Tenets of Abstraction? Dan Crews, 2008

6. Juni 2008

The organizing structure of the grid has been a strategy used in pictorial composition for nearly a century. Those early inventions of Picasso and Braque’s ‘cubist grid’ highly influenced Mondrian’s pure grid system. Mondrian’s path was analytical and methodical developing a slow progression between the Dutch seascape to an absolute planarity and linearity of the grid. With inventions such as Composition 10 in Black and White, 1915 and Composition in line, 1916/17 we see the clarity of form and idea in his reduced vocabulary, black vertical and horizontal broken lines extending to the edges within an oval format. In 1918 a series of paintings entitled Composition with grid became the first use of a pure grid system from edge to edge. In 1919 we are given the final two paintings of this series Checkerboard Composition with Dark Colours and Checkerboard Composition with Light Colours. Here the support is in the traditional rectangular format and the grid stretches across the entirety of the surface. However, each plane of the ‘checkerboard’ is painted in an irregular pattern alternating between three colors (orange, red & blue) in the darker picture and six colors (white, light gray, medium gray, yellow, red & blue) in the lighter picture. In 1920 Mondrian paints his first ‘classic’ picture retreating from the assault on defining the limitations of abstraction. These 10 years of experimentation were a fertile model. Mondrian struggled to develop an idiom that has since changed painting. Here is where I see Rebecca Michaelis’ work. She has worked in the manner of Monochrome and Reductivist Abstraction for quite some time before she came into her own. In her recent work we see a major assault on the values that were set up by Mondrian which continued through the 20th Century. The grid becomes less the subject of the painting rather it functions as an armature to get a painting. In studio discussions, I have heard Rebecca repeatedly say, “It’s not about the grid.” You see it’s not singular, it’s not about one aspect, it’s about many and the grid is only part of it. I don’t believe Ms. Michaelis is being flippant, I believe she is being quite serious. When one works with in an idiom for so long the language becomes a part of you. It becomes personal. She uses the grid as a structuring device that provides an equal consistent ‘all-over’ surface. In this way it is functional. It solves the problem of space and composition. There is a sense of flatness that continues from edge to edge. She utilizes the regular repetition of the grid in Destinat, 2007 and in Mladen, 2008 as well in Hailsham, 2007 but here the grid is overlapping. In Googelplex, 2007 there is an ‘all-over’ modified circular grid, in that the negative space of the grid is more present. In Tarabas, 2007 and particularly in Darlington Hall, 2007 the ‘all-overness’ that the grid provides is nearly gone. It is a thing felt not seen or nailed down. The space escapes the rigidity of ‘all-overness’ and becomes more pictorial. Illusion creeps in by irregularly alternating the linear and planar aspects of the module units within the grid. However, there are always vestiges of the superstructure of the underlying grid. This development is monumental. Michaelis maintains the objective physicality and sense of flatness of Modernism but pairs it against its opposite, illusion and pictorial composition, within the same pictorial field. There is also an urge towards the illogical. Throughout these paintings we see erasure, ruin, and mutilation. A structure is developed then knocked down. Something rises to importance, then erased away into the field. Through this process the surfaces become mutilated. The choices of the artist are present yet not present. There is a psychological distress on the viewer. The complexity of the field becomes too much. The sense of wholeness breaks down to a durational experience and moments string you along into a narrative, which negates the ‘all at once’ tenet of Abstraction.

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