Pictures, truths and methods: from function to form in abstract painting

Palin, Tom (2019) Pictures, truths and methods: from function to form in abstract painting. In: Abstract Painting Now, 4 February 2019, The Royal West of England Academy, Bristol. (Unpublished)

Abstract

This paper was delivered as part of a one-day painting symposium, titled: Abstract Painting Now, which took place in the main gallery of The Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, on Monday 4th February 2019. The speakers were: Brendan Fletcher, Matthew Macaulay, Katrina Blannin, Nadja Plein, Tom Palin and the Key Note, Michael Tooby. The symposium was co-hosted by the University of Gloucestershire, and focused on the current status of non-figurative painting, within contemporary art practice, considered against the background of the history delineated by the exhibition Albert Irvin and Abstract Expressionism. That is, from the high-water mark of American painting in the 1940s and 1950s and its seminal influence on a generation of British artists, non-figurative painting has often been sustained against the grain of artworld fashion. My paper takes an assertion of Patrick Heron’s as to the abstract nature of painting as a starting point for a phenomenological investigation into the way in which abstract works comport themselves. I seek to re-mobilise the ideas of Hans-Georg Gadamer in the course of foregrounding what it is that the spectator is able to bring to the table when confronted by abstract paintings. Moreover, the relationship of abstract painting to the world has proven to be a problematic one. To revisit it is to wrestle with the notion of resemblance, and therefore to speculate as to how it is that one thing is able to point to another. In this work I examine the degree to which abstraction – as idea – is compatible with an understanding of the serviceability of pictures, and, in so doing, consider the extent to which pictures operate within painting as language.

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