LAWRENCE POWER | The Urgency of being still
March 17 – April 29, 2017
Vernissage: March 16
Lawrence Power – Architecture Without Space
There is a type of artwork that hangs on the wall like a picture but acts more like an object and there are objects that hang on the wall and act like paintings.
Resistance to traditional classification is commonplace in modernist art and has become a professional mannerism in contemporary artistic practice. Cubist collage, the assorted materials of Dada and Surrealism, two-, three- and four-dimensional constructions, the cult of the objet-trouvé, video, performance and theater, digital, interactive, virtual and architectural installations… all of these art forms progressively reduced the formal distinctions between painting, drawing, relief, mosaic and sculpture that have withstood even the most insistent of fusions in such times as the Baroque period. By now distinctions have become so blurred that it is difficult to label artists in their practice and their work.
Lawrence Power is one of those difficult-to-label artists, despite the fact that he is a painter at first sight. But his work is as much painting as it is collage and sculpture – and yet, the artist explicitly calls his work “paintings”. Although strictly working two-dimensionally, he has always been engaged in breaking down the conceptual and physical barriers that have traditionally separated a work from its surrounding space. Dichotomies and opposites characterize his work: painting and sculpture, the singular and the serial, movement and stasis, interior and exterior, public and private and abstraction and figuration.
Power’s art begins here. But why painting? When he decided to become an artist, he was determined to resist the temptation to work with video, performance and new media. He decided to struggle with the visual challenge and the historical baggage that the medium of painting has perpetuated and he developed his own visual language based on minimalism, abstraction and subtle figuration. The latter being so subtle that it often reveals its figuration to the viewer only gradually and through specific titles attributed to his paintings.
Power’s interest in painting also has to do with his acute awareness of visual history and art history traditions. He carefully studied post WW2 artists, such as pioneers Alberto Burri, Antoni Tàpies and Lucio Fontana who successfully blurred the line between painting and sculpture.
Burri’s art in particular, so elegant, timely, contemporary, poetic and beautiful to modern eyes, was dramatically subversive in its day. He was more poet than protester, never entirely abandoning canvas, paint and frame, nonetheless reaching beyond painting’s conventional limits to give it a brave new repertoire.
Time and again, Power returns to the visual imagery and conceptual framework of Burri’s work in his own artistic contemplations. He pays great attention to techniques and materials. Surfaces and forms look intuitive, marks and gestures urgent, yet he approaches the conception and realization of art like a scientist, subjecting an idea to scrutiny through a specific art-making process.
Power’s paintings come in various sizes and formats including cabinet pieces and large-scale canvases. Each one is the product of a long process – thinking, reading, taking notes and executing multiple drawings along the way. Occasionally, they fall victim to his merciless scrutiny and are cut apart. Like an unconventional jigsaw-puzzle, they are often reorganized again in a new work. Their materiality – thickly applied paint manipulated with tubes and knives on collaged canvas and fabrics – might literally jump out from the wall into the viewer’s space. Conventions of pictorial composition, even abstract ones, are often ignored in favour of the literal materiality of something, an object that refuses to behave as a picture, even though it is hung on a wall.
By now, it becomes clear that his work is as much process-oriented as it is focused on the final result. Power works on several paintings simultaneously, building up their surfaces, one by one. Paintings which are not satisfactory are destroyed by being cut up; the collected pieces build an archive of painterly samples, a personal painting history of sorts.
Works in progress cover the walls of his studio. Huge opal glass windows let in bright daylight, at the same time obstructing the view out of the studio and into the neighbourhood. The studio has nearly perfect size, high ceilings, white, neutral walls and fantastic light – the very reasons why he chose it. Yet, it is not located in one of Berlin’s cool and artsy districts, but is in a part of Eastern Berlin where it looks like time has stood still since 1989. This also has advantages: there are no real distractions. On the contrary, located in a working-class residential area surrounded by low-income apartment blocks with a mixed residential community, Power can concentrate on what he is most interested in: making art.
For Power painting is a language; he works contextually to explore forms and their implicit visual poetry. There are two clear languages of painting: semiotic and aesthetic which merge into one and are clearly readable in every painting. The artist explores meaning in relation to symbols and motives which act as building blocks of his own language.
His minimalist and abstract experiments developed over an extended period of time. As a first step, the artist moved away from the narrative, before he gravitated toward the representation of mundane objects and architecturally oriented compositions. Power’s ultimate goal was to strip the canvas of any obviously figurative depiction and simply keep the composition and colour of the picture as the focal point.
Power has also moved away from organic shapes and forms, and is mostly focused on straight lines, rectangles and diagonals. There are no loose lines, neither background nor foreground, and there are no negative shapes – every centimeter of the surface is equally weighted. Clearly, shifting a single element would necessitate a complete restructuring of compositions that read as architecture without space.
In addition to geometrical shapes and lines, colours play a communicative role in his visual vocabulary. Power’s floating chromatic pools are an attempt to create an image of colour and to make colour the theme of the work. His palette is subtle, often subdued and melancholic. Having said that, every work exposes at least one element in a strong, vibrant colour – yellow, blue, black or red. This compositional element functions like a passageway into each work – a door, a window, a space for contemplation or a tiny cabinet in a wall with hidden treasures. It helps the viewer construct meaning by the very act of seeing. But it also “frames” the work, not unlike the beginning and the conclusion of a poem, a story, or a play.
What does Power paint? The same subject seems to appear time and again – shapes, lines, allusions to shoes, tables and, again and again, rectangles. They are often called “paintings”, like in “Four paintings under a table”. Here, he calls into question the nature of the art object, but also confirms and asserts its existence through constant change and manipulation. Visual poetry, minimalist expressiveness and a complex aesthetic language reveal themselves to the viewer, one element at a time.
Most of his paintings are stripped of recognizable figurative elements and, at most, allude to unrealized, possibly failed architectural plans, interiors, furniture arrangements, or his own studio walls. Every work is self-contained, well balanced and makes perfect visual sense in and by itself. His titles, on the other hand, are less disciplined and controlled, but they play a necessary role in finishing the artwork. The physicality of the paintings and their only figurative allusion – the titles – challenge the imagination of the audience.
What are Power’s titles about? Most of them are personal and intimate and most often, not really conclusive. Titles are extremely important to him and naming a work is no less labor-intensive, difficult, and even painful, than painting. They reference places, such as “My Kitchen” and “Paul’s Studio”, objects, such as “Zwei Ecken” (“Two Corners”), “Treppe, Flasche, Winkel” (“Stairs, Bottle, Angle”) and “Tool of No Particular Use” or ideas, concepts, and moods like “Paid in Cigarettes” or “Form und Zweck” (“Form and Function”). For a general audience, they seem rather insignificant, at first blush. Only one work is named “Untitled”. Other titles are “I Need New Friends”, “Urlaub I” (“Vacation I”), ”Paul’s Table”, “The Corner of a Table”, and “A Fugazi Kinda Day”. Although these titles do not read like poetry, their simplicity and seemingly disimpassioned character radiate familiarity and warmth. Colours, materials and forms offer entry to the story; the titles are an idea, a bridge between the artist and the viewer. Helped along by the titles, it is up to the audience to construct an individualized narrative.
For Power, painting is a discipline in the most rigorous sense of the word. It is a play between abstraction and figuration. While the artist takes the representational qualities out of the work, replacing them with or adding tactile elements to them, the viewer searches for something to cling to. Here, Lawrence Power daringly enters completely new terrain. His work lives between emotional depth and poetry, abstract and representational colour systems, experimentation and tradition. At first glance, the work looks straightforward, and to a certain extent, traditional, but he captures the complexity of reality by simultaneously representing feelings and perspectives from a space located between abstraction, figuration and poetry.
cabinet no. 6
Deneth Piumakshi Wedaarachchige | I am not guilty