It would seem that ‘nature’ is the theme of this show—both the nature of painting and Mother Nature herself. In our technology-filled world, nature increasingly seems sidelined: perhaps art—especially abstraction, that most urbane of genres—is going some ways towards replacing it in city life. While painting has been with us for a long time, abstraction is still young and after postmodernism’s turns, it is finally maturing past its ‘spiritual’ roots.
This duo show presents the conundrums facing our ‘maturing abstraction’. Lumsden is a monochromatic painter, but his chromaticallyvaried paintings still spring surprises; while MacKenzie creates more ‘fragile’ and organised pictures with nature in mind.
Lumsden is a slow painter in the mode of Reinhardt and Rothko. Thin layers of glaze are used to build up a smooth surface, while another colour or hue is applied to the edges and sides of the canvas so as to create a framing device; thus a soft, shimmering centre is surrounded by a hard edge. One could easily analyse his paintings via Jeremy Gilbert-Rolf’s idea, inspired by Derrida, of a ‘parergonal painting’—that is, the idea of drawing the eye away from the centre through framing devices, as well as through diptychs and triptychs. Furthermore, closure is deferred, as each object can be consider part of the monochrome’s history.
This type of thinking creates an intellectual surface tension. It is neither the framing devices—which in this case have a loose, painterly touch—nor intellectualizing through the genre that makes it unique. Rather Lumsden’s striking colour combinations tantalize the eye (particularly the yellow frame and pulsing, baby-blue centre of ‘Counterpoint Series, No 4’).
MacKenzie, on the other hand, is not concerned with the discourse of the monochrome. Like Lumsden’s paintings, each work has a broad white border on top and bottom, and MacKenzie also uses the diptych and triptych formats, but he differs from his colleague by depicting trees in that middle section—on beautiful and fragile-looking coloured grounds. Where each surface is glazed and sanded to a chalky finish, the images are thickly painted and in a single colour, red or white.
View his earlier work and you find similar horizontal divisions; however there is no representational imagery. In other words MacKenzie’s current oil paintings are in a state of transition, and as a result the white blocks weaken the imagery.
Although the passions of painting are palpable in these artists’ works, one is still left with more questions. There is no doubt over their touch, but it may well be that their sophisticated surfaces require a rougher space to draw out their best effects. But the artists may well be playing safely within the comfort zone of their demarcated territories, and not fully testing the limits of abstraction. From that point of view, MacKenzie’s transition offers more potential, while it is Lumsden’s electric colours that are the most resolved.
Sherman Sam is an artist and writer