The arbitrariness of abstract form is a permanent condition, and artists can be judged as to how they work with that fact. For myself, I’m on the side of invention, which means I like the way that forms can come out of nothing, and much less interested in staging and packaging arbitrariness as design, à la Richter. It has something to do with belief, or faith maybe, but since arbitrariness is the condition, faith without hope. Or is it hope without faith? Whatever. Patrick Howlett‘s recent show in London Ontario has enough diversity that it seems to take the same position. I was attracted to works like this one,
which makes me ask – why these colors? why do the shapes touch the edge just where they do? why do they lie at this angle rather than another? why are their edges a little ragged and not exactly ruled? I don’t want answers to these utterly banal questions, reminiscent of a so-called “crit,” just to contemplate the way things are. Conscious arbitrariness is a very different thing from either randomness or lack of control. Patrick and I were talking about Anselm Reyle, and he confirmed my own reaction, mentioned earlier. The amazing thing is how precise a feeling can be produced by abstract art, despite its constituting arbitrariness. For example, other works in Patrick’s show evidently offer a conundrum – we can tell there is some system there, even if we don’t recognize what it is, and that is a recognizable difference from the usual art that just asks to be judged aesthetically.