Monday, 29 January 2018

A Minor Revelation

It is the evening after a day out in Manchester and I am sitting at home spending some time with the new objects I returned from my trip having purchased. I slowly turn the pages on the Callum Innes catalogue for his 2013 exhibition History held at the Whitworth Art Gallery, which the gallery were selling off cheap in a sale, whilst listening to my new Biosphere album Shenzhou, when I am struck by a minor revelation. Callum Innes is known primarily for large minimal oil paintings in a high modernist style, but this exhibition was of a series of watercolours, a medium for which Innes is not normally associated. The twenty watercolours follow the familiar style of Innes, being comprised solely of large blocks of colour, in this instance squares where two colours have been applied one on top of the other and scraped back to create a semi transparent plane. The two colours used are visible around the edges of each piece where they have not been scraped back. The series as a whole acts as an extended colour study, exploring the results of combining different pairs of colours. The title of each piece tells the colours used, for example Cobalt Blue Tone / Quinacridone Gold or Red Magenta / May Green. The Biosphere record is a 2017 vinyl reissue of a 2002 album, named after a Chinese spacecraft. Every one of the twelve tracks on Shinzhou takes as it’s starting point a small section of music by Debussey, which Geir Jenssen has removed from it’s context, looped, and put through various electronic filters and reverbs to create a series of minimal ambient sound pieces, which serve as a musician’s study of Debussey. The minor revelation was my realisation that these two art works, although made in completely different media, are the same.

Both the watercolours and the music are, to first appearances, very plain. They both follow, and do not divert from, the application of one or two simple rules. Some may describe them as quite empty. They are flat. Pick any point and compare it to any other and it may well look or sound the same. Their tone does not change across each piece’s entirety. But, upon closer inspection, both the watercolours and the music share a deep and rich texture. The more time spent with the work, and the longer one looks, or the deeper one listens, the richer and more subtly diverse the texture becomes. This revelation of the similarities between these two art works led to another revelation about my own taste when it comes to art, music, books, film, culture generally, and even perhaps people. I don’t like work that shouts, or demands attention, which unfortunately is the majority. I like work that quietly goes about it’s business, seriously, attentively, with an open curiosity and pleasure in enquiry; work that does not immediately reveal it’s depths and richness, allowing the viewer/reader/listener the opportunity to peel back the layers slowly, over an extended period of time; art and music that gives more with every listen or view; art and music one can live with, that grows and develops with the viewer/listener’s ongoing interaction with it. I am not one for instant gratification. I find the greatest pleasures are to be found in quiet and continued contemplation. 

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