We asked artist Stuart Shils — a friend of, and contributor to the Finch — to help us frame questions for Alison Hall about unannounced, Ms. Hall’s 2017 exhibition (on view at TOTAH, through 17 Dec ’17).
Stuart’s notes, which he sent in audio, happily give us more about Ms. Hall’s paintings than any four or five questions we might ask. What’s here: excerpts from those notes, alongside images and detail shots of four of Ms. Hall’s paintings — Ancestral, Study II, Study III, and Maiden (all 2017). At bottom: Mr. Shils’s audio notes, edited for time. (Not to be missed.)
Share: highlight text
“I was intrigued by what feels like a very resonant space. It’s not painted space as we traditionally think of it. These have nothing in common with any kind of representation. I keep thinking of Agnes Martin as maybe the prime example of a painter who uses repetitive marks in very specifically controlled patterns, with very subtle changes, and very narrow or limited color schemes — or range of color — and very restrained evidence of the hand.Definitely a hand, but not anything related to the sense of movement — certainly not bravura, or anything like that.I find it increasingly rare to be held in the grip of an image the way I was held by these.
Alison Hall — Ancestral (Detail 1)
Alison Hall, Ancestral, 2017 (detail)
Alison Hall — Ancestral (Detail 2)
Alison Hall, Ancestral, 2017 (detail)
“They’re constructed over such a narrow range of structure and color, yet they hold us in a grip. And what is that grip and what is its source? There’s not a wide range of mood. The mood is very narrow. Yet it’s strong and it has a huge undertow, and it’s based on a certain quality of repetition and limitations. What I’m most curious about — after the questions of how these paintings are made — I’m curious about what they are and who she is and what are the issues related to spirit in these.
Alison Hall — Study II
Alison Hall — Study III
Top: Alison Hall, Study II, 2017, oil, graphite, plaster on panel. Bottom:Study II, 2017, oil, graphite, plaster on panel. Both 6.5 x 5.25 in.
“How they’re made is another story. They’re constructed through a sense of extreme precision and order. There’s no real evidence of hand, except sometimes, like with a thick blue line of paint that’s pulled across. But they’re not about hand. And there’s not that much variation that I’m carrying away any memory of. They’re really austere, but they’re rich … and abundant. And how she maintained control of these things is kind of fantastic. Even the small blue ones — they’re the result of some kind of deep, meditative quality. These paintings are mesmerizing and they defy analysis … They seem just kind of ‘blown on’, effortlessly, laid down with a breath.
Within the rigorousness of her approach Hall keeps finding ways to be improvisational, which is what keeps the paintings alive and the viewer alert. There is a ceremonial aspect to the way Hall makes these works, from the sanding of the plaster to the painting of the surface, to the drawing of the dots, to whatever she does next.
For the past year and a half I’ve been stealing patterns out of the work of Giotto. It makes a lot of sense that I would be in love with pattern. Generations of my family worked in factories and farms where pattern, repetition and ritual are at the core of these activities.
Read: Alison Hall: On Patterns, An Essay on Andrew Forge and Ruth Miller Forge. @Tilted-Arc.com; 24 May 2014. (Retrieved 7 Dec 2017.)
Elsewhere on the Finch
How can one, with any seriousness or sense of commitment, create a painting and take it through its life, and it doesn’t involve a loss as you develop it?
[O]ne could identify as … a kind of physiognomy coming straight back at you from the canvas — could perhaps make you aware, more clearly, with your own physical presence in front of the painting. And then behind that, a much more complex and complicated and asymmetrical world of the dots.