I always considered myself a minor writer. My province is small, and I try to explore it very, very thoroughly.

Leonard Cohen

The Province of the Small.

Jan Albers purplEbikEbEndEr started out as an M. Folded, compacted and contorted it now fits neatly into its small grape coloured container. Sitting proudly on the wall it has become “XS”.
Its original form was driven by inventive pragmatism – a clear and ingenious design whose architecture has changed much less than 200 years of history would suggest. In its new guise the frame resembles a carefully arranged reliquary of bones. American John Chamberlain is famous for his compacted Buick’s and Chevrolet’s. His sculptures have an unexpected delicacy about them despite the fact they remain large, heavy and still oddly recognisable objects. Alber’s vehicle started out smaller by comparison but its transformation to obsolescence might signal something larger and even more poignant than Chamberlain.
Elisabeth Vary’s Untitled, with its crystalline-like structure feels as if it has been subjected to some kind of geological pressure. The faceted form appears to have squeezed through the wall like a little chromatic iceberg. Vary’s works jut out from the wall in a semi-compliant manner. Seldom, if ever are they perpendicular and every side of these mutli-sided objects is painted and relevant. Their greediness for space makes it clear that size and scale are not measured by the same yardstick.
Erin Lawlor’s brushes are big. Their width allows her to carry multiple pigments on a looping, turbulent trajectory that is very much calibrated to the reach of her gesture. Recent paintings have approached 4 metres in length and 2 metres high. These are genuinely large paintings by any measurement, however Lawlor also regularly paints XS. But rather than adjust the brush she continues to use the L option so that inevitably only a portion of the movement is captured within the diminished window of the small canvas. Interestingly these works are not “reduced” Lawlor’s. Installed alongside their larger cohorts these paintings are like satellites that have spun out of the larger works gravitational field but exist happily on their own.
Aida Tomescu ‘s gesture is always big. It’s bigness though is unrelated to its length or its flamboyance because in many ways she avoids both. Rather it is the potency of Tomescu’s approach to material and gesture that is “big”. Like Lawlor, Tomescu has made large works in recent times but she regularly makes potent small paintings. These works titled In a Carpet Made of Water IV & V, carry all of the information, the inquiry and the endeavour that the large works do. This capacity to deliver the range of attributes that one associates with Tomescu’s powerful practice on a linen stretcher measured in centimetres not metres is always surprising.
Jane Bustin’s work is not always small but it is relentlessly intimate. Her London studio feels more like a private scientific lab where materials and ideas are tested and arrangements made. Bustin’s work is deeply connected to writing, poetry in particular and it occurs to me that many, perhaps most of Bustin’s elements are not much larger than a page of a book. Though they might come together to form larger constellations they are ultimately modest in scale and delicate in tone. Her work Arrangement, is a response to Jan Vermeer’s, View of Delft itself a small and delicate painting…but then all Vermeer’s paintings were.
Up to this point Matthew Allen’s paintings have been made in a single concentrated sitting. The small size allows him to work closely with his fine granular material, coaxing and finessing it until it transforms into new matter. Though a recent visit to his studio in Amsterdam revealed that he was working on considerably larger panels, I suspect that he will return again to the XS size because like Bustin, intimacy is key to his work and there is something about the energetic exchange that takes place between his contained gesture, the material and the existential reciprocity he seeks from making that is best explored XS.
Of any artist in this exhibition Imi Knoebel makes the largest paintings by far. Knoebel’s works are epic in ambition and scale. Works such as 24 Colours (for Blinky), at DIA Beacon, or his Ghent Raum, 1980, show Knoebel working on a scale that few artists approach. Of any artist in this exhibition Imi Knoebel makes the smallest paintings. The Tafel paintings in XS are amongst his smallest. Tiny monochromes are propped in carefully crafted supports. Measuring only a few centimetres these petite pieces one would surely think are insufficient. They are not. They extend the multiple traditions of the miniature…both Western and Byzantine – Indian, Persian, Murghal… cultures who recognised that the large and the great are always achieved from an accumulation of the small.
Andrew Jensen, November 2018