Noel Ivanoff

Open Time

16 March - 21 April 2018

‘Open time’ is also synonymous with the phrase ‘wet-edge time.’ Both expressions refer to a period while paint-film remains malleable, pliable and has not hardened. The use of Open Time as a title is astute for several reasons, one of which is certainly the way it speaks directly to Noel Ivanoff’s concerns with the matter of paint as a medium, and its material conditions.

As a viscous substance that suspends motion it is marked by repeated physical movement but also, more abstractly, by a sense of time where processes cannot be seen: in the place where each work constitutes itself as a thing. To contemplate this part of its ‘thingness,’ which falls outside our usual grasp of the object is to consider impressions of temperature, air movement, humidity, light, levels of liquidity which are also impacted by bodily, emotional, intellectual moments. Small moments stretched inside a parcel of time that wraps all the constituents of matter together. This marked moment of time is not some macho expression: the work is too slight for that. And although it has a muscularity, the work leaves time and space for matter.

Another implication of the Exhibition title is its inference of industry as it is a temporal but technical term used mostly by the paint manufacturing or coating industry. As a technological phrase, it migrates to the labels of some fine art pigments, but in Ivanoff’s emphasis, we might read a subtle deflection from the more lofty ideals in artistic preoccupations to the pragmatic sphere of the trades and the manufacture of the right products for the job-at-hand. Ivanoff would slip off his studio smock for some tradesman’s overalls, or perhaps a factory coat, and assume an attitude of attending to task.

Part of understanding this work of Slider paintings and Monoprint work is to see how Ivanoff executes and repeats his trials at turns like a laboratory technician and at others like a builder and painter-decorator. There is a direct, matter-of-factness to the objects, their build as well as systematically painted quality. It is an attitude of labour like that of a blue-collar worker.[i] Yet his academic training and interest in traditional pigments, oils, waxes, and solvents, affirms his investment in the project of fine arts.

In a 2003 exhibition catalogue displaying an earlier array of monoprint painting, Ivanoff reveals how his treatment of colour has a tradesman’s touch. He explains, “This series of works explores colour within a field of interior design. The paintings refer to swatches, charts and samples of colour we use in order to make a decision about the colour a room will be painted.”[ii]

Pragmatic references to painting as an occupation of industry might remind us of Duchamp’s myth crumbling motives for incorporating colour swatches into his Tu m’ of 1918. These swatches, as poet Susan Barbour explains, operate as reposts to the rarefied monochromes and dynamic shapes being pioneered by Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematism. In contrast to his romancing of shape and colour as the pinnacle of purity,

Duchamp insisted that oil paints were not irreducible essences; they were products ground by paint-grinders, mixed by chemists, and packed by assembly lines into aluminium tubes. To cover a canvas with a layer of a single colour was not to create a transcendent expression of its essence; it was merely to engage in another kind of illusionism, one that made the materials of painting and the bodies of paint-grinders disappear.[iii]

Ivanoff certainly makes use of colour as a readymade commodity, and even highlights its role as a product for design. More vitally, he also wants us to see this material, the stuff of it, and not mistake it as some quest for essential or transcendent principles, nor more mundanely as merely some retail decoration. To do either would be to dismiss what is there.

The readymade was a disaffected Duchamp’s dark gift to art, countering the painting of spatial illusions with the demand for real space. Real, however, is an adjective that finds its way into the language of two post-Duchampian painters that would seem decisive to the project Ivanoff sets himself. One is Robert Ryman who preferred to name his work as ‘realist’ over the usual designations of abstraction, since its manner of reference was to the way it occupied actual space and the viewer’s phenomenal experience of that. The other is the young Frank Stella. A quote used as a vignette heads a page dedicated to him at The Art Story online.

I like real art. It’s difficult to define REAL but it is the best word for describing what I like to get out of art and what the best art has. It has the ability to convince you that it’s present – that it’s there.

Stella’s famously physical preoccupations with “What you see is what you see”[iv] extends, however, to much more than what we might understand as the bare facts of material composing art objects. Chief curator of The Modern, Michael Auping, points to this clearly in the title of his essay The Phenomenology of Frank / “Materiality and Gesture Make Space.”[v] That entitled quote is Stella’s, and Auping explains how the material bluntness of Stella’s early paintings, which nevertheless asserted a compelling sensuality, “pushed abstract painting into a new era of materialism.”[vi] It was a materialism that seems now a pronounced territory for Ivanoff’s work in the way Stella sought to collapse divisions between what Michael Fried famously designated as literal and pictorial space.[vii] Auping clarifies that “in other words, the traditional, rectangular, window-like shape of painting creates a unique reality, separate from the literal space of a room, Fried’s assertion is that to maintain its integrity, painting needed to keep this separate reality. Stella would argue for both realities being present.”[viii]

Ivanoff achieves this same kind of compound work where its material facts merge with its facture to create perceptual space. This is an experience of space that hovers between the material and its manner of making to conjure pictures, like opening a window into a distinct expanse. An example of this can be seen in the layered quality of the Monoprint work. Saturation in hue has been altered between coats, opening latent spaces in the colour. Vertical lines that have been pressed into the surface through sheets of paper have also removed part of the paint film leaving linear courses that seem to vibrate like chords plucked on a harp. Space seems then to reverberate. An apparent grid ghosts over the surfaces, because it is not formed directly. It is built up impurely through a layer of horizontal brushing and then tracked vertically with a blunt, whittled switch over the top covering. A wooden apparatus, like a slide-rule, steadies the hand so the gesture’s propensity to hyperbolic extravagance has been filtered out, affecting a minimal posture. The double layers of colour and mark however, open an interstice of space between them. The Slider paintings achieve the same ghosting space, an interval pressed between metal sheen, refracting light and slick of cloudy oil. We experience this space; it is physical, but it also opens mirages in the mind.

Glen Snow 2018


[i] Michael Auping (see below) uses this expression for artist Frank Stella, and although they are of different generations, Ivanoff and Stella share similar types of aptitudes toward building and renovation, whether it be Houses or boats, which seem to be brought to bear on the making of art.

[ii] Noel Ivanoff, Dressed Four Sides, (Auckland: Vavasour-Godkin Gallery, 2003)

[iii] Susan Barbour, “Duchamp’s Long Shadow: The Secret Meaning of Tu m’,Los Angeles Review of Books (2017):!

[iv] Frank Stella, “Questions to Stella and Judd: Interview by Bruce Glaser, edited by Lucy R. Lippard” in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1968), 148.

[v] Michael Auping, “The Phenomenology of Frank: “Materiality and Gesture Make Space” in Frank Stella a Retrospective, ed. Michael Auping (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2015).

[vi] Michael Auping, “The Phenomenology of Frank,” 18.

[vii] Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” Artforum 5, no. 10 (June 1967).

[viii] Michael Auping, “The Phenomenology of Frank,” 21.