Hastings Christmas sea …. and seagulls

The  Hastings fishing boats were all on the beach because it is Christmas Day, but the sea didn’t care; it was busy doing its stuff.

Two fishing boats are on the beach at Hastings; the sea can be seen in the background
Hastings fishing boats on the beach on Christmas Day 2012
Seagulls flying above the sea at Hastings
The seagulls were enjoying it
A seagull shelters from the wind on the beach at Hastings
Except this one that didn’t want to play because it was cold
Dark seas at Hastings UK
He was right; it was cold
Sea on Christmas Day in Hastings 2012
But sometimes the sun came out
Sea breaking on a breakwater at Hastings UK Christmas Day 2012
For a few moments


Happy Christmas everybody.

The End of the World, blogging, Google and Adrian Ghenie

So, if you are reading this the world hasn’t ended, and all that worrying was a waste of time. Well, that is not strictly true – if you are reading this, it probably means the world hasn’t ended, but it could just mean that you are reading it early and all the bangs and wailing and gnashing are yet to come. I am not taking any risks; I am posting it well before midnight on the 20th. It would be a huge pity to go to all the trouble of writing a post and not have anybody read it because there was nothing left but a few irregular shaped fragments and a little trickle of smoke where the world used to be. I note that NASA took the same view and published their report that the world wasn’t ending very early indeed. Perhaps they wanted to discourage anybody who was thinking of giving it a helping hand.

Thanks to Google, I do know that there are quite a lot of you out there who are  worried that this world ending stuff might actually happen. WordPress very thoughtfully provides a list of the links that bring people to the site. Back in September I wrote a jokey review of Sharon Haward’s End of the World installation which she held in her studio in Hastings; I gave it the title The end of the World  is  starting in Hastings now. In the intro, I wrote a bit about the Mayans as well as Harold Campion who was pretty confident, you remember, but got it wrong. Since then,  by far the greatest number of hits I get on any single subject is from people who have entered sensible search terms such as “Mayan Calender end of the world.”  Then, as so often happens with internet surfing, they appear to have got side tracked and ended up wanting to know just what the good citizens of Hastings had done to get advance world ending treatment.

I can see now how Google is able to predict epidemics faster than hospital doctors. If people start Googling plague in large numbers,  there’s a fair chance that a good number of them are a little worried about the nasty buboes that are coming up under their arms. I am not suggesting that plague is about to bring an end of the world, just that if it were to be a problem, Google would know it first. On the same principal, if you are an art investor,  I would seriously consider buying an Adrian Ghenie if you can get hold of one, apart from the fact that he is very good, I get more people looking for information about him ( I wrote about the painting he did  Pie Fight) than for any other artist I have mentioned.

Back to the end of the world; with 21 December nearly past, I am going to miss all you worried readers. I have grown fond of you. I picture you searching the web for information, scanning the skies, looking for portents and incoming meteorites, stocking up on bottled water and baked beans. So the next three pictures are just for you; they show how the end of world might look. The first is Hell by Hieronymus Bosch and ok, it isn’t strictly the end of the world though it was for the people concerned. But doesn’t it capture the blighted post apocalyptic,  desolate landscape marvellously well.

Hieronymus-Bosch-007 painting of hell shwing all kinds of tormented souls
Hieronymus Bosch: Die Holle c1495

This one by John Martin is your proper God smiting world end – just look at those mountains doing their business and it’s got waves. Martin”s God wasn’t taking any chances.

The End of the World, by John Martin shows the world being destroyed by God
John Martin: The End of the World 1951-53

Finally, to show it might not be so bad is this one by Sir Stanley Spencer, the Cookham Resurrection. I just love the way the resurrected dead are so relaxed, mooching about, chatting, reading grave stones and the way that some wives are brushing the dirt off their husbands and no one seems to be having a bad time at all.

The painting shows people coming out of the grave in Cookham  Churchyard
The Resurrection in Cookham Churchyard by Sir Stanley Spencer 1924-7

So  if Spencer’s vision is correct it could all be all right; on the other hand if Martin is right, it might not be. So for those who like to be well prepared, here are some other dates where you might be pleased to have a few extra tins in the back of the cupboard – though if it really is the end of the world you might not have time to open them.

23 December 2012 – some people seem to think that it is not the 21st which is doom day but the 23rd  – so you can spin out the worry a little bit longer

2016: according to Weekly World News, Professor Lloyd Cunningdale excavating the Donner Party disaster found a time capsule which had been left by a group of settlers who became trapped by snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1847. It  predicted that biological warfare would kill everybody off in 2016. Why on earth a group of  settlers who hadn’t been able to predict that it is bad news to get stuck in the Sierra Nevada in winter should be seen as an authority is not clear. Then it is not clear why the Mayans are meant to be an authority on the world ending either.

20 February 2020 – otherwise written as 20.02.20 Just look at it – all those twos – could be the end of the world.

13 April  2029 Apophis, an asteroid that is some 330 metres across, that is a pretty big lump of rock it is predicted to miss the world by just 18,000 miles.That sounds a bit too close for comfort.

2034 Disappointingly no day specified, so you have to worry a full year. It is all about God’s covenants being equal length

2060 Not much reason for the over 50s to worry  but younger folk can indulge; 2060 was the  year Sir Isaac Newton calculated the world would end –  for the full story read Stephen Snobelen’s account


1 April  5,000,002,012   that is when the sun is predicted to turn into a supernova, give or take a few million years; that really will be the end of the world.

Keep things as they are – wouldn’t we all?

On the day of my twentieth birthday I felt depressed that I was no longer a teenager; up to that point I had greeted birthdays cheerfully enough; after that point I didn’t. I also remember complaining to a friend about getting old on the eve of my 34th birthday.  At the time it seemed ridiculous to the friend. It seems ridiculous to me now. I have been thinking about my attitude to these two birthdays and others,  having just come out of the Ian Breakwell exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. It brought me slap bang up against my own preoccupation with time passing. Whereas these days I try hard not to think too much about it, Ian Breakwell made it is his life’s work.

Breakwell died of lung cancer in 2005 at the age of 62, a year younger than I am now.  Going round this major retrospective, it felt as if all his work was leading inevitably to that point. It was there in the small video of him lying on the bed smoking a cigarette and planning to scatter paper out of the studio window in Smithfield. It was there in the obsessive diaries, in his work The Waiting Room, in which there are two large portraits facing each other, accompanied by the sound of a ticking clock, even in one of his best known works Man Walking; also in the portraits which bear the name of the exhibition Keep Things As They Are. There are faces yes, but the days of the calendar form the background and can’t be escaped.

a portrait of a woman by Ian Breakwell showing a calendar in the background
Keep things as they are – Silken Chains

It was painfully there in the self portrait of himself after he knew he had cancer – Parasite and Host and in the final video in which he describes his days, as his face, ravaged by the disease, morphs slowly into younger versions of himself and back again. I kept  telling myself that there was no reason to believe he had premonitions of an early death when he was young and that many of the works apart from the final ones would have felt different at the time.  Except of course, he would have had premonitions, as well all do, that one day he would die. Indeed one of his comments on the video was why should things seem different because of a diagnosis.

Self portrait by Ian Breakwell showing himself bare chested ; the eyes are blacked out
Parasite and Host 2005

It appears from the exhibition there cannot have been a single day when Breakwell was not aware of the passing of time. Take the diaries – he was a compulsive diarist, starting in 1965 and keeping it up for the next forty years. In the 1974 diary – he would have been only 31, there is a dated page for each day of the year and, on it,  there is the same image of a wristwatch on his wrist, taken as if from his point of view. The face of the watch has been cut away and different images imposed where the face would have been. Talking about the work, he  explained they were  images of what had come into his mind at the time he looked at his watch. Individually each day does  not particularly interesting or visually striking but together they are extraordinarily strong– a year covering the wall, the repetition, the ordinariness of the images emphasising the mundanity of daily life.

A wall is covered by the 1974 diaries by Ian Breakwell
Ian Breakwell: 1974 Diaries

The Walking Man project arose from a man he saw from his studio window walking purposefully several times a day on a route around the market area. The man was not a tramp as he had no bags but he was not engaged in any business other than that of walking. Breakwell started taking photographs of him which became The Walking Man Diary and he also started recording what he might have seen. In some of the works we have a catalogue of the minutiae of life in this part of London. For instance in The Man Walking No 8 there are three categories of words – all typed. In large type the record of what he passed,   “past the gin factory, past locked and guarded gates. Past the workshops for sportswear, skirts and separates. Past the window filled with cash registers.” Further down the page he notes “the silver book shaped lockets.” Below it, in small type, are the words walking, walking, walking, repeated throughout the page. A third line of type has phrases in capitals HERE HE COMES, HERE HE IS. Smithfield is a part of London I know well. I had my first job as a journalist just off Ludgate Hill in Wardrobe Chambers and later with the Evening Standard in Fleet Street; I often bought meat from a butchers in Smithfield Market, maybe a butchers below Breakwell’s studio; I might have passed him in the street; the words conjure up how the area used to be thirty years ago.

Text plays an important part in many of Breakwell’s works. Some are pure text – such as the thought – almost a slogan ” it is better to be hemmed in than hemmed out”; others virtually amount to stories, including a disturbing account of men dismembering what we deduce to be an animal from the fact that his studio was in Smithfield but which from the words sounds uncomfortably like a person.

He was also a skilled draughtsman. His huge drawings entitled Monk, based on the American pianist and composer Thelonious Monk are on four walls of a small room reflecting the way that Monk used to walk in circles. The are formed from compressed charcoal and appear simple at first; then you notice detail – the trace of smoke from a cigarette a staple banged into a fence.  A fragment of Monk’s music can be heard on headphones providing an urgent but interrupted rhythm.

Drawing in charcoal  by Ian Breakwell of a full length man, Thelonious Monk
Ian Breakwell: Monk 2002 drawn in compressed charcoal

Perhaps one of the most evocative works in the exhibition was a video The Other Side made in the De La Warr Pavilion itself following a residency in 2001 and displayed on a double sided screen As the soundtrack plays Schubert’s Nocturne in E major, couples waltz on the top floor balcony overlooking the sea. The music and the grace of the dancers are reminiscent of a film scene, but they are not classically beautiful film actors but elderly couples and you a conscious as you watch them that their remaining time is limited.

couples dance on the balcony of the De la Warr Pavilion
Scene from the Other Side. Hastings Observer

On the reverse of the screen, the same music plays but the balcony is empty, though shifting reflections in the glass are like memories or ghosts of the people who had danced there. It is surprisingly moving; a friend said her eight year old daughter cried when she saw it. I went up to the third floor balcony and looked out of the window towards the sea and thought of Breakwell making it. That thought will come to me each time I go back to the De La Warr.

View out of the window from the De La Warr Pavillion
The same scene today

Ian Breakwell: Keep things as they are will be showing at the De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill until Sunday January 13 2013.. Admission free.

What is a drawing? Jerwood Drawing Prize 2012

Ask twenty people what a drawing is and I will bet you that at least half of them will mutter something about a pencil and paper, a few more might add charcoal, graphite, crayons or ink; one of them a pedant with access to Wikepedia might explain that it was two dimensional mark making involving transferring a small amount of the drawing medium onto a surface.

I have been pondering about the nature of drawing ever since seeing the exhibition of winners of the 2012 Jerwood Drawing Prize, currently showing at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings It comprises 78 works from 73 artists which have been whittled down by the judging committee from a total field of nearly 3,000 works. Not quite the task facing the RA Summer Exhibition selection committee but still difficult. I don’t know how the panel defined drawing and whether they took the view that if an artist considered the work a drawing then that is what it was. Works of pencil on paper appeared to be in the minority;  they were certainly not all two dimensional; there was film, there was at least one photograph; there was light; there was what I might have described as a painting. There was collage.  On the whole I agreed they counted but didn’t anybody on the committee say “hang on; that is not a drawing”  about the festive hat or the little pile of pebbles (watch out for that one; my husband demonstrated twice how easy it is to trip over it ).

But these are quibbles; it is a remarkably rewarding exhibition and unlike the RA Summer Exhibition, the pieces  work well together and feel contemporary. The standard is also extraordinarily high. Pleasingly, I was in complete agreement about the overall winner. This was a short animated video by Karolina Glusiec who is only 26 and comes from Poland. It is an exceptional  work which reflects on the memory of a place that was once really well known but which has changed.  It explores nostalgic feelings for a place without being sentimental;  it is also about the nature of memory and imagination. The commentary, which is spoken by a male voice who delivers it with just the right matter of fact tone, is poetic in itself. The words and images really work together. What is interesting is the way that the words describes a scene, which is illustrated by the pictures but which make you imagine something else. Just six minutes long it includes  some striking scenes – a woman with her hair blowing in the wind created by a passing train, people going to a factory and the way that the drawing dissolves into chaos and then re-emerges.  Still photographs in no way do it justice; if you have a chance, do go and see it.

A sketched woman stands looking out of a window in a still from the prize winning video
Still from the Jerwood Drawing Prize winning entry Velocity
A sketched man smoking a cigarette
Still from Velocity winner of the 2012 Jerwood Drawing Prize

Of the other prize winners I also particularly liked the entry Waiting by Min Kim, who won in the student category. It comprises 834 pieces of paper on which a balloon has been drawn in thick graphite. You cannot leaf through the pages but you can sense that each carries an identical drawing by the graphite dust which is visible on the side of the pages. I really liked the contrast between the qualities of airiness that we associate with a balloon and the heaviness of the way that Min Kim has thickly applied the graphite, digging into the paper. Although the balloon is such a simple shape and, because it is black, a silhouette, you also notice the detail of the way that the balloon is knotted. Min Kim has explained that the idea came to her as a balloon filled with a deep black breath –  a striking concept.

There are two images of balloons on sheets of paper which carry identical images
Waiting: student prize winning entry by Mim Kim.

There were so many other entries that I  liked I am certain I will notice others when I go back. Here are a some of the works which I felt were exceptional and which give an idea of the variety.

1. Carl Randall: Notes on the Tokyo Underground

Two images of people  sitting on the Tokyo tube
Carl Randall Notes from the Tokyo Underground
Four separate drawings by Carl Randal of people on the Tokyo Tube
More faces on the Tokyo Tube

I like thinking of Carl Randall sitting on the Tokyo Underground; notebook open, sketching away.  Displayed together are 72 drawings, many of them humorous: some were missing a leg, one had four hands, presumably in both cases because the subject kept moving. One was looking at a mobile phone – would it work? All of them appeared to capture the character of of the person and together gave a real impression of the atmosphere on the Tokyo tube.

2. Judith Alder: An unhealthy obsession

An open artist's notepad on which biro marks have been made across the crease of the pages
An unhealthy obsession work by Judith Alder

I wonder whether artists who favour drawing tend to be more obsessional than other artists. There was certainly signs of obsession in the exhibition: – in Min Kim’s Waiting, in Ruth Simons’ Phenotype.  This particular work by Judith Alder seemed to sum it up perfectly; it comprises certainly hundreds, probably thousands of black biro strokes across the open pages of an artists book. It seems amazing that a biro could produce a work of such delicacy. It was such a simple concept but quite extraordinarily  effective. Each stroke appeared to resemble a hair and the effect of the fold produced something which resembled the pubic area. Alder describes her work as about “The chaos of uncontrolled and unwanted growths”

3, Ruth Simons: Phenotype

A sheet of graph paper on which near identical rubbings have been created
Detail from Ruth Simons’ work: Phenotype

I counted the number of these little pencil rubbings by Ruth Simons made on red coloured graph paper; I think there were 76 vertical squares and 56 horizontal squares making 4256 all together. I kept losing my place on the counting and the idea of actually producing 4246 images is mind-blowing; imagine having got to 2123 and you are only half way there. Incidentally a phenotype, for those who like me feel they sort of know what it is but couldn’t actually define it for somebody, is the composite of an organism’s observable characteristics or traits. These little rubbings reminded me of samples growing in their separate agar jars.

4. Kaspar Pincis: 4 tent pegs

Four tent pegs made out of balsa wood displayed in a glass cabinet
Kaspar Pincis: 4 Tent Pegs

Strictly I don’t think this is a drawing; these are not clever marks on a piece of paper; they are clever facsimiles of tent pegs made out of balsa wood gesso and graphite powder. Ok, you can argue it like this; they have graphite on them; graphite is used for drawing, therefore this is a drawing. This is actually an excellent example of a false syllogism.  They are not drawings they are model tent pegs. Having got that little rant over, I was pleased they were included as I really liked them, though I found it hard to explain to myself why. It was something about the shininess and being other than what they appeared.  I looked up Kapar Pincis’ website and he can actually draw; he also makes a lot of tent pegs. He was one of the few artists who had two works included in the exhibition; I also liked the other one created with a typewriter on newsprint:  As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.

5. Tanya Wood: Pillow

Drawing of a pillow by Tanya Wood
Tanya Wood: Pillow

Proving that drawing as a skill is not dead, is this work by Tanya Wood. It  is not a conceptual piece but it is a remarkable drawing of a pillow which is perhaps one of the most featureless objects you can imagine but it is perfectly captured.; you can almost feel its pillowyness. It is not just any pillow; it is that particular pillow – a portrait of a pillow which starts you thinking about the heads that have lain on it and made it that way.

Stefan Gant: Crossing the Line

A still shot from a video showing a hand drawing a line; it illustrates the points made by an American pastor
Stefan Gant: Crossing the Line

Crossing the Line is a remarkably funny video which illustrates the verbal mannerisms of as American pastor discussing marriage, commitment and prayer. As you can see he speaks about crossing the line a lot and every time he does, the hand demonstrates by crossing the drawn line on the piece of paper. I laughed out loud.

7. Richard Galloway: Dolor

a detail from Richard Galloway's lino cut  showing stylised London scene
Detail from Dolor by Richard Galloway

Richard Galloway’s Dolor is a  hand painted lino cut and quite exceptionally detailed; it is an imagined London landscape where all human life is present. The politics may not be particularly subtle; a loan shark offers loans while behind the wall a man hangs himself. Even so it is hugely lively and repays studying as you notice more and more details.

Ishai Rimmer: in the kitchen

A drawing of a man sitting in the kitchen clothed only in boxer shorts
In the Kitchen: drawing by Ishai Rimmer

You could hardly miss this large bold self portrait by Ishai Rimmer drawn, and in this case I do agree it is drawn, in household paint on paper. There is something about the size, the apparent simplicity of the image; the washing machine the oven. It is unmistakably now.

Footnote . I have just read Lisa Milroy’s account of the judging process and the entries they considered. Apparently there was a recurrent theme and that was hair -“By the end of the judging process, we had looked at dozens of drawings of heads of hair, chest hair, tufts of hair, beards, single strands of hair, wigs, and real hair sandwiched between glass or glued to paper in suggestive swirls or spelling out words.” she wrote . Perhaps unsurprisingly after seeing so many a drawings, not a single hair got  through – unless it did and  I missed it. Though Judith Alder’s work reminded me of hair, it was not clear it was intended. It seems a pity – no hair; on the other hand I was really glad they didn’t include any of the dogs or squirrels.

The Jerwood Drawing Prize will be showing at the Jerwood Gallery Hastings until January 6 2013.

It survived the night

Most artists are only too happy for their artwork to be kept within the relatively safe confines of a the walls of a gallery. While you might get some idiot with a can of spray paint or a Stanley knife decide to deface it, on the whole such attacks are pretty rare. But Hastings is not known to be the most art loving town in Britain so when Daniel Dowling decided to put his art work on the outside of the Blue Room rather than on the inside, none of us was absolutely certain it would be there in the morning. But it survived; thank you late night Hastings revellers for leaving it alone.

Dan, who is undertaking the third year of a BA Hons in Fine Art at Sussex Coast College, is fascinated by Britain’s industrial heritage. He created the work  specially  for the Blue Room by taking a rubbing  from a piece of rock from the site of the Workington Steel Works in Cumbria.  The few pieces of rock were all  that remained from what used to one of Britain’s major industrial sites. Dan has a personal connection with Workington because his great-grandfather used to be a boiler maker there.  Dan then used the rubbing to create a screen print on pieces of  linen which he has sown together to give the Blue Room its  brand new covering.

blue 003
The Blue Room with its new blue covering.
blue 013
Daniel and his grandmother Mildred Dowling , whose father used to work as a boiler maker at Workington.
blue 001
The repeated image allows for lots of variation

What is interesting about the work is the variety that Dan has created whilst repeating the same basic pattern. It certainly excited interest when he put it up yesterday. His grandmother Mildred Dowling who was there to see this unique memorial to her father also seemed to approve. Provided the work survives another night unguarded, you should still be able to see it tomorrow morning.


Looking at Tass Windows

It was cold today in the Baker Mamonova Gallery; though a heater would have been quite welcome, the sub Siberian temperature seemed almost appropriate. The Gallery, owned by artist Russell Baker, is showing a new collection of hand painted posters which are inspired by the Kukryniksy group who rose to prominence in the USSR in the 1930s and  1940s.

The name Kukryniksy was derived from the names of three caricaturists –  Kupriyanov, Krylov and Nikolai Sokolov who studied together at the Vkhutemas Art School in the early 1920s. They were part of a stable of artists employed by the old Soviet News Agency Tass, who supported the Soviet information machine by lampooning effete capitalists living off the backs of the workers or, alternatively, by promoting socially useful activities such as factory work or bringing in the harvest.  During the Second World War they were prepared to soft pedal the effete capitalist bit and instead portrayed the allies as the USSR’s heroic partners in the struggle against Hitler and in so doing gained international recognition.

Russian 003
Paintings by Russell Baker with traditional Tass Window political posters

The posters were characterized by strong, clear graphics, bold designs and immense vitality. On display in the gallery there is one striking poster of a cheerful worker happily loading bombs into an aircraft.  Each poster was produced not by printing but by using a series of paper stencils which were hand painted.  The stencils had the advantage that they could be produced far more quickly than printed posters so that different posters were produced nearly every day of the war to inspire the Red Army and urge the people on to greater efforts. The Kukryniksy trio themselves produced over 70 different designs between 1941 and 1945.

Although Kukryniksy stayed in favour within the USSR; gaining  seven state prizes between 1942 and 1975, in the West, during the cold war Socialist Realism was hardly viewed as art and the posters were dismissed as propaganda. Views have changed; these days the originals are rare, expensive and extremely desirable. You wonder what the three of them would make of that.

It was interest in the technique as well as the distinctive style that led Baker to embark on the Tass Windows project in which he invited two other artists – Ed Williams and Mark Godwin to join him in creating a series of works using similar materials and working methods. The results are displayed along with some of the Tass originals to create an exhibition that is not quite Russian but certainly not English either.

Ed Williams: Looking at Tass Windows – Shukov Tower

Perhaps closest to the Russian prototype are the works, not by Baker himself who has travelled many times to Russia and who met his wife there, but by Williams who has drawn on his interest in industrial landscapes and whose works includes a classic heroic figure standing against an image of Moscow’s Shukov Tower as well as more personal pieces including a portrait of his grandfather who was a miner. Despite the Russian script, the English element remains; for a few moments I was fooled into not recognizing the distinctive shape of St Leonard’s Marine Court. In Baker’s own pictures the images include the icebergs which have become his trademark, though they are bolder than his paintings which are almost abstract and minimalistic.  Meanwhile Godwin eschews the Russian text and goes for wording in English with the result that the works, whilst of a similar size and with equally strong graphics, appear more like 1950s railway travel posters but nonetheless tone with the works of the other two artists and with the early Russian posters.

Russian 010
Russell Baker: Tass Windows but the icebergs are still there

The exhibition marks a departure for the Baker Momonova Gallery which has been open now for three years and which usually specializes in Russian oil paintings. Baker is intending to ask other artists both Russian and English to collaborate further in producing these new Kukryniksies. What I find interesting about the project is that a time when the usual artistic compulsion is on individualism, three artists have created an exhibition where though individuality remains, it is subjugated to a common style. It will be interesting to see how other artists interpret the brief, particularly  Russian artists some of whom may remember their parents or grandparents speaking of the originals.

Looking at Tass Windows is running at the Baker Mamonova Gallery, 43 Norman Road, St Leonards on Sea until December 24. Prices range from £200 to £6,000.