‘READYMADE #1’ by Tinka Bechert at the Oonagh Young Gallery makes dual references to readymades, both as a welcome series of short successive exhibitions, and in the objet trouves, stacked in totemistic forms, placed in relation to the wall-mounted works and textiles throughout the space. The former is an agile and immediate platform that mainlines the work of four artists straight from their studios to the gallery context; it emphasises the dearth of opportunities for artists to show work while it is fresh, in the context of advanced gallery schedules and limited open submissions. The latter makes reference to real found sources which punctuate the language that, while incorporating textiles and installation, can be positioned in contemporary abstraction.
Abstraction has had a chequered reception in critical discourse over the last decade. While not coining the terms himself, Jerry Saltz popularised the snarky putdowns ‘Crapstraction’, ‘Aesthesized Loot’ and ‘Zombie Formalism’ in his critique, ‘Zombies on Walls’.1 Saltz offers a reductive view of current abstract painting as overly commodified and domesticated – a comforting and accepted aesthetic that litters art fairs throughout the western art world and has lost its ability to challenge or progress – perhaps the painting equivalent of ‘landfill indie’.2 It is easy to see how abstraction’s critical edges have been burnished by each iterative revolution throughout the twentieth century, a dying star that is far removed from the white-hot radicalism of its inception. Yet there are many examples of abstract practices that make persuasive cases for the ongoing vitality and potential of this area of painting practice. In the Irish context, these include Ronnie Hughes’ pin-ball eye candy or Fergus Feehily’s esoteric provisionality, which knowingly factor in some of the doubts of current abstraction to critically nudge the parameters of the genre forward.
Bechert’s approach to abstraction is closer to the models of the Bauhaus or the Black Mountain College – both educational cultures embedded in the ideological purity of modernism as a framework for the impurity of play, creativity and experimentation. Many of Bechert’s works create a relationship between sculptural objects and two-dimensional abstract works that are mostly modest in scale and format.
Mini Winners (2022) is a precarious stack of found objects resembling bowling pins; Stack is a freestanding assemblage of small odd-shaped canvases which sits upright upon hand-painted wedges. A second Mini Winners arranges hand-built ceramics, a bespoke stepped plinth, and found objects in spindle-like forms.
A purple ceramic space invader icon from the seminal video game sits incongruously on top of one stack (the variability of the pitch and range of that game’s sound is a worthwhile consideration in relation to consistent tonal shifts in range and approaches of the paintings). Untitled (2022) is a freestanding screen of found material with a crescent pattern that is sewn together and reveals its processes from behind.
There are motorik visual loops and contrasts running throughout the exhibition, such as exposed supports and pentimenti. The works seem to be founded upon reduced graphic monochromatic strata that then shift gear to secondary colour and hot pinks, cold yellows and cobalt blues, creating a distinct colour tonality. Grids are played against circular gestural application and stripes. There is pattern that does not seem to follow a logical systemic formula; often areas of under painting continue to be overlaid in a different colour. Paint is applied in a myriad of ways: blended, sprayed, dragged. In this way they recall the systemic corruption of abstract painters such as Thomas Nozkowski or Phillip Allen, with their reverse engineered take on high modernist art and design.
While there are certainly consistent forms and beats that create a visual spine, they resist settling into seriality and formalism, each work subtly shedding skin or shifting perspective to form a relationship to another. There is a haptic intuition that acknowledges the speculative aspect of play between materials and forms. They utilise various modes of display, emphasising the performativity of individual works. Bechert seems to be critically aware of the pitfalls and formulas of current abstraction, and she incrementally probes the possibilities within their own frames of reference, and while they may not solve the discontents of the paradigm of abstraction as a whole, they are awake and alive to its continued potential.
Colin Martin is an artist and RHA Head of School.
1 Jerry Saltz, ‘Zombies on the Walls: Why Does So Much New Abstraction Look the Same?’, New York Magazine, 16 June 2014.
2 The term ‘landfill indie’ was coined in 2008 by Andrew Harrison of The Word magazine to describe the saturation of homogenous guitar bands in the UK charts.