Warp and Weft by Dr Helen Topliss

The threads which are extended lengthwise in the look, usu. Twisted harder that the weft or woof, with which these threads are crossed to form the web or piece… The state of being warped or twisted.

(Oxford English Dictionary)

Imagine New York as a giant tapestry on a loom with its complexity reduced to the warp and weft of the grid overlaid by the continous shuttle of primary colours. Many abstract artists have given visual testimonies to the power of New York, but it has been mostly foreign artists who have expressed this abstract energy best. One thinks of European artists who came to New York such as Francis Picabia who painted a canvas called New York (1913); Fernand Léger who painted Goodbye New York (1946); Albert Gleizes who painted New York and Brooklyn Bridge (1917); and perhaps the most memorable Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. Mondrian in particular made his mark on New York with the grid evoking the hectic nature of the place with (for him) an unusual array of colour. Mondrian’s syncopated Broadway Boogie Woogie is the most hyper painting in his oeuvre. Early abstract artists such as Mondrian represented the visual world through a series of sigsn derived from mathematics and theosophist theory. For instance, in his series of drawings and paintings on the theme of ‘Pier and Ocean’ Mondrian represented landscape as a series of signs, plus a minus or vertical and horizontal, where the latter joined they formed a cross which theosophists believed was the mystic intersection of the male sign – vertical – and the female – horizontal.

Mondrian’s compositions are pure and sparse compared with those of Robert Doble. In Doble’s canvases primary colours course through horizontal and vertical axis with electric speed. Doble’s latest work is composed around the grid inspired by his experience of urban life in New York. The yellow, red and blue of his pigments are stretched over the canvas in a frantic network of connections suggesting the grid of the city and the flow of traffic beneath skyscrapers. Doble’s grid system also resembles a network of electrical wiring, the coloured wires funnel through the city vertically and horizontally. Most of the activity is on the surface but there are occasional glimpses behind the scenes uch as in Pandemonium where we see more elemental and more solid forms lurking behind the surface.

The eye is arrested and then liberated by the grid that travels, bifurcates begins anew and weaves in and out like tapestry. Doble talks about a ‘lifeline’ in his work and relates the grid system to ‘bright, electric cables running everywhere, they are about life, and the jolt of existence, love, passion, sexuality and the ability to fly’. The dynamism of New York has had an everlasting fascination for modernist artists because it is the epitome of the modernist city.

Dr. Helen Topliss