Depicting Limits: Syntax, Abstraction and Space in Contemporary Painting

Parlour, Selma. 2013. Depicting Limits: Syntax, Abstraction and Space in Contemporary Painting. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The central claim of the thesis is that contemporary painting can be productively considered and made through a renewed investigation of syntax. Beginning with a detailed examination of Jonathan Lasker's work, I argue that a recomposed concept of syntax as a critical method distinguishes what I term 'syntactical painting' from modernist formalism and postmodern quotation. Looking to Rosalind Krauss' writing on Pablo Picasso, I discuss the mutability of the sign; and through Tomma Abts' use of shadow I rework Clement Greenberg's pejorative term 'homeless representation' into a positive avenue of enquiry. I then consider an alternative idea of syntax, identifiable in Daniel Buren, Robert Ryman and Wade Guyton, that works from outside of the frame. Here, I contend that using real space to critique painting fails to replace internalised invention, and that a continued resistance towards illusion has run its course. In the text, I rethink modernist assertions of objectness over imagery, along with Michael Fried's absorption/theatricality concepts, to propose Duccio's diagrammatic space and Frank Stella's reconciliation of flatness with the frame as models for painting whereby the viewer can clearly experience syntax. Such discussions reveal how certain meta-reflexive operations, which are otherwise largely neglected by critical discourse, can be reappraised via syntactical painting.

The thesis accompanies my painting practice, in which I use soft films of transparent oil to pictorialise the materiality of the prepared field. The paintings are meticulously rendered, and appear as though drawn or printed. I use bands of colour to bring a particular delicacy to the figuring of the frame, which is achieved through transparency and trompe l'oeil illusion. I often conceive of painting as a two-dimensional stage space that curtails fictive distance as it represents it, and as an abstract diagram for the re-presentation of photography's installation shot of painting and the gallery.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


Contemporary Art, Painting, Syntax, Abstraction, Space, Modernism, meta-painting, syntactical painting, Formalism, Postmodernism, Units, Transparency, Illusion, Homeless Representation, inside/outside of the Frame, Objectness, Pictorial, the Sign, Viewer Reciprocation, Context as Art, Absorption and Theatricality, Modernist Painting, the End of Painting, Frank Stella, Jonathan Lasker, Tomma Abts, Sigmar Polke, Robert Ryman, Wade Guyton, Daniel Buren, Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Donald Judd, Duccio, Thomas Struth, Meyer Schapiro, Hubert Damisch, Rosalind Krauss, Michael Fried, Clement Greenberg, Yve-Alain Bois

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Date Deposited:

04 Nov 2014 15:16

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 09:05


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