Traces Christchurch Mansion 2004 Ipswich Curated by Rebecca Weaver

Patterning Attention by Professor Janis Jefferies

Stand in front or rather move across the surface long enough to give it some play and it starts to play with you. Try and grasp the pattern. 'It defies you. Try and hold it, finger its details and you are denied. Try to let it 'unfold itself' towards you, perhaps as a musical sequence, then as your eyes flirt and flit around the motifs, listen attentively to it's quiet rhythms. There is an eloquent, soft kind of melody at work here, composed in a funny little speed of brushstrokes that entice a lightness of step in the fingers and the eyes. Observe a field of imprints, traces and gastrula marks as you glance from one canvas to another or perhaps it is a skip. All appears to be remarkably underscored but subtly orchestrated in the coupling of colours that merge as if into a hazy sketch. There's dusty pink here that glides into a blue grey pink and then chases a yellowy pulse. An edge of gold slips over and under a hatched, grey toned slippery grid. Shimmering lines and silvery flicks of black, score and cluster into an optical impression as if it's a 'Monday or Tuesday.'1. 'Do not be deceived, something is jostling for attention, but there is no single area if importance to fix your gaze, nor a hierarchy or priority of where you should fix your attention. There's a plaid, corn like combination (but then it could be Canterbury bells, but they aren't they upside down?) that run the length of the horizontal but it won't be joined up but then at the bottom of the canvas the motifs congeal. There is no more space. 'I am falling down. 'It does not seem safe just now to linger. As a small child and as a young teenager 'I had an aversion to pattern; most likely it was the garish floral frocks of the 1950S or the large blue blooms of the wallpaper in my bedroom, either way pattern for me projected an anxiety if emotional chaos. This was not helped by reading the Yellow Wallpaper. The story confirmed my worst fears. Pattern making itself can be playful and either repetitive or repressive; pattern can make sense - but not meaning' 'It can tease, frighten and enlighten. I am not so sure about pleasure.

 

Stand in front or rather move across the surface long enough to give it some play and it starts to play with you. Try and grasp the pattern. 'It defies you. Try and hold it, finger its details and you are denied. Try to let it 'unfold itself' towards you, perhaps as a musical sequence, then as your eyes flirt and flit around the motifs, listen attentively to it's quiet rhythms. There is an eloquent, soft kind of melody at work here, composed in a funny little speed of brushstrokes that entice a lightness of step in the fingers and the eyes. Observe a field of imprints, traces and gastrula marks as you glance from one canvas to another or perhaps it is a skip. All appears to be remarkably underscored but subtly orchestrated in the coupling of colours that merge as if into a hazy sketch. There's dusty pink here that glides into a blue grey pink and then chases a yellowy pulse. An edge of gold slips over and under a hatched, grey toned slippery grid. Shimmering lines and silvery flicks of black, score and cluster into an optical impression as if it's a 'Monday or Tuesday.'1. 'Do not be deceived, something is jostling for attention, but there is no single area if importance to fix your gaze, nor a hierarchy or priority of where you should fix your attention. There's a plaid, corn like combination (but then it could be Canterbury bells, but they aren't they upside down?) that run the length of the horizontal but it won't be joined up but then at the bottom of the canvas the motifs congeal. There is no more space. 'I am falling down. 'It does not seem safe just now to linger. As a small child and as a young teenager 'I had an aversion to pattern; most likely it was the garish floral frocks of the 1950S or the large blue blooms of the wallpaper in my bedroom, either way pattern for me projected an anxiety if emotional chaos. This was not helped by reading the Yellow Wallpaper. The story confirmed my worst fears. Pattern making itself can be playful and either repetitive or repressive; pattern can make sense - but not meaning' 'It can tease, frighten and enlighten. I am not so sure about pleasure.

Nonetheless, the patterns that I have admired (and now revere) have been those that were the most restrained and restricted. Small repeats can blur the conflicts and emotional tensions between  metaphor and abstraction; in touching our earliest experiences a delightful sense of play can emerge, a strategy, which saves the viewer (or this viewer at least) from distress. They can still tease though. Pattern is held back from telling you entirely what to do and so too in Mullaniff' seemingly beguiling 'Interiors' the process of technical crafting gives the viewer just enough to linger in a flat space and narrow field of memory traces. The whole is restrained, anxiety is held at bay, and for just long enough for the imagination to feel at ease (well all most). Susanne Langer in 'Feeling and Form, suggests that all true works if art have an 'otherness' about them which disassociates them from the everyday world in which they exist. This "otherness" frees the art object from its worldly role to create an illusion or transparency of the object. Lancer refers to this "otherness' as "the lure of the object". "The lure of the object" gains significance when it assumes imaginary status. She applies these ideas to painting and the decorative arts and music, and notable to works of art that are not representational, for example a patterned textile or a sonata: The true power if the image lies in the fact that it is an abstraction, a bearer of an idea.

Somewhere in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 'Mullaniff comes across a tiny, densely worked 18th century wood block print on stitched cotton. 'It forms a pleasing textural pattern. The pattern is thought to be made up of Canterbury bells. The dye is madder, the blue is hand painted and they appear to bleed one into the other. Recalled and traced from memory, this where Interiors begin there journey, a kernel of an idea that will permit the painter to reflect upon her own interiority.

"I will only like it if it's pretty', she says, when making 'Interiors over an 8 year period. 1v 'Motion and rest, rhythmic unity combine to indulge perception but the decorative surfaces which I see now both impregnate and transform that which may, at first glance, seem merely pleasing to the eye. A fine line is trodden between excess and modesty. Which is it here? The surface is dispersed, the damp cloth is put down, the paintings conjure their own disappearance as light floods into the studio. 'I am left to remember what I might have seen. 'I hope I paid attention.

Janis Jefferies
Professor of Visual Arts, Goldsmiths College,London
December 2003

This essay is composed as homage of another kind of trace. It attempts to trace Virginia Wolf's 'Monday or Tuesday, a collection of eight deliberately fragmentary and experimental sketches in which a woman gazes at a mark on a wall (London: Hesperus Press, 2003).

i. 'i am gazing at interiors', three paintings by Kathleen Mullaniff (oil on canvas, 5'x 6', 1995-2003). Colour is given an expression in words.

ii. 'in the short story, the Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman it is interesting to note that an otherwise simple plot becomes increasingly complex due to the metaphorical significance of the wallpaper. The story describes a woman, her psychological difficulties, and her husbands so called therapeutic treatment of her ailments during the late 1880s.

iii. Susanne Langer, 'Feeing and 'Form, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953) p.60.

iv. 'Kathleen 'Mullaniff and Janis Jefferies in conversation, Chisenhale studios, London 'Friday 21st November 2003

Courtesy of the patternlab