Contemporary British Abstraction @ The SE9 Container Gallery


Public Viewing
11am to 3pm Saturdays
28 February – 11th April 2015

Private View
5th March 5.30pm to 8.30pm

Contemporary British Abstraction is a group show including thirty-five artists selected by artists Matthew Macaulay and Terry Greene.

Artists include:
David Ainley, Ralph Anderson, Chris Baker, Dominic Beattie, Andrew Bick, Katrina Blannin, Claudia Boese, Julian Brown, EC, Ben Cove, Clem Crosby, Pen Dalton, Lisa Denyer, Andrew Graves, Terry Greene, Susan Gunn, Alexis Harding, Sue Kennington, Sarah R Key, Phoebe Mitchell, Matthew Macaulay, Ellie MacGarry, Katrin Mäurich, Sarah McNulty, Mali Morris, Andrew Parkinson, Aimee Parrott, Marion Piper, Clare Price, Geoffrey Rigden, Gwennan Thomas, Trevor Sutton, David Webb, Mary Webb, Gary Wragg,

Why Abstraction Now?

Abstraction is no longer new. Abstract painters today are not doing what Malevich did a hundred years ago, things have changed, nor is theirs a stunned response to two world wars, so how is it that, when everything in abstraction has already been done, painters today continue in this tradition? Why abstraction now? The 35 artists in this exhibition might each offer a different answer, or their answers might naturally fall into numerous categories, at times overlapping and at other times contradicting each other.

For some, abstraction continues to be compelling simply because of its content-free status, in the same sense that mathematics or arithmetic is devoid of content. We don’t need apples, pears or other objects in order to add, subtract, multiply and divide. These operations are best carried out abstractly, just as in formal semantics or formal logic, removal of content allows concentration on structure and relata. Maths and logic aren’t new anymore, but people continue to contribute to them. Furthermore, these disciplines, like abstract art, are in a sense removed from our everyday lives yet at the same time intrinsic to them.

At the opposite extreme, some artists here will argue that the terms abstract and representational are misleading or irrelevant and will claim not to see themselves as abstract painters at all. Any representational painting is always also an abstraction and, non-representation seems impossible, so perhaps the distinction falls away.

For others, form is process that has halted or become ‘frozen’, so their key focus is the process of painting which itself becomes content or, alternatively, it is discovered as part of the process. There is often an element of ‘primitivism’ in this approach, as Craig Staff highlighted in his book Modernist Painting and Materiality, the paint is paint in the same way that in the writings of D H Lawrence flesh is flesh. Could it also be, that the static materiality of the painting offers a kind of antidote to the digital, screen-based experience that has come to characterise the technological? Painting here is a bit like jazz in that meaning or structure is the result of improvisation. Jazz may no longer be in vogue, but lots of good Jazz music continues to be made, and music that rightly deserves the tag contemporary.
Other abstract artists prefer to emphasise not so much the painters’ heroic quest for content as the part that the viewer plays in “reading in” their own meanings, or allowing associations to come to mind, perhaps specifically anticipated by the artist and perhaps not. Meaning is both invented and fluid, that’s our everyday lived experience, yet we hardly pay attention to it, as if meaning is readily supplied. Abstract art challenges us to engage in multiple acts of interpretation, and better still, at least potentially, to become aware of those interpretive actions.

Some artists working in this field, employ a methodology that, far from improvisation, is pre-planned, programmed, determined, by a preordained system or sequence. The results of such an approach cannot not relate to the determined-ness of contemporary experience. Without in any way attempting to depict or illustrate life within a technological system, their art is entirely congruent with such a life. Furthermore, that some element of free play is introduced may act as a metaphor exploring the extent to which such play within our everyday systems is possible, or not.
Many years ago Jacques Ellul, author of The Technological Society, argued that contemporary art is either an imitation of, or a compensation for, technology, seeing abstraction’s loss of the subject and its focus on means as technological phenomena. Much more recently, David Trotter coined the term techno-primitivism for a technologically-mediated primitivism, or that which “draws back from the technological only in order to get a better grasp upon it”. The two positions “drawing back from” and “getting a better grasp of” are contradictory or opposing poles, yet here they are held together. It’s the continuum that unites them and allows for overlap. Borrowing Ellul’s language it may be possible to both “imitate” and “compensate” for technology at the same time.

If there are perhaps as many answers to the question “why abstraction today?” as there are abstract artists, and their viewpoints may well be contradictory, in this exhibition we seek to hold some of these contradictions together in an attempt to get a better view. And this is a question better answered by viewing than by speculating, so we invite you to take a look at the multiple “answers” on view.

Text kindly written for the show by Andy Parkinson

The Exhibition Location

The SE9 Container Gallery
St Thomas More Catholic School
Footscray Road,

Phoebe Mitchell on colour, paint and painting


Phoebe Mitchell; colour, paint and painting

“I paint using oil paints, a combination of Michael Harding paints for a more unusual hue (Kings Blue Deep and Bright Green Lake) or when I’m feeling flush…, Winsor & Newton (my paints are predominantly W&N) and the odd Daler-Rowney (a brand I started out with whilst still at school – I’ve used their Prussian Blue and Lamp Black ever since).

I understand oil paint, though of course, I’m always discovering new characteristics, especially where different oil mediums are concerned. Various brands, colours and opacities tend to behave differently, but I know the basics through years of dabbling with the stuff. I actually find the prospect of painting with acrylics hugely daunting. There was a time before oil paints when they were all I knew…but I really would have no idea how to approach working with acrylic paint now. When i’ve the money to invest in acrylic mediums, this is something I want to overcome as I’m amazed by how many great contemporary paintings are painted using acrylics, or a combination of oil and acrylic. The material and process-based possibilities of working with acrylics are vast so it’s about time I started experimenting. Having said that, there’s the shackles of romanticism when working in oils, something i’m a little tied up with.

For my particular painting technique, oil paint is pretty much good-to-go straight from the tube, thinned with Sansodor. The main complaint with oils tends to be their drying time, but this really isn’t a problem for me as I apply the paint so thinly. If anything, my paintings almost dry too quickly. If a painting isn’t finished by the time I have to leave the studio, I’ll wipe it off the support using white spirit and a rag. I find no joy in working back into tacky/dry to the touch paintings, preferring the immediacy of working wet on wet, unless I intend to build up layers or want the remnants of an old, scrubbed-off painting to echo beneath fresh brush-strokes.

I don’t (think I) work with a limited palette – I’d work with every available Michael Harding and Winsor & Newton colour if I could afford to, but there’s definitely a few staple colours I replace every few months, unlike others I’ve been carrying around for almost a decade. Winsor & Newton’s ‘Green Gold’ and ‘Olive Green’ feature in almost all of my larger paintings and I replace them often. Michael Harding’s ‘Indian Yellow Red Shade’ comes a close third, but a little will go a very long way with this one, I tend to use it as a stain, once its been applied to a gesso ground, its pretty much there for good. I guess I go to these colours more frequently than others as my paintings tend to be rooted in landscape painting.

I make my own supports – MDF boards primed with acrylic gesso. I tend to do a batch of new boards once a year, a therapeutic yet very time-consuming process. I’ve just finished making and priming 15 new rectangular supports which will probably see me through the next 18 months. During the making I enjoy going into auto-pilot, working with my hands sawing, filing, gluing, priming and sanding…but it always takes a few days to reengage my brain at the end of it all. I thin my ready-made primer (Golden used to be my preferred brand but the last couple of tubs I bought felt different to work with so I’m now using the C.Roberson & Co. acrylic primer) with plenty of water – to the consistency of single cream – and apply at least 3-4 coats over the course of that many days, sanding with a high grade sandpaper in between each coat to achieve an incredibly smooth surface. For a period last year I worked on stretched polyester pre-primed with a universal primer. It did lend itself well to my working methods, but problems arose with continual removal and reapplication of paint – the polyester having rather a lot of give and the ground being harder to remove all traces of paint. I’m loosening up my painting style and my continual struggle with subject by painting on card at the moment. A combination of the size of the pieces of card (A5) and the ready-made, value-less (I found a huge pile of this laminated card next to the bins in my last studio) nature of it, allows me a freedom I don’t feel when painting on board but am hoping will be transferrable by making a huge number of these card paintings, eliminating at least some of my fear of ‘failure’.” ~ Phoebe Mitchell

Phoebe”s work was recently shown in the Painted Thought @ ArcadeCardiff

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Painted Thought @ ArcadeCardiff:


Sarah McNulty - Post

Painted Thought @ ArcadeCardiff
Queens Arcade,
Queen Street,
Cardiff / Caerdydd,
CF10 2BY

Private View 20/02/2014 6-8pm
Wednesday – Saturday / 12.30 – 17.30

Works by:
Neill Clements
Gordon Dalton
Andrew Graves
Terry Greene
Rhianne Masters-Hopkins
Racheal Macarthur
David Manley
Sarah McNulty
Phoebe Mitchell
Mircea Teleaga

Painted Thought continues a thread of Pluspace exhibitions, such as Without an Edge there is no Middle (2013), Form / Function (2013) and Meditations (2013), that examines contemporary painting.

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