Abstraction was the most enduring innovation of modern art and remains the default when people think about contemporary or experimental art.
But abstraction has been a mode of painting for well over a century. It’s endured, while other styles and approaches have fallen by the wayside. Abstraction is neither experimental nor contemporary in and of itself. Innovation is found in works, not style.
Modernism was the dominant approach in Western art from the late 19th century to the 1960s, when post-modernism supplanted it. Hardly original, but there you go. Post-modernism is all about context and content, it is critical and engaged with the world around it. Modernism insists that the meaning of the work was inherent in the work itself: art happens in the art, not in its relationship with the world.
No Canadian artist has achieved more in the field of abstract sculpture than Robert Murray, who moved from Saskatchewan to New York in 1960, becoming one of the major figures in sculpture in North America in that decade and the next. His large abstract metal sculptures grace the forecourts and lobbies of buildings around the world and can be found in major art collections in North America, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the National Gallery of Canada.
In a major coup, Murray’s work will also be Halifax commercial gallery Studio 21. Models, Paintings and Sculpture continues until the end of August. It features models for sculpture in aluminium, painted steel, and stainless steel, a series of watercolour paintings, and one larger sculpture made from painted aluminum.
The models all sit on plinths and range in scale from 10 inches to about 20 inches in height. Mostly painted in bright primary colours (blue, red and yellow), these small works have an outsized presence. The series of watercolours, all revisiting the theme of blue columns, two of the models in the show, show how Murray thinks through his forms, arriving at a composition that he can then make in three dimensions.
The sole stand-alone sculpture in the exhibition, “Enigma” from 2016, is made from aluminium and painted a bright red. Standing just over five feet tall, “Enigma” fills the space as a figure would, and features on one side an impossible-seeming sinuous curve, an “s” shape that could never have made from bending.
Walking around the sculpture one sees the weld marks form where two plates were joined, solving the puzzle, perhaps, but still leaving the viewer engaged in the complex formal dynamics of this piece. I walked around it several times and kept finding something new to look at and think about.
Models, Paintings and Sculpture is a quiet, cerebral and beautiful exhibition, a real treat for the eyes and mind.
On view until July 29 at ViewPoint Gallery, the photographer’s co-op on Barrington Street, is Light Abstracted, a solo exhibition by Paul Haresign-Williams, a former theatrical lighting designer who now calls East LaHave home.
His one-time avocation comes through in his photographs: abstracted studies of light; images captured from the windows of airplanes on take-off and landing. Through his experimentation with the camera’s settings, with apertures and exposure times, and moving the camera, he creates dynamic images that are really drawing with light.
If you think about drawing with sparklers when you were a kid, then you are getting close to imagining the effects Haresign-Williams achieves. The combined movements of the plane and his moving of the camera on longer exposures allows him to make complex, even surprising compositions, such as “Cubic Light,” where a square made up of different coloured lines hovers in space. So often we think of photography as being the mirror of nature, but here we are seeing in a way that our eyes simply never would. Not a mirror, so much as a projector, showing us more than we expected.