Green on Red Gallery, Park Lane, Spencer Dock, Dublin until July 6th; greenonredgallery.com
Born in Martin, Slovakia, Natalia Black studied fine art and also English language and literature before moving to Northern Ireland where she began to exhibit her work around 2004. She is a painter who loves the substance of paint as much as its colour. Her paintings often appear as blocks of acrylic pigment arranged in bands and ripples. They suggest associations with stratified geological formations and also, given her bright, bold palette, with sweets or confectionary: those luscious concoctions look good enough to eat.
In fact, if she had followed a representational rather than an essentially abstract path, her work might have converged with that of Wayne Thiebaud, the American artist who famously elucidated the link between the appetising appearance of mass displays of such foods as cakes and hot dogs, and paint as substance, not just colour. Closer to home, Black’s work also parallels some aspects of Paul Doran’s paint-as-substance phase. That was typified by his outstanding MFA show work, and he has moved on from that in various ways.
Black has also moved on significantly from her earliest work, which was sometimes vulnerable to the charge of being too sweet, almost facile. That could not be said of her more recent work. Although her show is titled Musica Universalis, with reference to the early, Pythagorean theory that the heavens were arranged in perfect geometric harmony, following on from Pythagoras’s observations on musical pitch, Black’s compositions depend on all sorts of departures from neat formulaic patterns and harmonies (as indeed do the heavenly bodies). As she puts it: “There is noise as well as music coming from each of the images.”
To return to the geological analogy, she has allowed for folding and faulting, for volcanic activity, orogeny and shifting tectonic plates. Things are generally in a state of flux, patterns distorted and broken, clashing with and supplanted by others. Dynamism prevails. The expansive, east-facing wall of Green on Red is almost entirely glazed, with several bays of windows in a square-framed grid. Black has taken advantage of the setting to make a translucent installation, a variant of stained glass in a series of compositions, which runs along the glass grid. It’s a nice touch in a fine show.
“In art as in music what is essential is no longer in forms and matters, nor in themes, but in forces, densities, intensities.” Gilles Deleuze
Acrylic paint is both medium and motive in many of works. Loaded onto boards in thick impasto and sculptural in its three-dimensionality, the paint is pushed, bunched, stretched - its materiality made evident while the colours both flow serenely and clash vividly and noisily. There is noise as well as music coming from each of the images.
I call myself a painter sometimes when curious people enquire what do I do. Mostly I do very little and ask myself awkward questions in attempt to make ends meet and new adventures flow naturally. When I can afford good quality acrylic paint, I paint! I become interested and excited by the impact on the senses created by the visual stimuli of the experiments I put all that expensive paint through.
I have fun working with thick layers of multicolour paint. I build up animated surfaces, continually overlaying one decision with another in the search for balance – until a painting ‘works’. Although I generally have an initial idea what I want a painting to look like, it is not planned in advance and may go through many changes in its evolution. I try to remain open to the possibility of surprise; hoping chance will work in my favour.
On completion I love to let my eyes roam or gaze into them, as one would stare meditatively into a fire… extending the pauses between thoughts until even the thoughts themselves become wordless.
Musica Universalis (also known as Music or Harmony of the Spheres), is an ancient philosophical concept that regards the proportions of the movements of celestial bodies—the Sun, Moon, and planets—as a form of musica. Rather than this "music" being thought of as audible, in the literal sense, it is usually considered as a mathematical, harmonic or religious concept.
It is believed the idea of Musica Universalis originated in the time of the ancient Greeks. In a theory known as the Harmony of the Spheres, Pythagoras proposed that the Sun, Moon and planets all emit their own unique hum, based on their orbital revolution, and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the tenor of celestial sounds which are physically imperceptible to the human ear. This theory intrigued Johannes Kepler, who in 1619 published Harmonices Mundi, positing that musical intervals and harmonies described the motions of the six known planets of the time. He believed that these harmonies, “this music in the imitation of God”, while inaudible to the ear, could be heard by the soul, affording a very agreeable feeling of bliss to the listener. In Harmonices, Kepler laid out an argument for a creator who had made an explicit connection between geometry, astronomy, and music, and that the planets were arranged intelligently to this end.
Black is intrigued by the ideas of the Harmony of the Spheres; with interesting techniques she urges us to reconsider this almost forgotten idea, known to almost every medieval and renaissance thinker and artist from Leonardo Da Vinci, Issac Newton and Emmanuel Kant to J. S. Bach.
How do I define a work of art? It is not an asset in the stock-exchange sense, but a man’s timid attempt to repeat the miracle that the simplest peasant girl is capable of at any time, that is magically producing life out of nothing.
I consider myself responsible to the coming generations, which are left stranded in a blitzed world, unaware of the soul trembling in awe before the mystery of life.
W. S. Merwin
Once more the hills
are made of remembered darkness torn off
and the eye rises from its grave
upon its old
upon its ancient life
but at a wrong moment
once more the eye
reveals the empty river
feathers on all the paths
the despairing fields
the house in which every word
faces a wall
and once more it climbs
trying to cast again
the light in which that landscape
was a prospect of heaven
The vision has just passed out of sight
like the shadows sinking
into the waking stones
each shadow with a dream in its arms
each shadow with the same
dream in its arms
and the eye must burn again and again
through each of its lost moments
untill it sees
Natalia Black, Until It Sees, 2019
'....and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Yalta, no Oreanda here; so it sounds now, and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more. And in this constancy, in this complete indifference to the life and death of each of us, there lies hid, perhaps, a pledge of our eternal salvation, of the unceasing movement of life upon earth, of unceasing progress towards perfection. Sitting beside a young woman who in the dawn seemed so lovely, soothed and spellbound in these magical surroundings -- the sea, mountains, clouds, the open sky -- Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence.”'
Anton P. Chekhov
WIND AND TREE
by Paul Muldoon
In the way that most of the wind
Happens where there are trees,
Most of the world is centred
Often where the wind has gathered
The trees together,
One tree will take
Another in her arms and hold.
Their branches that are grinding
It is no real fire.
They are breaking each other.
Often I think I should be like
The single tree, going nowhere,
Since my own arm could not and would not
Break the other. Yet by my broken bones
I tell new weather.