Victor Pasmore
Black Abstract (1963)

© Tate

A river of dots decanted on a brown square bounces as it meets the boundary on the right. The dots begin blurring as a result of the collision, and then curl back to be stopped by a clumsy horizontal line drawn by the beginning of their journey… Is this the embodiment of a rational and orderly thought, or the quick sketch of a pre-rational formal intuition? Is it the end of that unbearable drone from the neighbouring construction site? Is it a quick automatic improvisation of the brush, or a disciplined formalistic choreography? Is it the effect of paracetamol on a tough headache? Is it the sound of tap water flooding the pan still burning hot from frying eggs? Is it a voice that starts counting forwards, slowing down to a halt and the realisation that it was in fact counting backwards? Why is this square precisely tilted and propped up by a bent stick?

Like many of Victor Pasmore’s paintings, Black Abstract transports me to that uncanny territory where late modernist formalism and surrealism somehow naturally meet. The point of embrace (or rather surrender) between the aspirations of formal economy and the acknowledgement of the impossibility of accurate cognition that this painting inhabits is the kind of terrain that has me returning, time after time.

I find this image so simple it is difficult to avoid, and yet it remains complex enough that I cannot quite work it out. If observing painted images in person is still a compelling experience, well into the age of the circulating jpeg, and well beyond the many tautologies and self-explanations paintings are lately expected to perform, this potential lies less in their appeal to reason, and more in connection to mechanisms of desire, and the perpetual deferral of their completion.

Gabriel Kuri (born 1970) is an artist living in Mexico City and Brussels. His work Untitled 2006 was purchased using funds provided by the 2006 Outset / Frieze Art Fair fund