Vivid brings together the work of 12 British and American abstract painters, many exhibiting in the UK for the first time. It presents a diverse range of work, which also shares certain characteristics through attention to facture, process and colour. These concerns could be seen as reflecting some of the classic tensions of late modernism, brought to a head in the late 70’s with the schism between colour field painting and the activities of Minimalism and Post-minimalism. Essentially these tensions revolved around the nature of form and its potential relation to matter and intention on the one hand, and the immateriality, the sheer opticality, of colour on the other. If the present work finds echoes in these positions then it also manages to think across these historical divisions. Now that painting has become as viable a medium as any other for younger artists, then it is natural that some of these issues are re-examined and arise once again as a natural bi-product of the engagement with the medium. It is, after all, abstract painting’s possibility for reflexivity and non-anecdotal experience, which appears once more to engage artists and audiences alike. Abstraction has long ceased to have a coherent programme or ‘project’, and one of the significant achievements of recent abstract work is the constant re-interpretation of inherited possibilities, which are far from exhausted. These are, it has to be said, rarely taken on board without some subtle restaging, personal inflection or re-shuffling. Often, this is the source of a critical edge; a ruffling of what otherwise might be the shelter of the conservative or academic.
It is tempting, and equally dangerous, to categorise some of these concerns according to geographical location. However, certain differences in outlook between American and British practitioners might, in the recent past, seem pronounced. Many American practitioners have staged the forms of abstraction with loaded re-signification, operating as an overture to discourse (the work of Peter Halley in the 1980’s and 90’s being a prime example). Ironically it has been predominantly British artists who have looked much more to another facet of abstraction. They have tended to absorb the classic modernism of minimalism and post-minimalism – without the need for overtly deconstructive or rhetorical devices – in order to ‘toughen’ themselves up. It is here, that the combination of task-like activities and acute sense of materiality combine to make a physical object. These two poles - the one (narrative in its own way) where a ‘mirage’ of discourse hovers not too far from the surface or a linguistic model opens out form at the level of metaphor, and the other, whereby procedure and material presence cohere - remain a dominant dialectic that lies at the heart of a diverse practice. In the context of the present exhibition a more fluid dialogue between these positions appears to be present.