Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Yummo retinality

Simon Ingram: Boing Boom Tschak
Gow Langsford
4 February - 28 February 2009

Last year I stamped my feet and had a little tantrum about Simon Ingram’s work - saying his two lines of enquiry undermine each other. I said Kiwi artists don’t have the nerve of Europeans to make consistently rigorous work. If only he’d just stick to the machines.

I was right in what I argued and it still applies now. Because this show looks intriguingly gutsy, with each ‘manual’ painting drawing you in closer to admire their complicated composition, and because the ideas of placement, shape or hue are not laid out with clarity in the titles or within the visually detectable structure of the marks, he is clearly not a conceptual artist. These works are tweaked to look good.

Having said that, Ingram can claim this is a seductive show and not blush. These paintings are visually and spatially fascinating and designed to sell. And what is a ‘conceptual artist’ anyway? Such creatures are extremely hard to identify – for the more research one does within recent literature on the subject and its history, the more you discover just how fragmented and disparate the varieties of ‘conceptualism’ are, and how many of the artists linked to the term disagree.

Interspersed amongst the ‘pretty’ works Ingram has a number of large linen canvases set up with rails aligned at their edges so that his robotic gizmos can work away, applying paint over the duration of this show. That will be interesting to watch, even though he does not tell us in his gallery statement what formulas guide these performances. And how they differ from work to work. Their rationales appear to be over convoluted and can’t be expressed simply. That’s a weakness.

I also know that Ingram, like me, loves a good argument. (He is giving a public talk on Thursday at 6.30). I am confident he will respond to these words, and look forward to the unfolding of the exhibition and the discussion it generates.

When you see the machine applying paint to the linen it intrigues because the technical process (as recently developed by Ingram) looks so fluid and spontaneous. The robot really does appear to be thinking, even though Ingram has figured out a compositional drawing beforehand that is a rough basis of what is to come. The machine provides entertainment as a performer, though it is in essence a tool like any other implement in the artist's studio.

The results, what of them? Well hopefully we can judge at the end of the show, provided Ingram doesn't vet them and leave only the aesthetically pleasing ones. It would be a shame if he made the selection purely subjective and unexplained. The process for both types of work is still kept hidden, for the formulaic details are not made public in the works' titles. Unfortunately this keeps the project trivial because all Ingram seems to want in the end is to make seductive saleable canvases. The titles could really elucidate the so-called 'decision making' of the machine, unlike some of the manual works where the artist got bored in mid-stream and changed his procedure.


Elena S said...

simon ingram is a conceptual abstract artist.

John Hurrell said...

At Wednesday's talk he denied being a conceptual artist, and I think he may be right.

Is he an abstract painter, or is the work about any painter as a human subject, and what 'painters' do?

An 'abstract painter' would not be interested in process would they, but in how the resulting marks are interpreted as an aesthetic stimulus. Because the titles are not used to present information that clarifies the mechanisms underpinning the visual variables, he seems to be an abstractionist. He seems to like marks that are nicely composed and which avoid a narrative.

John Hurrell said...

I meant Thursday.

All painters though are abstractionists, even the most 'realistic'. That is because something is always reduced or simplified in the image, especially 3D space. A painting can never be 'realistic'.

Elena S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Hurrell said...

If his practice is about thinking, he doesn't need to make machines to investigate that. He can present stages in the making of drawings or paintings, and display the principles that guide the selection of salient variables.

Lego is a clever gimmick, a performance device to draw in the crowds. The robots look amzing when they apply the paint.

If his practice is about making saleable 'machine' paintings, his dealer I imagine would be happy to help cover the costs of maintaining parts. He was offered the chance of exhibiting only robot produced works. They are good sellers.

Ingram doesn't want to focus only on the machines. He is a closet de Kooning.I think he'd happily admit it.

John Hurrell said...

See more recent, further discussion on February 22, 2009. A new post:"As Simon Ingram's show at Gow Langsford continues..."