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Hard-edged abstraction with a warm touch

Tuesday Night Painting #7

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Gillian Wise, Ludique, 2004/2005, Acrylic on canvas, 81 x 65 cm

Hello painters, 

The basis for our newsletter today are the paintings of British artist Gillian Wise. Her work is completely new to me and I discovered her paintings through the obituary that the Guardian recently published about her. She passed away this April at the age of 84.

I'm experiencing the same range of emotions I felt after the author Ursula K. Le Guin passed in 2018: excited to discover the work, amazed I hadn't found it sooner, saddened by the loss, and yet consoled by how the work continues to live on, and by how the influences live on in other artists. 

Lengthy aside: Ursula K. Le Guin was a writer of science fiction, yet I never explored any of her works. As I read Le Guin's obituary, I realized how much of an impact she had on the literature I've always loved. But Le Guin's books are nothing like the standard science fiction you might already know: there's no giant space battles or triumphant colonizations of planets. These are well-written books with strong perspectives that subvert the standard science fiction tropes. I can't recommend them enough!

Back to Gillian Wise: if you love digging into the history of abstract painting then you must click on every link of the Wise obituary to discover the artists she worked with throughout her career who influenced her, and to discover the ways her influence is still felt today. She was the standard bearer for a type of painting that was non-objective but strongly political. Keep scrolling to find out more about Wise and to see her hard-edged works.

Gillian Wise, Ludique, 2004-2005, Acrylic on canvas, 81 x 65 cm

Gillian Wise, Arpedge2005-2006, Acrylic on canvas, 65 x 50 cm

Gillian Wise, Rotata, 2007, Acrylic on canvas, 41 x 33 cm

Gillian Wise was born in east London and studied art at university in the late 1950s. By the time she was graduating she was already exhibiting her work with a group of abstract artists that were to be dubbed the British Constructivists. 

The British Constructivists were led by the artist Victor Pasmore, and were a group of painters and sculptors intent on turning the focal point of abstraction away from New York City and back to Europe. 

American-style Abstract Expressionism was gaining popularity in America at the time thanks to Jackson Pollock and his gang. That type of work stood in contrast to the cool, mathematical looking geometric paintings of European painters like Piet Mondrian and Max Bill.
As a young art student on a trip to Germany, Gillian Wise met the artist and architect Max Bill, a colorful geometric painting fanatic.
This article details the history of one exhibit of British Constructivist work as it toured America, beginning in Florida. The exhibit was politely but cooly received. It didn't ignite the public's imagination like Abstract Expressionism did. 

The prevailing attitude was that this kind of minimal, geometric 
European artwork "fussed and fiddled within its space or frame, whereas American art was direct, assertive, and expansive." The British painters and sculptors were too modest in their creations and American audiences weren't receptive to the political theories that supported this type of abstraction.
Gillian Wise, Interrupted Rhythms, 2000, Acrylic on canvas, 92 x 73 cm
Gillian Wise, Three Forces, 2000-2006, Acrylic on canvas, 65 x 54 cm
Gillian Wise, Capa, 2005, Acrylic on canvas, 92 x 73 cm
The British Constructivists struck out during their tour of America, failing to generate any kind of lasting hype or positive press coverage around their work. But Wise and her colleagues stuck to their guns and continued to expand upon their style of abstract painting.

Over time, Wise began to develop a theory that Abstract Expressionism had become the dominant art style of the 50s because it received a large amount of institutional support from the United States government.

She self-published her thoughts in a book titled Low Frequency, although during the midst of her career she kept these theories to herself because she thought they bordered on the conspiratorial. However, her theory that the CIA supported, endorsed, and promoted American abstract painting was confirmed years later
Gillian Wise, Warm Swarm, 2001-2004, Acrylic on canvas, 46 x 38 cm
Gillian Wise, Warm Swarm, 2001-2004, Acrylic on canvas, 46 x 38 cm
Gillian Wise, Ginger/rose : XLR, 2004-2005, Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 70 cm
You might recognize the following couple of paintings from a previous CCAE class. This is the work of Charmion von Wiegand, an American painter from Chicago. She developed a career in abstract painting after meeting and studying with Piet Mondrian and others from the Neo-Plasticism and De Stijl movements. 

Like Gilian Wise, von Wiegand was a hardcore, hard-edge painting holdout who didn't swept away by the Abstract Expressionism wave. Her geometric compositions and her wide ranging palette indicate she shared a lot in common interests with Wise.
Charmion Von Wiegand, Prismatic Lattic, 1962, Gouache on board, 21 x 24 in
Charmion Von Wiegand, Region of the Unstructured Sound, 1955-1961, Oil on canvas, 56 x 25 in
Charmion Von Wiegand, Untitled no. 138, Gouache and pencil on board, 13 x 11 in
Charmion Von Wiegand, The Wheel of the Seasons, 1957, Oil on canvas, 39 x 32
Unfortunately it looks like Gillian Wise's website is down right now because whenever I visit gillianwise.com it doesn't connect. However, you can see more of her work by clicking on this link, via the Wayback Machine. Her paintings are helpfully divided into "20th century" and "21st century" but to me all of her work has a distinctive 21st century look.

Wise's work contains more futuristic connotations than the other artists of her time, like von Wiegand or Mondrian or the other constructivists. Her color palette also seems to fit in very well with the current trends, and the way the shapes and lines fall across the canvas has a glitchy, computer generated look.

One other association I couldn't prevent my brain from making is the similarity I see between the Wise painting Green Array, pictured below, and the album cover from a certain Super Bowl performing British pop band that was released in 2005.
Gillian Wise, Green Array, 2001-2004, Acrylic on canvas, 46 x 33 cm
Coldplay, X&Y
Coldplay, Square One
Do you recognize this album cover? I remember this making a splash when it was released 15 years ago and high school Tim enjoyed a lot of the songs on it, no lie. This Design Observer article details the thought process that design firm Tappin Gofton put into creating this album cover. 

The cover uses a type of telegraph code called the Baudot code w
hich was invented in the 1870s. Not to deprive you the enjoyment of deciphering it on your own, but the cover simply translates into X&Y, the name of the album. But hang it in an art gallery next to a Gillian Wise and you have a convincing Constructivist art piece.

If you click on this link, you'll get taken to an album cover generator so that you can type in your own message and have it translated into Baudot code. Could provide some good compositional inspiration for your next hard-edged painting.
Gillian Wise in her studio
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Alice Trumbull Mason, Staff, Distaff and Rod, 1952, oil on canvas, 34 x 42 inches
 
One:
'Feet, what do I need you for?' Frida Kahlo was constrained to her home and her bed, but it didn't stop her from painting. Read how she transformed her bedroom and home into a creative sanctuary for herself.

Two:
A documentary from the New Yorker about how a hardware store owner in Brooklyn assembled his art collection and the difficulties he went through to authenticate it. Peter Guppy, the owner of Prosperity Hardware, purchased what looks to be a painting from the famous Russian suprematist painter Kasimir Malevich.

Three:
A new monograph released about Alice Trumbull Mason, one of America's forgotten modernist painters. She studied with Wassily Kandinsky and Arshile Gorky and asserted that abstraction was "the true realism." 
I hope you had as much fun reading this newsletter as I did writing it. To steal something from the artist Austin Kleon (who stole it from the Austin Chronicle newspaper), this newsletter is free but not cheap. 
 
Chip in a few $$
I've been spending more and more hours each week researching and writing about new artists for me and you to lovingly gaze at. So if you can chip in a few dollars, I would very much appreciate it. 
And so we reach the end of another Tuesday Night letter. I have a random assortment of tunes for you this week. RIP to Tony Allen. Please enjoy:

Coldplay - Speed of Sound
Model Man - Without You
Arne Domnerus - Jazz at the Pawnshop
Gorillaz - How Far? ft. Skepta and Tony Allen
Tony Allen - Wolf Eat Wolf

See you next time!
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