Featured Artist: Andrew Bick
Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Images courtesy of von Bartha and Andrew Bick.
This week’s featured artist, Andrew Bick, managed to clear some time in his busy schedule to talk us through his work – from Chelsea to his current exhibition at The Cornerstone Liverpool (Monday 16 November – Friday 18 December 2015)
Conversations at the Cornerstone Gallery is a walk-in essay as much as an exhibition, repeatedly referencing art historical giants and artists close to Andrew Bick himself, even taking the time to engage students of Hope University’s Fine Art students with interventions in his grid structures. The exhibition is supported by a public lecture on Monday 23 November 2015, exploring conversation as a means of production.
His interview is an incredibly in depth exploration of the themes that steer his work through the structured maze of constructivism and its relationship to systems art. More recently, conversation has been a pivotal to this artist’s decision making process, and we’ve got the privilege of sharing ours with you:
You’ve developed some very strict geometric rules since your time at Chelsea, are these ever influenced by the galleries that house them? For example, a few works at The Cornerstone Gallery jut out on 45° from the wall?
There is a playfulness in my approach, which implies ‘being strict’ only to subvert it. The main change since last time I showed in Liverpool, (‘Slow Magic’ at The Bluecoat in 2009) is that the decision to repeat the same grid, endlessly, has become a fixed starting point for making all my work, but this has also proved itself incredibly liberating in terms of the range of different things it allows me to do. This grid is copied from an improvised painting of my own from 07/08, so quite deliberately has no external reference point from my own work. The 45˚ angles with which two paintings are hung in the current Cornerstone exhibition, on the other hand, not only respond to the architecture of the space, how the balconies are shaped, but also quote the hanging strategy used by Malevich in his famous 0.10 exhibition – he was of course copying the way icons were hung over the centuries in Russia, and it is amazing how placing a painting across a corner allows it to have a very dominant presence in the space.
We’ve heard a lot about Constructivists, but System artist are perhaps not as familiar. Could you shed a little light on your relationship with System?
We haven’t heard enough about British Constructivist (Constructionist) artists, or their successors in Systems, both are interlinked but have a more direct relationship with Swiss Concrete Art, (Max Bill, Richard Paul Lohse, Camille Graeser etc) than with the original Russian Constructivists. Gillian Wise, for example, was both a Constructionist and Systems Artist, still lives and works in Paris and has some amazing works in the Tate Collection and Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia. Jeffrey Steele, one of the initiators of ‘Systems’ is someone I am in regular contact with, also David Saunders. Their work has varying degrees of rigour, based on ideas of material syntax and with many of them there is also a socio-political view of art’s purpose, that has amazing strength and integrity and is not what you expect of the generally very cosy view of British art from the 1960s. There are artists of my generation and younger making work that tries to visually emulate the systematic approaches of the original groupings. I am more interested in drawing attention to what the original work is, asking questions as to what remains of its intentions and of how it functions now, celebrating it and then, in my own work, taking a different and perhaps disruptive relationship to it. I think it is crucial to tell the world that something still has great value, but then to try to analyse what its enduring strengths are, rather than make a very shallow appropriation of its style.
The title of the exhibition, Conversation, as I understand it explains the process of curating the show. What are the key recurring elements that come up in these conversations?
Argument, anxiety, misunderstanding and, with the older artists like Jeffrey Steel, Anthony Hill, Norman Dilworth, David Saunders, a willingness to engage… to keep talking. The most obvious thing that keeps recurring is the knowledge that some issues, ideas and differences are un-resolvable, but that in the desire to continue conversation, to keep making exhibitions, keep writing, keep engaging in public and discursive events, new possibilities get generated.
You talk about the piecing together of things, even mentioning Gene Hackman in The Conversation at one point. This seems apparent in the grids you use, creating new limitless works from the bits and pieces of two key structures. I was hoping to find out a bit more about those bits and pieces.
The film is completely about cold war paranoia, of a particularly North American kind. In my concept it works as a counterpart to the Euro-centric nature of a lot of the concrete art that I am interested in. Allowing that this concrete art is also very prevalent in South American history, you could say that I am using the film to question our reliance on a North American view, which tends to compare Minimalism to Constructivism and see the former as shinier, stronger, clearer… Concrete art reinvents itself endlessly, in my opinion, and there are clues to this in the inclusion in the archive vitrine of the exhibition of some concrete poetry, that of Adolpho Campos & Robert Lax. Lax, in particular, is a big influence on my approach and his writing often speaks about paying attention to the best available object in any given moment. In these terms I like the idea of pragmatism as being a means of finding an approach that pieces together disparate elements. In this way the wall drawings in the exhibition are fragments of the whole grid of a painting, which itself is taken from a design for a 3 x 5 metre ‘art gate’ I have a commission to make in London. Taped to them are scraps of notes and colour swatch tests from the studio. It’s about analysing how chance works, about measuring contingency, trying to collide long term projects and planning with what comes to hand and what is immediate…
What was it like installing those wall paintings? It looks incredibly time consuming, especially when you’re sticking to such strict rules.
As in my answer to the last question, there is a plan, but also openness to chance in how a work gets concluded in a real space in real time. The students from Liverpool Hope University who helped make the work were brilliant, they quickly grasped what was at stake technically and I was very happy to trust them to get on with the execution of the work, even expecting to make more corrections than I actually had to. Part of working with rules, or an established system, for me, is that I cheerfully accept that the consequences of such a system are out of my control, even if it looks like they are not. There was a lot of time involved, but it was shared, and so dependent on the generosity of those students and their willingness to learn from another artist.
Why did you choose The Cornerstone Gallery to deliver this exhibition?
Quite simply, I was invited; but I also think an invitation should provoke a generous response. The space itself is untypical and not easy to place art in. When I first came to visit I found this daunting, but having thought more about it, I decided the dynamic of the architecture was impressive and a challenge that I had to respond to. Making the poster, which quotes from a Gillian Wise image in the ‘Systems’ catalogue of 1973 was a way of celebrating her work at its most brilliant, but interwoven with my standard grid and also coloured in by my student collaborators in any way that they wanted. The aim is that I have understood and used The Cornerstone Gallery as a model for exchange, that as a context it is quietly out of my control, but in an idealistic fashion, as a means of bringing old and new work to the attention of a different audience.
What can we expect from your Cornerstone lecture on November 23rd (without giving too much away)?
Quite a few anecdotes, past conversations that I can reflect on, a sense of engagement with other artists, and a refusal to accept that what I do artistically is merely austere, remote and difficult. Dialogue as well… I have invited colleague, artist and writer/curator Katrina Blannin, to join me for a discussion in the second part of the lecture. She was a student of Jeffrey Steel in the 70s and I met her as a result of an ‘in conversation’ I did with Jeffrey at a solo show of mine at Hales Gallery in 2009, called Systems for Hesitation. Katrina has been instrumental in reviving interest in Jeffrey’s career, conducting an interview with him in Turps Banana Magazine in 2012 and she and I also co-curated an exhibition, Conversations around Marlow Moss at &Model Gallery, Leeds, in 2014.
Are there any plans for the near future we should be watching out for? Obviously we’re hoping to get you back to Liverpool again.
That’s a very kind question. I have a project I am working on with Hales Gallery, London, who represent me in Britain, for 2016 and projects in Switzerland that are secret until the planning has got a bit further… My Swiss Gallery, von Bartha, are incredibly supportive and will be showing new work at Mexico City art fair early in 2016 and in Art Basel 2016. I also have the big ‘art gate’ commission I have been working on since 2009 for Derwent London, going in a building just off Tottenham Court Road that has informed the wall paintings here. This will probably be completed in 2017.