Tomma Abts at Greengrassi

Tomma Abts won the Turner Prize ten years ago in what was arguably a controversial choice for its very traditionalism. Abts is an oil painter - and with the prize being awarded to all manner of left field artists and practitioners, the idea that a process-lead, diligent and committed painter should be awarded such a high profile prize was to some a bit of a shock. To others of course it was entirely justified. This latest collection of ten paintings, all near identical in size (48 x 38cm), along with two larger drawings, are presented in Greengrassi's warehouse space re-confirming her position as a singular talent. 

Untitled #3, 2014 (detail)

Untitled #3, 2014 (detail)

The show starts with the drawings; an entirely different proposition to the works she is more renowned for. The paintings are about the process of painting itself. Starting without any guidance notes or preliminary sketches, Abts forms patterns, linear repetitions, implied shadows and hints of three dimensions, adding and subtracting colour and form over and over again. It is a process that means, using oils and sometimes acrylics, that despite their modest size, some paintings are unfinished for years. From a dealers' point of view, the relative scarcity of her work means gallerists are often more concerned into which homes or collections her paintings go. 

But the drawings are different. The drawings are immediate. There are no rubbings out, no recalibrating the internal logic of the patterns - instead the line drawings are made with a careful, cautious hand and thrown out and restarted should any error occur. The paintings are about working through those errors, taking imperfections and going with the flow, allowing the images to lead the artist elsewhere - and yet working in pencil, the formation of the image is absolute. 

Little has changed in the last ten years in the production of these pieces. The trail and error of the painting, the size of the canvas, the hues and tones used to colour the works are largely what they were back in 2006. Some quirks or extensions include the introduction of metals and the removal of the occasional corner. Menso, 2016 (above right), is a canvas without its upper right third - the missing space entirely replaced by a bronze triangle. It is seamless but they are separate entities. Lüko, 2015 which is used as the cover image of this review is equally edited but with no metal appendage. Dako, 2016 is entirely cast metal, the aluminium an exact size replica to the other paintings. Oeje, 2016 below is missing a corner of its own, rounded by the stretcher beneath. 

Oeje, 2016

Oeje, 2016

There is a playfulness with Abts work. It is detailed and faultless but it is very human and fun - these are doodles created over long periods of time, works made with consideration but more so with intuition. The space they inhabit in Kennington is too big and too empty, they work better in more domestic spaces, where the inclosure of a more homely space allows greater inspection - one on one, as it were. At Greengrassi I found that I had to make a second circuit of the paintings to better take in their nuances and their idiosyncrasies. Abts is an artist working through a giant, possibly endless series but these are all very much individual works despite the many self-imposed rules she follows to bring them to completion. 

http://www.greengrassi.com/Artists?aid=1&eid=156 until June 18th