Between 1986 and 1996 my work explored the language of geometry – in and around us. In attempting to create a structure that could stand for an external or synthetic system, I created one that also stood for an organic self-representation. By evolving a functional procedure that generates a sign evoking both organic and inorganic qualities, I hoped to question the unethical and expedient prescriptions of bureaucracies and physical shape of our society.
In 1985 I became dissatisfied with the lack of conceptual base to my paintings, which had been landscape and figure/ ground oriented. Throughout 1985 I progressively disassembled the motif in an attempt to retriece the drawn structure that underpinned the painterly form. These underneaths were linear and constructivist in nature and it was my intention to constitute this synthetic structure as the sole form, independent of landscape as source. Concurrent with the change in my work in 1986 was a growing awareness of the resurgence in abstract painting, centred in New York.
In a series of experimental pieces through 1987, I explored varying elements and devices that could be extracted from the old form. Although intending to achieve a more constructivist use of line, oclour and space, the curvilinear configuration began to crystalize towards its recurrent form.
At this point my ideas were influenced by Steven Henry Maddoff’s 1986 essay Vestiges & Ruins: Ethics and Geometric Art in the Twentieth Century in which, influenced by Foucault, he explores the relationship between ethics and geometric painting. Whilst he is dismissive of any such relationship, I was attracted to the idea of a moral and ethical connection between form and procedure, and to the replacement of arbitrary and expedient æsthetic decisions with ones that grew logically from within the process. It was also a reaction to neo-expressionism and its reliance on illusory, in every sense, conventions of expressivity. Also influencing me were Sol Lewitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art, particularly;
#2 Rational judgments repeat rational judgments.
#3 Irrational judgments lead to new experience.
#5 Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically
At this point my work was developing rapidly in numerous directions, evolving into the Carceral (carceral—of, or belonging to a prison) series of paintings, in which the grid intersects the curvilinear motif, overlaying the structure with a diminishing set of lines and achieving a literal imprisonment of the configuration.
A major influence at this juncture was Michel Foucault's idea, in Discipline And Punish: The Birth of the Prison, of the administrative geometries inherent to our society. This altered my view of geometry from one of a natural, or external system of nature, to one of man-made ordering inscribed and internalized by society. Whilst we have biological structures understood through geometry, it is our intersection with bureaucratic structures that has affected us most.
My aim was to produce total—not partial or remedial—painting: to conceptualize every aspect of my work within modernism's mode of self-criticality. I used the historical forms of western abstraction as a source, drawing not only on their original purposes, now frustrated, but also on the dialogue that has accrued to them. Mechanically produced facture—the material and compositional texture of the surface—indicated irony and distance in the curvilinear structure. By schematizing expressive painterly touch, and in some cases denying it through ersatz geometry and fragmented connections, a mediated expression of self is generated.
Text written by Martin Ball, 2014.