Reflective Journal:  The Contemporaneous Grid

By Keith Hopewell



One rare winter afternoon, it was a clear blue sky and the sun was shining radiantly. I hadn’t done any painting in some time (being based in the sculpture studio) and suddenly felt an uncontrollable urge to create something totally automatic. In one of the skips was a piece of primed MDF board and since I had a full bag of spray paint loaded with a wide range of colours in my studio, I decided I was going to paint something without any preconceived idea of what I might do. Upon reclaiming the board from the skip, I noticed there was a folded up discarded piece of metal security fencing. Since this mesh fencing was practically the same dimensions as the board, I decided to position the two objects alongside each other. Without stopping to question my motives, I began to paint and illustrate the fencing on the white board. Line by line and juxtaposing colour ways, I loaded a polychromatic spectrum onto the primed board until the white primer was no longer visible. Standing back to ponder on what I had just produced, I playfully positioned the fencing in front of the painting. The results were astonishing; by complete chance I had the painting of a subject co-existing with the subject simultaneously. This work was both painterly and sculptural, and featured optical qualities, density and opacity. I decided to title this piece of work ‘Contemporaneous Grid’.

I have always loved working with spray paint, regardless of its negative associations and exclusion from art practice in general. What I liked about this work was the way that the aerosol strokes, or lines simply reduced the painting into immediate sense data, which vibrated optically from behind the pattern of the metal grid. A new pictorial field was seamlessly created by the superposition of a physical material placed over the painted image. The work now moved with the viewer and through working with chance, I was in effect, producing an individual scientific and abstract language. Also by working with simple found materials, I gave myself a tightly controlled set of rules to work within, allowing me to innovate from a minimalist mind-set.  Jesus Rafael Soto is one artist in particular, whose work is produced from this viewpoint. In an interview with Claud-Louis Renard, Soto talks about the simplicity of his work and also his theory of art as a science;

C-LR: “To translate this universality, you used the simplest materials, with an insistence upon economy and efficiency which has always characterized your work.”

JRS: “ Well you know, I come from Venezuela, a country which, when I was growing up, was still undeveloped; to get anything done, you had to do it yourself.” (C_LR, JRS 1974 p.17)

C-LR: “You often say that art is the science of what cannot be proved by any other means.”

JRS: Precisely. This is my belief and one, which I expressed at the time of my exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam: “The immaterial is the sensory reality of the universe. Art is the sensory knowledge of the immaterial. To become conscious of the immaterial in it’s state of pure structure, is to make the final leap towards the absolute.” I cannot conceive art in any other sense and as soon as you begin to think in this way, you come upon a fabulous world, which has never been explored. That’s why whenever I hear anyone say that abstract art is dead, I have to laugh.” (C-LR, JRS 1974 p.19)

This resonates with me on so many levels, I personally don’t understand producing anything that already exists or can be summed up by an audience, and co-opted too quickly. One work by Soto that fascinates me is Metamorphosis from 1954, where a tilted grid contrasts against a main framework composition. I’ve recently produced a similar piece of work entitled ‘Shift’, where I spray-painted through a metal grid and then moved the grid a couple of feet across, leaving a ghost where the grid originally was. I love the politics between these two mediums, one is emphatically physical, and the other is anamorphic. It only takes the slightest of movement of the grid to highlight the distance between these two mediums. A classic piece of work which is always vivid in my mind and is hugely influential to Jesus Soto, is a painting by Kazimir Malevich from 1915 entitled, ‘Boy with Knapsack’, originally titled ‘Color Masses in the Fourth Dimension. Two basic squares, one black and with a smaller tilted red square below it, simply illustrates the distance of two opposing cultures. W J T Mitchell delivers an excellent analogy of this painting in his book, Picture Theory:

“Malevich’s image is surely dialectical and abstract, but language, narrative and discourse can never –should never- be excluded from it. The relation of beholder and image is not exhausted by an epistemological model of subject and object, but includes an ethical-political relation, an inter-subjective, dialogical encounter with an object that is itself dialectically constructed. The relation of black square to red square is not just the relation between abstract opposites like stability and tilt, large small, but of more potent, ideologically charged associations like deadly black and vivid, revolutionary red, domination and resistance, or of even more personal and emotional relationships like father and son. I take it that there’s no need for me to specify which square is the father, which is the son.” (Mitchell 1994 p.226)

Soto is a Venezuelan painter whose subsequent early work was an academic effort into his research of Cubism, tracing the origins of Picasso and Cezanne. Later lessons were learnt from the geometric simplification in works by Mondrian and Malevich, plus the spatial constructions of Gabo and Moholy-Nagy, developing kinetic reliefs, which eventually grew into autonomous environments.  Soto’s later work such as his series of penetrables, became cube like mazes that dwarfed and submerged man within the heart of the artwork itself. Re-defining the spectator’s idea of space, his audience found themselves as a kind of existential axis in a microcosm with no possible centre.  In an interview with Ricardo pau-Llosa, Soto states that; “No artist today, can ignore space-time. We must find artists, even among those who continue to work within two-dimensional formats, who provoke a new sentiment: that in art there are no longer observers but participants. The artist does not have the final word.”

A contemporary artist that links intrinsically to Jesus Soto is Mona Hatoum and upon looking around the White Cube Gallery website, I discovered a piece entitled Impenetrable. The piece (not in any of her current books) appears to be a precariously suspended cube made from black finished steel barbed wire. Created in 2010, the title and concept of Hatoum’s installation refers to Jesus Rafael Soto’s Penetrables, but the threatening avalanche of barbed wire rods are impossible to enter, a stark contrast to Soto’s accommodating and utilitarian structures. Hatoum’s work relates to Soto, as far as her frequent use of the grid and in particular, her diverse reference to minimal Art, but the interrogation of political issues so evident in her work places hatoum’s work in a completely different territory. Clues to Mona Hatoum’s interest in power structures, conflict and home can be found in her past. Displacement, a word I like to use and describe the working process in my ‘Shift’ piece, is a word more relevant to the deeper understanding of Hatoum’s upbringing, as Guy Brett writes in Hatoum’s self titled 1997 book;

“ Mona Hatoums place of origin, place of birth, was already a displacement. In 1948 her Palestinian family were forced to flee from their home in Haifa as a result of Isreali intimidation. They moved to Beirut, where hatoum was born and grew up. Her father spent all his working life as a civil servant for the British administration, first in Palestine and later at the British Embassy in Beirut. In Beirut their Palestinian accents marked them as foreigners and Hatoum remembers from her childhood the ambiguous feeling of being home and not at home simultaneously. In 1975 she came to London on a visit and found she could not return because of the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon.” (Brett 1997 p.34)

Mona Hatoum describes the majority of her work as, “a critique of those dehumanizing institutions and their effect on our existence”. So far as my work is concerned, displacement relates to my history as a spray can artist who worked outside the system, and also my interpretation of exclusion from the fine art institute. Even though the use of spray paint within my work has received a certain level of respect and praise from most tutors at Winchester, it still amazes me how little knowledge there is inside fine art institutions in general and also how many aerosol pioneers are still virtually unknown in the art world. Much of this leaves me feeling slightly aloof and alien, it’s discouraging that 3 decades of mastering a unique tool and developing revolutionary techniques means nothing.  You can’t just erase thirty years of work. I’d go as far to state that the ghost left by the spray paint when the grid is moved in my ‘shift’ piece, is suggesting that I am the ghost, set apart from art history. The grid in this case, represents Art history. The grid is so important to art; it reaches back to Mondrian, cubism and all the great renaissance artist’s. If we investigate it even further, the grid goes all the way back to ancient Greece and the ancient Egyptians. By dipping string in red ochre pigment, the Egyptians plucked the string like an instrument against the wall to leave a perfectly straight line and enable proportion. Technical aids for transferring space perspectively onto a surface is as old as art itself, so it is a highly important symbol within my current works. The reality of my placement/displacement within the fine art institution, is visually and metaphorically represented by materials here as a literal realization of placement/displacement. Guy Brett explains his theory with regards to placement/displacement in a wider sense of the art universe:

“In a sense, the history of art could be understood as a dialectic of placement/displacement which the nature, even the notion of art itself, has changed. The broadening of the concept of art in the twentieth century and the proliferation of new genres, has been a continuous attempt by artists to escape the embalming process carried on by art’s own institutions, in order to regain a life context. Art has been displaced from the gallery or museum to the street, from expensive commodity to freely accessible proposal and so on. But to present this process as a linear progression would be naïve and simplistic, since the site displaced from the institution itself becomes institutionalized. The gallery and the street, for example, are governed by different customs, codes and taboos to which the artist may be highly sensitive. But as categories they are not absolutes. Neither is pure. The gallery is a set-aside space of contemplation, but it is not only artificial; it is also real, beginning with its architecture. Similarly, the street is not only real but also fictional. One partakes of the other. The way they do so varies in minute particulars in each national and cultural context. In the face of these complexities, the most interesting artistic responses have been fluid and non-formulaic, practicing what Helio Oiticica liked to call a critical ambivalence”.

“Conceptual displacements between the space set aside for art and the space of everyday flux, and between artist and spectator, always take place in specific circumstances. With the growing mobility of the artist in the late twentieth century this has taken on its own complexities and contradictions. Huge historical injustices like those of imperialism lie behind these encounters between artist and place, to which the artists themselves may be sensitive or blind.”  (Brett 1997 p. 35-36)

Central to the Majority of my work in the past is location and how the work functions within the wider public sphere. One of the biggest battles I’m faced with is how I respond to working on the inside, especially in a white cube space. I guess I want to bring the directness of what I was doing on the outside, and working with a real sense of urgency. The immediacy of working with spray paint in a public space, utilizing the surrounding concrete as a canvas, has always driven my art. To attain this essence inside an art school setting is an entirely different situation but also a welcome challenge. I still feel there is much more I can do to broaden the range of my work, and I am continuously searching for solutions.

In relation to my work with Grids and spray paint, there is one piece in particular by Mona Hatoum, which appears to respond to the white cubes spatial characteristics in similar but broader way. 1992’s ‘Light Sentence’ is an insight into the positive and negative aspects of the organization of space. A central core construction of wire mesh lockers is projected into a huge mobile drawing on the walls by the use of a slow-moving motorized light bulb placed within the structure. The surrounding walls become a screen by embracing the moving shadows of the sculptural piece. Hatoum is transforming the entire room here, with the ghostly shadows orientating our bodies in space. I can only suppose that the use of the wall/plane in my work is rooted in my past experiences from working outside, which is not necessarily a bad thing, after all the wall is important to me. The displacement of the two mediums I use couldn’t be articulated with the use of shadows to the same effect but Hatoum’s ‘Light Sentence’ installation does open up my eyes to bigger possibilities.

“The distinction between fine arts and the applied arts is often explained in terms of the non-utilitarian/utilitarian opposition. Nevertheless, the idea that the fine arts are exclusively concerned with aesthetic pleasure and not with any practical functions is a dubious one. An art such as architecture serves practical and aesthetic functions simultaneously; in fact, this is true of all other fine arts, though in their case ideological-symbolic functions predominated over more mundanely practical ones. Our contemporary conception of works of art as purely aesthetic objects owes much to the emergence of public museums and private art galleries.” (Walker p16, 1983)

I’d like to further my conclusion here by talking about location again. There is one artist I believe demonstrates the importance of location parallel to my work, and who also works large scale with spray. German artist Katharina Grosse works large scale at locations using an industrial spray gun.  She describes her work as a constant amorphous movement and believes that painting is a language completely alien to architecture.  Her work appears to almost invade and de-territorialize the architecture, as drips and distorted colour seem in stark contrast to the geometry of the buildings. In Odense from 2004, Grosse uses sprayed colour to fill a gallery wall full of bookshelves. She renders the social role of the books by painting the entire display white, without discriminating whether or not the Complete Works of Freud are in there. The location itself, regardless of content has a kind of plastic presence and act as nothing more than a primed piece of canvas. A writer in her 2007 exhibition book ‘Atoms outside Eggs’ describes Grosse’s process, “The process is itself is a movement that utilizes and destabilizes linear systems. Grosse promotes painting as the site of an embodied, highly individualized action. A charged encounter.” (Millar 2002 p. 66) My favorite work by Grosse is titled ‘This Is Not Dog Shit’, where the front of a disused building has been spray painted grey. The colossal grey spray gives the building an industrial presence and the overspray of the paint spills out over the edges and on to the floor. As a long time practitioner with spray paint, I do find her amateur finish slightly rubs me the wrong way but the sheer volume of paint Grosse applies, and the boldness of her projects is certainly radical and exciting.

“Physicality is the starting point and by moving into spatial volumes there’s a guarantee that everything is rooted in negotiable reality. It is then transformed, which results in the image value. I can only first develop the image by leaving this physicality. That is why the medium of spraying has become so important. (Grosse 2007 p.57)

As a student/investigator, I have already arrived in this system with another system. A system not necessarily recognized in schools of art but I am learning from the new system and simultaneously informing the old system. The outdoors or streets in particular are possibly more institutionalized than the fine art institution, as indicated in Brett’s quote earlier in this essay. It must be said though, that all this adversity is continuously driving my work in new directions and it’s extremely evident here in this essay, from the multitude of artist references. It is impossible for me to settle at one main reference and I have no choice but to deviate from the structure in order to conclude what I am doing and also what I am learning. How certain artist’s with common ground have informed each other throughout history, and also how this informs the  ‘hybridity’ in my current work is far more important to my learning, than any curriculum unfortunately. Soto himself always works from the premise that, for anything to be a true work of art, we must somehow transmit a true sense of the history we are rebelling against. However, I am an artist, and I will forever contradict myself. To quote the Jazz musician SunRa, “History is only his story, my story is all about the mystery”. What really drives us to create art is intuition, feeling and working with what naturally connects with ourselves.

“Visual art is a kind of knowledge which is not transmitted in words. We hope the words we use will link it to the issues that matter but will also continue to convey that we cannot really say what it means.”  (Brett 1997 p. 34)


Part2ism – New Horizons and Future Love Songs

@Red gallery, London 2012

7th Movement - Wooden relief 2012

‘This is Ikonoklast’s trajectory for firing horizontally.— Ramm:Ell:Zee. 

Part2ism consistently throws audio-visual vibrations upon the operating system of mass transit art. From his epicentre in the United Kingdom and reaching out around the globe Part2ism operates like a first responder to the 21st century techno-tingularity, a well-armed painter and audio engineer innovatively mashing these disciplines over a quartz-century into a part-futurist synthesis: coloured planes of sonic architecture, what he calls ‘arkitect-sonics’, 2012 horizons of tone for the skull. TIMBRE!

Special arrangements of colour produce a new spatial frequency and each note in the ‘New Horizons’ orchestra ‘signiflys’ a plane. Submarine-yellow lines or baberry blue bars transit along colour tracks. Meet melting musical fireworks of polychromatic lines extending horizontally, meet wood with height width depth occupying time-splacea in a slow motion cinder singe.

A trajectory is the path that a moving object follows through space as a function of time, a parrot or a rainbow painted drone aircraft sequence painted on a train all merge into melodic aesthetics of future ballistics here: art in transit, transit in art. Things in motion, motion in things. Thankfully NHAFLS depict alternatives to the constraints of working on canvas and other flat mediums.

“It takes a motion to notion and it takes a notion to motion.—SUN RA.

4 new pieces hang 4 different schemes to communicate and thaw-out the frozen music from its architecture with new fresh dimensional mapping techniques, quilting mind with new synaesthesia.

The new horizontal love songs resemble the electronic programming screen-scape’s found ubiquitously in music apps such as Cuebase and Logic Audio. Here Part2ism horizons manifest in the non-screen world as an assembly of wooden strips cut to various lengths, projecting an ‘ear-eye-ear loop’ of vibrant hyper-chromatic engineering. Aerodyna-rhythmic concord of colour to imitate moving digital arrangements, audio tracks await reconnection by neuro-counterbalance with the central nervous system, like people awaiting travel connections at a rail station: “a meta-mental point of contact with our other selves”.

Emerald encrusted railroads for the ear, perceptible audio/visual phenomena frozen like multi fruit lollipops, tasted in splice-time mixed for the palate by Part2ism. The new flash work launches alternate understanding by looking into listening closely, for me, the slices of kaleidoscopic horizons re-release waltzing sound contraptions from Part2ism back into the visual continuum. Melodic strategy deployed by candy canons of fireworks and rockets to dock with open eye sockets. Look out, listening!

Love harmony floats in the air, purple hue flesh mint scintillation past rose shift outwards to grey pink petal to metal, and black to white and back to ear world, hyper-sonic boundary dissolution. A full spectrum painted on wood to tune in timbre tone melody and riddim’, call it Part2ism: language versus the equation.

“The different experienced components such as colour, harmony and melody, meter and rhythm, dynamics, and form correspond to the different segmental ranges of this unified time”. The total musical result at any given compositional level is simply the “spectrum” of a more basic duration—i.e., its “timbre,”–Karlheinz Stockhausen. 


By Steve ‘fly agaric 23’ Pratt. From the Part2ism Catalogue for the ‘New Horizons and Future Love Songs’ exhibition in London August 2012

072812 Part2ismdiagram1

072812 Part2ismdiagram2

Catalogue diagram by Daniel Feral 2012

Film of the exhibition preview by Jamal Peace

Timbre – Short film collaboration by Zelyt Serutuf and Part2ism