Susan Fynes at blackShed

21 Aug

Susan Fynes, whose work is currently showing at the blackShed Gallery in Robertsbridge describes herself as predominantly a system based artist but, looking at her work last night, I wondered whether that emphasis might slowly be changing. Fynes  was in the year below me on the Brighton MA Fine Art course and  impressed everybody by her painstaking geometric compositions. You would be forgiven for wondering whether they might be computer generated, but there is no technology  involved. Amazingly, they are all done by hand  in pencil and acrylic paint. The larger ones, which can measure  50 inches square, can take months to complete.

If like me, your working habits tend towards messiness, you cannot help but be awed by the precision, the care and concentration needed.  Imagine having just a few tiny triangles to complete, when you knock over your cup of coffee, or you shift the paper to fill in another area before noticing that your thumb has picked up a liberal coating of yellow paint. Fynes clearly has the self discipline to avoid such disasters and to keep track of which colour comes next.  Stand in front of some of the painting and you can sense that there is a system in place but try to work out the code and you are likely to be puzzled.

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Susan Fynes: May You Be Free From Suffering

Take the work above,  one of a series of three in the exhibition; you sense that the  pattern is not random; distinct bands appear out of the complexity but your eyes are likely to go squint before you work out whether there is a repeat pattern let alone what it might be. In fact, the answer lies in the title: May You Be Free From Suffering. Fynes told me this phrase is repeated in the work and that each letter has its own code, but, even knowing this, I cannot trace out the mantra in the painting or in either of its companions, May You Be Well, or May You Be Happy. But I liked the idea of the good wishes being woven into her works.

Much of Fynes’ work has this spiritual element; she considers herself a Buddhist. Increasingly, she appears to be allowing herself a freer rein in the way this spirituality is portrayed..In Faith, shown below, there was no formula,though oddly it looked as though there might have been one. In fact, the process was intuitive and started with filling in triangles of one colour and grew from there.

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Susan Fynes : Faith

Emerging too are more fluid pieces where squares and triangles give way to curves and the resultant bands appear to move and vibrate.

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Susan Fynes: Untitled XV

In the exhibition there were some pieces which did not appear to rely on process at all, like this perfect little drawing which was sold even before the private view,

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Susan Fynes: Untitled Study V

and this larger piece which is clearly a free composition.

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Susan Fynes pictured with Path of Least Resistance

It will be interesting to see whether, in future, works with no underlying grid slowly get larger and larger.With the increase in size; the technical challenges must surely grow. In the early days, she told me, she used to cover up part of the work to concentrate on the area on which she was working.  These days, with the looser interpretation, it is vital for her to be able to see the whole composition all the time, even if it increases the work’s vulnerability to the notorious gravity-defying properties of paint.

Susan Fynes is showing at the Blackshed Gallery,Russet Farm, Redlands Lane, Robertsbridge
East Sussex, TN32 5N Robertsbridge,  until 3 September.

 

 

 

Sea Pictures professionalism

18 Aug

When I was first interviewed for a place to study art at Sussex Coast College, I remember saying that one of the reasons I wanted to become a student was that I felt my works looked amateurish. Reasonably, I was asked what that meant and replied that I didn’t know; if I knew the reason I would be able to change it. The answer obviously satisfied as I got in. But it is a problem that I have wrestled with every since and perhaps am now a little closer to finding the answers though not necessarily to putting them right. I thought about this whilst looking at Czech artist Richard Höglund’s extraordinarily effective Primary Colours at the Mayfair Ronchini Gallery.

 

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Richard Höglund: Primary Colours

The work which is part of his Sea Pictures project is about portraiture; Höglund has explained that he wanted to indicate a man through “mark and measure.” It comprises a series of panels each showing a number of loosely executed loops and swirls drawn in silver point on a pastel background inspired by Turner’s seascapes

What I have found interesting about this work was that in the four years I spent studying art,  two fellow students, one at the Hastings campus, one in Brighton  attempted something similar. They came from different perspectives; one was influenced by the measurements and data from her own body and the precise measurements which she recorded became, over time, looser and more fluid; in the other case, the starting point was originally Chinese calligraphy but her drawings were made on the out breaths whilst she was in a kind of meditative state. Both artists produced marks which had a lot in common with those made by Höglund. If two students from one university have tried something like this, it is likely that there are people across the world also experimenting with this kind of mark making.

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Primary Colours: detail

Indeed look at the marks in isolation and they are no so very different from the scribblings of a small child.  This is not a matter of saying that anybody could do it, because they quite clearly could not, but trying to understand why, with similar initial ideas, the paintings produced by my two friends, though interesting, were not impressive and those of Höglund are.

Size is obviously part of it. Höglund’s paintings are enormous. They are apparently some of the largest silverpoint works ever made. The photograph shows just one side of the room; on the opposite wall there are a further four panels whilst there is a single linking panel at the end.  But size alone is not the answer.

Materials are also  important; Höglund’s painting are on linen and incorporate lead, tin marble dust and bone pulver. The use of the metallics means that the works will change and develop as the materials react with one another after they have left the studio. Whilst the potential for change is interesting, it does not explain why they look so right just now.

With this work, the reason that they are so powerful is not the looseness of the drawing, nor the subtlety of the colour, nor indeed the concept but is actually all of those things crucially combined with the precision of the horizontal bands. It is the grey bands top and bottom and the centre grey mark which are all so carefully and perfectly executed which gives the work a structure and a discipline which was lacking in the student works. Professionalism is a matter of getting everything right at the same time: and that is never going to be easy.

Primary Colours is showing at the Romchini Gallery, 22 Dering Street, London W1S 1AN until 10 September.

 

Two year’s of looking: New Art Projects Gallery

15 Aug

It is amazing how a little information can transform entirely your views of an artwork or, as happened to me recently, an exhibition. I had wandered into Two Years of Looking at the New Art Projects Gallery knowing very little about it. At first it seemed one of the oddest exhibitions I had visited. The gallery is a blessed with a large space and around the walls were sculptures and different sized paintings but there was no apparent theme and no predominant style that I could identify.

I wrote last time about my visit to Black Shed Gallery where the artists through their paintings were supposed to be having a conversation. The works in  New Art Projects Gallery were possibly chatting among themselves but not about anything in particular, what they had had for breakfast, perhaps, or, as they were all from the States,  the pros and cons of the dollar strengthening against the pound.

None of the works had labels but with the aid of the catalogue you could find out who had done what and there were works from some 50 different artists.

One of the first paintings which caught my eye was this one,  with no information about it  but the not particularly informative title,  iPainting (3434267) I am not sure what it is supposed to be about, but I  really like the organic shapes; it reminded me of swirling smoke somehow captured and solidified in time. The name against the work was  Robert Buck and the price $19,000 which turned out to be the most expensive there.

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Robert Buck: iPainting

Nearby was another small painting in a similar tone of grey. I thought at first it might have been by the same artist but, no the other was by Betty Tompkins, Pussy Painting, so perhaps not so similar after all. Looking her up afterwards, I really liked her grand scale erotic works. But while I could see there was at least a colour connection,  with her work and that of Buck, I couldn’t see what either had to do with  what appeared to be a stuffed cat in the corner, Mr Early by Jack Early or the weird hanging thing,Weeping Willow (For Orlando)  by CarlosRolon/Dzine .

 

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James E Crowther: Love Thyself

I was amused by the strange painting cum sculpture of a fat man skateboarding by James E Crowther  but, again, what was the connection?

The price variation was far more than you would normally expect within the same exhibition. Whilst there were plenty of five-figure price tags,  a small ceramic figure by Dasha Bazanova was just $275; and if you fancied an orange jock strap that was a snip at $500 whilst a pastel drawing of  Popeye by Scooter la Forge came in at $975

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Mark Jan Krayenhoff van de Leur: Jockstrap

I was puzzled and went back upstairs to ask. The connection was in fact one man – US performance artist Erik Hanson  whose self-portrait, below, was included in the show. Hanson, like many artists, believes it essential to keep looking at the latest artworks and Fred Mann owner of the gallery had asked him to curate an exhibition including all the works which had touched or influenced him over the past two years.

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Erik Hanson: Self Portrait

It was such a simple but brilliant idea. A kind of Desert Island Disks for artists without the need to be limited by eight choices or to imagine life on a Desert Island. I really liked the democratic way that established artists and those at earlier stage of their careers had been treated with equal respect.

Study the works for longer and one could no doubt learn a bit more about Hanson; I mainly learnt that he liked the unusual  and the colours grey and orange.

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Bill Abertini: Three Floor Scrumples

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Justen Laada:Bevmax

His hope, according to the press blurb, was that viewers would see the New York art scene through his eyes, would  enjoy the works which had affected his thinking and might in turn be influenced by them. Once I understood the connection, I hugely enjoyed the variety; there were pieces there which I thought were tremendous fun and works which I would have loved to have owned. It introduced me to new artists.  But in a way, the lasting effect for me was the way that, just as a Desert Island Disks gets you whittling down your favourite tunes to a paltry eight, the exhibition had me drawing up in my my mind what I would have included from my own wanderings. It also made me want to see what other artists would choose given an equally free hand. Perhaps New Look Art Gallery will make this artist’s choice an annual event.

Two Years of Looking is showing at New Art Projects 6D Sheep Lane,  London E8, 4QS until August 28

 

A conversation at the Black Shed

19 Jul

I had been aware for some time that there was a contemporary art gallery near Robertsbridge; friends have recommended it; I follow it on Twitter; fellow MA student Jenny Edbroke, whose work I wrote about in July 2015, exhibited there last summer; Susan Fynes who graduated this summer, see last week’s post, is to exhibit there soon. I had even thought I had noticed a discreet sign to it on the A21. But Robertsbridge is about half an hour’s drive away, not a particularly onerous journey admittedly, but still not next door. So, it was not until a couple of days ago that I finally decided to investigate. I ignored the Robertsbridge turning, found that I had been right about the sign and drove up narrow country lanes and finally arrived at what looked at first sight like a group of farmyard buildings. All most improbable.

What is perhaps even more improbable, as many people dream of starting a gallery, is that owner and director Kenton Lowe has clearly made it a huge success. His eye for interesting and collectable artists mean that buyers are prepared to make the journey to find London quality work in the heart of the country. Look up Black Shed on a map and the red place marker is in the middle of sea of green, but the number of red dots on the corners of paintings, suggest that those who come keep their credit cards at the ready.

The current exhibition was certainly worth the drive. Artists Bent Holstein and Alan Rankle are described as having a conversation about landscape painting. I am not usually convinced by this idea of a conversation between artists. Too often it is used loosely to justify grouping together people who have only the most tenuous links. In this case I really felt it worked; the approaches were very different yet there was a genuine connection; the colour palettes of the two artists complemented each other. While Danish artist Holstein had a more abstract style, Rankle’s work also included an abstract element. Indeed, you could imagine the paintings discussing the place of abstraction.

Before going I was not acquainted with either artist. At first it was Holstein’s work which attracted my attention. I liked the subtle tones and the gentle impressionistic style that takes you into his mysterious landscapes so that you imagine more than you can actually see.

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Bent Holstein: As if standing on Fishes Blue 2016

But as I looked round the exhibition, it was the works of Rankle that grew on me. When commentators talk about works being semi abstract they normally mean that you can kind of make out what it is that the artist is painting. Indeed I would have described Holstein’s works as being just that.

Many of Rankle’s paintings are semi abstract in a completely different way. In part they are very precise;  in his working of trees, he reminded me of Constable. Originally educated at Goldsmiths, it turns out that he had gone on to study classical techniques, particularly the Dutch Old Masters. So here you can have a tree as well-painted as as the most ardent fans of realism could desire; you can make out the leaves; if you are good at that kind of thing, you could identify the species. But in the piece below you also have the bold splash of yellow providing mood and emotion. The two elements could almost have come from different paintings but Rankle’s skill is demonstrated by the fact that they worked as one.

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Alan Rankle: Enigma Patricia Kalitzca + the Object

Contemporary art should challenge our ideas and see help us to see things afresh. If my first reaction to these unexpected explosions of paint was “I’m not sure about that”,  it quickly gave way to admiration and wanting to see more.

The Black Shed Gallery   is open on from Tuesday to Friday 10.00 am-4.00 pm and on Saturdays 10 am to 4.30 pm.

Great space: great show – MA students suceed at Brighton

12 Jul

Jealousy is to be deplored  but I couldn’t help feeling a twinge to see the space that this year’s MA graduates at the University of Brighton had been allocated to show their work. There was a whole new exhibition area devoted to sculpture and the downstairs gallery was not interrupted by partitions as it has been when I was showing a year ago. This year the works had room to breathe and the graduating students made the very best of it. It was interesting to see how those who were first  years in 2014-15 had developed and it was also fascinating to see works from people whom I did not know, who had decided to go for the gruelling route of taking an MA in just a year.  In a varied and imaginative show here are a few of the pieces that caught my eye.

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Kyunmin Kim: Traces of Time

I was particularly impressed by this work by full timer Kyunmin Kim, Traces of Time in the downstairs gallery,  it is beautifully embroidered, not on fabric but on wire mesh, which is torn in the middle. Writing about the work Kyuhmin explained that “even memories become faint with traces of time. The memory is still alive and is ready to come up to us at any time.“The statement seems a contradiction but then maybe that is the point of the work – the gaps in memory and the unexpected recall.

Doreen Munro started the MA at the same time as me but had a year out for family reasons. That year appears to have served her well.

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Doreen Munro

I remember that Munro’s work often featured pieces being wrapped, or in some way concealed, but none, I felt,  had worked as successfully as the juxtaposition of the corrugated iron and the paper in this piece here. The newness, crispness and fragility of the paper was the perfect foil to the rusting iron.

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Ruijong Hang: Non Linear Existence

Ruijing Hang another full timer’s work is hard to photograph; Non Linear Existence is constructed from white paint on clear acrylic. I particularly enjoyed its lyricism and dream-like quality. Among many showier pieces it demonstrated a quiet authority.

In marked contrast to Ruijing’s restraint was this playful piece by Yanting Li , You In. It was the first work I noticed on entering the sculpture exhibition and the humour and colour were particularly appealing

 

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Yanting Li: You In

Caleb Madden’s works are hard to miss as his sound sculptures permeate both the main exhibition hall and performances in the sculpture exhibition. I particularly enjoyed Hot Fizz an ingenious work in which a bag of water was allowed to drip onto  a hot cooking hob making a satisfying hiss every time it did so, the sound of which was then amplified so that you did not at first understand its origins.

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Caleb Madden: Hot Fizz

Among many excellent paintings I like this little one by Tori Day of a gimlet. Day specialises in celebrating common objects which might otherwise go unnoticed. It is painted on piece of 19th century floorboard. I liked the cleverness of the painted nails holding the painted paper on which the gimlet rests.

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Tori Day: Gimlet

Susan Fynes polished and intricate geometric abstracts are always interesting. They take months to complete and I am just amazed at the patience and dedication that is involved. This one Hope is typical of her work – eye-bending but beautiful.

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Susan Fynes: Hope

The University of Brighton MA show is open until July 16, 10.00 – 5.00 at University of Brighton, Grand Parade, Brighton BN2 0JY  

Sculpture for Eastbourne Pier

21 Jun

Soon the judges will decide which of the four finalists will be commissioned to  make their sculpture to commemorate the fire on Eastbourne Pier. Yesterday we all set up our displays at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. They were very different.

Phoenix Vane is the sculpture I designed with Caroline Pick who was a fellow student on the Brighton MA course. We have roped in James Price who is a blacksmith designer who lives near Lewes.

Phoenix Vane utilises girder from the pier as well as burnt wood and was inspired by the photographs of the enormous billow of smoke which the fire produced. The bird is a weather vane and the smokey tail will move in the wind while the beak of the bird will point out the wind direction.fire

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Phoenix Vane: Sue McDougall and Caroline Pick with the Time and Tide Bell display in the background

Devon artist Marcus Vergette had a display of Time and Tide Bell;  Marcus is aiming to install twelve bells around the country and a number of these are already in place  including at Appledore, Devon, Bosta beach in the Outer Hebrides, Trinity Buoy Wharf in London and in  Aberdyfi, Wales, July 2011. The idea would be for it to hang under the pier. You could listen to the sound effect as the waves caused the bell to toll.

Certainly a strange and mournful sound and an exciting project, wonderful in an unpopulated part of the coast, but which might possibly become annoying to those living in the vicinity or even for holiday makers on a sunny but breezy afternoon.

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Gulls by Cynthia de Wolf

Cynthia de Wolf had been inspired by the seagulls surrounding the pier and produced a striking seagull sculpture Gulls.

Finally, the London firm George King Architects produced Forged by Flame a sculpture which would be made out of the burnt twopenny pieces which were salvaged from the amusement arcade where the fire started. They hope that it would be a meeting point for people on the beach. The mystery hand which has somehow got itself in the photograph is not included.

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Forged by Fire: George King Architects

The four sculptures will be on display  near the cafe at the Towner Gallery.  Devonshire Park, College Road, Eastbourne,BN21 4JJ until June 29

Members of the public are invited to comment to Sculpture@eastbourne.gov.uk  

If you felt moved to support Phoenix Vane – that would be very nice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doppelgänger at the Eagle Gallery

19 Jun

I often feel that artists should keep quiet about their works. I know that the concept is important and in some works the concept is everything but particularly with paintings you can sometimes see something marvellous on the wall and then read what it means and either find it is about something completely different from what you had imagined, or sounds so pretentious that it diminishes the work. Painters can often express complicated multi layered ideas in paint better than they can in words: that is why they are painters.

Explanations are not a problem with James Fisher, whose exhibition has just opened at the Eagle Gallery in the Farringdon Road. He believes in giving very little information, allowing the paintings to speak for themselves.We have the title of the exhibition: Doppelgänger which suggests an exploration of  identity and there are titles which in some cases are people’s names – Thomas Bernhard – Sophia Jex Blake, though there is no information about the people and no obvious link to the subject.

In other cases the names are ambiguous; Eiko could be referencing a Japanese born choreographer and dancer an illustrator or even a playable figure in Final Fantasy IV. Okiku is Japanese for doll and indeed looking it up I find there is an story of a supposedly haunted okiku where its hair is supposed to keep growing. Is that relevant? I liked the painting; do I need to know what it means?

Not even gallery owner Emma Hill knew quite how to interpret them  We discussed Thomas Bernhard shown below. “There is clearly a hat;” I said, “Are those rabbit ears? But what is the shape above the hat?”WP_20160617_16_12_02_Pro (2)

She too was unsure; “I don’t know; I’ve been trying to work it out. He will tell me eventually,” she said.

I rather liked the mystery; it made one look more closely at the paintings which are highly skilled. The paint is built up in layers, has been sanded and repainted so that elements of the original marks are evident. The geometric shapes add  complexity; whereas the recognisable representational shapes tend, as in this painting, to appear two dimensional, in some the geometric areas have a 3d effect that suggest flex and provide solidity.

Birds and cats are a reoccurring theme. In Margaret Morse Nice, the birds are apparent while in  Althea R, you realise that the bird is half hidden; the geometric patterns are in the shape of a cat’s head.JAMES-FISHER-Althea-R-2016-oil-on-linen-81-x-71cm-

But the painting I liked the best, Neko, which is the Japanese for cat, had, I thought at first, portrayed no cats at all.

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Then looking at the photographs later, I wondered whether the projections at the top were ears and the geometric part was a cat’s head. I hope not: I preferred to think of it as representing the brain or multi-faceted thought. That is the way with interpretation: sometimes you prefer your own.

James Fisher, Doppelgänger is at the Eagle Gallery, 159 Farringdon Road from 16 June to 16 July

 

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