Across Along and Around
‘When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection.’ Agnes Martin 1989, Schriften (Writings)
As the title suggests this exhibition by Noel Ivanoff is about surface, line, plane and form. It is also about looking; tracing your eye across the surfaces, along the planes of the structures that hold them, and around their curves and edges. These are studies in colour and form in the very minimal sense of the term. They are subtle, elegant and captivating marriages of medium, colour and texture. There is a very contemporary sophistication and skill to these works which captivates the imagination and invites a more sustained and penetrating look.
Ivanoff’s painting is most simply described as contemporary abstract minimalism. There is no figuration, nor any narrative beyond the all over surface patterning of colour and form. What you see here are subtle exercises in shades of difference in capturing bright yellows or brilliant whites, one colour per work. These works are about colour, colour that is bright, in long rows or columns that double back and forth until the surfaced is filled.
Explore the boundaries and the content. Trace the surfaces to the edges. Immerse yourself in the colour fields and follow the line and form of the frames which hold the coloured surfaces. There is something very mesmerizing about the way Ivanoff separates the painted surface from the frame which holds it. The frame itself becomes as much a part of the work as the painting and emphases the three-dimensional aspect of painting. In each case there is a wooden panel coloured evenly all over with a single colour, with the horizontal brush lines faintly but distinctly observable. This is caused by adding beeswax to oil paint, allowing the drag of the brush mark to be retained, a residual sign of the artist’s hand. The painted image is attached to stiff ply which has been curved and stretched across a wooden crate support and firmly attached on either side of it.
Frames and structures embody the paintings and this pairing is an essential rather than superficial element in their character. The wooden structures are very visible and an essential component to the overall composition. The construction materials form beautifully paneled works with meticulously prepared pieces of marine ply. There is a Japanese-like detail to them in the precision and delicacy of their construction, as well as the fineness and texture of paint that comprise their painted surfaces.
It comes as no surprise then, that following his graduation from Dunedin School of Art Ivanoff spent several years abroad including Japan. This influence shows in the absence of illusion and Ivanoff’s primary concern that these painted sculptures are studies in colour and construction where less is more.
Colour minimalism had its beginings in the 1900′s with Malevich’s infamous Suprematist Black Square, 1915, followed by Mondrian’s grid paintings and since the 1960’s with celebrated US artists including Barnett Newman and Agnes Martin[i]. Like Agnes Martin’s spare, geometric compositions Ivanoff is searching for a perfection which is impossible to achieve. Understanding this is a fundamental premise of Japanese culture and Buddhist tradition, something which has challenged many western artists.
Agnes Martin wrote about her work, that as an artist, perfection was something she was aware of in her mind but that her paintings were always very far from being perfect – “completely removed in fact – even as we ourselves are.” [ii] Understated, this Buddhist/ Taoist [iii] trajectory is apparent in Ivanoff’s practice. His paintings can be described as being about light and lightness, about merging, about formlessness. As with the pencil lines evident in a Martin or Newman colour field paintings the surfaces of an Ivanoff’ painting have been worked so that the artist’s hand can be seen. On viewing the work closely, the irregularity of the paint lines is evident.
In 1965 in an interview discussing his painting Uriel, 1955,[iv] Barnett Newman said he wanted to see how far he could stretch colour before it broke.[v] This was Newman exclaiming the human predicament, an unattainable search for perfection. Ivanoff’s unique expression of this human dilemma is to juxtapose colour surfaces to utilitarian processes and construction.
[i] Agnes Martin’s many configurations of the grid were an almost life-long dedication to the Minimalist form. Martin came to prominence in the 1960s New York art scene. Her work differed conceptually: it was anti-intellectual and intensely spiritual, and her grids represent meditative reflections based on Taoist practice.
[ii] Source: Martin, Agnes. Schriften (Writings)
[iii] Taoism refers to the philosophical and religious traditions that have influenced Eastern Asia and China for more than two millennia. Tao roughly translates as “path” or “way”. Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos. The philosophy, teachings and practices behind it have many similarities to Buddhism
[iv] an abstract painting 2440 x 5490mm with one colour covering three quarters of the canvas,
[v] Harold Cohen quoting Barnett Newman, BBC broadcast, 17 November 1965, typescript Barnet Newman Foundation. New York.