The Indiscipline of Painting at The Mead Gallery

The Indiscipline of Painting is a telling title. It tells how this period of art, the abstraction of the 1960s onwards, proposes a playful alternative to the discipline, or tradition, of painting for hundreds of years before. And like any young teen acting up, it’s wonderfully, but harmlessly cheeky.

You can feel the adolescence of these pieces on display, observing how they grow into something very new, but not wholly to the detriment of the old. Take for example, Steven Parrino’s ‘Untitled,’ which is a silver-spray painted canvas, detached, crumpled and then reattached on the skew-wiff so that what is seen is more than an alternated front, but also what was before the back and sides. The artist did not paint or acquire anything that constitutes the tradition of painting to then scrunch it in a form of destruction. He chose instead to paint a shiny new surface. This is no anti-art or harmful rebellion; it is not defacing, just replacing.

So yes it’s all very fun-loving. Within abstract art colour and shape are always emphasised, and these are of course things that remind us of our childhood. I believe it is the use of colour particularly that makes the indiscipline so attractive to the eye, and thus tempts our taste away from the traditional (the assumed).

There are a few represented in this exhibition that oddly, seem like the artist couldn’t have had too much fun making them, even if the appearance is such. Bridget Riley’s frustrating straight stripped paintings, for example, where not a brushstroke is evident outside of the line, I have great respect for, but how does she not feel intoxicated by her own Op Art paintings? ‘Cantas Firmus’, 1972-3 seems to pulsate before the eyes, re-enacting a relentless migraine. Peter Davies’ 1998 painting ‘Small touching Squares’ appears more youthful. Amongst monotonous squares delicately laid out in warping patterns, eruptions of unordinary large and irregularly distorted squares rebel, and it is so satisfying to watch.

You get my point, this art work is fun to be around. But, seriously, could there be a problem to this childlike tendency? There’s a cliché of art criticism that’s plagued abstract art since its beginning that goes along these lines, “a six year old could have done that on their 15 minute playtime.” There is a fine line between playful adult creativity and plain childishness. I will always be honest and admit that some abstract art just hasn’t got it right. They, for various reasons, lack integrity – they don’t believe in themselves. This I think its detectable, it shows where the artist him/herself hasn’t grown to maturity into their own style and technique yet.

We’ve ascertained the art is cheekily testing, but just how naughty is this indiscipline – how far will they push the tightly held boundaries? While this rebellion of the traditional aesthetic is clear, the outcome seen in many of these 68 paintings exhibited is not wild in the sense of being disorderly. What you will not come to see is abstract expressionist explosions of colour. In the most abstract colour field paintings or Minimalist inspired pieces such as David Diao’s ‘3rd International/Talin’, what is revealed is an art of rationalising forms and arranging colours. What abstract art began therefore was the loosening of traditions, the cooling of their influence and the playful positing of alternatives. It wasn’t, as styles since have been, the aggressive destruction of the old order. And this is why I believe it’s the last of the art movements to attract attention from the majority of its viewers. This is a movement in which people like the art purely because it is still like-able. So do go, it’ll be fun.

Published in The Boar

Pictured: Steven Parrino ‘Untitled’

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