Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tactile Time and Space

Howard Hodgkin's playful post pop abstract expressionist explorations with the painting as both window and frame challenge us to consider the illusion of space as opposed to the flatness of the surface and the power of the paint simultaneously to  reinforce and subvert pictorial conventions. They tease us with titles which make specific allusions to times and places. These cryptic word clues to possibly meanings challenge the viewer to 'read' these abstract brush marks and seemingly spontaneous gestures (apparently they are worked on over long period in successive layers) as bearing some significant relationship to a reality other than their own as 'painting'. Is this the blue of the sky or sea seen through an open window - although clearly not any literal or realistic representational sense? The titles provide a context which anchors the viewer's attention, pulling them back from otherwise potentially unfocused range of responses to pure abstraction and pointing to a specific stimulus to consider and empathise with and its apparent connection to painted colours, shapes and marks.  

Howard Hodgkin Early Morning  2010-11

We stayed on Naxos a few years ago.  Every evening we took a stroll to Chora for dinner in a seaside restaurant and would first walk around The Portara, which is the frame of giant doorway, all that remains of a 6th century temple dedicated to Apollo facing out to the sea and the setting sun.  At the time I found this ancient doorway, framing the elemental realities of earth, air, fire and water, to be a fascinating challenge to my contemplation of time and space. The past and the future always exist as either memory or imagination in the eternal present. The space inside the proportional frame and the space outside it are part of the same dimensionless infinity. Somehow this rectangle of 'nothing' framed by 'something', or this form made of emptiness, silently witnessing the ever changing cycles of night and day, sunrise and sunset and the generations of people being born and dying on the island, and the all the comings and going of visitors in ships over the centuries seemed to absorbed into the simplicity of its just being there.

The Portara, Naxos. Greece

I always experience something of the same sense of occilation between form and space, shadow and light in the Seagram Mural paintings of Mark Rothko which I saw most recently at the Tate Modern's Rothko  exhibition in 2008. 

Mark Rothko Red on Maroon 1959 Mixed media on canvas

In 'The Artist's reality, Philosophies of Art by Mark Rothko',  Published by Yale University Press in 2008 and based on the writing of the artist Rotho says this in a chapter headed 'Space' and subheaded  'Different Kinds'.

Tactile space, or, for the sake of simplicity let us call it air, which exists between objects or shapes in the picture, is painted so that it gives the sensation of  solid. That is, the air in a tactile painting is represented as an actual substance rather than as an emptiness.

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