The Colour and the Shape
13.07.2017 – 23.09.2017
Works by Isabel Albrecht, James Brooks, Caroline Kryzecki, Karim Noureldin and Dillwyn Smith
Text by Verena Platzgummer
The single line marks the beginning. The most basic of all design elements, which may turn into complex patterns or into geometric arrangements of forms and shapes in different colours. Reduced and clear in their visual implementation, these abstract compositions typically follow exact and elaborate systems, in which the sequence of elements and designs is precisely stated. However, it is the unforeseen, the tension in the interaction of lines, shapes and colours on canvas, paper or wood, which determine the visual experience: the slight deviation of a single line in the overall composition, the interdependence of colour and form, or a non-allocable brush mark.
Since the early 1900s varying forms of abstract art in Europe and America have challenged art lovers and critics alike with their simple visual repertoires and the denial to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality. The ‘art for art’s sake’ ideology was a radical statement and ranges from the early expressionist and cubist works that still depended on the visual world for their subject matter to ‘purer’ abstract painting and more formalised procedures in Suprematism, De Stijl and Bauhaus. Today artists quote these Modernist positions without constraint and draw from a richly filled pool of abstract styles.
When Caroline Kryzecki started to work with lines during a residency in Istanbul five years ago it was a reflection of what she observed. An abstract reference to the city’s architecture and everyday objects, its rich ornamental decorations, patterns and textiles. The result was a series of works on paper that enforce the decomposition of geometrical forms and shapes – as the artist still used them in her early lacquer works on wood – in favour of compositions that are occupied by lines, which run parallel, overlap and form new shapes and ornamental structures. To date, Kryzecki still works with ballpoint pen on paper, yet her compositions meanwhile build on a complex grid formation that relies on a detailed documentation system. Each direction of lines, each sequence of colour is drawn up with great care. She works with four colours only: black, blue, green and red, which are the commercially most available ballpoint pens. A minimum of two layers of identical or similar parallel line grids form the basis for each drawing. Set against one another at a flat angle, the resulting moiré pattern is not just a side effect but the visualization of a very fine mathematical planning. Whilst most of her other works give clear evidence of this phenomenon and expose specific forms and patterns, KSZ 200/152– 07 (2015) is a calm composition of parallel lines. From a distance it seems like paint has been applied on the monumental format of 200 x 152 cm with large brushes that have been spread from top to bottom in vertical gestures. Once zooming in though to take a closer look, one discovers very fine parallel lines of ballpoint pen drawn with a ruler on paper only a few millimetres from each other. The colour strokes that show up when looking at the work from afar arise from layered and slightly shifted grids and the resulting sequences of coloured lines.
Isabel Albrecht used to work with a simple, nearly philosophical principle throughout her artistic life: brush line next to brush line next to brush line. Individually applied and executed in ink, graphite, paint or watercolour, the lines vary in thickness, application and number. Horizontal and vertical patterns in descending or ascending colour progressions, from dark grey to light grey, green, red and blue, the resulting textures rank from minimal and delicate to dense and flickering, from clearly distinguished lines to very fine structures where one line passes into another without transition. Occasionally guided by underlying ground structures executed with a ruler, Albrecht generally draws her lines freehand, consciously introducing a moment of chance and irregularity, which comes into play when allowing human fallibility. Despite her openness towards failure, Albrecht’s drawings and paintings, similar to Kryzecki, follow clearly defined criteria within a pre-established system and are evidence of the artist’s fascination with numerology and structure, series, grids and repetition. The dimensions of the canvas or paper are accordingly determined and allow for accurate planning. Only the final orientation remains open until the work is completed. In her series Lines and Forms (2011-2012) Albrecht extends her preceding formally stringent works of vertical and horizontal lines with a new element: colourful geometric forms, which emerge out of the grid that now recedes into the background and resumes the role of a supporting structure. Having sourced from imagery based on figurative elements such as flowers, clouds or spatial figures in works as early as 2003, the obtruding elements in this series are triangles, circles, squares and rhombic shapes. Introduced as additional visual vocabulary in a complex field of overlapping forms and colours, the pictorial space becomes more dynamic and three-dimensional.
When the applied materials are narrowed to pure colour and pure form, the quality of these means becomes essential. The luminance of red, blue and yellow that contrast with each other reflects the importance of light that moves on the surface, brings the colours to life and expands the artwork beyond itself and further. Dillwyn Smith has been fully dedicating himself to colour in its purest form. From essences of pure colour pigments that he sprays and saturates into fabric and canvas to purely hand and pre-dyed fabrics. His paintings of largescale, homogeneous colour patches are the result of his experimentations with pure light and colour and recollect the colour fields of Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. Coloured strips of fabrics that are stitched in vertical or horizontal compositions are just as characteristic for his oeuvre as are his painted surfaces stretched over wooden frames. Smith’s working method is immediate and visible and an expression of his sensitivity to material. This is expressed through the obvious layering of panels, the laid open seams and the transparency of the image carrier that enables the viewer to look at the layers beneath. In his new body of work, The Books (2017), Smith introduces a sculptural element even if the colour still remains at the center of his interest. His spatial colour sketch books are studies of watercolour on mould-made paper of different sizes. Again, the materiality of the pieces, the coarse surface of the pages and the colour that fully infiltrates the single sheets thereby causing the paper to curl are essential for the delicate feel. Reduced to the essence of colour and material, it is the work’s simplicity that determines its intensity. Exhibited in the gallery space, another element comes into play: the light, which moves on the paper and casts shadows. Shadows that draw shapes on the paper but also colour shadows that are reflected on the surface beneath: from translucent pink to dense orange.
James Brooks works with the means of abstraction in a very different way. He uses facts and data from media sources and processes them to geometric shapes and designs. Following a detailed mathematical order, theatre seating plans, squares, districts, entire towns and cities are in this way transformed and newly organised. The aesthetic outcomes are formal, abstract works on paper with colourful compositions or perpendicular arrangements that recollect musical scores. His series Organisation of Peers, Commons, & Gentry (2017) appropriates signage, diagrams, packaging, and information from a variety of historic and contemporary visual sources that represent social structures and logical organisation within the urban world. The small format works of A4 and A6 sizes turn these data into structural formations of information while de-contextualising them from their original source and functionality. The visual result is very discreet; simplified compositions in gouache and pencil on watercolour paper. In AM/PM (2017) Brooks continues his interest in the manipulation of information and data sources. The series of artworks utilises various transport maps and diagrams for Amsterdam (AMS) as a starting point to make a series of geometric abstract artworks. Alienated from their intended functional usage in regard to geographical orientation around a city, the maps encourage an abstract reading, akin to formalist geometric abstraction of colour, shape and balance, etc. Furthermore, in response and with specific reference to the 20th century De Stijl art movement, the transport map’s compositions and colours cite archetypal late period Piet Mondrian (PM) paintings.
Let’s return once more to the exhibition’s title, The Colour and the Shape, which is probably most applicable to Karim Noureldin’s work. Known for his colourful and geometric patterns inspired by early mark making, his works on paper are exactly that: the condensed interplay of colour and shape. Drawn by hand, his crayoned stripes and amorphous structures but also the colour intense designs of geometrical shapes that fill entire sheets are of organic nature. It is of no surprise that Noureldin has been influenced by the collections of applied arts in the V&A, London and the Indian, African and Polynesian sections of the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The crafted quality of the works is additionally supported by the way Noureldin applies the colour, which is never plain but clearly illustrates an idiosyncratic movement of the pencil or crayon and passes from dark to light colour graduations. Another important factor in Noureldin’s work is the spatial aspect of their design or layout. This is sometimes directly addressed by translating his drawings into site-specific installations or, within the works themselves, by adopting complex constructions of layered designs that evoke spatiality.
The Colour and the Shape is the final point. The encounter of these works of pure abstraction, the arrangement of colours, the geometric shapes and patterns in space. Or eventually their denial. To say it with Mark Rothko: 'I’m not interested in the relationship of colour or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on'.