Cornelia Baltes and Sean Penlington spoke at PaintUnion at the Griffin Gallery on April 29th 2014. This is a piece by Sam Mould discussing the event
The context of the expanded field of painting brings immediate awareness to the use of other media, which may or may not include the classic associations of traditional painting mediums to operate in the debate about contemporary painting.
Yes, both Sean Penlington and Cornelia Baltes work in the expanded field of painting, but what was striking about both of these artists was their relationship to humour, notably irony. Why should humour, mockery and irony be important in the nature of the way in which we communicate, not just through painting: during the course of daily life.
André Breton, the surrealist in 1935 wrote a book ‘Anthologie de l’Humour Noir’ and coined the term black humour for the wit of the skeptic and cynic, often portrayed through satire, there are numerous examples of this in the fine arts ranging from Hogarth to Shrigley. And although neither of the aforementioned artists could be associated with surrealism, the notion of humour dates back to Roman times and is a common element of our sphere of communication today.
Penlington using various languages, makes marks, creates angles and lines, holds onto drips, splats and gestures in trying to find a different space for painting to operate in. Recognising that all this mark making, maps out various psychological states, causing a to-ing and fro-ing, a flow, a loop of difference, if you will, not only within the paintings gestalt but, between the works installed and thrice again in the viewers glace. Humans are creatures of ever changing sensations, an impermanent flux of synaptic occurrences that only ever exist in one particular moment, in one particular time, never to be repeated. Looking at these paintings therefore brings awareness to these constantly changing states, making one aware of ones own being.
The surface of the painting seems to be an honest history of the evidence of happenings, which is reflected paradoxically through abstract painting: a history of itself. This surface of evidenced is conjoined with other materials ranging from beads, paper, charcoal, rope, wood to be subsumed into surfaces that extend the boundary of the painting, creating a vocabulary of anticipation. Such humour juxtaposes the enormous weight of existence with comical elements that underscore the futility of life. In Penlington’s work we can literally see the weight of life leaning on the objects that constitute the painting.
We can reference David Ryan here in the introduction to Talking Painting, 2002,where he describes the ‘present condition of abstract painting; fragmented, multiple, heterogeneous.’Penlington recognizes that abstract painting has an inevitable complex condition. It needs to be within a system, yet outside of those boundaries too. It is trapped in its own historicity that has a defined framework, albeit dynamic and in fact at times craves to be viewed without this baggage.
Baltes on the other hand is working in a multitude of media from paint, photography, site-specific installations, print and objects, her creative talent lies initially in observation of the world around her. Working with sharp shapes, humourous configurations alluding to creatures and beings with a light but purposeful touch that has an inkling of Charles M. Schulz’s; Charlie Brown, Woodstock and Snoopy in the Peanuts comic strips. Every mark is coolly calculated, not to mention her true affinity for colour that sets a playful scene. Baltes’ beauty of observation in juxtaposing occurrences together speaks of many metaphors, but she is not prescriptive in the meaning, leaving the viewer hopefully with a wry smile.
Simple anthropomorphic marks have weight to them; acting in an installation not only as individual pieces but have meaning in relation other objects and marks.
The touch of the artists hand is evident, the physicality of the marks, be they painted or drawn, positioned fabrics, paper, chains, objects; they all have clear evidence of a willingness to handle materials and a keen ability in the balance and composition of space within the installation of the objects themselves and in relation to one another.
What we mean by the expanded field of painting here is the nature of objects, from a painterly background that are installed in a site specific environment, where, objects, light, distance and spaces – all inhabitants of the environment are defined in relation to all the other things. Nothing therefore in an environment in the expanded field of painting therefore means anything really, except in relationship.For both artists work it seems that the connections themselves are real.
Using the spatial qualities of painting, both Baltes and Penlington transcend the confines of the picture frame with affability and humour. The intellectual use of space, using void as disruption; where space is interrupted with objects, touching on notions of difference, of connectivity, relation and interruption – constructs a singularity, yet the potentiality for further derivatives. Things being next to one another are related through proximity, not narrative. It’s the viewer who potentially brings the narrative. The metaphoric links therefore that do occur perhaps are not necessarily planned but a happy coincidence of observation by the artists. This flow of metaphors and juxtapositions occurs all around us, all of the time, yet the artist brings attention, a link or series of links, which for any viewer maybe carried over into their powers of observation in the future, making links, that they couldn’t have made before; recognizing small nuances in life due to a new neural path way being developed, or not. Both artists work with an openness that allows for speculation.
A paintings meaning therefore is whatever the viewer attributes to it- this is one dynamic aspect of the expanded field.
So as you can see, when we refer to the artists joke here, we are not referring to the slapstick, one liners of Richard Prince for example, but a sensitive, darker humour, rooted in a culture of stoicism, because humour in fact, might just be considered a mere coping mechanism. A way to look at the wider world with an affection that it sometimes lacks, so when considering the profundity of the everyday we find comfort in the fact at least someone else, including Baltes and Penlington, are in the ironic boat with us. It’s a very serious joke!This is the stuff that makes the world go round and it’s happening in the field of expanded painting.