Sussex Coast College Foundation Degree Show

What is the different between fine art and craft? The dividing line seemed virtually invisible at the Foundation Degree show in Fine Art Contemporary Practice and in Craft at Sussex Coast College. Traditionally craft has been applied to the creation of objects which may have utilitarian function or be decorative, which are hand produced and where the creation requires a learnt skill which adheres to certain standards, whilst the term art is applied to works which have a meaning, which express emotion and which communicates with viewers. There is supposed to be a difference in the way the objects are created; craft is more structured; art is more open-ended. As I looked round exhibition I found myself checking labels to see whether works were produced by Craft students or by Fine Artists.  There were some surprises: that is the way it should be. Here are a few of the works:

I particularly liked Gilles Buxton’s heads – somewhat eerily mounted on sticks as though severed from their bodies and acting as a warning to potential transgressors.

Robert Dennis’ work focuses upon the textures of the natural world, displayed through castings, rubbings and film. Both Dennis and Buxton were undertaking the FDA in craft.

The 100 lucky golden bears by Lyn Dale on the other hand were from the art side. I must admit to a partiality to the bears having found one.They were hidden about the college and the finders were invited to write in with their comments.

They are supposed to bring the holders luck and who knows perhaps they will. The 100th bear was splendidly presented gleaming under a glass box on a black plinth. The comments of the finders were displayed on a nearby screen and some can also be seen on the lucky bear website. My bear at least for the time being is sitting on the nose of the stuffed alligator on the mantlepiece. Here to prove it is a picture.

Two contrasting films caught my eye.  Deborah Ward’s Voices in Trauma shows a woman on two screens; in each case she appears gagged by something which we can’t quite identify – an insect perhaps; it juts out of her mouth; it is both fascinating and disturbing

Also exploring the idea of being trapped but in a very different way was Shammi Begum’s film about child brides. A figures moves inside what could be a bridal gown or perhaps a shroud and she cannot escape.

Film was part of Frith Lawson-Johnson ‘s A Marriage of Waves.  Wires have been stretched between two groynes; they mimic the pattern of her brain waves as revealed on an EEG scan. Lawson-Johnson suffers from epilepsy and the wires appear to oscillate alarmingly though how different they are from the brain waves of those who do not  have epileptic episodes I could not judge.  On the film we see the sea come in and engulf them. Lawson Johnson explains that in a world that has become so fast paced we have forgotten the forces around us that affect the way we think and act. By connecting her brain waves to the sea she is connecting with the power that nature has on us and is redressing the balance.


Wave meets wave

Out of touch with the Neanderthals

English: First reconstruction of Neanderthal m...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week there was a report that the earliest paintings may have been made not by human hands but by Neanderthals. Scientists are now thinking that cave paintings in Altemira were made between 37,000 and 41,000 years ago. I know nothing lasts forever but I have a feeling that if something has been going on for 41,000 years give or take a few months, 2012 is unlikely to be the year that it finally goes out of fashion.

So I was disappointed not to see any paintings at all at the Sussex Coast College Art and Design Degree Show held at the PrintWorks in Hastings. Not one – there were graphics,  installation, film, sculpture, a book, photographs, including an embroidered photograph, but nobody  had got out a paint brush, or emulating the Neanderthals, a painty hand or stick and daubed it over something. I suspect the third year students felt real mucky, oozy paint wasn’t contemporary enough. I think they are mistaken. The Constructionists back in 1920 also believed that easel painting was non revolutionary and had outlived its time.

Painting is  a bit like denim – fashion magazines say about every three years it’s finished and nobody takes any notice and continue to wear it. The desire to paint things and, equally, to live side by side with paintings is hardwired into the human brain. The challenge for us as artists is to find new and interesting ways to do it.

That being said there were still some interesting works there. I particularly liked David Sullivan’s film. At first sight it appears to be completely incomprehensible though visually intriguing. I caught up with Sullivan; he explained that it was inspired by the 2011 summer riots and the way that rioters communicated through Blackberries. He started looking at the language they used. The result was Babel Babes; moving lips that interpret the emoticons used in text messaging. The film, Sullivan told me, is a conversation in pictures about someone being angry and heartbroken and friends wanting to cheer her by going out for a beer and dance.

Sullivan made the film and edited it using After Effects, Premier Pro and Photoshop. For those people who are Neanderthals when it comes to using this kind of language,  >:O >:O>:O means angry, angry angry. Wikapedia very helpfully provides a full list which will help you interpret.


Another artist who has changed images digitally is Colin Hemingway. His work Fun and Games centres around a hard backed book apparently by the author SK Bebete. Hemingway’s work was inspired by Nobel prize winning author Julian Barnes in his acceptance speech thanking the book designers and emphasizing the need for physical objects. The art is an exploration of what is real. It also examines the way that these days anybody can publish anything no matter whether it is of value or not. Hemingway took the 1966 Ladybird book and digitally altered each page, so that they are unrecognisable. The words of the book are rearranged to make a different text. People can have their own signed version by ordering a book on line and adding a label which already bears Bebete’s signature.

Lydia Moon’s work commemorates deaths in Afghanistan. She has constructed a number of white paper bricks; each brick represents a single life lost; each pile the number of casualties lost during a month. There are hundreds of them and they are stacked down the stairs. I didn’t count them but they must only represent British lives, 419 as of yesterday:  if they included Afghani lives and American lives they would need more stairwells.

The Art and Design Degree Show (Sussex Coast College in conjunction with Brighton University) is open from 10.00 to 16.00 until June 22 at the Print Works, 14 Claremont TN34 1HA.

Psst – want to buy a stolen Warhol

English: Andy Warhol
English: Andy Warhol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I did something today I have never done before – I nicked an exhibit from a gallery – the Hayward Gallery to be precise. It was partly a mistake I had thought it was a genuine Andy Warhol invisible sculpture on display in the exhibition  Invisible: Art of the Unseen. But I now find it is a 2012 copy of the original 1985 work.

I’ll tell you how it happened. I had walked most of the way round the exhibition. I had seen the work of Yves Klein and how he had sold inanimate zones for gold. I had seen the poems of Yoko Ono, which are instructions on how to make an art work; I had considered the works of Robert Barry who released two cubic feet of helium into the atmosphere to create an invisible  sculpture. I had seen the 2012 work by Bruno Jakob Unusual Things Happen, made of ” invisible paper, brainwaves, energy, light, touch, hot steam water, time seasons, worries collecting and releasing, unknown technique on yellow primed unseen canvas and paper roll.” I had reflected that invisible art was a bit more interesting than you might think.

Then I saw the invisible Andy Warhol and I wanted it – I wanted my very own invisible sculpture and so I took it. I must say the security at the Hayward is lax in the extreme. Although I took the sculpture right under the nose of an attendant and watched by a member of the public nobody tried to stop me walking out with it. A photographer did happen to take my photograph outside the Hayward as I was trying to get the sculpture in my handbag. Invisible sculptures can be surprisingly heavy. The photographer sent me the photograph and is now trying to blackmail me but I will not be blackmailed which is why I am showing the photograph here. I was proud to have taken the Warhol; it is a protest at the escalating cost of university tuition fees

But once I got the sculpture home, I did some  research and found that is was not as I had assumed a genuine 1985 Warhol but a modern copy. So I have decided to sell. It is still  a very fine work crafted by genuine artists at the Hayward; I am selling the sculpture on eBay should you want it. Look how nice it looks on a tasteful plinth . Would you not like it yourself? It is being sold without reserve, though the buy it now price is £500. This is amazingly reasonable for this substantial work. Should the police come calling the sculpture is easy to hide. So the Hayward cannot accuse you of taking it yourself, I am also throwing in a signed confession by myself – written in invisible ink.

Trying to like Rose Wylie

Rose Wylie’s exhibition Big  Boys Sit in the Front is showing at the Jerwood Gallery until 1 July. I went to see it on March 17, the day the Jerwood opened, and I very much wanted to like it because:

  • Wylie is a woman and women artists are still hugely under-represented in galleries
  • Wylie is 78 and has been described as up and coming; this is the ultimate answer to all those who think they are failures if they haven’t won the Turner Prize, made a million, or got a first novel published by the time they are – 30, 40, 50 or 60. (Actually if you have set your heart on the Turner Prize and you haven’t won it by the time you are 50 – tough because that is the age limit)
  • I really want the Jerwood to succeed and for everybody to flock to it because it has such wonderfully interesting art

But,  I must admit to having been underwhelmed. Her work is odd and didn’t really seem to be odd in a good way. Though the works were paintings in that they were painted they seemed more like drawings and pretty crude ones at that. So in March I had a fairly brief look around the Wylie and thought maybe the next exhibition will be better and went on to look at the permanent collection.

But other people made me think again – my daughter said I should watch the video about her; it hadn’t been showing when I visited. David Hammick one of the University of Brighton tutors came to talk to us – his exhibition is running at Brighton Museum  – he said something along the lines of “she is the real thing” Though he didn’t say real in what sense. The Guardian said she had “the fluid, confident touch of a gifted draughtswoman”

So, I thought I should go back for another look particularly as I couldn’t think of anybody else’s work they remotely resembled– that has to be worth something.

So today I watched the video – an afternoon with Rose Wylie by Adolfo Doring and spent some time looking at the paintings trying to understand them; it was all made enormously much easier because I ran into Myles Calvert there. Myles is a brilliant print maker who has been working as a Tutor at Sussex Coast College– he was responsible for the Toast Exhibition we had at the college.  He said they had grown on him. So apart from the Guardian and the Jerwood itself, that’s three people I knew giving them a kind of endorsement.

Wylie herself certainly comes across as odd in the video but definitely odd in a good way. Indeed definitely cool. She described how she could remember being taken to Snow White at the age of four and being terrified of the Wicked Queen. The paintings seem to have a Disney or at least a cartoon like influence. She explained how she always wore the same clothes as she was a “radical non consumer”. Her delivery was wonderful; I loved her description of how she liked to stuff the shoulders of her clothes to give the impression that she had larger shoulders but liked it to feel rather precarious and that the stuffing could slip to give her an extra sexual appendage. She thought her paintings were like that –

“I think what we look at is important; the food we look at is important – long pause – that is why I like vegetables; I like cabbages to look like cabbages and paintings to look like paintings.”

Getting better with water

Then Myles explained the painting Getting Better with Water as Wylie had explained it to  him at the private view. The painting is in four parts and it is about her friend Louisa who was undergoing chemotherapy and needed rehydration because apparently chemotherapy leaves you dehydrated. The painting can be considered in a clockwise direction the top right segment shows Louisa looking thin and dry; in  the bottom right segment we see her looking more hydrated; she is then contrasted in the other two segments to the Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington – with the broadness of her shoulders there is possibly a reference to Wylie’s own desire for broad shoulders. The names of Louisa and Rebecca are there, scrawled on the painting; originally an aide memoire that got incorporated. Many of her paintings do incorporate text but apparently with this one she had not intended to do so at the outset.

We then looked at Twink Green, Twink Red, Twink Blue the enormous paintings  which run around the walls of the gallery. Very few artists would be unbothered by the order but Wylie, it seems, didn’t care. The figures in the paintings have little tabs attached to them, like the paper clothes that I put on cardboard cut out people when I was a kid. What Wylie seems to have achieved is that she effortlessly continues to be able to draw and think in a child-like way that seems totally unaffected. Her paintings tell stories. You don’t necessarily know what they are, but you know they are there. The cat in the picture is her cat

Something is going on with those trees. I found the painting had the ability to take me back to being a child. When I was small I apparently showed my Dad a drawing “ that little girl is going to be surprised in a minute” I said; he asked me why; “because there is a lion behind that tree.” There was no hint of a lion to be seen. So I think I understand where Wylie is coming from; she hasn’t lost the ability to see the lions.

Size Matters

I have had mixed views about Mark Wallinger:

  • he clearly is a highly accomplished painter; his paintings of horses and his early paintings of his friends dressed as down and outs are technically amazing
  • the statue Ecce Homo which occupied the empty plinth in Trafalgar square is probably the best use of the space so far;  no,  more than that,  most of the plinth offerings have been notably uninspiring; his was genuinely moving. I would like it there permanently
  • the bear video was charming  I suppose


  • it was still a video of a man in a bear suit
  • I was against the Iraq war but was a reconstruction of the Brian Haw protest display really a work of art?  If so, was Brian Haw’s own camp a greater, more original work of art? Didn’t he deserve the Turner Prize. If not, why not? Discuss.
  • what about that racehorse “A real work of art”, wasn’t that just a stunt?
  • what about that huge white horse that is supposed to be set up at Ebbsfleet?

It’s probably the huge horse that has had me the most doubtful.  The photo constructions of the horse make it look just like one of those farmyard animals I had as a child though of course a lot bigger.

Generally I am uneasy about works of art which rely simply on being large. The shard is large, but not I feel good.  Jeff Kloons’ lobster is large – large for a lobster anyway. Paul McCathy’s dog turd was large by any standards. Sheer size can be a sign of hubris or lack of imagination. While I quite wanted to see it, (who wouldn’t want to see a whopping great horse once?) more than once, could it not get tiresome? Wouldn’t it in fact be a joke and jokes as public sculptures are likely to wear thin over time. I felt sympathy with those locals in Ebbsfleet who hadn’t felt they had been consulted and who were not sure they wanted the horse to become part of their everyday lives.

So with this kind of ambivalence I was pleased to have a chance to hear Wallinger talking to Alistair Sooke at the Hay Festival.  And I was completely won over. Wallinger is an amazingly engaging speaker. He comes across as self-deprecating, honest and all round good bloke.  Is it right to suddenly like an artist’s work because he is funny? Isn’t this gross discrimination against artists who lack charm?

I have always rather taken the view that works of art should stand on their own terms and should not need an artist’s blurb to explain it. Indeed often when artists write or talk about their works it can diminish them. Here I am sat in the rather soggy Big Tent in Hay thinking it all seemed to make perfect sense. The Brian Haw reconstruction kept that protest in the public mind after the real thing had been removed from in front of parliament. Even the real racehorse didn’t seem so ridiculous from a man who is clearly passionate about horses, and who used the suffragette colours,  green violet and white remembering when Emily Wilding Davidson threw herself under the King’s horse running at the Derby.  Of course it was a stunt but why not? His account of wandering around an art gallery in Berlin dressed in a bear suit (but with bare feet) seemed completely reasonable and we heard how a second bear arrived at the gallery and was seen looking wistfully through the windows as if searching for its mate.

When he was commissioned to undertake the sculpture for the empty plinth he had been told that one of three sculptures would be chosen to be there permanently. Then the decision was made to have a series. So the Ecce Homo is  in storage somewhere – just in case they change there minds again. It had me thinking how many contemporary works of art are stuck away in the equivalent of the garage or loft.

Works which appeared divergent were actually united by strongly held political beliefs that has seen him get beaten up by the National front.  There is throughout that underlying humour – in the weekend of the Jubilee celebrations he describes himself as “a republican who has met the queen.” There is a refusal to cash in on winning formulae. “ I never wanted to run a small business – why keep making the same jug?” On Damien Hirst, “he was phenomenal to start with but is now succumbing to different levels of bling.

What about that 170ft horse? Was there perhaps a hint of embarrassment about its size? It was, he explained, a competition to create a landmark. It was deliberately unheroic; it was standing in the classic position for judging blood stock. He admitted it was unlikely ever to be built; the price had escalated . I almost felt sorry.

Spots and shadows

Finally visited the Kusama exhibition at the Tate last week and while I was at it I also bought a timed ticket to see Damien Hirst. There were similarities:

  • They both like spots
  • They both use repetition

    Kusama Painting
    Kusama Painting (Photo credit: marttj)
  • They are both obsessed with death

Six reasons why you might prefer Kusama:

  • You can see that Kusama can paint – the early water colours are detailed, intricate and richly coloured
  • Kusama is not the richest artist in the world
  • Kusama seems more interested in sex – some of her paintings resemble spermatozoa; some of her sculptures resemble phalluses and she used to organize naked happenings in New York
  • Dead cows  and discs composed of dead flies make you feel queasy
  • You have a passion for sticky labels
  • Kusama has fewer assistants; she has been extraordinarily productive all her life. When she was nearly 23 she had her first solo exhibition at the First Community Centre in Matsumoto: just 7 months later she had a second solo show and exhibited more than 250 works

Six reasons why you might prefer Hirst:

  • You don’t like flies and you enjoy seeing them zapped
  • You like your dots in different colours: Kusama uses a limited palette for her dots: in Hirst’s dot paintings each of the trademark circles are a different colour even if there are over a thousand of them
  • You like to see inside animals
  • You don’t like sharks
  • You do like butterflies and hope that one might land on you.
  • You enjoyed playing doctors and nurses when you were a child and the pharmacy series makes you feel nostalgic
  • You suffer from vertigo and Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored room makes you feel queasy

In the Kusama exhibition to stop members of the public getting too close to the artwork there is a bleeper which sounds off when you step across an invisible beam. It sounds all the time.

In the Hirst exhibition there are attendants who tell you that you cannot go through that doorway or not to touch the artwork; they sound off quite a bit as well.

There is a room in the Hirst exhibition which has two large rotating circles which have clearly been covered with paint as they rotate; they could  symbolize the rotating world – or maybe shit hitting the fan, then maybe not. In the centre there is a large beach ball which is supposed to be suspended in a jet of air except that it has slipped and remains earthbound. I give it a surreptitious poke to see if I can push back into the airstream. I would like to see it hover. It doesn’t work but I am spotted.

Beautiful revolving sphincter, oops brown pain...
 Damien Hirst (2003) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Don’t touch the artwork” an attendant says.

“It’s not artwork; it’s a beachball” I think.

But that is heresy; I am an art student not a Daily Mail reader.  So instead, I say “it is not working”. She agrees it is not. We both look at the beached beach ball glumly.

As you may have guessed I thought Kusama was by far the greater artist. The infinity mirrored room, her latest work, not only made you reflect upon the vastness of space but also suggested the business of the city and the smallness of the individual. It was also very beautiful.  In contrast Hirst’s spots appeared repetitious and actually somewhat boring. There were so many of them – both spots and paintings of spots. They do not pass the “I want one of those test” – except of course if I had one, I could sell it. Then I didn’t really see the point of Gerhard Richter’s colour charts and he was doing those twenty years earlier.

Queuing For the Love of God

To my surprise I was impressed by one of Hirst’s most controversial works, the diamond incrusted skull, For the Love of God. From photographs I had thought if looked naff; the publicity surrounding the value of the diamonds and the sale price of the work had compounded this. It is displayed at the Tate not as part of the main exhibition but in a darkened room within the Turbine Hall;  the diamonds sparkle. The skull itself looks small and vulnerable and you cannot help but reflect on the fragility of life. The exhibition ends on September 9 . It is worth a visit even though you have to queue; the shadows kept me entertained for the quarter of an hour wait.

On your marks

My name is Sue McDougall; I am a mature student at Brighton University taking a foundation degree in Fine Art Contemporary Practice. The course itself is held at Sussex Coast College. Mature students are defined as all those over 21. If students were classified like cheese I reckon that would see me as level 6: extra mature, or possibly 5 on a good day. This site will mainly be about contemporary art, photography, exhibitions, artists and the projects I am working on. You might find you get mentioned too.