Saturday 7 March 2020

The Expressive Colour of Black and White Art

Monochromatic Minds: Lines of Revelation
Jennifer Lauren Gallery, at Candid Arts Trust, London
25 February – 4 March 2020

Monochromatic Minds installation view, including works by Terence Wilde
Monochromatic Minds is the latest venture of the peripatetic Jennifer Lauren Gallery. This ambitious exhibition, featuring 61 artists and around 150 works could be seen recently at Candid Arts Trust, London. The premise of the show was disarmingly simple; a selection of black and white art made by artists who have at times been gathered under the rubric of outsider art. The result, however, was a sophisticated system of compelling art that transformed the gallery space into an energetic, thought-provoking and highly intellectually satisfying visual conversation.

Works by Julia Sisi and introductory wall text

It is all too easy for an exhibition containing as many artists as this, and who come, moreover, from a wide range of lived contexts, to descend into visual incoherence. “Monochromatic Minds” does not. Cohesion is gained through curatorial restriction to the inclusion of monochrome works and essentially to drawings (even the relatively few three-dimensional objects in the show are essentially essays in the drawn mark). There is also a tendency toward a very shallow picture space in all the two-dimensional works included, which also assists the visual logic.

Monochromatic Minds installation view, with works by Albert (left) and Mami Yoshikawa (right)

Work in the show ranges from the boldly emblematic – Davood Koochaki, James Alison, Liz Parkinson – to densely worked, near claustrophobic essays in detail – Carlo Keshishian, David Abisror, Leslie Thompson, Chris Neate. It also collectively runs the gamut of techniques of conscious abandonment so beloved of the surrealists, from automatic drawing and writing – Malcolm McKesson, Julia Sisi, Dan Miller, Harald Stoffers, Beverly Baker, Cathy Ward – to mediumism – Madge Gill, Agatha Wojciechowsky – and visionary perception – Raymond Morris, Nick Blinko, Ody Saban. Visual Symbols dredged from the unconscious, whether through dream or imagination, are also commonly present, from Evelyne Postic and Margot’s tumescent organic images, to Jane Davigo’s suggestive symbolic narratives and Olivier Daunat’s remarkably spatial, yet airless, precise urban universes.

Beverly Baker, Untitled, 1998, ballpoint pen on paper (Latitude Arts)

Monochromatic Minds installation view, with works by, l to r Chris Neate, Cathy Ward, Evelyne Postic (top and bottom), Margot (middle), David Abisror

At times images arise from the experience of pareidolia, or a process of seeing-in to the figurative content of objects, as in Mehrdad Rashidi’s manipulated photographs and Gwyneth Rowlands’ flint figures. A near-automatic methodology and use of the suggestiveness of materials and emotion characterises Terence Wilde’s mixed media miniatures. Just about everything in the show seemed to be driven by an active process of evolution and growth, rather than some preconceived compositional conceit. Blinko’s exquisite drawings unfold, so to speak, only to be threatened by the weight of detail that packs the picture space, so that the whole is held in the most precarious of visual balance; a metaphor perhaps of human hovering between life and death. Indeed, in the case of two untitled figure drawings by the late Nigel Kingsbury, it is hard to say whether we are experiencing a smoky coming-into-being or a gentle, diaphanous dissolution of form.

Nick Blinko, Untitled, 2019, pen and ink

Nick Blinko, Crucilivas Arborilus, 2018, pen and ink

Nigel Kingsbury, Untitled, nd, pencil (ActionSpace)
One of the satisfying aspects of “Monochromatic Minds” is that it restricts itself neither geographically nor temporally in making its aesthetic choices – fourteen nations are represented here in a timescale that stretches from the present to around eighty years ago. In this way, the curator, Jennifer Gilbert was able to choose works that invited close individual attention by viewers and also consideration as a group in the liminal space of the gallery. Given the amount of planning and effort that had clearly gone into producing this project, which also included public artist talks, a short film and a published catalogue, it seems a shame that it ran for such a tantalisingly short time. I have no doubt that it will remain fresh in the minds of those who were lucky enough to see it for some time to come.

A catalogue is available, with an Introduction by Jennifer Gilbert and short essays by myself, Lisa Slominski and Judith McNicol, Manchester: Jennifer Lauren Gallery, 2020, 140pp, 73 col. and b&w plates, £10

Davood Koochaki

Leonhard Fink, Adam and Eve in Paradise, 2018, pencil
Malcolm McKesson (left) and Raymond Morris (right)
Agatha Wojciechowsky, Untitled, 1968, pen and ink

Monochromatic Minds installation view, including works by Ody Saban and Judith McNicol
Monochromatic Minds installation view