CATALOGUE ESSAY FOR “SOUTH IS AT THE TOP”

NANCY TOOMEY FINE ART, 2017

By Brian Curtin

In her book Flesh of My Flesh, literary critic Kaja Silverman discusses Gerhard Richter’s paintings as part of a thesis on the significance of analogy in western art and culture. Her interest is in Richter’s simultaneous use of abstraction, figuration and photographic realism. As we know, these forms are typically understood as oppositional, and therefore hierarchical, in art-historical and art-critical discourses. But, in Silverman’s terms, Richter does not take their fundamental differences as a condition for opposition. Instead he relates these forms in a manner that allows his paintings to both point inwards, as an autonomous object, and out- wards, as a representation or likeness of something else. This achievement, she argues, is the consequence of analogical thinking: a worldview that understands comparison, correspondence and similarity as a means of relating differences, rather than hierarchical opposition. At broad issue is an invocation to think beyond the given limits of forms of difference. 

While Richter may be exemplary for Silverman’s concerns, her insight has great implications for how we think about visual art, and its practice, more generally. What is visual art if not an object of competing negotiations, views, claims, ideas and definitions? How might we approach this fact beyond the divisive insistences of particular perspectives? Audrey Tulimiero Welch’s work as an artist has grappled with two inter-linked oppositions related to the practice of painting: history and the contemporary; and object-hood and representation. 
Welch’s recent paintings were produced during her last year living in Bangkok, where she was based for 5 years. These paintings represent a shift from the use of expressive and calligraphic strokes to the introduction of sharp

linear structures, both embedded in and overlaying painterly grounds. Or, conventional relationships between figure and ground have been ruptured within a seemingly organized and organizing framework. Welch’s research for her MFA, which she completed in 2010, explored the insights of writers such as Michael Newman and Jean Fischer in terms of automatism, the gesture and what Fischer termed ‘un-thought’; these ideas were examined in terms of both writers’ concern with drawing but have relevance to the tenets of abstract expressionism that inform Welch’s practice. That is, ideas of the sensorial which defy meaning as such. In the works that immediately preceded the current series, she combined this understanding of the expressive with predetermined grids of color in order to explore relationships between spontaneity and control, and intuition and intention.

The promise of these earlier paintings has now been fulfilled. Welch has closed the contrasts that would keep these different painterly modes as oppositional. Consequently, she has moved away from their historically-entrenched implications.

Her source material includes ancient cosmological maps and the artist has absorbed the experience of living in Bangkok, a city that gives truth to the statement that the map could never be the territory. The diversity of Bangkok in terms of place and space could only ever resist fixed representation. Welch’s paintings suggest topographical views as she has abstracted elements from these maps; and the linear structures point to the distinctive maze-like streets called soi in her adopted city. One commentator described these streets as akin to arteries. But while these paintings refer to much - from aerial views to graffito - they defy the strictly referential. As ‘maps’ they do not provide information but instead function as painterly equivalents that suggest the movement through and memory of spaces; Welch conflates the spaces of her references with the space of the painted surface and the works emerge as both cerebral and physical.

A success of these paintings is in their capacity to insist on the viability of a contemporary painterly language without being historically retrograde. Comparisons with artists such as Amy Sillman and Charline Von Heyl spring to mind. Here paint can function to explore oppositions without reinforcing conventional categories. And this includes the exploration of paint as a material as well as a means. Further, expressivity may now be understood expansively, taking in a range of personal and theoretical concerns that extend the language and significance of historical precedents in expressionism and abstract expressionism.

-Brian Curtin

Brian Curtin is an Irish-born art critic and curator based in Bangkok. He writes for Frieze, Flash Art and Art 4D, amongst other magazines. He teaches at Bangkok University.

CATALOGUE ESSAY FEATURED FOR “ON THE EDGE: 8 ARTISTS"

CURATED BY BRIAN CURTIN, DOB HUALAMPHONG GALLERY, 2010

By Brian Curtin

A line is a dot in motion.

I was told this during the first week of my first semester at art school, many years ago. Short, sharp statements I don’t quite understand tend to stick in my mind. Or, of course, I do understand how a line is created from a roaming dot but this definition remains faintly absurd to me. I wonder about the impoverished imagination of the person who wrote it. I think about the robust linear forms of the examples of cave paintings I show my students. This definition is so succinct it nearly doesn’t exist. Hence I don’t understand why it should.

The artist Tania Kovats claimed in The Drawing Book that the use of line in visual art is inextricably linked to drawing. No it isn’t, but Kovats can be forgiven for this assumption. Our understanding of line in visual art is wayward because we are usually caught in a tension between the fact that linear rendering typically functions as a preparatory study, and/or as an extra-artistic endeavor, and the potential of line to be valued as form in and of itself. Eva Hesse’s Hand Up (1966) springs to mind in regard o the latter: a frame from which a wire springs into space, symbolizing the unfettered nature of creativity.

The implications of Hesse’s precedent set an appropriate context for On the Edge. That is, the opening up, rather than closing down, of ideas about the use of line in contemporary art practices.

On the Edge explores art-making in terms of method by examining a certain fundamental aspect of picture-making. Line can function as the delineation of form or the track of mapping space and is definitively understood in contrast to plane. Moreover, following Kovats, the use of line typically denotes the practice of sketching. That is, the spontaneous and/or utilitarian. Line, in other words, can function as an edge and as a means, and is a distinct pictorial device. These functions have metaphoric implications in terms of limits, movement and the relationship between process and representation.

On the Edge offers an idiosyncratic showcase of the use of line I a variety of international art practices. Drawing, painting and printmaking are included but not all the artists work exclusively within these disciplines. On the Edge departs from the insight that line is a form in and of itself. These artists variously explore line in terms of graffito, the symbolic, the decorative and the descriptive, and the expressive.

Jonathan Gent employs a seemingly off-hand and spontaneous approach that belies his studious reflection on the sensations of personal memory and experience. In contrast, Chat Jenchitr’s meticulously executed lines and circles bespeak a metaphoric consideration of human growth and interaction, with colors that dazzle our perception. Thavorn Ko-udomvit cooly renders the semiotic dimension of line with sign of self-determined agreement and disagreement or approval and disapproval. These sign have particular gravitas in view of recent political upheaval in Thailand. Audrey T. Welch produces painterly responses and abstract equivalents to found images and emotional experience; her line maneuvers between its materiality, questions of signification and the uninhibited registration of the artist’s physical movements. Justin Miss, Be Takering Pattanopas and Yeni Mao provide a distinctly contemporary take on the dichotomy of the mechanical/hand-drawn, where both replication and repetition are key features of their use of line. Mills’s play with portraiture contrasts a graphic, near digitized , quality of line with painterly passage and a gold-colored ground, effortlessly melding the distinct forms of each. Pattanopas’s masses of dense ink lines suggest tangible and intangible phenomenon and disorient our sense of scale and place by appearing as both intimate and vast. Mao creates sharply drawn hybrids of human, animal, machine and plant life which belie a fragile beauty while hinting at the uneasy implications of how these different spheres of existence are mutating in our age of increasingly invasive technology. Finally, Ralph Kiggell’s exceptionally elegant woodcuts employ line to delineate forms which ove, turn and twist as they shift between abstraction and figuration.

On the Edge encourages an engagement with contemporary art that insists on an acknowledgment of the structure of the image/object itself, and how traditional formal decisions are being played ut across the plane of aspects of international current art.

Reference

Tania Kovats (2007) The Drawing Book, Black Dog Publishing

-Brian Curtin

ESSAY FEATURED IN THAILAND ART & DESIGN GUIDE, NATURAL PROCESS: ATIPIBOOSIN, WELCH, SUTRO, SEPTEMBER 2007

By Sarah Sutro

NATURAL PROCESS

The raw material of experience - Atipiboonsin, Welch, Sutro

For many people abstraction is an unknown frontier, but what they don’t realisze is that this same quality is present for the artist making the work as well. Starting from the known, the artist sets off on an adventure, a journey without definition or goal….except to find expression for the raw emotional or visual material within.

In one sense these three painters take as their starting point the grid, a 20th century composition, both a standard and a limitation that so many modern artists strive to incorporate and surpass.

Gumsak Atipiboonsin’s work has a liquid painterly style. In oil, with ebullient colour flowing into fluid geometries, the surface is loosely structured in a pattern. He often uses hand-drawn grids as an organiszation for his canvases, yet his work is anything but minimal or rigid. Ironically, the grid’s formation is contradicted by his luscious use of colour that invites the eye to flow with the paint. The grid is not a limitation but an invitation to visually indulge.

Audrey Tulimiero Welch’s oil paintings are earthy and expressionistic, offering order in only the most organic sense.  In Welch’s Touching Down series metamorphosing pools of colour overlap with more defined areas.  An arrangement of poured forms, scraped surfaces, lines and stains somehow capture the chaotic, poetic order of the natural world.  Colour and mark replace the grid, making a structure that is more intuitively mapped.

Sarah Sutro’s Raintree paintings on paper, using natural colour made from bark and plant material, find a movement in nature that is both repetitive and free. In a sense, the Raintree Series makes a moving grid of marks. Large scale texture, from washes of earth pigment, speaks to life in nature,; passion,; change. The internal, organic form and energy of growth are present in her intense, large scale marks, moving downward, like rain to the earth.

All the painters represented use sweeping motions with brushes, also scraping the surface, moving the paint and ink washes across the canvas or paper. The American abstract expressionist current that flows through these pieces -, appropriate, since two of the artists are American -, was originally a gestural reaction to the control of formal, figurative painting, or geometric abstraction such as Mondrian’s grids.

Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and also second generation painters like Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler and Friedel Dzubas, broke into new territory with their explosive gestures, mark-making and saturated colour fields, defining a new era of expressive abstraction and demonstrating a love affair with the brush, the mark and the stained canvas. Earlier than this, Asian artists developed a language, often aligned with Zen and other spiritual practice, in which a single line or brushstroke abstractly evoked a range of feeling. Unerringly, Asian artists painted with great spontaneity what artists from other cultures painstakingly described. The abstract expressionists, of another time, culture and generation, understood a similar truth about the power of the mark, the gesture born of the moment and the imprint of the soul through eccentric use of materials as varied as house paint, acrylic, ink and sand.

Through the surface of their works, the three artists in Natural Process illumine the nature of process for us, their very immediate canvases and painted drawings open up a world of charged feeling and identification with materials, man-made or natural, that help to define their intuitive approach. Present for centuries in the work of Asian ink drawings and Buddhist inspired paintings, these qualities are also strongly present in our own time. Antipiboonsin, Welch and Sutro’s work sustains a depth of both exploration and expression, an emphasis on paint itself, and intuitive content, that captures something powerfully present under everyday life’s surface.

In the work of the three painters, showing at Unocal Gallery from September. 9 - Oct.ober 6, 2007, the process of abstract painting is expounded and shared.

Unocal Gallery

International School of Bangkok

Nonthaburi 1120, Thailand

-Sarah Sutro, author of "Iron and Molasses, an American Artist Reflects on Natural Color."