stolen by yer previous etc. so like Wordsworth doing the old Stygian Stables routine on yer Poetry,modernism got back to basics ,minimalism, and you could see wot was wot. Africa ,the East etc got look in - seemed to tie in nicely. In the 19C. William Morris say, tried to replace the historic Icanthus leaf and meld a new decorative patterned form . And as with music people say oh everything 's been done, its all a re-hash now .Well why is that ? Work now often chasing the organisation of society or individual perception, no symbol formation/aesthetic required. Hieroglyphs of the eighties followed Pop pop,referencing media and vapid culture, that yes, we love . I still think about those 'O level' trees in Per Kirkeby ,that seemed to be MADE abstract forms by being stolen of their being,possessed somehow by human being ,and looked back ,that seems important somehow.

d.mcardle

Acanthus leaf !

d.mcardle

and there's the lap over with graphics (as was traditionally called,now I think they call it communication studies (!) ) I mean if M.CraigMartin installs pictures of large scale objects,spade ,bucket etc in architectural spaces that works for those concerned because of the object recognition/naming doesn't it ? so there's like, a graphic whimsy - yes why not but that is different to painting - isn't it ? Of course Sol Le Witt made 'public' art too and others. Hard edged abstraction is well suited to being thus used I suppose. There are fashions of imagery which give a sign of the times,but perhaps we simply no longer make those pre-verbal/non-verbal syntheses that sort of mythologise a consensus of cultural erm, point

d.mcardle

"the young people visiting our ruins see nothing but a style " Florian Roithmayr 2009