INHERENT VICE - ANDREW PARKINSON
The structuring conceit of this exhibition, Inherent Vice: “the very nature of a good or property which of itself is the cause of its deterioration”, should be taken metaphorically. It’s not that painters Sue Kennington, Nancy Milner and Nicola Melinelli use dodgy materials, leading, for example, to the paint cracking or flaking off. The instability to which the title refers is rather a characteristic of colour, the pre-occupation that links the three artists represented in this show.
Ice-cream melts, fuel burns and colour changes according to its context. That it is possible, in any one image, to perceive two occurrences of the same colour as quite different from one another and two different colours as the same, may prompt us to conclude with Bridget Riley that the qualities of colour are “unavoidably elusive”. The information communicated by colour is always nuanced, tricky and subject to change.
One strategy for an artist might be to counter the instability with pre-planned precision. Another might be to exploit the unruliness of colour. These artists do the latter more than the former, Melinelli starting out with colour organized in neat geometry only to upset the clarity by subtly altering say the inclination of a line or a plane. Maybe here it’s not so much the colour that becomes unstable as the vehicle that ‘contains’ it. Kennington and Milner favour an intuitive approach that starts out with ambiguity yet often arrives at a relatively precise statement, both artists limiting the variables in order to concentrate on the colour. Whether intentionally or not, all three artists work in series. It is easy to see how one painting may have led to another, an imaginary meandering line being traced through each series, or perhaps a flow diagram with dead ends here and there as well as the recycling or re-working of earlier themes. There is repetition and there is change. A stochastic process seems to be in operation in which new expressions evolve via something akin to random selection.
In Thomas Pynchon’s novel, and the film adaptation by Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice is associated with the notion of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics which, in cybernetics, is “the tendency of closed systems to move towards randomness”, often seen by early cyberneticians as decay and the opposite of information, linked with chaos and death. However, Claude Shannon opposed this view, seeing that entropy could drive systems to increasing complexity. Thus he equated entropy with information, arguing that the more unexpected or random a message is, the more information it conveys. According to Katherine Hayles, entropy is here reconceptualised. No longer “the heat engine driving the world to universal death”, instead it has become “the thermodynamic motor driving systems to self-organization”. With this reversal in mind it seems possible that the exhibition title is an invitation to think of these artworks as self-organizing systems, sets of interrelated parts that have, aided by an artist, arranged themselves into this successful structure. Whilst the instability of colour makes it resistant to a-priori systematisation, in these series of experimentations it seems to organize itself, communicating first with the artist during the painting process and then with the viewer.
Andy Parkinson paints and also writes about abstract art at his blog patternsthatconnext.wordpress.com. He is a regular contributor to Saturation Point website and sometimes writes for Abcrit. He graduated in Fine Art in 1980 at what was then Trent Polytechnic, but only returned to art practice in 2010. He lives and works in Nottingham UK.