This card has been on the shelf above my desk for weeks and it’s only recently that I’ve looked at it rather than just seeing it. It’s announcing an exhibition at Paul Stolper in London of works by Gavin Turk, now finished -- I missed it, sadly, because of my holiday. I like that gallery because the work is interesting, Paul’s always happy to chat and it’s in a great location, Museum Street, just south of the British Museum and next door to Abbot & Holder, a wonderful three-storey picture shop.
The effect of this posting will be much diminished by the failure of my scanner + screen to reproduce original colours, and then by being viewed on your display which may well be quite different. In particular there’s a strong pop-artish effect that might be lost between the green and red.
The instructions for enjoying this picture (is ‘picture’ the right word?) must include, first, focus on the negative spaces: try seeing them as positive and the letter shapes as negative. The blue shapes are far more insistent than the green; and the shape that holds its own and is most salient as an entity in its own right is the long vertical blue form to the left of centre. In fact, apart from the letters, that’s the only interesting shape; the others are smaller and less articulated.
If we didn’t recognise the red elements as letters, would we see them as four separate forms or as one highly articulated one? I think, as at least three – R and K might be seen as one.
I love the way the three arrows, two green and one blue, insert themselves into that rectangle to generate a K.
Blue makes the running in the bottom half but makes only one appearance in the top.
Interesting how the holes or open spaces within the R are occupied by one blue and one green, the blue appearing as perhaps a part of the same thing as the big long blue form, emerging into view again from behind the red. The blue that comes into the K from the right edge, however, seems out on its own.
The green shapes are really rather simple.
There’s a very strong horizontal division into two equal halves but no vertical equivalent.
Then, how about the drama of the U? It’s tipped over – that’s how we see it; its axis is SE/NW rather than N/S, and its two outer tips protrude beyond the frame. More disturbingly, by tipping it introduces irregularity: whereas every other edge or line in the picture could have been produced with compasses and ruler (circles and straight lines), the edge of the blue where it meets the U could not -- the bottom of the U isn’t formed, like the curve of the D inside the R, by joining two part circles with a straight line but by a more complex curve.
It’s intriguing, economical, ingenious and very satisfying to look at.
Art goes a long way simply by the complexity of its internal relations: simple regularities that get complexified, or irregular forms in which regularity is discerned.
But here there’s also the oscillation between seeing letters and seeing forms, and the exoticness of the word, not only in its reference to something very foreign and charged but also because the word is unusual: does any other English word end in –urk? (‘Perk’ rhymes with it; so does ‘work’ – but not ‘stork’…)