The everlasting universe of things

Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves, 

Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom— 

Now lending splendour, where from secret springs

The source of human thought its tribute brings …

Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni” (1817)


I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

T. S. Eliot, “The Wasteland” (1922)


Tyne Gordon’s work holds a liminal position between two quite contradictory philosophical positions. On the one hand her elaborate miniature constructions of soap, glass, marble, clay, bone, modelling plastic and paint resemble the aesthetics of avant-garde modernism filtered through Julia Kristeva’s abjection in the way Janine Antoni’s Gnaw works did, or a more tranquil take on the work of Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger. On the other, the ambiguous scaling in Gordon’s paintings, often inspired by these objects, result in something more fantastical and Sublime; the dramatic, crystalline landscape of Caspar David Friedrich’s Sea of Ice (1823/24), or the faceted alpine utopia envisioned by German architect Bruno Taut in the late 1910s. The ambiguity, the lack of anchorage in reality, but undeniable aura of authenticity, keeps the viewer puzzling.

The sculptures allude to dolls house-sized versions of monumental ultra-modernist biomorphic abstraction – Jean Arp, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth – resting on marble (a broken offcast), glass (a broken bottle neck), or modelling clay plinths. They draw us in with their perfect little forms and the absurdity of the materials. They look a little as though they belong in a Wunderkammer. Hard and obdurate stone and glass is counterpointed against biological bone and soft, malleable soap. Unlike with modernist abstractions, these humble mundanities haven’t been severed from the domestic human realm. They trigger memories of experiences through their familiarity the way a Joseph Beuys installation does. Nor should being cute be considered an aesthetic sin, nor their apparent playful feminist mockery of Freudian phallic symbolism.

The paintings distil the formal qualities of these little assemblages into an altogether loftier and more Platonically idea realm. There is a bravura to them, sometimes astonishingly delicate forms captured in a single long stroke of brush charged with oil or acrylic or thick, coral-growth impasto thrusting sculpturally into the viewer’s space. They are sketches of a concept, but fully fleshed-out artefacts rendered with hard won technical skill.

The paintings are visual koans pointing to a purer form of consciousness or else hinting at a surreal, visionary Symbolist landscape co-existing with us in a dimension beyond human perception. The Sublime can never be completely mediated by culture, sometimes you just have to take it on instinct and faith, however this is a postmodern sublimity, nature has been eclipsed by culture. A form reminiscent of a monolith of ice or an imaginary range of glacial mountains may recall the alpine paintings of Romanticists like Alexandre Calame or Caspar Wolf, or the early landscapes of Adolf Hölzel condensed to a key element. A mountain becomes something you can slip in your pocket or mould out of your mashed potatoes like that scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

But the other side of the Sublime’s coin is the Unheimlich – the uncanny, the creeping terror that we experience when the comfortably familiar begins to disobey the accustomed assumptions about its nature. That same finger of ice might be a pillar from some eldritch Lovecraftian city in Antarctica. A dark cloud hovering close to the invisible ground in the white void of the painterly plain (a Taoist paradox of simultaneously being and nothing) acquires an indistinct sinister personality and takes off into the dream worlds of Odilon Redon, Alfred Kubin, and Goya. The Pathetic Fallacy is in full play, investing the substance of the forms with a distinct life force and even awareness.

Gordon’s work is two thirds what you feel and one third what you see. It pulls you in, traps you, and when it lets you go, it keeps following you around.


AMAZONS; Expeditionary Force, Exhibition Catalogue, Roger Boyce, 2015

Picture This

A Curator’s Forward

Picture this. It is 1993 and the art market has nosedived — in New York City alone at least seventy galleries have shuttered. Professional parity is rising, for women and people of color, elsewhere, but the art-world is, by any measure, a socially stubborn, pseudo-genteel, privilege-reserve, defined by 1950’s style race and gender exclusion. That same year, Women’s Action Coalition (WAC) and founding members of The Guerilla Girls stage a protest — out front of Pace Gallery’s 57th Street flagship — disporting scandalously about the silk-stocking retail precinct, in simian masks and strap-on dildos, WAC is highlighting the scandalous near-absence of women artists and artists of color, in the gallery’s stable. Pace, at the time, represents a single female artist — Louise Nevelson. And she’s dead. Also on the scene is an invited band of men, clad in distinctive Louise Nevelson style drag. The ‘Nevelsons’ troop up the service stairs to the upper floors of Pace proper. I am amongst them. The expressions on Pace staff and client faces, as we burst into the Pace Gallery sanctum, is one of my fondest Gotham memories. Shortly after this action, Pace Gallery — whose roster was, almost exclusively white, male, heavy-weights such as: John Chamberlain, Donald Judd, Chuck Close, and Robert Ryman — signs up Elizabeth Murray and Kiki Smith. Apparently it doesn’t pay to be polite. Now, can you imagine my quiet satisfaction, when entering the estrogen rich Ilam undergraduate studios, where I now teach. Painting classes populated overwhelmingly with women, young women who these days have more of a professional shot at a compensated life in the visual arts. Legitimate bragging rights encourage me to publicly celebrate these female students, a good many who’ve earned ongoing exhibition prospects and some with bona-fide waiting lists. However, things aren’t (by a long shot) equitable in the art-world — particularly In publicly funded galleries and museums — which shamelessly favor the old, exclusionary, ways. But I can’t see ‘my’ painters (female or male) standing for this sort of elitist horseshit much longer. The fierce bunch, in this show, Amazons: Expeditionary Force, work their asses off, are a credit to the discipline of painting, and aren’t, apparently, going to take no for an answer. If they do, they’ll be hearing from me, and from each other. Go get some of what’s yours, Amazons.


AMAZONS; Expeditionary Force, Exhibition Catalogue, Jamie Hanton, 2015

"In a trio of small oil on board paintings, each with a single focal point, Tyne Gordon signals a shift from her earlier representations of landscape which captured wider scenes with numerous foci. The singularity of the Iceberg, Geyser and Cloud, lifted from their subdued backgrounds become strange portraits: studies in their own particular elemental make-up, as well as the atmospheric processes that affect them. The treatment of these natural phenomena is one of curious reverence; in scale, these monumental subjects become miniature. This mistranslation in size is one of the reasons these works are so intriguing- the down-scaling means the subject becomes almost arbitrary. Instead, in Iceberg II and Frozen Geyser the materiality of the paint is at the very forefront of the work- the paint becomes the subject. Indeed, snow and ice speak to slow accumulation and quick reduction; processes that can easily be related to Gordon's carefully considered layering and deft application in paint. Frozen Geyser III features a variety of different impasto effects from the vein-like ripples leading into the base of the geyser to the ragged shards covering the entirety of the geyser like hoarfrost on a tree."


Amazon Painters in Wellington, EyeContact, Chloe Cull, 2015


They Ghosted Up The River, Exhibition Catelouge, Keir Leslie, 2015

"Gordon's Croon smeared a low key greyish blur across the gallery walls. One passage moved at waist height, the other at shoulder height. Gordon worked directly onto the gallery walls, and Simon Morris' Black Water Colour Painting 2015 formed an obvious point of reference. Morris' icy rationalism marched around the gallery in a logical progression, but Croon moved in retrograde ways, the paint scudding along like a cloud in a skittery breeze."