After having popped into The Piper Gallery, I decided to meander down Eastcastle Street before heading to my next set of meetings. This is an area of London that I know well – after all I’m here most days.
I intended my first stop to be Haunch of Venison and as I opened the door to the gallery I thought how different the space looked, they’d completely gutted it. And, as I walked further in, it seemed they’d even excavated and added a basement floor. Yet alarm bells weren’t going off in my head and I even sent a text to a friend informing him that Haunch had opened up their basement! As I wandered back upstairs it finally struck me that the whole aesthetic of the show didn’t really seem in keeping with Haunch’s normal style. I picked up a press release and the reason became all too clear – I had unknowingly wandered into Carroll/Fletcher, which is a few doors down the street.
Upstairs at Carroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.
I don’t really have a bona fide excuse for these five minutes of sheer ditziness. But, it did allow me to explore a gallery I hadn’t previously visited and discover that it is a beautiful, and large, space.
Carroll/Fletcher is currently presenting the first solo exhibition of Manfred Mohr, a concise survey of his fifty-year practice. Mohr makes use of the automatic processes of the computer, uniting his interests in music and mathematics to create minimal but lyrical works. He claims his key influence is the composer Pierre Barbaud who is responsible for introducing Mohr to the innovations of computer programming. As such, the artist works by a set of restrictive rules that culminate in abstract shapes often formed using a plotting machine. Although many of these works are similar and related to one another they are not the same.
Manfred Mohr at Caroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.
In 1972 Mohr began to work with the cube, exploring a rigorously methodical system of art-making often comparing the cube to a musical instrument. Using a simple shape (perhaps comparable to a musical riff) he is able to improvise endless possibilities. Upstairs, Morh’s obsessive experimentation with cubes is demonstrated in every possible configuration and distortion, progressing into hyper-cubes with multi-dimensions and elements. These hard-edged systems and codes show a growing interest in systematic art.
Downstairs, his early works are displayed in a scatter hang. This is effective to gain an overall impression but it is impossible to see the detail in some works; sitting on the gallery’s bench allowed me to soak up the ideas and concepts (well, some of them) behind Mohr’s practice.
The hang downstairs. Own photograph.
The final room of the exhibition plays his film Cubic Limit through an old-fashioned juddery projector – the film constructs and deconstructs the cube, outlining the limitless variations that can be created.
After having worked in monochrome for nearly forty years, Mohr returned to the use of colour in 1999 to emphasise and distinguish subtleties in spatial relationships. Some of the concepts here no doubt went way over my head – especially as I’d struggled even to walk into the right gallery – but the subtlety of his work made the exhibition very palatable.
Mohr’s Cubic Limit. Own photograph.
As I headed out of Carroll/Fletcher I realised quite how many times I’ve walked past it. It’s definitely going on my Fitzrovia list for the future.
Finally, I headed into Haunch (looking as it normally does) who are showing Isca Greenfield-Sander’s Second State, a body of work that explores the physical and metaphorical enormity of landscape and the sublime.
Isca Greenfield-Sander’s Second State at Haunch. Own photograph.
Greenfield-Sander uses vintage slides as the starting point for her multi-layered paintings. The imagery is easily recognisable but the paintings are expanded, physically referencing the magnitude of the subjects. But size alone cannot illustrate the sublime.
Using the power of painting to convey the sublime is a tricky business to say the least. The sublime represents nature at its grandest scale and is both powerful and awesome although remains an indeterminate concept. In Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement of 1790, he divided the sublime into two types: the mathematical sublime deals with size and the immeasurable and refers to something huge beyond all comparison, in particular the majesty of nature; and the dynamic sublime deals with the incomprehensibility of the great power of natural forces. Experiencing the mathematical sublime makes all else small and insignificant; it is a magnitude that cannot truly be experienced and, therefore, reminds us of the limitations of our own relationship with nature. The mathematical sublime overwhelms our mental faculties so that we are unable to comprehend fully what we see. Traditionally, an example that inspires awe due to its magnitude is an ocean or a mountain range, but Kant also relates to ideas of reason such as absolute totality and absolute freedom.
Greenfield-Sander works. Own photograph
While the mathematically sublime is based on the incomprehensibility of an infinite measure, the dynamically sublime is based on incomprehension of absolutely great power as produced by the vast forces in nature. This is exhibited by the power of a hurricane, a tumultuous ocean, a high waterfall or a mountain range in relation to which we realise our own physical powers are puny yet are forced by our insignificance to try to understand the faculty of practical reason. Both types of sublime are complex feelings of frustration at the inability to comprehend such absolute vastness, but the mathematically sublime takes pleasure in the ability of imagination, while the dynamically sublime takes pleasure in the superiority of reason.
Probably the best representation of dynamic sublime in art is Turner’s Snow Storm – Steam-Boat Off a Harbour’s Mouth of 1842 where the whirling boundaries between the chaos of the sea and sky are totally confused. Turner tied himself to the ship’s mast to experience at first hand the powerful forces of nature; viewers of the painting are not in danger but appreciate the magnificence and power knowing that from their vantage point they are safe.
JMW Turner, Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, 1842. Image via www.tate.org.uk.
With this in mind, I think claiming that Greenfield-Sander’s works explore ‘the power of painting to convey the sublime’ only confuses matters. Taking this element out of the equation, her use of a bright tonal range and abstracted areas is very effective. Overall, for me, there’s some excitement lacking and this exhibition doesn’t quite live up to Haunch’s usual standard.
Across the road Scream are showing Greg Miller work which make use of the diverse cultural and geographical make-up of Miller’s American roots, exploring the contradictions between urban streetscape and history. These works have a huge energy to them, montaging different images that Miller has collected over time, layering meanings, stories and narratives into a dense melée of artistic factions. His use of resin to glaze the works preserves their history and transience, saving these otherwise impermanent memories. The nostalgia of these works is poignant despite their busy and bold constructs – the personal touch recalling the artist’s youth and fonder memories from his upbringing in Northern California.
Greg Miller at Scream. Own photograph.
To finish the day off I went for a marked contrast, popping into the Piacenti Art Gallery for a glass of champagne and their winter exhibition of old Master works. Sadly this was a short run and has now shut but it’s a lovely space to visit in the New Year. Although be warned with all those galleries on Duke Street, who knows where you’ll end up.
New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies is at The Piper Gallery until 21st December 2012. Manfred Mohr: one and zero is at Carroll/Fletcher until 20th December 2012. Isca Greenfield-Sanders: Second State is at Haunch of Venison, Eastcastle Street, until 25th January 2013. Greg Miller: Four Corners is at Scream until 5th January 2013.