Semaphore Gallery: on the right lines

Up and down the country there must be artists looking for places to exhibit. Meanwhile, there must also be an abundance of idle rooms which could make excellent gallery spaces. University of Brighton art graduates Daniel Dowling and David Wright have found one such in St Leonards on Sea, conveniently situated  at the Railway Station. Thanks to the generosity of Network Rail, the former waiting room and sometime police room has now been turned into a mini gallery open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Named the Semaphore Gallery, it was today showing work by Nick Hill, whose distinctive and idiosyncratic style was proving a draw; I even saw a couple of police officers drop in, curious to see how their former work base was being used.

Nick Hill: Strange Fruit


Mostly Hill, shown below, concentrates on his brightly coloured paintings but  he also dabbles in ceramics, etchings and the occasional curiosity.

Nick Hill outside the Semaphore Gallery

What could be more curious than this special book, constructed in part out of sweets. Now that is something you could really get your teeth into.


One Man in a Waiting Room is showing at the Semaphore Gallery from 11 until 3pm on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays until December 13.

But would it fit in the Elevator 3: Paintings

Go round art departments in Britain’s universities and you might be forgiven for thinking that painting was so last millennium. Among both undergraduates and post grad students there appear to be more people into sound, installation or performance than there are fretting about brush strokes and colour. Go round the commercial galleries, as I did in New York, and it’s clear that while all forms of art are represented,  it is paintings, or near paintings, that are dominant.  It is hardly surprising; you don’t need a private art gallery to display a painting; the gap above the sofa will probably do.  The gap above the sofa may demand one. While there were some giant works, most of the wall based art would have fitted in the average elevator

The one exception was this strange and enormous piece by Italian artist Rudolf Stingel  at the Paula Cooper Gallery, where it benefited from being the sole work on display. Measuring at least twelve feet by eight, it would not immediately have passed the elevator test, though of course it could have been removed from its stretchers and then re-hung. This was not in any case the work for the average apartment; it would require a complete wall, if not a complete room to itself. I cannot imagine many people would want it on the wall opposite the bed. From a distance it looks like a very slightly out of focus photograph. Get closer and you see that this is actually painted in oils.

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I found the degrees of remove interesting. Here is a painting of an imaginary being that is presented to us in what appears to be an accurate portrayal of an amateurishly constructed dummy.  The creature/monster/demon clearly has wooden, rather than skeletal, arms and a fabric body, rather than one made of  ectoplasm or whatever is the substance of which spirits are customarily made. This is how Stringer has chosen to work the image, rather than go the more direct route and paint something imaginary from imagination. There was no information about the painting on the day that I visited so I was unclear whether he had constructed it in the first  place, or, as I thought more probable, since he has in the past painted portraits from photographs taken by other people, that it was created or photographed by a different artist. Also interesting is how different this is from so much of Stringers other work, Though he is no stranger to the macabre, he also paints landscapes and has made elaborate installations. With a painting such as this, like and dislike seem quite irrelevant terms. If it were not for the broomstick arms it could have been frightening. If it were not for the screaming skull head the drape of the fabric could have been seen as beautiful. It was both ridiculous and wonderful. It was not an image you could forget

Another artist who paints in a totally realistic way is Matthew Miller, but with very different results. Portraits of people you do not know are often not particularly interesting but there is something about Miller’s skill and the singularity of his face that made the series compelling, They were showing at the Hansel and Gretel Garden Pocket Utopia.

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The largest and most intricate showed Miller in the act of carving a piece of wood. The Gallery had wanted to show the block along with the painting; Miller had apparently not liked the idea as he thought it would distract from the precision of his work. But I was interested in seeing it and the gallery staff kindly took me out to a back room where it was lurking hidden under a plastic covering. So here is the photograph of the portrait and possibly the only published photograph of the block of wood. You will see that it was far less smooth than it appears in the painting and possibly Miller too is less smooth than the strange, soft, hairless way he portrays himself.

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If Miller’s paintings were almost photographicly accurate, David Antonides, though also representational, were swerving towards the abstract. Shown at the Project Gallery in Orchard Street, they were of  a wet oily off-key New York in that none of the pictures were shown from a totally vertical viewpoint. The technique Antonides used for these is to rub paint into sodden paper with a pumice stone producing this distressed effect.



At Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe they were showing work by Monique Van Genderen. Almost entirely abstract I enjoyed the layered effect. You can see  the white shape in the foreground only partially conceals the painting behind, whilst the drip from the dark blue form goes over it. At first glance the paintings look very loose and fluid, then you realise that there is real precision there. Look at the bright green line, the way that it works with the black line to form what is suggestive of a figure in the centre of the work.

Monique van Genderen, 'Untitled,' 2014 , Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe

Monique van Genderen, 'Untitled (six of six),' 2014 , Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe

All the works are untitled and provide no clues about their meaning. They seem rather to rejoice in the act of painting. In the smaller work above, the same layering is evident, the same use of drip and again the exactitude of that yellow line.

Photographs do not do justice to the works of Marthe Keller at the Gallery Molly Krom; the subtlety of the different textures needs to be seen. The colours need to be as the artist mixed them and not an approximation that varies with the computer screen.

Marthe Keller_Mottu Proprior 2

While this was very clearly a painting on unstretched linen, rather than a 3D work, the mix also included acetate and the odd scrap of what looked like furnishing fabric.The effect was light and somewhat wistful. Nothing seemed fixed. The surfaces reacted to each other as if they were echoes. Keller apparently paints with some home-made tools, such as brushes tied together so that a randomness is introduced. In such works it must be difficult to judge the moment at which to stop.  Yet Keller appears to know instinctively when that is; nothing was overdone. It was the restraint that made them so unusual.

Marthe Keller_Schwitters schmitters III

But would it fit in the elevator? No 2 Sculptures

Following my  recent trip to New York I wanted to write about too many art-works to fit in just one post. A few days ago I wrote about installations. Today it is sculptures. West 22 Street seems a good place to start. If you walk down the street between 10th and 11th Avenues you might notice a young tree and beside it, about four feet away, a lump of basalt. At first you might not think it anything special until you spot another one, and then another.  New Yorkers would argue that you have just come across part of the famous multi-located artwork  by Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks.

It started back in 1982 when Beuys decided to start his own personal reforestation programme, aiming to plant 7000 trees. Over the next four years he organised plantings mainly in Kassel in Germany. Each tree had an accompanying basalt stele While the trees grew, the basalt would remain the same but the relationship between the two would change. Kassel was not the only town to benefit, Beuys celebrated his sixty-third birthday in May 1984 by helping to plant 400 native tree and bush species around the Italian town of Bolognano. His son Wenzel completed the project in 1987 by planting the final trees on the first anniversary of his father’s death.

In truth, Beuys did not single out West 22nd street.  After his death, the Dia Art Foundation, which had help fund 7,000 Oaks decided to plant some trees in his name;  five trees with steles were planted in 1988 and a second row of eighteen in 1995. They are not all oaks, but then neither were the Kassel trees:  7,000 Oaks sounds a lot better as a title, than 7,000 Assorted trees and Bushes.

Are the New York trees  a genuine Beuys work or an imitation? If I plant a tree in my garden with a basalt stele, could I too be host to part of 7,000 Oaks?  Tempting though it is, I think I will give it a miss. My garden does not have room for another tree and I don’t know where I could lay my hands on suitable basalt. Anyway, I am sure Beuys would have been very happy to have the West 22nd Street trees attributed to him. Last week  both the trees and their guardian steles  looked great in the autumn sunshine and were an excellent introduction to the surrounding  galleries.

Shows a tree and a basalt stele
Joseph Beuys: 7000 Oaks, New York

One of these was the Matthew Marks Gallery. It has a tree and stele just by its front entrance and was showing a most striking work  that looked like a huge question mark, or possibly a sperm. It turned out to be by Martin Puryear, and the first thing that I noticed was how  beautifully made it was.

Martin Puryear: Bent Wood Sculpture
Martin Puryear: sculpture detail

In the detail of the different woods, you can see the skill with which it has been put together. I had not seen Puryear’s works before but they reminded me somewhat of those of the British artist Richard Deacon; they have the same fluidity and the same love of materials. Both were born in the 1940s, Puryear in 1941, Deacon in 1949. I am not the only one who has noticed the similarities. They have exhibited together at least once and both appeared in the 1989 book New Sculptures: Six Artists.

Over in West 24 Street there were more of Puryear’s sculptures. I particularly liked this one of bent wood and string.  It is not a piece that would fit easily in the elevator, unless it were all untied, but there was something immensely satisfying about its hand-made appearance – all those knots, all so perfect; It comes as no surprise that his past experience includes knowledge of boat building and I imagine sailing.

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Martin Puryear: tied wood sculpture
Martin Puryear: Sculpture detail
Martin Puryear: Sculpture detail

Though a lot of Puryear’s work is in wood; he also uses metal as in this deceptively simple piece; there is the same kind of fold to it as in the bent wood piece above, but this one looks more human, or perhaps more animal.

Martin Puryear: Sculpture in metal
Martin Puryear: Sculpture in metal

It was also exciting to see works that were made of less traditional materials. The Hoerle Guggenheim Gallery was showing the most remarkable head. Made out of silicone and human hair it was a self-portrait of Evan Penny. It managed to be both  incredibly realistic – it even has eyelashes, eyebrows and a fuzz of hair on the chest, and, at the same time, completely weird because of the size – it is over a meter high – and because of the distortion. It might be rather hard to live with: I would prefer some pleasing bent wood but it certainly caught one’s attention.

Evan Penny: Self Portrait
Evan Penny: Self Portrait

More male flesh but of a very different kind was provided by the Mark Miller Gallery. The curators there had the interesting idea of showing works by the assistants of well-known artists. This work by Chie Shimizu assistant to Sol Le Witt, was perhaps the most intriguing. The three figures are apparently carrying their life experiences on their heads. I like the similarity of the figures, their acceptance of their burdens and the fact that they are as interesting from the back as from the front.

Three figures by Chie Shimizu
Chie Shimizu: Maquette No 7
Chie Shimizu: Maquette No 7 rear view

I am always interested in works which are somewhere between sculptures and paintings and while many of the works by R H Quaytman are definitely two-dimensional  silk screens and paintings, the third dimension made an appearance in the exhibition at the Gladstone Gallery whilst retaining a painterly feel to the works. What they are about is somewhat unclear,and of all the works I saw, they were perhaps the most difficult works to understand; the accompanying statements did not particularly help, though it seemed she drew inspiration from a botanical garden in Minas Gerais in Brazil. Commenting on the work, she wrote of the intention to develop a painting model that corresponds with how – not only – what we see. The piece below though apparently mounted on  board or canvas is a gigantic presence which stands out from the wall.

R.H. Quaytman: OTopico, Chapter 27

In others the mass is far more connected to the underlying painting. In the one shown below the pattern of the background is causing interference in the photograph,but is highly intricate forming a disturbing contrast with the central form. I was interested in the results she had achieved with her sculptural materials: encaustic, acrylic and polyurethane foam, so much so that I have bought myself a can of foam with which to experiment. But I would have greatly liked a bit more information about the thought processes behind the works.

R.H. Quaytman: OTopico, Chapter 27
R.H. Quaytman: OTopico, Chapter 27 (detail)

Far more accessible were the works by Brenda Garand in the Lesley Heller Workspace, entitled Northern Passage. Made out of materials such as steel wire, roofing paper, fabric, wool, silk and rope, they conveyed both strength and  fragility. Complex in themselves, their complexity was further enhanced by the lighting which caused  them to create fantastic shadows.

Brenda Garand: Northern Passage
Brenda Garand: Northern Passage

The works remind the viewer of water, leaves and the natural world and reflect her interest in the Northern rivers and the religious concepts of the Algonquin peoples. They are accompanied by her drawings made with clay, and inks. What was interesting here was that you could see at a glance that the sculptures and drawing were done by the same person. The drawings seem complete in themselves not just studies for the 3 dimensional works.

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Brenda Garrand: Northern Passage

Shadows also played a part in a very different sculptural work by Alberto Borea at the Y Gallery in Orchard Street. Called We are Gone: Intervention on a Metal Cage this was so very simple and so effective; I liked it enormously and wish I had thought of it.

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Alberto Borea: We are Gone: Interventions on a Metal Cage

But would it fit in the elevator? No 1 Installations

It has been said that you will never have a good art career unless your work fits into the elevator of a New York apartment block. Attributed  by some to Grayson Perry in the Reith Lecture, I read it first in that excellent book by Sarah Thornton Seven Days in the Art World. I was visiting New York last week and had the opportunity to check out for myself the truth of the maxim by going round as many of the commercial galleries as I could manage. With hundreds to choose from, it was quite an undertaking, though the clustering of galleries around certain streets in Chelsea and East Village made it somewhat easier. Lift friendly works may indeed be easier to sell but there were plenty of dealers that seemed unperturbed by theoretical size restrictions or indeed any practical considerations, such as fragility,  overall space requirements or even the more prosaic difficulty of keeping a work clean. So here are some pieces that caught my eye and, as there were too many of them for one blog, this is the first of a series of three – Installations, though I do stray into sculpture at the end.

This piece by the Algerian born artist Kader Attia is showing in the Lehman Maupin Gallery in Chrystie Street. Called Asesinos it comprises 100 doors which are split  and then rejoined so that they can stand upright like people. On the top of some, but not all, are megaphones suggesting  the shouting or posturing of a political demonstration. Viewed from floor level the grouping is slightly intimidating; from above  they appear more vulnerable, less sure of themselves. You are aware that they are confined or trapped by the walls. I had previously seen work by by Attia in the Pompidou where I had been impressed by the power of his 2007 work Ghost which showed a group of Muslim women at prayer, made out of aluminium foil, the interiors were hollow. While Asesinos did not have quite the same impact, there is still the sense of the crowd and of clashing world views.

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A very different work was that by Andres Carranza showing at the Klemens Gasser and Tanja Grunert Gallery, Called Territorial Marking, the original name appears to have been Territorial Pissing, which perhaps better describes what it it about. Curators Mitra Khorasheh and Elsie Herget presumably decided that was a bit too rude.  Completed over two weeks, the installation is an extraordinary explosion of colour, little sketches and doodles not only fill the walls but also skitter over the floor. So unlike most artworks where you can’t touch, here you are forced to walk upon it the drawings and paintings which are slowly being degraded. I love the idea of the artist as animal, marking out his territory by pissing paint over the gallery. Among the paint markings on the walls are smaller paintings that are almost camouflaged.  It was a fascinating way to display them.

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My favourite installation unfortunately doesn’t  photograph well. It is this piece by Hans Haacke called Together; it is a re- visitation of Circulation which he first  created  in 1969.  It is a very simple concept; water and air are pumped through an intricate network of transparent tubes. Having just walked up the stairs, you don’t forget for a moment that you are in a gallery but the bubbles in the tubes, which move and reform,  give you the unexpected sensation that you are on a beach at low tide looking at runnels of water returning to the sea.

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It really made me want to see the other works Haacke has created  on a sea theme, particularly Wide White Flow which judging from You Tube is even more spectacular. There was however the chance to see the maquette for Gift Horse which will occupy the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square.  It is based on an engraving by George Stubbs and around its leg there is some ticker tape which will display the London Stock Market ticker which is supposed to be an oblique reference to the Adam Smith’s 1776 book The Wealth of Nations.  More often than not, I am disappointed by the fourth plinth displays. Katharina Fritsch’s Big Blue Cock was better than most. I didn’t like Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare; I am not convinced that I will like Gift Horse any better. It seems over thought out and contrived. Looking at the fluidity of the tubes and the brilliance of Wide White Flow, I suddenly realised it is the plinth itself that is the problem not the invited artists: the fourth plinth is simply not very suited to contemporary art.  Constraints can spark the imagination but the Trafalgar Square plinth has a personality of its own – and not a good one.  It seems actively to want yet another sculpture of a white dead man; and without one, it sulks and tries to make the sculptures look stupid; like it or not, that is the sort of plinth it is.

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