Sometimes the best ideas come from a meeting of minds… and at the RBSA, a broad and diverse membership is actively involved in curating exhibitions.
Abstract shows are something of a rarity at the RBSA, so a group of artists decided to collaborate on a major exhibition.
Equivalent 8 came about from a wish to show that abstraction is not just alive and well, but thriving.
Malcolm Franklin, ‘Morris. Holly wood and stone’ Malcolm Franklin Franklin’s work explores the relationships between material, form and space. Appearing as if they are constructed from separate parts, his sculptures are carved from one piece of wood or stone, chosen to allow for movement, shifts in planes and openings. Negative space is as important as the boundaries of form. The sculptures are intended to be seen from multiple viewpoints; changes in light and perspective lend the works a new interpretation. Although static, Franklin’s sculptures give an idea of movement. The initial shape of the material is employed to create a tension between the original block and the conceived shape.
‘Circle Round’ The phenomena and processes of the natural world, in particular water, sit at the heart of Jo Naden’s sculpture. Early in her practice explorations of water/land boundaries were expressed in triangles and lines installed on beaches. Now however Naden’s love of making form has become evident in her distilled sculptures, where the geometry of plane is all-important. Naden draws together small contemplative works of meditative abstraction, juxtaposed with larger dynamic forms referencing ancient cultures, and their attendance to time and tide. Materials of glass and bronze evoke a sense of ether and matter, within the sands of cyclical time.
Michael Sadler, ‘Binary II’ Sadler usually works in series. Starting points for him may be generated by single words or short phrases which feed his imagination; these then become vehicles that lead to experimentation with formal pictorial elements. The ‘Binary’ series has as its starting point his layman’s interest in binary star systems. This series follows on from two previous series that were also instigated by an interest in astronomical phenomena – ‘Early One Morning’ and ‘Transit’ paintings. He has become increasingly interested in using fewer formal and compositional elements in his work in order to produce a series of closely related images.
Steve Evans, ‘That Was, This is’ Evans’ work, informed by his background in structural engineering, incorporates the techniques and formal qualities of technical drawing before the advent of CAD – qualities of precision, regimentation, the repetition of line and reference to geometry and form. Unlike CAD these works contain minute inconsistencies. These ‘flaws’ evident in the hand-drawn pieces, add qualities that make each unique. The arrangements of line create visual disturbances and illusions beyond the original formal references. They are abstractions that explore and extend pictorial space through the use of light, line and colour.
David Walton, ‘In the House of the Clouds’ Walton’s approach is ‘Hard Edge’, but unlike the restriction of ‘Abstract Classical’ to flat colour, these forms can include texture or modulations of tone. Walton paints in series, here the series derives from an interest in Mayan culture and references manuscripts such as the Codex Borgia. Rather than using geometrical shapes Walton has invented a collection of Maya inspired units in order to investigate the manipulation of space, colour and form and set up propositions such as; to overlap; to avoid centrality; to set up symmetry and then break it, and so on. David E Walton. 2017
George Taylor, ‘Silent Motto’ In his work, Taylor attempts to organise aggregated glimpses and fragments of form, the juxtaposition of vaguely referential, symbolic, abstracted and ambiguous marks being pivotal. The product of this approach becomes a self-contained entity having a concrete existence in the natural world but not defined by it or dependent upon an illusory construct of it, but possibly having oblique or allusive references to it. He strives to construct a compositionally coherent, essentially self-referential image that resists absolute definition or rigidly literal interpretation, free from the prop of the visually perceived world ‘out there’ or of the ‘deceit’ of the figurative.
Viv Astling, ‘Good Vibrations’ Astling has two groups of four sculptures: the first group, each in a different stone, has a musical connection. The largest, Goldberg Variations, is a Narrative Sculpture based on the work by Bach. It features the theme and 10 variations with the forms mostly grouped into threes, hinting at the rhythmic character of the music.The second group, all in Portland Limestone, are derived from organic forms, some distorted and ambiguous. Less abstract in style, they explore different conjunctions of form and texture. The last, Dipteros, is minimalist compared to Goldberg and suggests the development of winged forms.
Jenny Ryrie, ‘Sea Meditation’ Jenny Ryrie has specialised throughout her career in the experimental use of watercolour and mixed media on paper. She uses fluid, translucent pigments and dynamic form to explore the poetry of sea and landscape, using the process of abstraction to discover mystical rather than physical meaning. Her work is lyrical and intuitive, about natural energies and their resonance with human experience and states of mind. By communicating emotions and sensations through colour, shape and gestural brushwork, Ryrie’s paintings are as much about feeling as seeing.
The title provocatively takes its name from the famous pile of bricks at the Tate which caused uproar in the sixties. Steve Evans, one of eight artists producing eight abstract works for the exhibition, said:
‘With Equivalent 8, we wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are abstract artists within the RBSA.
‘Fellow artist Mike Sadler had the idea. He was stewarding as a volunteer, and we got talking. We all know people who say they don’t like abstract art, but to get beyond that you have to consider that no art is truly ‘real’ – everything is an illusion.’
Steve is instinctively drawn to abstraction. A visit to the Tate as a young man left a lasting impression: ‘The things that struck me the most were Ben Nicholson’s White Relief works and Nuam Gabo’s elegant Perspex and nylon constructions.
‘What strikes me about the work of all these artists is movement and their approach to the use of colour.
‘Bridget Riley manipulates colour, and has regularly cited Seurat as an influence. She was fascinated by how he achieved colour on the canvas by the juxtaposition of dots of constituent colours.’
Steve is often frustrated by the public reaction to abstraction, but believes the only way to tackle it is to engage people and put on more shows.
‘There’s a difference between looking and seeing. When I’m looking at abstract art, I find it’s best to just let things happen.
‘I like music and art to challenge me. I want to make up my own mind. If we only appreciate something just because we have been told it’s good, aren’t we missing out on something?’
Steve worked as an engineer in building design for many years, and sees how it informs his art: ‘I tend to have a more literal starting point because of my professional background. Abstraction means ‘To take from…’
‘When I’m juxtaposing circles with grids in a painting, you could argue it’s a mechanical process and that I know what will emerge.
‘But the surprises are in hand-drawn inconsistencies, the effects the colours will have, and also in trying to get movement into a work.’
Steve has seen people experience an epiphany in relation to abstraction.
‘I was at a contemporary art museum once with a friend, staring at an Ad Reinhardt, and she said ‘It’s just black,’ to which I replied ‘Well, what black is it? There are a host of blacks.’
Then she said, ‘Oh my God, it’s blue-black down there, and red-black up here… it’s really clever!’
‘I want to achieve that with someone looking at my work.
‘Another friend told me once, in Rome, ‘I don’t go to art galleries.’ But he joined me at a Rothko retrospective, and Rothko’s works are massive, I mean they overwhelm you.
‘Afterwards, when we came out, he said: ‘I shall make a point in future of going to an art gallery in every city I visit.’
Visit the exhibition
Equivalent 8 is anexhibition of 64 abstract and semi-abstract sculptures, paintings, and drawings by eight RBSA Members: Viv Astling, Steve Evans, Malcolm Franklin, Jo Naden, Jenny Ryrie, Michael Sadler, George Taylor, and David Walton.