Michael Ibbison | Seed

Eames Fine Art, 2021

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When asked what brought him to this point of his fine art and design career, Michael Ibbison doesn’t speak of a certain class that he took in school, or a specific artist or painting that inspired him. As he does in his striking artworks, Michael pares it back to basics. What initially sparked his augural interest in colour, shape, and pattern was a simple children’s toy: the kaleidoscope. Michael remembers looking through the kaleidoscope when he was a child, fascinated by the architectural madness of the design and the psychedelic colourings. Seemingly chaotic and dissimilar shapes and colours unite to provide a harmonious sensory experience. Michael’s new collection, which constitutes his first exhibition with Eames Fine Art, constructs a similarly kaleidoscopic salvo of riotous colour and pattern.


Each of Michael’s more complex pieces starts with a ‘seed’ – hence the title of this exhibition. There are seven seeds, the ‘DNA’ of Michael’s art, that have been used as the building blocks of this collection. These seeds are, according to Michael, each “a quiet place of simplicity that doesn’t attempt to show its true nature until it multiplies”. These ‘seed’ compositions are copied, twisted, and added onto one another – each iteration constituting a new artwork. These seeds build into the wildly patterned configurations that could be likened to the scenes within a kaleidoscope. Michael works on a complex grid when he is multiplying these seeds to create new works, the ultimate goal being simple geometric balance and a visual sense of unity, achievable no matter how many times the artist joins or twists the ‘seeds’ together onto this grid. For example, the work Balance itself is a relatively simple composition of bright colours and circles, triangles, and squares. Yet Michael pushes this piece further by reproducing it four times to become The Dance. There is more movement and dynamism in this work, something that is evidenced not only visually but also quite simply in the shift of the name of the work from Balance to The Dance. In The Dance, the Balance seed is tangoing with itself, twisting around an axis to create a dizzying, but ultimately balanced, visual rhythm. Of course, a dance, no matter how frenzied, must have harmony and cooperation between the partners – and this is achieved in the work through the astute connections of the grey and red shapes in the centre of the composition. Perhaps the influence of Wyndham Lewis, the Vorticist and electrifying proponent of British modernism, can be seen in this work. While Lewis used figures rather than completely abstracted shapes, similar patterns of movement can be seen in his studies for his legendary, and now lost, piece Kermesse, which depicts dancers.


This idea of the ‘architecture’ of pattern, or as Michael calls it, ‘visual engineering’ – with the ‘seeds’ serving as the building blocks for new works – relates directly to the tenets of the Bauhaus. Bauhaus artists, architects, and craftspeople are significant influences on Michael’s work in design and in fine art. Proponents of the Bauhaus were known for advocating simplified attention to the functionality of design, the use of primary colours, and the power of simple shapes – all of these Bauhaus influences can be plainly seen in Michael’s work. Other well-known ideas espoused at the Bauhaus school were minimalism and modernism: linear and geometric shapes should be used as a way to move forward from more traditional art.


One of the design movements that is closest to Michael’s heart is the Swiss Design group of the 1950s. In addition to employing sans serif text, modernist colour and pattern combinations, and asymmetrical layouts, perhaps the most important element of Swiss Design, and the tenet most applicable to Michael’s pieces, is the use of a mathematical grid to lay out their design elements. Once again, this goes back to the idea of balance for the viewer, illustrated in the case study of Michael’s pieces Balance and The Dance – but also in another seed variation: Aubade and The Odyssey. The more complicated work, The Odyssey, is structured around the centre point of the composition, and the underlying grid is clearly evident in the final work. Therefore it remains balanced and calm, even with its multiplicity of shapes and colours.


Other influences on Michael’s oeuvre can be found in the individual works of Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, and Victor Vasarely. Malevich’s Black Square in particular is relevant because of its assertion of the supremacy of the abstract shape: no representation or visual allusion is needed for an artwork to be aesthetically good, or intellectually appreciated, or emotionally compelling. Mondrian’s focus on the grid echoes Michael’s interest in the geometric and the importance of a mathematical framework to create balanced and simple yet interesting works. Vasarely, the grandfather of Op Art, is a personal hero for Michael, relevant to works like The Dance and Summer because of Vasarely’s emphasis on repetition and pattern to create kaleidoscopic, visually engrossing pieces of art.


By using the ‘seed’ and the mathematical grid, Michael has done something ingenious. Because of the nature of germination, and the repetitive construction of these works, there are endless possibilities for the creation of new pieces based on these basic tenets, ideas, and compositions. While there will certainly be new patterns and ‘seeds’ in the future, these are all building blocks that Michael can return to again and again to rejuvenate his artistic practice or to provide nourishment for new ideas. This is his first show at Eames Fine Art, and we can’t wait to see how his work, and his fine art career, progress: we’re sure that this show will be the seed for others.


Christine Slobogin, February 2021