The historical passage from modernist painting to minimalism or from the specific to the generic, has been a well understood, if highly contested historical development, since Thierry de Duve’s groundbreaking account, The Monochrome and the Blank Canvas was published over two decades ago.  The reverberations of the generic field of art that opened up after the reduction of specific media ran its course in the late 1960’s, are still being felt today. 

The conclusions of Lucy Lippard and others, that art had reduced to the point of dematerialisation in the wake of minimalist practices in North America, saw the field of conceptualism consolidate the claims of ideas-driven art at the expense of visual and material and ontological exploration of the two-dimensional plane of the canvas support and its associated pigment.  For her part, Rosalind Krauss understood this milieu in terms of a ‘post-medium’ condition: here the medium is splintered into a cacophony of inter-media works that attempt to avoid the specific mediums favoured by modernism through conceptualism and the use of photography. 

The ‘death’ of formalist autonomy and medium specificity launched the careers of countless artists through a resort to a highly self-conscious form of art practice that, according to Benjamin Buchloh and Hal Foster, elaborated the terms of the historical avant-garde through various forms of institutional critique that were immanent to the institution rather than an attempt to subvert it from an outside.  

Where painting as a medium survived the conceptualism and impact of photography on art, it lost both its auratic element, and its hope for a future based in the tradition associated with its medium. The endgame of postmodern abstraction mourned the loss of specificity in a reflexive attitude toward the medium that made any other way of addressing the history of modernist painting read as either nostalgic, naive or reactionary. It seems that one could only be a painter if one were a conceptualist or employ ironic or parody or appropriation or repetition, or some strategy to avoid the pitfalls associated with painting as a specific and privileged medium.

Gerhard Richter understood perhaps better than most, that the loss of painting’s privileged place in art history through the imposition of new media – especially the camera – entailed an immanent critique of the medium rather than its avoidance through employing any of the above strategies, or the adoption of the various means of avoiding the medium: conceptual art, performance art, installation art, intermedia, multimedia, new media etc.

While it is true that the camera was vital to Richter’s practice as a painter, he did not embrace it to the exclusion of painting as medium.  Rather he worked through the “end” immanently, rather than through one of the various external forms of critique engendered by photography.  No doubt this had something to do with his German origin – having not come from the United States where the spectre of Clement Greenberg haunted the institution. 

In any case, Richter’s model of painting potentially offers a lesson for painting today in a “post-medium” milieu.  The artists brought together for More: Recent Additions to Reductive Art, in numerous ways, explore the continuing potential for the medium of painting beyond dematerialisation and self-conscious conceptualism, but equally, without a nostalgic desire for modernist purity, originality and formal beauty.

More brings together seven artists with a shared interest in exploring the conceptual, material, and historical boundaries that define and delimit the notion of abstraction.  The artists refuse irony, politics, and conceptual commentary, in favour of an earnest investigation into the possibility of adding to the history of the discipline in a post reductive art world.

PJ Hickman's diptych Painting Black and White Square Paintings quote unquote 2010 is straightforward, matter of fact, ordered, rational and systematic.  This appropriation of Minimalism’s ‘radical reduction’ is combined with the historical attributes of the so called ‘zero degree’ of painting – the grid and the monochrome.  ‘Black and white square paintings’ occupy their own unique and select niche in reductive art, particularly the paintings of Kasimir Malevich (Suprematist Composition: White on White, 1918) and Ad Reinhardt (Black Paintings, 1960 – 67).

Hickman has meticulously applied the paint with the same brush in horizontal and vertical bands in an apparently impersonal technique.  However, like both Malevich’s and Reinhardt’s austere paintings, the trace of the artist's hand is visible as subtle variations in the texture of the paint that barely emerges from its background of an embossed grid of nine hundred squares.  The paintings function as both formal abstract and text(less) painting.  The rigorous economy, simplicity and disciplined approach are intended to give the paintings a silent, almost contemplative presence and integrity.

David Akenson

David Akenson is an artist, curator and currently lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland