Lindy Fyfe: The Gratification of Form
by David Aurandt
Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.
A tendency toward the abstract is inherent in linear expression:
graphic imagery being confined to outlines has a fairy-like quality
and at the same time can achieve great precision.
The purer graphic work -- that is, the more formal elements
underlying linear expression are emphasized --
the less adequate it is for the realistic representation of visible things.
Lindy Fyfe is an artist whose work fits within certain dynamic strategies that connect contemporary drawing and painting to postmodernism as well as to certain traditions of modernism. Just as with other artists now, Fyfe is rooted in particular ideas and practices of the non-objective that she has taken up, made her own, and then forgets as she practices. She advances her expression without self-conscious reflection or deliberate incorporation of the past in her work. Her work is, regardless of influences, proceeding from a finely concentrated intuitive picture-plane development that is instinctively composed of lines, colours and shapes articulated by means of a personal language for a complex interior process. The drawings, paintings, and constructed fabric pieces all manage distinctive captures of experience freed from quotidian demands of making sense in a logical, discursive way. Thus, they are unburdened from the normal requirements of making sense. In its making and in its effect Fyfe's work resembles poetry, not prose; it enables one to seize thought and feeling and hold them still for reflection. We are engaged in this work without being prompted to find analogues for our experience or rushed into questions of meaning. Here there is another new sense of Wassily Kandinsky’s familiar concept that paintings should not be required to be about anything outside of themselves.
Now, having implied that Fyfe's work is not theory-driven, nor pursued under influence of other artists or the past, I believe she nevertheless finds herself in the rich company of certain modern and postmodern practices that should be referred to without making comparisons odious. In my selective observations, I will look at modernism and postmodernism as appropriate, but not necessarily in chronological order.
In Fyfe's "serged works" the initial experience leads the viewer to a shocking revelation: these are not paintings! So, one thinks next, what am I looking at; what am I feeling? Am I surprised and delighted or disappointed? For me, the optically powerful arrangements of line, shape and colour recalled, for a moment, an exhibition I’d seen at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965: The Responsive Eye. It included work by M.C. Escher, Viktor Vaserely, and Bridget Riley, and it marked the art world's sanction of an approach to non-representational expression called "Op Art". But in the next moment with Fyfe's work, I sensed it had nothing to do with Riley and the others or their "influence". It is, rather, a natural outcome of what Fyfe describes as her process-oriented practice, emphasizing "…an intuitive investigation of colour, materials and movement. Improvisation is also an important element, not quite knowing where I'm headed." In the evolution from drawing to painting to these serged works, I saw that the key dynamic movement was driven by intuition and dependent on openness to invention with materials that came to hand by accident. She gave herself permission to re-invent new materials, re-purposing fabrics for wearing into novel expressions informed by her earlier drawings and paintings but also extending opportunities for expression.
Fyfe's work is simply not theory-based nor formally interested in the history of modern art and the eventual critique by postmodernism. I find it fascinating that the brilliantly compacted energies of her "paintings in serged fabric" could be, might just be, co-opted by both modernist and postmodernist theoretical claims. One could, for example, see them either as an ironical treatment (Po mo hip) of Duchamp’s readymades and his stated hatred for "retinal art" or homage. It is astonishing that this work can lack that intentionality and yet exist quite nicely in either or both theoretical camps at once.And it is to Fyfe's credit that her work derives purely from within an inner necessity that is not entangled with theory nor with how it might belong or not to the contemporary art and art critical world. It has, therefore, an unsullied strength as it is, for what it is.
In the serged fabric works I have referred to, which Fyfe calls Interweave, and in a wall installation of smaller fabric works and paintings, titled Impulsion, we feel the essential confidence Fyfe has in her strategies of intuition, improvisation, and invention, i.e. discovering her way as she makes her way. The combinations, permutations, and probabilities must be a large part of the pleasure she has in these excursions that end in delight with what can be experienced in the basic formal elements of visual art-making without a calculated subject. There are occasional suggestions of subject matter, perhaps landscape or figure, but these do not persist because the focus is not on achieving analogues of the visible but on vision and on the content of the imagination, not the outside world. Line, shape, and colour are formed to serve themselves not something other. Though she did not have him in mind, I think of modernist artist Ben Shahn and the book he wrote after several years teaching at Harvard: "Form", he says without prejudice as to objective or non-objective, "is the visible shape of content."
The Interweave series of assembled knitted fabric over painting stretchers is, at the moment, a culmination of Lindy Fyfe's process. She is, of course, not finished. The earlier drawings and paintings led to Impulsion and Interweave in a naturally imaginative search for new phrases in a developing visual vocabulary. As it brought her to the unanticipated encounter with knitted material, so it has also brought her back to painting. And the expedition is not complete, but something of where it started can be seen in her drawings and paintings.
Fyfe's drawings have a clear characteristic of experiment.The open areas between painted marks, lines, shapes of colour, and occasional words carry the sense of exploration and trial. Among other qualities, these works seem courageous because the searching does not at all times find what it seeks, does not always result in satisfactory resolution. The viewer's experience in these drawings is like that of reading the text of an intriguing language but not one entirely familiar, one that remains partly obscure. This sense seems right because we are let into the artist's imagination, a place roiling with possibilities not all of which are expressible. Thus the open areas are as eloquent as those with marks, and this makes the entirety of those works all the more attractive because we are engaged with the essential seeking without necessarily arriving at fully realized meaning. It is perhaps why the artist has indicated some of these drawings belong to a series she titled Disorder.
The paintings, larger and smaller, follow from the drawings in the ways of composition by inventing spaces through building colour, shape and line, but they seem to have something more specific in mind than the drawings have. The paintings partially refer to something outside of themselves that may be recognizable from nature, not nature as it is to the eye but as it might be discovered in dream or imagination. Fyfe appears to have intended these identifications or at least to have recognized them; the titles she has given points in that direction: submersion, waterworlds, magmaworlds. Yet I feel she is most enthusiastically intent on working freely, without preconception, within the pleasure of pure exploration of formal elements and materials, and this strategy resolves to compositions in the end more suggestive of nature, but only suggestive.
Calligraphy has been practiced professionally by Lindy Fyfe. The word derives from Greek: καλλοσ (beauty) and γραφειν (to draw lines, to paint, sketch, draw, to write). And I think this skill is significant for her work for several reasons. Because of calligraphy she is accomplished at mark making in ways that are abstract but potentially meaningful if the assemblage of marks is composed for a language that has been devised to signify feelings, thoughts, ideas. But the marks on their own may be made and elaborated for reasons of pure form and do not work in any conventional way toward communication. In modern and postmodern literature and art, a considerable amount of time and energy has been spent on such things as language, how meaning is derived and works, what truth is and whether it is possible to arrive at it. Much of this seems like disappointment with the failures of analogy. Perhaps, but from artists like Franz Kline who surprisingly denied his apparent interest in calligraphy as an expressive abstraction technique to Dennis Burton who studied Chinese and Japanese calligraphy in order to advance his expressive potential in non-objective form, calligraphy has provided insight and strategic incentive to artists. Modern and postmodern artistic incursions into the relations of visual and verbal techniques have at times found some successes that seem due to calligraphy, among other practices.
But where calligraphy is most relevant is in the practiced capacity for expression by making marks and lines, and that is an advantage energetically demonstrated in all of Lindy Fyfe's work Among the essential elements of form in her drawings, paintings and fabric works, line is the driving force, appearing to compel shape and colour and informing her about where she is going. She is informed by the work, the true path for improvisation and dedication to process. The results might be seen as both modern and postmodern; they belong to these larger contexts, but their virtue is that they are unique to her expressive momentum and that is all they are required to be.
©David Aurandt. Reproduced with the permission of the author and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa.