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Colin Crumplin, Garage, 4-27 September 1975.  









Reviewed by Catherine Lampert
Studio International  December 1975


Colin Crumplin's one-man exhibition at Garage was chosen from three groups of his work, the earliest series begun in 1969. This set of reliefs, the White Pieces, some of which were shown in 'Basically White' at the ICA, established the mechanics of his investigation which centered on using chance to determine the final image. In the first case a given number of grains of rice were sprinkled on white surfaces in order to decide the position of small drilled holes. The procedure explored repetition, with both random and geometric sequences occurring within a single area. The Card Pieces, begun in December 1974, repeated the idea of dropping objects onto a neutral surface. However after the cards were dropped and traced according to a predetermined programme, the resulting diagrams served as models for three-dimensional constructions. These constructions, consisting of a conglomeration of glued wooden rectangles which overlapped in a physical sense, were hung directly onto the walls. Looking critically over these series at what was achieved by working according to such a fixed procedure (theory, drawing, object) it seems that the main benefit is the effect on the viewer. He is more likely to be stimulated into unraveling the incidents leading to the final piece and thereby specifically consider the thought process of the artist.

In the third group of works, an extended sequence of drawings entitled Hommage a Queneau, Crumplin again developed the variations of a constant subject. Here the individual examples, pencil sketches of a cup, embodied different artistic styles presumably chosen entirely by human will. Contrary to the two previous series the set of possible permutations was in fact a large but finite group, namely all the recognizable, historic styles identifiable by the average viewer which the artist had the desire to depict. In a useful handout which Crumplin wrote for the exhibition he explicitly acknowledged a) the inspiration for the series; b) the event which led to his choice of subject matter. The idea was adopted from Raymond Queneau's book Exercises in Style in which the author explores the variety of meanings/characters a single story takes on when told from different viewpoints and in various ways technically. The impetus to work came to Crumplin when he was drinking coffee, hence the choice of an ordinary cup as the subject matter.

Specifically each drawing possessed at least one of two sorts of information, either a factual statement about the anatomy and sociology of the coffee cup and/or an imitation of the style of a recognised draughtsman or school. Both sorts of information could be eventually linked to the known source. From the beginning the viewer would know he was looking for the cup in each of the 12 in squares, and secondly he would soon begin looking for the twist. In fact most of the anonymous styles came either from Basic Design, for instance the radial cross-section of a cup, or else from advertising. In the incidents where it was the style as such that was the motivation for the work, for example the imitations of Seurat and Patrick Caulfield, Crumplin had a way of exaggerating their gestures so that the viewer was ultimately conscious of the gulf between all fakes and all originals.

In the cases where the viewpoint represented contained a sociological bias the selection of locations was also narrowed by the artist's personal inclinations. Crumplin habitually settled on an uncluttered situation compatible with an emphatic separation of background and subject. There even emerged a characteristic dry wit with which the fashions of art school teachings were intermixed with sketches mimicking the standards of commercial art. For instance the series contained both the hackneyed exercise of a continuous line drawing and an imitation of a Royal Douiton brochure.

Even in this rather complex series the strength of Crumplin's work remained its ability to give intriguing clues about his procedures and thinking which very naturally led the viewer to speculate on the artist's aims and subjectivity. The notion that it is an asset to a good work of art to be at the same time didactic, has not always been popular nor understood. In the small exhibition Michael Compton chose for the Arts Council, Art as Thought Process, the aesthetic level of the art demonstrated that problem-solving and an ordered procedure were integral to the final statement. In the catalogue introduction he pointed out that the exhibits shared what amounted almost to a self-deprecating attitude; they used a shield of anonymity which was manifested either in the use of ideas of apparent banality, or of images associated with the style of another artist. In some cases this facade was preserved only to underline a simple subtlety, which would inevitably emerge when to the spectator became aware of the direct connection between the idea for the work of art and the actual physical shape and character of the object. Up until now Crumplin has worked with methods already associated with an older generation, in particular Kenneth Martin and the Systems group, and an assessment of his work is bound to suffer from their, precedent. While his work is in no way a slick imitation of these styles the Card Pieces have an uncanny resemblance to Kenneth Martin's series Chance and Order, mainly because of the clustering of short lines in organic matrices. For both artists the final product has mysterious and iconographic qualities not  suggested in the preliminary drawings. In Crumplin's piece  ‘III, 72.7' the separate stratas, those groups of sticks which had been dropped during a particular interval, were identified by a uniform colour, black/grey/brown. In addition a pair of each of the figures resulting from dropping the rectangles within a given area were reproduced in isolation and displayed to the right of the main configuration. From a distance the visual importance of the various depths as a measure of work-time was reduced, allowing the starkness of the quirky silhouette to take priority over the theoretical side of the piece. Indeed, some of the configurations resembled real objects: in ‘///’ an anchor shape stood out by itself. It is obvious both Kenneth Martin and Colin Crumplin take extreme care in making adjustments to their formulae and in the selection of which works are brought to a finished state from among the haphazard raw ingredients produced from the system. Their work triumphs visually because of this.