Life after leaving

It happens to all art students. You make art;  it is subject to intense discussion, often far more than it actually deserves; you have exhibitions – true, they are internal  to the college or university but you still have to create work to gallery standards by a specific date.  Your shows have an opening night, complete with posh crisps and cheap wine and people, who admittedly may just be friends and relations, come and look at what you have done. But at least they come. Then, far more quickly than you think possible when you start, you have got your BA, MA or whatever, and you are officially an artist. And then what?  A glowing career if Saatchi picks up the phone;  but what it he doesn’t?

It is prospect which alarms many of us. So we pledge all sorts of allegiances – ‘we will form a crit group; we will meet up once a month; we will exhibit together; we will make it happen.’ But, as anybody who has ever worked in any kind of team knows all too well, it is not as easy as that. Teams thrive on constant interaction and, when you are no longer forced to meet up regularly, life in the form of other commitments and obstacles:  jobs, children, distance, tends to get in the way. Sometimes, the allegiances that seemed such a good idea when they were made, fall apart because, come to think of it, you never really liked each other’s work in the first place.

Congratulations then for avoiding all this kind of thing goes to Lyn Dale, Nikki Davidson Bowman, Jules Mitchell, Marie Ford, Louise-Michele Evans and Katy Oxborrow, all recent University of Brighton Graduates for putting together 6 Unfold at the Little Chealsea Gallery in Eastbourne.

Little Chelsea was started by photographer Tim Bosworth with the aim of helping promote artists from all fields. Like the Brick Lane Gallery, which I wrote about in February, Little Chelsea charges artists to exhibit, I continue to have some reservations about going down this route, but there seems to me a huge difference in groups of artists taking control and putting on a properly curated exhibition and individuals who hand that process over to the vanity galleries and so have no idea about the others’ works with which their own will be shown. It has bought further exposure in this case; a small step perhaps, but the six have already been asked to recreate the exhibition later in the foyer of Sussex Coast College to act as a role model to current students.

6 Unfold has been put together extremely well.   The title is clever, referencing both the artists’ developing careers and the paper works that are included in the exhibition.

I have always admired Katy Oxborrow’s paintings and I thought this diptych  Inbetween (yes it is one word) was interesting, particularly in its use of texture.

Katy Oxborrow: Inbetween

I was less convinced by its meaning, Katy told me that  her  use of ancient symbolism “referenced a time when men and women were regarded as equals in society.”  Cowrie shells, she went on to say,  were used in early forms of  worship  of female deity, and were coated in red ochre.  “The ritualised placement of them with the dead was used to bring them back through rebirth.” 

Personally, I suspect women get a better deal in society these days than at some time in ancient past and whilst the equality legislation may not be perfect, I would tend to go with it rather than rely on red ochre but that does not detract from what is a fine painting.

Peopled by shadows installation view Marie
Marie Ford: Peopled by Shadows

Also strong were Marie Ford’s installation of  paintings and geometric shapes. Peopled by Shadows.  I very much preferred these to her earlier felt works. The installation was inspired by old notebooks; the geometric shapes are made of paper from the notebooks while the paintings are a representation of the pages and are painted on recycled canvases which itself gives them a lived in feel. I found this a very evocative work, being myself the possessor of a motley assortment of tatty old notebooks, which, as in Marie’s work, are full of empty pages. These books are a record of unremembered, rather than remembered times.

Nikki Davidson Bowman works with old books. This installation To Kitty with Love, comes from the inscription at the beginning of the book rather than its title A Peep Behind the Scene. Nikki has cut out the centre of each page to make the little origami houses. Each page is present and the house formed from the single coloured plate and house formed from a blank page provide an intriguing contrast to the rest of the word covered houses,

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Nikki Davidson Bowman : To Kitty with Love

A small but interesting work was Lyn Dale’s Ravellings with Cotton Thread.  (ravellings good word that)  I have not as yet been quite able to read what it says, but given my propensity to like works better before they are explained, that may be an advantage.

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Lyn Dale: Ravellings with cotton thread

6 Unfold is showing at the Little Chelsea Gallery  in Eastbourne until 4 April. On Saturday 28 March you can walk and talk with the artists between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Paintings and prints are for sale and range from £10 to £600. 

Looking the Gift Horse in the mouth

So it has arrived, Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. I saw it as a maquette in New York last November and was interested to discover how it would appear in reality.

Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse Trafalgar Square

The sculpture, Haacke has explained, is a tribute to the economist Adam Smith as well as the English painter George Stubbs whose painting of the famous racehorse Whistlejacket hangs close by in the National Gallery. The horse also alludes to the equestrian statue of William IV which would have occupied the plinth if the funding had been found. Unlike most horses which make it into bronze or marble, it is not heroic;  heroism requires muscle. Based on an engraving by Stubbs, taken from ‘The Anatomy of the Horse’ published in 1766,  it incongruously has an electronic ribbon tied round its front leg displaying live the ticker of the London Stock Exchange.

It was this ribbon which I thought looked most peculiar in the maquette and which I found most difficult to visualise, and it got me thinking about the skill that must be required of those who have the task of selecting works for public places. Actually, when you remember some of the artworks in public places perhaps it is has not always been acquired. I am  thinking of my particular hate, Paul Day’s appalling Lovers Statue at St Pancras Station.

Scale in a sculpture is so important. A nine inch mantelpiece-ready statuette of Michelangelo’s David, as sold in a thousand tourist shops, does not really give you much idea of the original. Equally, big is not always better; look at pictures of the maquette of the St Pancras lovers.  At one metre tall  it doesn’t look so bad. It just isn’t strong enough to be a nine metre work.

2. Paul Day, The Lovers, maquette. Original bronze sculpture 1m tall that was used for the scaling up of the 9m monumental sculpture - The Lovers, St. Pancras by Paul Day

So whilst I was not particularly enthusiastic about the mini gift horse, I was curious;  I am enthusiastic about a lot of Hans Haacke’s work and thought this one could go either way.

Apart from size, the viewing angle is important.  In New York, the maquette could be studied at the same level, a view which in Trafalgar Square is limited to passing pigeons. Seeing it from below is a very different experience. The plinth seems more dominant. As with many of the Trafalgar Square offerings, the one exception being the previous incumbent, the Blue Cock,  the horse itself looked slightly smaller than you might expect, but at least not over-sized.

The real surprise was the tickertape. Obviously in the maquette, it couldn’t actually work and the little ribbon on the model looked ever so slightly naff. I first saw the sculpture at dusk and the flickering light seemed quiet extraordinary and magical. The sculpture might be an invective against greed and a comment on the destructive power of the markets.  In the twilight, greed looked enticing. In sunshine, greed had been given a less important role and for a bit I thought it had been turned off. But no, greed remains; it is of course an important part of the whole  Gift Horse is a more political and more thoughtful work than the Blue Cock. ( I had become really bored with that particular joke by the end of its year)  It is possible, though by no means certain, that I might even come to like it,