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Triangles are your friend

Gemma Smith’s Overshoot (Purple/Brown) 2013 and Helen Eager’s VIF 2010 in Forcefields

In 2007, the New York painter Rebecca Morris published a memorable manifesto for abstract painters. A spirited and funny call to arms, it included such lines as ‘Whip out the masterpieces’, ‘When in doubt, spray paint it gold’, ‘If you can’t stop, don’t stop’, ‘Don’t shoot blanks’, ‘Never stop looking at macramé, ceramics, supergraphics and Suprematism’ and ‘Triangles are your friend’.

That last line has come to mind often in the past couple of weeks, as I’ve walked through our entrance court past Helen Eager’s painting VIF, part of the exhibition Forcefields. With its crisp red triangles afloat on a clean white ground, Eager’s is a painting that might strike some people as being too triangular, too geometrical, for its own good.

Helen Eager VIF 2010

Triangles, after all, are associated in the popular imagination with abstract painting at its sternest – the kind of art so eager to be modern that it shuts out the look of life. When the Russian trickster artists Komar and Melamid ran a poll in 1994 to determine the look of America’s ‘most wanted’ and ‘most unwanted’ paintings, the ‘most unwanted’ was a rectangle filled with insipid, modern-arty triangles.

Stay with Eager’s triangles, however, and watch how they start to move. You’ll know the effect if you happened to see Eager’s big mural Tango at the MCA in 2012, which sent a crowd of orange equilaterals cartwheeling down the big wall alongside the stairs.

A related energy, though gentler and slower, animates VIF. There are 16 equilateral triangles here, which could be pieced together to make four larger ones, and those four could in turn be pieced together to make one even larger triangle. But no matter how they’re arranged, the shapes will never lock neatly into the right-angled geometry of the rectangle.

It’s as though Eager’s triangles are puzzle pieces scattered in the lid of a box that they don’t quite fit. And as they fold outward from each other – corner hinged to corner, sometimes floating free – there’s a lifelike sense of something rigid slowly opening up.

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March 21 2014, 12pm
by Justin Paton
Head curator of international art