Form + Content exhibits three women painting in abstraction
|Double Swirl, by Anne Davey; oil on board.
The paintings of three wonderful women artists are on display right now at Form + Content Gallery, each working with a visual language that explores abstraction. For “On the Cusp,” Anne Davey (Memphis, Tennessee), Barbara Kreft (a German-born artist living in Minneapolis), and Ruth Piper (Bristol, England) each have divergent styles, but in all of their work, a kind of emotion is stirred through their adept use of space, pattern, and texture.
|Timbuktu, by Barbara Kreft; oil on canvas.
My favorite of Davey’s paintings is Lapse, a stark meditation on isolation. The figure hovers at the top corner of the canvas, with one arm stretched across and the other down the left side. The off-white background is less busy than some of Davey’s other pieces, and the use of negative space leaves a feeling of loneliness.
|Zazzy, by Ruth Piper; acrylic on canvas.
Seeing Red – An Analysis of Ruth Piper’s use of Colour in her Painting by Carinna Paraman
Ruth Piper has a strong intuition for form and colour – she uses bold, flat, over-layered colours, and geometric hard edged shapes. Her works evoke the impression of looking at a map, a technical drawing or an iconic diagram, with all the detail pared to the basics. They resemble designs for a machine, an alternative landscaped theme park, or an illustration to explain a complex scientific theory. In the same way that engineers construct plans, so Ruth constructs her paintings.
For artists, the ability to transcribe colour onto canvas or paper has been a highly detailed and documented activity. Early records, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519) documents on art, provide a very detailed analysis on uses of colour. For example, he suggests how a ‘red also will seem most vivid when against a yellow background’. In the 16th century, as part of a traditional formal training in painting, all apprentices would have undertaken practical sessions on how to mix colours, to understand colour relationships and harmonies to be able to paint from nature and convey a realistic and pleasing image. Primarily, the painter was required to convey all that could or should be perceived: the environment, the effect of neighbouring colours on another and the surface quality of the coloured object, which are ostensibly undertaken by illusionary effects through the juxtaposition of coloured brushed pigments.
The method of juxtaposing colours as described by da Vinci is the essence of Ruth’s work. In her earlier works, she painted on to pristine white backgrounds, but has also engaged with backgrounds of hot-fushia, yellow, ultramarine, and more recently on black and pale blue, and rendered as flawless fields of colour. She applies and removes paint or over-layers light paint over dark until a completely opaque surface is obtained. Unlike most painters, who require the whiteness of the background, Ruth works from a black background. Therefore reversing the notion of subtractive and additive colour. In photography, or working with light, one adds light to achieve white. Here Ruth is undertaking the same: starting with a black canvas and adding layer upon layer of pigment to achieve a hue colour or a brilliance of whiteness that she requires. In a normal printing or painting activity this is considered to be subtractive during which the whiteness of the paper is subtracted by the overlaying of colour.
Colour can be used to engage with the senses on an altogether different emotional level, where colour and shape and surface are controlled to draw the viewer to the picture plane, that might enhance, excite and vibrate, and as the eye fatigues or becomes accustomed to viewing the artwork, colour may change; thus spatial experiences such as chromatic adaption, simultaneous contrast, warping of the surface plane or afterimage may occur. Ruth’s accurate mixing of colours also creates a sense of movement. The disks and wheels in her painting appear to vibrate or rotate. Duchamp noted how some colours dazzle or vibrate, and termed the effect as Coeurs Volants or Fluttering Hearts (1961), which he printed as a red and blue heart. And for painters to mix colours that are of an equal tonal value, this process requires a sophisticated eye. This forward – backward phenomena is obtained through two perceptual effects: the occurrence of staccades on the retina and colour spreading in the periphery vision that gives way to the impression of blues spreading and red advancing.
I have known Ruth Piper for many years, firstly as a friend and furthermore consulting her expertise as a painter when I asked her to work on several print research projects. From my background as a printmaker and working in colour science: measuring colour, colour printing for inkjet and colour perception I was intrigued by exactly how Ruth developed her colour pallet. In colour science we talk about a colour space, in which colour is measured and plotted according to its neighbouring colour. To me, Ruth’s canvas deals with a colour space that is loaded with a sense of the ambiguous and paradoxical, and, who uses colour to manipulate our visual perception.
Carinna Parraman, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England