Joan Mitchell- The Last Paintings

River, 1989
Oil on canvas

My initial response on walking into Hauser and Wirth to view Joan Mitchell’s ‘The Last Paintings’ was one of surprising delight. Large- scale, energetic and beautiful, Mitchell’’s painting exude a physically uplifting quality that leaves you with a certain reluctance to return outside to the noisy thoroughfare of Piccadilly.
Chicago-born Mitchell moved to New York in the 1950s and exhibited alongside more famous painters of the Abstract Expressionist movement, like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. The fact that she’s not as generally well-known must be due, in large part, to her gender – female artists have always needed to work harder than their male counterpart. In 1959 she moved to France, first to Paris and then to the town of VĂ©theuil, near Giverny, where Monet lived and worked. There, she focused on the main inspiration for her work, which was nature and landscape.
Most of the works in the main gallery are large diptychs, but Mitchell’s work ranges in formats, including single canvases, and upstairs a series of tondos. All are filled with energetic brushstrokes bursting with colour. River, of 1989, is an abstracted portrait of the Seine as painted from the window of her Paris apartment. Here, spontaneous, confidently placed strokes of yellow march across the bottom part of a diptych to represent the river, and smaller fragments of yellow float upwards. 
Mitchell’s diptychs first appear to be symmetrical, visually hinting at notions of the Rorschach test, but the realisation that they aren’t, indicates a higher maturity. They are beautifully coherent; the use of colour is so balanced, the line refreshingly free, their is a confident experimentation with composition and scale. The palate is not over-bright  – there is a marked use of black, grey, dark blue and green – but Mitchell paints on a white ground, giving the brushstrokes room to breathe. Throughout the series, the colours, marks, conception and arrangements are easily comprehended as trees, rivers, sunflowers, grass and sky. They convey a genuine light and colour. The honest influence of Impressionism and Post-Impression is easily felt, as it is conveyed with such an updated sense of sincerity.
The last years of Mitchell’s life were marked by the deaths of friends and family. Her own health struggles began in the early 80s with the appearance of cancer. It is with this knowledge, and a look again at her work, that a sense of sadness can be felt, as Mitchell, amidst suffering, found strength and visceral joy in nature, and in life. As Mitchell said in 1974: “ My paintings… are about a feeling that comes to me from outside, from landscape… Paintings aren’t about the person who makes them, either. My paintings have to do with feelings”. It’s this emotional representation of The Last Paintings that is so pleasurable and satisfying.

Trees, 1990—1991

Joan Mitchell- The Last Paintings
Hauser and Wirth London, Piccadilly- 3 February – 28 April 2012

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Susan Hiller- Monument

Susan Hiller is not afraid of death. 
Her voice can be heard, softly scratching away, and discussing the unknown realm of the afterlife. She elaborates: ‘‘We could exist forever, inscribed, portrayed, as inscriptions, portraits, representations. I’m representing myself to myself... and for you, to you. This is my voice.’ (1981,p.6)
On the wall, 41 photographs of memorial tablets are displayed in a symbolic cross, each referring to an act of civic heroism. Of the people who lost their lives through ‘heroic self-sacrifice’ (Dorment, 2011), Henry James Bristow, aged eight, died, as he ‘saved his little sister’s life by tearing off her flaming clothes, but caught fire himself’. In front of this, a park bench has been placed, holding a metal memorial plaque that reads ‘1980-81, Monument, Susan Hiller’, her work encompassing both its own death and its maker's. On this bench is a cassette recorder, a recording of Hiller herself, discussing the afterlife.
Hiller’s work is driven by the notions of Electronic Voice Phenomena, made famous by Konstantin Raudive, a parapsychologist who worked on recording voices of the dead. (Hiller, 2001) Hiller calls herself “an audible Raudive voice,” (cited in Horlock, 2001), a voice from the past, played back in the present. Her work emphasises temporality on all levels, playing around with ‘past’–the historical past, the past when the work was made and [the] voice recorded, the past of a moment ago (Hiller, 2001). She attempts creation from forgotten history, exploring the idea of finding something in nothing, expressing “the poetic idea of amplifying silence and finding it isn’t silent at all but full of sound”. This realisation that ‘nothing’ has the ability to be ‘something’ is a recurring motif in her work, as she has often explored ideas based on what is out of sight ‘beneath or beyond recognition within our culture”(Hiller, 2001).
The same ideas has pushed her inquiry for over 40 years now, through many interchangeable disciplines. Her work takes elements of of fluxus and Minimalism, expertly weaving her different choices of medium to create powerful pieces. The value of being able to weigh up a life's work, especially work as disparate as Hiller's, is that you can follow the path through its own history. Monument plays around with this intrinsic intertwining of memory and history. The process of listening to Hiller’s voice means it is accessed in a temporally successive linear way. In the action of listening, “parts which occur before and enable ones immediate sense of the work’s unity, are present in memory only” (Crowther, 2009, p.26).
The representation of the voice is emblematic of Hiller; she states that “in this sense, voice is physical, voice is body. Body is evoked and transmitted by voice, and not represented (Hiller, 2001). This notion was one of the radical, political underpinnings of Monument which was positioned ‘against’ representation as a kind of fake immortality. Hiller's use of sound in this work was a new development, and she has highlighted that the physicality of her voice extends the meaning of the words spoken, expressing the need to “emphasise the idea of voice as body, the physicality of it and the intimacy” (Hiller, 2001). Remarked by Raudive, ‘the soul is free from the body after death” but a “forlorn spirit replied ‘It is not so’”. (1968, cited in Sconce, 2000, p.88)
The authenticity of Monument is real. The individual stories of untimely death bring a certain sharp and macabre poignancy to the piece. Although death seems final, Hiller allows us to believe in immortality, and the uneasy, unresting state of the soul. Death described by Raudive is “an afterlife that continues to serve as an anxious mirror to the modern world and its uncertainties. [The voices] hint that there is no peace, no resolution, no wisdom’ (Sconce, 2000 pp. 84-90). This never-ending flux of life and death, constantly interchangeable for eternity, is evocative of Beckett’s final words in The Unnamable, as he writes; “It will be I, it will be the silence, where I am. I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on” ( Beckett, 2010). 
The use of found objects to mine collective unconscious, gives the chance to speak for people who are rarely heard.The photographic representations also attempt to guarantee a kind of immortality. As Hiller discusses, “You can think of life after death as a second life which you enter into as a portrait or inscription, and in which you remain longer than you do in your actual living life.” (Hiller, 2001)
Hiller’s need to immortalise people and places, sounds and moments is to her credit. Her interest in art’s magical ability to invest power and meaning in the everyday results in the discovery of a more profound truth rooted in the collective consciousness. None of her ideas will be new, but that doesn’t make them any less important: for her, art is a useful way to access this layer of sensed or felt meaning. The work contains a kind of still beauty, quietly clinging onto specific moments in time. How appropriate that through them she will remain forever.

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Charles Matton- Enclosures

 The resonant tones of Debussy, lingers. The video projection scatters light onto the faded, peeling          wallpaper, and the slightly worn oriental carpet. A young man sits, only his back visible, shimmering slightly as he plays the piano. The scene has the atmosphere of a particularly vivid memory or a resonant dream, and invokes a certain feeling of melancholy.
Reduced to a scale of 1:7, Charles Matton’s boites are hauntingly beautiful. The boxes use mirrors and light to project an anamorphic, miniature wonderland, in which our sense of perception is enhanced rather than diminished. One of the most immediately impressive aspects of Matton’s miniature boxes is their bewitching quality; the wires and outlets, chipped wood, dust and stains, the slant of a picture, a crooked frame, a curtain's crease and mirrored reflections astonish us with details that would likely be overlooked if the same room were at eye-level. Matton’s choice of boxed formats recall Joseph Cornell yet Mr. Matton’s work has more in common with the world of Lewis Carroll and meticulous stage designer David Belasco.
Matton’s work is precise, skillfully playing with light and mirrors. While it may teeter over the line of fastidious craft, verging on a somewhat diminutive verisimilitude, the work evolves from an intriguing concept–the idea of peering into created worlds only through one perspective, a view enhanced by the image-trickery Matton offers. Curator of the Enclosures exhibition, Joe La Placa, acknowledges Matton’s technical skill, but believes that his work is distinguished by its content rather than its form: “With Matton, many people pay attention to the technical aspects of his work, which are extraordinary. But there are many other artists who work in miniature, and it’s what he depicts that is important: moments in time, moods, qualities of light at particular times of day, a certain kind of metaphysical feeling that the boxes exude; that is what makes his work so captivating.” (cited in Herd, 2011)

In his influential study of the implications of our interactions with buildings and spaces, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard observed that it is “reasonable to say we ‘read a house’ or ‘read a room’, since both rooms and houses are psychological diagrams that guide writers and poets in their analysis of intimacy”(cited in Herd, 2011). Matton’s box suggests that it is our spatial awareness that most vividly suggests memories. Bachelard’s interest is in the powerful correspondence between the spaces we live in and our psyches, the ability of rooms and buildings not only to reflect our personalities and imaginations, but to affect them, and the ability of spaces to harbour our most intimate and deeply personal memories. (1994)
Baudrillard’s writings on Simulacra seem particularly pertinent. Baudrillard believed that our contemporary experience is so dominated by images, simulations, replicas and references that we have lost our ability to experience what the images are meant to depict: reality. (1994) While Matton’s work makes a concerted effort to approximate reality as closely as possible in the boxes, by the act of doing so they also articulate a drama of the hyper-real, where the distinction between reality and replica blurs. Once we have seen Matton’s box, that virtually becomes the reality of the space depicted and we lose touch with a sense of what the real space might have been.
Furthermore, Matton’s painstakingly detailed works marks him as a serious collector. Matton collects spaces. He collects specific moments in time and reproduces them with such scrupulous fervor, in can be considered as a kind of fetishism. Baudrillard explores this idea, claiming that “in later life, it is men over forty who most frequently fall victim to this passion. In short, there is in all cases a manifest connection between collecting and sexuality, and this activity appears to provide a powerful compensation during critical stages of sexual development” (Baudrillard, 2005, p.93). The idea of collection as a powerful form of self-expression plays with the notion that what really is on display is the creator. “For what you really collect, is always yourself” ( 2005, p.96), Baudrillard claims, hinting at the idea that the real discovery when peeking into Matton’s boite, is the psyche of the artist.
However much Matton’s boites verge on the edge of craft, their enchantment is instinctive. Art began in magic and, despite dogmatic efforts to rationalise it, it is refreshing to meet this reminder. His work successfully weaves ideas of experience and memory forming both a personal and collective response. Monsieur Matton’s uncanny cabinets operate in a world of feeling- primal delight- that comes close to bewitchment.

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Words on Art

Hello there, 

So this is my first blog post, a blog which I hope to fill with reviews, artistic musings etc on the London Arts scene....


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