Art School in the Room

Readers of this blog will know that I have little patience with the “is this or is this not art” debate. I am quite happy to accept if an artist says, ‘it is art’ then that is what it it is – next question.  The real issue is whether it is good. Even so, when before Christmas, artist Annie Davey called for volunteers at Sussex Coast College  to help undertake a project about art schools, which would involve collecting  photographs of the old Hastings art college, I found, despite myself, that I was having the subversive thought,”this isn’t really art at all.” After going to a couple of meetings I dropped out. The results of the project are now on display in the Room Gallery outside the college. I went along to see the results.

The idea was t0 examine the way that 20th century art schools have been historicised and  romanticised through photographic images and stories. The team, who comprised Celeste Barker, Marie Ford, Barbara Mullen and Dan Dowling,  became interested in the move of the Hastings Art School from the old Victorian building to the current site in Station Plaza. They also looked at the way contemporary art schools combine freedom and experimentation with rules and bureaucracy.

Displayed on the wall were a series of found photographs from the old art school.

A series of photographs of the old Hasting Art College pinned to the wall
Found Photographs of the old Hastings Art School

They were not posed or artistically taken shots but included the mundane detritus that is left when a building is closed.

chairs are piled on desks at the old hastins Art College
Found Photograph of the old Hastings Art School
A filing cabinet in the old Hastings College
A filing cabinet in the old Hastings College

A slide projector showed images of the new building which had been made deliberately blurry to  distance the viewer from the present time.

A blurry photograph showing a bench with sink at Sussex Coast College
Slide Projection of studio space at Sussex Coast College – it has been deliberately blurred

On the walls, were a selection of the instructions that we receive, whilst on a loop, course leader Patrick Jone’s voice intoned the aims of the modules as set out in the student handbook.

A photograph of a sheet of paper with instructions to students at Sussex Coast College
Student instructions Sussex Coast College

Matching the modern instructions were actual notices from the old building.

A sign saying drive in thie bay only do not reverse at the old Hastins Art School
Signs from the old Hastings Art School

Strangely, and despite my misgivings, it all actually worked. I accepted it was even art. The photographs collectively were more interesting than you might have thought and pointing a spotlight on the mundane, particularly that which is separated by time has the effect of making it look special. Also, the instructions, which must be similar to those posted on many student notice boards,  looked unique and worthy of attention. The aim of the show was to “present a series of small gestures that cross wires and destabilise our perception of the past, whilst implicitly asking questions about what might be ideal for an art school now.”  Even so, I suspect that it would be of most interest to those people who experienced, which I did not, the old art college in Hastings.

Art School is on display in the Blue Room Gallery outside Sussex Coast College today 25 January 2013

Cass Sculpture Park and the importance of position

I had the privilege to visit the Cass Sculpture Park near Chichester last week. It was bitterly cold and, as the park is not open to the public in winter, hardly anybody else appeared to be about in the 26 acres of woodland that make up the grounds. Coming across marvellous sculptures among the trees was an extraordinary experience. It also got  me thinking about the importance of putting sculptures in the right  place and the difference the setting  can make to our perception of a work. While there were obviously some that I liked better than others, I was also struck by the fact that some of the works seemed much happier in their woodland surroundings than others. It was difficult to work out why. It was not to do with form; you might think that organic shapes and materials would work better than more geometric  pieces, or sculptures which had been created out of steel, plastic  or glass would work less well than those made out of granite or wood. That did not appear to be the case. Nor did it appear to be necessarily position in the park, though works on the periphery, where they were not juxtaposed against others, appeared to have some advantage.

The Cass Foundation was set up in 1992 by Wilfred and Jeanette Cass with the aim of supporting new and emerging artists. The Foundation has commissioned some 400 sculptures over the twenty years all of which have been for sale. Prices are substantial ranging from a few thousand pounds  to £750000. At any one time there are about 80 sculptures on display; they are often far larger than could possibly be housed in a gallery.The one stipulation the Foundation makes to the artists that it commissions is that the works should not be site specific; they need to be able to be sold and therefore transportable. This constraint is entirely understandable in the context of the Foundation’s mission, but it does remove what could be a glue which could bind all the works into an aesthetic whole. The Foundation had thought very carefully about such matters as directions – the suggested way through the woods was marked by these rather fetching yellow arrows. The buildings holding the lavatories and the benches were all of interesting designs.

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But there were no sculptures that made use of the trees themselves; I wanted to see cats’ cradles linking trees together,  defining the space between them or creatures slithering up things or down things, or unseasonal leaves suspended from bare branches, or bark apparently peeled back to reveal … what? I don’t know.   This is a quibble; here are the ten works I liked best,  in no particular order,  which seemed to me to work well in their surroundings. You can see how varied they were.

1. Seven Gregory: Fish on  bicycle

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Steven Gregory: fish on a Bicycle

Near the entrance and far smaller than the majority of works was this rather whimsical piece by Steven Gregory which I though might look even better in an urban setting, perhaps near other bicycles. I like the look of quiet determination on the fish’s face; it obviously finds the bicycle useful, giving lie to the old saying.

2. Stephen Cox: Lingam of a Thousand Lingams

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Stephen Cox: Lingam of a Thousand Lingams

This huge phallus by Steven Cox worked superbly well at a point where the paths crossed. It seemed to form a natural landmark in the woods and the granite from which it was made had weathered in a satisfying way. cass 050

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Sean Henry: Folly

3.Sean Henry: Folly

This sculpture took me entirely by surprise: as I mentioned I thought I was alone, though I half expected somebody else to be wandering down the paths. Then, suddenly, I came round the corner and saw what appeared to be this relaxed man standing on a pavilion and then I realised I was looking into an interior. Apart from the absence of walls there is the surreal touch of a chair on the ceiling. It is a thought-provoking piece as it leads the viewer to realise how little we know about the lives people lead when in their own homes. To a greater or lesser extent it is something about which we all speculate. Here we have an voyeur’s insight.

4 Tony Cragg: Tongue in Cheek

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Tony Cragg: Tongue in Cheek

This was one of my favourite pieces; I loved the way the coils worked in the setting.  Looking into the piece. the patterns changed and worked together. I liked the way the hard metal contrasted with vegetation  and the mud but at the same time seemed to share some of the same qualities.

5 Awst and Walther: I miss you

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Awst and Walther: I miss you

I thought this jar was really fun and again it worked really well in the space capturing different views through the circular hole at its centre.  This is one I might have thought would not work in a rural setting but in fact it did. The contrast between the tree trunks framed by the jar and the modernity of the materials was interesting.

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Rob Ward: Gate

6. Rob Ward: Gate

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Taking a photo of Rob Ward’s Gate

Of all the sculptures in the park this was probably the one I liked the best. I thought it would work well in any urban setting as well. As you can see the surface is highly reflective and this created a strange illusion of looking into another dimension. The name gate seems well-chosen. The first photograph shows how it appears as you come across it along the path.  The second is a photograph of me taking the photograph, looking as though I could, if I chose, step through a gateway into a different world.

7. Diane Maclean: Encampment

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Diane Maclean: Encampment

Here was another sculpture which despite its modern chrome and metal materials, I felt worked well in the woods suggesting a settlement, which on closer inspection turns out to be an illusion.  I liked the way that the tent structures had been divided into two, so that there was a clear path between them. Two camps you might say, though this was only visible from certain directions.

8. Danny Lane: Stairway

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Danny Lane: Stairway

This stairway I could also imagine could also work very well, perhaps even better,  outside a  building reflecting the staircases within.

9.Philip King: Sun’s Roots II

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Philip King: Sun’s Roots II

I was surprised that Sun Roots worked as well as it did.  I might have thought that the colours and materials would jar but in fact it looked extraordinary. The splash of colour brightened up the winter woods.

10. Jon Isherwood Passages and Circumstances

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Jon Isherwood: Passages and Circumstances
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Passages and Circumstances detail

Finally this piece by Jon Isherwood was intriguing in the way that you could both get inside it, but also see through it so, it according to your position it framed different vistas or slivers of the countryside.

The Cass Sculpture Park is open 0n Saturdays from January 26  to  23 March between 10.30 and 4.30. The new season starts on 29 March 20123 when it is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.30 to 4.30

Beers Lambert’s emerging artists

I called in to see the Beers Lambert’s emerging artists awards exhibition earlier this week. It is always interesting to see what wins awards. Some nine works by seven artists are being presented at their gallery in Baldwin Street on the edge of the City, chosen from over 1500 worldwide submissions. US artist Scott Carter, whose head officially called Departing from the Rules of Harmony is shown below, was the first place winner. It was possibly the work I liked the most – I find I tend to like works in which people feature in some kind of way – though I was not so impressed by the reason that it appeared to gain first prize and that was the concept. It had been constructed from pieces of plaster taken from the walls of a gallery which it was explained was both performance and sculptural. A bit gimmicky, don’t you think? I did however like the way that it was layered and its damaged nose which echoed the damage done to the noses of countless classical statues.

Scultpure of a head in layers by Scott Carter
Scott Carter: Departing from the Rules of Harmony

Among the other works I liked  was Oystein Dahlstrom’s Shattered shown below. The work, which is a C-print face-mounted plexi, is a simple concept of broken glass but extraordinarily slickly executed. The press release explains that Dahlstrom, who is Norwegian, prefers “incomplete and distorted states of being as interpreted through the computer generated images.” I felt this image was stronger than his other work Castle, an image of a modernist building. The broken glass, the suggestion of reflections and the black hole at its core created a compelling image which also led the viewer to contemplate what was not there, what might have been reflected.


Jack West’s Nodding Donkey appeared striking, particularly the way the shadows were reflected on the wall. He had developed this into a video showing three of them moving in tandem which the press release explained were nodding donkeys at prayer.

A scultpture of a nodding donkey used in the production of oil
Jack West: Nodding Donkey

“The resulting kinetic sculpture exhibited sees the rhythmic grazing of chains against concrete as mechanical, sensory and allegorical,” it explained.

Jwan Yosef ‘s work Bad Posture was a deceptively simple  a back to front painting on perspex. His interest is on “the occurrences which appear on the outside of, and erroneously from, the presented image.”

Two paintings oil on perspex of a man in outline
Jwan Yosef: Bad Posture

The differences are indeed interesting particularly the way that the paint in the image of the right escapes its boundaries and also the striations of the image on the left.

Spanish artists Alejandro Valles and Gema Perales work together under the name Aggtelek. I always find it intriguing how two artists combine to produce a single work, particularly as here when it is difficult to detect two different hands. I would have liked to have known more what this particular pair of paintings was about as “satirical mash-ups of the human condition, and acknowledged pastiche of Koons or Rosenquist ” did not seem a quite enough information.

Double painting by Aggtelek showing a collection f images including a car and two ears
Aggtelek: the Rise and Fall of So What

While information on the meaning of the works may have been somewhat limited and, where there, couched in fairly impenetrable terms, what most struck me was the absence of images of the second places award winner,  Canadian artist Gabriel Dawe, in the Sculpture and Installation field which was apparently due to its site specific nature. This led me to look up Dawe to see what we had missed. It was not clear from his website which work won the award but he typically creates rainbow effects using thread and hooks. I could see why the winner had  not been included; apart from its site specific nature, he tends to work large.  It might have filled the gallery. Even so, it would have been great to see the real thing. It left a real hole in the exhibition.

Gabriel Dawe
Gabriel Dawe: Plexus – no works were present

The Beers Lambert Emerging Artists Awards Exhibition is showing until January 26 at 1 Baldwin Street , London EC1V9NU

Brain Dysfunction: new painting

I have just completed, or think I have completed (I am never very sure about these things) a new painting. It is called Brain Dysfunction and it is about a brain not working properly. It is not actually my brain; at the moment I think my brain is all right and according to Lumosity which I do fairly regularly in the rather superstitious hope that it might keep it in good order, my brain is absolutely fine – in fact quite perky.   It is more a fear about what my brain might do in the future.

You know how it feels when you can’t recall a name or a word; it is as if there is a little bit of sky in your brain: a hole where the word or thought should be. In this painting there is quite a bit of sky; indeed in the centre of the picture the brain seems to be thinning and more sky seems to be threatening to break through.  There are also quite a few skanky places where bits seem to be peeling away or generally clogging things up and  a few slimy places where slimy thoughts are happening.

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It is quite large, about 4ft square, painted in oils on canvas but there is also some collage – the sky bits are pixelated photographs as you can possibly see here:

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I have also used quite a lot of tissue paper for the flaky effects. I am not entirely sure how stable it is so I might give it  a coat of varnish in the future. On the other hand I suppose I could take line of least resistance and  adhere to the view that if some bits flake off  then that is in the spirit of what it is all about.

Posing on Mount Teide

I am just back from Tenerife; I had hoped to get to an art gallery while I was there, but distances over mountain roads take longer than you might think. But Mount Teide seemed to bring out the artist  in most of the people around. The landscape was certainly dramatic enough.silhouettes show up against the sky line of Mount Teide, Tenerife

Somebody had thoughtfully provided a piece of land art. It was unlikely to last long in the winds.

 a small column of stones on Mount Teide, Tenerife

But what I most liked was the way that these people, all unknown to me, photographed each other.

Two photographers take photographs of a man standing in the National Park, Tenerife




That and the rocks


Happy New Year everybody.