about zing


Af Robbins
Thomas Rayfiel
Jane Gang
warren Isensee
steve katz
sylvain flannigan
angus ivy

tracy nakayama
simon periton


"This Season", installation view


As fusions of cross-disciplinary practice emerge and proliferate, here we are presented with a show of three artists–Jim Isermann, Graham Little, and Gary Simmonds–who draw references from design. The work encompasses and contains quotes from fashion and decoration, in both the construction of the works and in the formal qualities of color, surface, and pattern. With a current blurring of boundaries across visual culture and a potentially challenging disappearance of categories, so debates of quality, meaning and context are opened up to move issues and debates forward.

While all the works in the exhibition can be approached at the level of pure surface, specific issues and the integration of construction with other levels of meaning create a more challenging show. Simmonds presents two large-scale abstract paintings, which superficially have the appearance of washed out textiles.

The surfaces of the paintings are worked to provide a very tight, almost flawless white ground. Onto this are painted simple, repeated star shapes of differing sizes. These stars are created by the application of blobs of acrylic paint, which are quickly and deftly squeezed toward their center. There is a casual, hand-painted quality to these motifs, but from a distance they appear regular and rigorously applied. The star pattern and translucent quality of the paint combine to create a feeling of faded and worn '50s wallpaper or fabrics used in home décor; the sparkling motifs indicate the atom age might not be far away.

The paintings have a care worn optimism. However, this potential nostalgia and mundane appearance is negated and tempered by the strong evidence and sense of the hand process and the particular use of color. In SPRING GREENS, the domesticity of faded blue and purple is jarred by the yellow-green and pink reminiscent of highlighting pens. The sense of time and age in the surface is suddenly brought into a more contemporary visual association. IN THE WOODS is, by contrast, a more somber piece. The spacing between the stars is greater, but again small fluorescent oranges disturb and disrupt the moss green and blue grey of the larger stars. The tensions that their execution and color present, takes these paintings beyond a purely formal appreciation.

Graham Little presents the two three-dimensional pieces in the exhibition, but these are constructions that have an eye-twisting array of surface treatments. Color, pattern, illusion and use of relief all combine for a complex and sophisticated surface of clashing geometry which spits and fizzes. The complicated nature of the patterns is further enhanced and explored as they move around the MDF constructions, which recall the structure and shapes of hard-edge abstraction and high Modernism. As with Simmonds, this coupling of historical models and design-oriented quotation serves to establish a tautness and complexity to the work. The mixing of high and low cultural association makes for a much richer stew. PUCCI GUCCI MIU MIU combines the vivid color and pattern from these high-end fashion labels as a series of interlocking blocks, zigzags and stripes, which wrap and twist around a construction consisting of interlocking shapes. The larger piece, DOES ANYONE REMEMBER HOWARD'S WAY, is a real tour de force. Formal optical illusions are created, where surfaces move out into relief which are counter and in opposition to the spatial quality of the color on their surface. Blocks of mid-grays are disrupted by riots of competing patterns in grids, herringbones, color swatches and decorative motifs, which consistently zip and confuse. At the same time, their precise and sharp execution is at odds with the tackiness of the color and pattern combinations, drawing in associations of mismatched furnishing fabrics presented within some public spaces.

The title alludes to a naff and typically overwrought but popular soap of the '80s on British television. The program centered on a family-run ferry business and so these loud brash patterns are further hooked into notions of taste and quality through references of home decoration and other relationships, which pass for sophistication and interior design. In LittleŐs work, the conjunction of two- and three-dimensions with specific cultural resonances, creates a series of hybrid forms, rich in complexity and with a depth far beyond the surface.

Perhaps the potentially toughest work in the show is that by Jim Isermann. Here, he presents two wall pieces. UNTITLED (0394) is a hand-pieced fabric hanging; UNTITLED (0694) is a hand-woven hanging. Both pieces are evidently constructed using handmade processes, but at the same time make stylistic associations through the precision of their gridded structures with the familiar forms of '60s Minimalism. Immediately the machine aesthetic of industrial fabrication is put forward as a point of critique and a succession of both Formal and Conceptual contrasts is established and maintained while retaining the intellectual rigor associated with Modernist precedents. Being handmade, the works are obviously labor intensive and have qualities and characteristics in relation to the media and processes employed, which make them sit perhaps with potential unease in the white cubed interior of the gallery, an arena where one would not usually encounter such things. The hand-pieced wall hanging presents a complex fractured surface as combinations of three differing plaids establish arrays of interlocking squares and grids. The woven piece is similarly humble but sophisticated. While recalling the refinements of abstract painting, it also hangs casually and unstretched. The orange, green, and yellow of the linen checks, has a sensuousness which draws you in; the work becomes integrated with the surface of the support. These are works that defy category, which recoup craft processes but retain the Conceptual tautness and critical rigors underpinning all of the strongest, most advanced artworks. Of all the works in the exhibition, IsermannŐs goes furthest in prompting a reconsideration of the categorization between the disciplines of art and design and, in so, doing recalls the Modernist curriculum of Bauhaus teaching.

Nigel Prince

London, England 1999