ART BLOG is featuring a series on abstract artists at the RBSA ahead of a major exhibition, Equivalent 8.
We spoke to two established women artists who work in differing media but seem to unite in their intent.
Jenny Ryrie specialises in the experimental use of watercolour and mixed media on paper, producing work that is lyrical and intuitive. Jo Naden examines the phenomena and processes of the natural world in her work, a love of making form evident in her distilled sculptures.
Jenny has exhibited at the BBC Radio 2 Jazz Awards and admires the work of Helen Frankenthaler, Agnes Martin and Gillian Ayres; more recently, Mary Lloyd Jones and Shani Rhys James.
‘I worked in a semi-abstract way for many years, mainly landscape themes,’ Jenny says.
‘I wanted my paintings to break through into total abstraction but found it difficult to completely let go of natural imagery.
‘The turning point came when I started to paint as if creating a piece of music. It made complete sense that music could be understood through the senses and emotions without the sounds needing to be literal in any way.
‘By using colours, shapes, tones and lines to express feelings and ideas rather than things seen, I found I could make expressive abstract paintings that could be experienced intuitively rather than literally.
‘I don’t want to mimic nature, I want my paintings to distil the energy, beauty and mysticism that I find within it.’
Also inspired by Kandinsky, the Abstract Expressionists, and the art of Peter Lanyon, Jenny believes many people are still looking for an identifiable representation of the subject in abstract art, a kind of visual illusion in paint.
She observes: ‘This is to misunderstand the artists’s intention. The painting is the subject, to be enjoyed and experienced for itself, and at the same time communicating something alive and meaningful in terms of associated sensations, ideas and concepts.’
Jo Naden draws together small contemplative works of meditative abstraction, juxtaposed with larger dynamic forms referencing ancient cultures, and their attendance to time and tide.
She finds intrigue in forms imbued with a sense of purpose, and is fascinated by how they provide insights into early human consciousness.
‘The Cycladic Figures in the British Museum have always remained old friends visited time and time again,’ Jo says.
‘Graham Sutherland’s organic abstractions of landscape alerted me to a view beyond objective representation, a looking beneath the surface to find more of the essential nature of something.
‘As my knowledge of art history grew I was deeply inspired by the work of Constantin Brancusi and his commitment to finding a truth through the medium of form.
‘It was later in Barbara Hepworth’s evocations of sea forms, with their heightened sense of geometry, that I found a resonance with my own concerns of the geometric plane.
‘Lately, I have found an empathy with the work of photographer Susan Derges, whose large-scaled immersion prints bring a new dimension to exploring the abstracted nature of water.’
Jo, like Jenny, detects a misunderstanding of the purpose of abstraction, and says: ‘There is still a resistance to abstract art, with responses such as ‘What is it supposed to be, anyway?’ or ‘I like things to look like they are.’
‘However, familiarity gives an opportunity for consideration. Most have heard of Andre’s arrangement of 120 firebricks, and have an opinion on it.’
Jo admires the work of women artists Magdalena Abakanowicz and Eva Hesse, as well as the more contemporary Cornelia Parker, Rachel Whiteread and Mona Hartoum.
She also considers Almuth Tebbenhoff, Anita Mandl, and Anne Christopher to be notable, and adds: ‘I admire all female artists who manage to continue their practice, as I know how difficult this is.’
By Louise Palfreyman
Visit the Exhibition
Equivalent 8 features 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.
The show runs alongside our major William Gear exhibition, Colour and Form: William Gear (1915-1997) from October 30 to November 18.
A Celebratory Open Day takes place on Sunday 5 November, 2-4pm to mark the opening of our Equivalent 8 and William Gear exhibitions. Open events are free and there’s no need to book.
There’s also a Saturday art demonstration with Equivalent 8 exhibitors on 18 November, 11-1pm and 2-4pm. Free, no need to book.