Looking at one thing and thinking of something else at Carroll/Fletcher

Picasso is reputed to have said, “good artists copy; great artists steal.” At first sight Eva and Franco Mattes, whose work is currently showing at Carroll/Fletcher in the heart of Soho, appear to have taken this advice literally. Stolen comprises some 40 or more different fragments of artworks from different museums in the US and Europe. They are each encapsulated in a little perspex box and, on the wall, nearby is a key so that you can work out what you are looking at.

Eva and Franco Mattes: Stolen

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It is like a Who’s Who of contemporary art; some artists might be quite peeved to be left out. Among those included are Wahol, Andre, Segal, Beuys, Kandinsky. Very few women, you notice;  Robert Rauschenberg’s bed is included rather than that of Tracy Emin. Rauschenberg himself famously erased a drawing by de Kooning but that was with permission.One wonders what he would have thought. Looking at the tiny trophies, a few threads here, a label there, some strangely sizeable items like the metal plate from Cesar,  one is torn between admiration at their audacity and  middle class horror at the vandalism, even if on a small scale; “what if everyone were to do it?”

Finally, despite the video above the reception desk showing the pair appropriating a thread from a painting by Alberto Burri,  doubts surface. “What is this? A fragment of porcelain from Marcel Duchamp’s fountain? ” But the whereabouts of Duchamp’s fountain are unknown. Only replicas exist. I conclude that Eva and Franco are only guilty of breaking the ninth commandment, rather than the more serious eighth. I am almost disappointed.

The exhibition “looking at one thing and thinking of something else.”  has been in four parts and this is the last of the series , entitled Disrupt/Disorder/Display. It certainly succeeds in making you think about the nature of art. I wish I had seen the earlier ones.   The world has been turned upside down in another of the Mattes’ work. This time in a very different form; a disconsolate  cat has been caged by a canary.P1020148

Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s I can’t work life this was first produced in 2007 in response to a gallery’s invitation to contribute a work for an art fair. The words are spelt out by gaps in the hammered nails. The abandoned tools and bent nails lie on the floor beneath clearly expressing her frustration with the commercialism of the art world.

Natascha Sadr Haghighian: I can’t work like this.

Downstairs, I particularly enjoyed the video by John Wood and Paul Harrison, Semi Automatic Painting Machine. Framed by articles apparently hanging out to dry, we watch items being spray painted, sometimes to the point where they can hardly be distinguished  from their surroundings.

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John Wood and Paul Harrison:Semi Automatic Panting Machine

It is  more interesting than it sounds. The sound of the paint being sprayed is particularly effective. Once again I found myself looking at one thing and thinking about something else – in this case, ” how did they do it?”

Looking at  one thing and thinking about something else is showing at Carroll/Fletcher,56-57 Eastcastle Street,London W1W8EQ until 29 April

Excellent Brickollaging in Westminster

“PLASTERRORISING – Create and maintain a state of extreme fear and distress in a soft mixture of sand and cement and sometimes with water; fill with terror to form a smooth hard surface when dried.

EGGLYING – An oval or round object laid by a female bird, reptile, fish or invertebrate saying something untrue about containing a developing embryo.

BRICKOLLAGING – Create a piece of art by sticking various different materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric on to a small rectangular block typically made of fired or sun dried clay, used in building.

A small booklet of some 30 enchanting definitions, of which those above are just a few, accompanies Stathis Dimitriadis‘ installation Astathia  in the Westminster Reference Library. Dimitriadis explains, “Astathia in Greek is the negation of constancy, which also happens to be my name’s origin; so this has been an opportunity to question my identity.”

This is quite a departure from Dimitriadis’ ceramic practice, which saw him a finalist  in the 2016 Broomhill National Sculpture Competition. While ceramics remain,  they  don’t take centre stage in the installation which comprises a precariously balanced collection of objects –  paper-covered bricks, brick-shaped shaped cages, some containing  small and intriguing objects, all of which have significance: Lego, rice, eggs, even herbs which I know grow high in the mountains above his home village in Greece.

Stathis Dimitriadis: Astathia

I spot a small ceramic column, reminiscent of Escape from Reason,  one of the works he is showing at the Murmurations Gallery in Bexhill, where he is exhibiting along with Paul Tuppeny and me. “Look carefully,” he said, “you will find your own name.” Sure enough there was a small part of a poster for The Texture of Time.

Stathis Dimitriadis: the ceramic column resembles his work Escape from Reason

The focus of the installation is in the central structure but it also spreads out around the room. There are brick shaped gaps among the ultramarine portraits; the missing pieces appear on the surrounding walls  As you circle the anarchic structure, it draws you in. The longer you look, the more you see.P1020105


These  oddly juxtaposed objects are  more than just a reflection of Dimitriadis’ life,  some you can interpret; the rice – marriage,  the Thomas the Tank Engine – children;  the snail shells, the frustrations of gardening, or indeed frustrations generally.  Thus they are common to us all, reflecting the many facets and compartments that we all have in our lives. Overall, an excellent example of Brickollaging.

Astathia is showing at Westminster Reference Library, 35 St Martin’s Street, LondonWC2H 7HP, until 24 March



The Texture of Time at Murmurations Gallery

Back last year, when Joe Nguyen, owner of the Murmurations Gallery in Bexhill, asked me to curate a 3D exhibition, we discussed various angles; it seemed to both of us that exploring the nature of time could work well. It appealed to me because much of what I do is, in some way, related to human mortality and it appealed to Joe because only a stone’s throw away on the beach you can see dinosaur footprints, so there was a local connection.

When I asked two fellow Broomhill National Sculpture Prize finalists, Stathis Dimitriadis and Paul Tuppeny to join me, I was delighted that they too took inspiration from the enormity of  geological time. We all felt texture was important in our work. So that was the basis for  The Texture of Time which opened at Murmurations Gallery today.

Paul Tuppeny: Here Beneath Our Feet

Closest to the dinosaur footprints is Paul Tuppeny’s wonderfully evocative work, made out of lead and mirror glass which shows human footprints, as if on wet sand or perhaps fossilised in the same way the dinosaurs made their mark all those millions of years ago. On the wall above it is a painting Doubtful Species, the man on the Beach,  which again shows the beach and the ghostly impression of a man, perhaps the creator of the footprints below. This work is itself about time, for as Tuppeny points out the knots in the walnut panel of wood took 120 years to develop.

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Paul Tuppeny: Doubtful Species; Man on the Beach

When thinking about which works would go together,  I was sure Stathis Dimitriadis’ tall column Escape from Reason would contrast with Paul’s footprints. They did; but I was also pleased how the orange in the rings and the orange in my work complemented each other.

The Texture of Time; gallery view

Stathis works in ceramics and in his Ramble, he imagines the detritus of our everyday lives fused together as if by geological forces. This is work which really rewards study as you recognise the bits and pieces which are generally disregarded.

Stathis Dimitriadis: Ramble

My favourite among Dimitriadis’ works, Respire, reminiscent of  a heart. brings our exploration of time back to the human, the fragility and the short span of our lives. This is a wonderfully clever piece; I particularly like the way that the tubes reach down below the level of the base.

Stathis Diamitriadis: Respire

It was planning where everything might be placed that led directly to my work.  It was clear that at the entrance to the gallery there was a large expanse of wall space but not so much room on the floor. I am interested in works which sit on the boundary between sculpture and painting – and here was the perfect opportunity to make something site specific: paint on canvas that was also sculptural.

Fault in the Fabric of Time takes the idea of geological strata not as they are now but as they might be – millions of years in the future, long after the human race has been wiped out by asteroid impact, super volcano, or, if we as a species are really stupid, nuclear war. At that point geologists, perhaps from another planet or the evolved descendants of whatever manages to survive the catastrophe, would dig down and discover the strata that arise from the current geological epoch, the Anthropocene, with the same kind of wonder that we feel when thinking of the dinosaurs that walked in Bexhill. For these future geologists would deduce from the tiny fragments of plastic deep in the rock, that there had once existed an advanced civilisation. Plastic there will certainly be;  it has recently been discovered that it can even be found in the oceans’ deepest trenches. Fittingly therefore the Anthropocene layer is made from compressed plastic bags.

Sue McDougall: Fault in the Fabric of Time (detail)


Sue McDougall: Fault in the Fabric Of Time

Of course geological time is long but not infinite. Even if the human race survives; even if we successfully colonise other planets, we know that the habitable earth and the solar system will come to an end, though thankfully it has around another eight billion years to go. But beyond that, by big crunch, or by heat death, or something else entirely, there could be the end of the universe itself. So my geological strata fall into the funnel of time, and as time unravels, we have disconnected matter, with a nod to string theory, end up as string on the floor.

The Texture of Time runs at Murmurations Gallery, 17 Parkhurst Road, Bexhill TN39 RJD until March 23. The Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday 10.30 -4.30. Stathis Dimitriadis, Sue McDougall  and Paul Tuppeny  will additionally be talking about our work at the studio in the De La Warr Pavillion on March 18 from 12.30 to 3pm.
















You can paint a sculpture

In my first year of the MA, a tutor at Brighton told me, “you can’t paint a sculpture.” There was quite a lot of other stuff about honesty of materials and that whereas paintings created an illusion, viewers did not grant the same freedom to sculptures; they had to be the real thing.  The tutor was absolutely right that my attempts to paint the damn thing was a failure. (I add in my defence that I knew it myself,  but believed it was not the painting per se that was the problem, rather that I had run out of time and not applied enough paint) but he was absolutely wrong about the principle. Why, the Greeks and Romans did it, and you cannot look for better credentials than that.

Such proclaimed rules always evoke in me the, usually silent and internal, response of “oh yes I can.” I had a similar reaction on being told by somebody else that the detail had to be contained by the form and spent days trying to sketch out intricate but fuzzy and indistinct outlines. I must admit that didn’t work terribly well either. But I was reminded of the prohibition against mixing painting and 3d when a few days ago I saw this wonderful sculpture by Sean Henry at the National Portrait Gallery. It is of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web. It is rather pleasing therefore, that you can Google him, look at images and see both more pictures of the sculpture and some photographs of the man himself and so compare the two.

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Sean Henry’s portrait of Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the National Portrait Gallery

I find this work fascinating. The size is in itself unusual; it is just slightly smaller than four feet high. This gives it a curiously intimate feel. Although on a plinth, he does not tower above you and you can get close enough to study the face. But it is the painting of the bronze that makes it seem so characterful. Henry has avoided attempting to produce a super realistic finish.but has allowed the brush strokes to be visible in an impressionistic style.  This enables viewers to apply their familiarity with that form of portraiture to this work. I think this is why Berners Lee seems so alive particularly if you compare it with typical wax works which you might have expected to be more realistic – right size, life-like colouring, but which always seem so dead. The impressionistic tradition continues in the way that the brush strokes become even loose, the further they are from the face. Look at the rucksack in which Berners-Lee used to carry his laptop and the brush strokes are particularly fluid, So if you also tend toward the view that you cannot paint a sculpture, go to the National Portrait Gallery and allow yourself to be proved wrong.

Is the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition getting better?

I finally caught up with the Royal Academy Summer Show and found some works which I thought really exciting. This of course shouldn’t be a matter of surprise; there is always work there which is interesting and innovative. But the Summer Exhibition does not always give that impression: the sheer numbers of works on offer and the density of the hanging can make the good stuff  hard to spot. This year it felt a little more authoritative and a bit less like a local art show multiplied a hundred times. It was helped by the fact that the organisers had managed to bring in several really major works. I particularly admired the Anselm Kiefer;  I have seen loads of photographs of  Kiefer paintings but not enough of the real thing so I was pleased to discover that the RA is having a  major Kiefer retrospective from September 27 to December 14.


There was also a fine sculpture by the late Sir Anthony Caro


and a small and rather desirable sculpture by Phyllida Barlow which would be rather easier to place around the house than  Dock now showing at the Tate. It costs £60,000, and I idly tried to work out how much the Tate exhibition would be worth if it were priced pro rata by volume: I reckoned something of the order of £25 billion.



What is wonderful in any show, is when you find a new artist whose work you really like. The Caro and the Barlow were both in Gallery IV, curated by Hughie O’Donoghue and so was this piece by Irish artist Paul Mosse. It doesn’t photograph as well as it appears in real life, but, even here, you can see that the texture is fascinating.  It seemed, so far as I could judge, to be made at least in part by splintered wood. It made me look up Mosse’s other work. The interesting, muddy pink, fleshy colour appears quite a lot and on his website there were larger ones that I liked even better. Mosse tends to use unconventional and abject materials including packaging, dust, nails,  the everyday detritus of modern life. He works a lot by constructing,  deconstructing and restructuring  to produce a layered effect with fracturing and fissuring playing an important part. Though some of his works are proper 3D sculptures others, like this,  he describes as 2½D


Also in this room were works by the Guyanian born artist Frank Bowling. Bowling is known as a colourist and I particularly liked the vibrancy of Buttoned it up again from Barney and Marko. These pieces have a simplicity which is entirely deceptive. This work  essentially comprises three bands of  shaded colour plus some gold bits; anyone could do it, you might think,  but try yourself to produce banded colour that works and you suddenly find  how difficult it is. Those edges don’t just happen like that by themselves. Look at the photograph of the Caro and you can also see hanging above it, another of Bowling’s banded works – this time in blues and pinks and reds.


There was of course loads of stuff which I  did not like at all, some because it just seemed boring, or garish, other times remarkably amateurish, or all three. It made me muse about the Grayson Perry sentiment quoted on the RA website that “the difference between an amateur and professional artist is interesting. A professional is someone who got lucky and found an audience willing to pay for their work.” There is luck and luck. As I went round every now and then I would see a small picture which I liked and look it up only to find it was done by a name I recognised; often it was Cornelia Parker. Those that get lucky appear to have something that differentiates them from the rest.

However, I continue to be unimpressed with Martin Creed. Really, what is the point of a neon spelling out Assholes? Apart from anything else, Creed is British and should know that it is spelt Arseholes.

work illustration

I have this image of Creed’s headmaster telling him, “it is not clever and it is not funny.” The headmaster was wrong;  it may not be funny, but  it certainly is clever when you can get the British public to pay for them. They come as an edition of three each costing £53,036.

There were the oddities too. Towards the end of the exhibition was a work by James Turrell  called Sensing Thought which comprised a rectangle of light which the blurb on the wall said drew viewers in and held their attention. Surprisingly, I found it did just that, though the contemplative atmosphere was somewhat marred by a rather anoying soundtrack which I initially took to be part of the work but which then appeared to be coming from an exhibit next door.











In the architectural room there was a bicycle by Ron Arad, mystifyingly  called Two Nuns. It  was a striking enough object and which I took at first to be entirely sculptural.  A video on the wall showed that it could actually be ridden and suddenly it became a whole lot more interesting, though costing £100,000 it might be prudent not to use it for the daily commute and leave it chained up at the station bicycle rack.



You see I have put the price in again. That in itself is part of the fascination of the Summer Exhibition – the prices are visible. Everywhere you go, you hear people muttering, “do you know how much that cost? And if that is more generally said in shocked disbelief than in anticipation of a purchase, there is still plenty that is affordable. The rooms showing smaller works were as busy as ever. A couple of years ago I pointed out the pulling power of cats. It is still there, as are robins and scenes of London.  Tracey Emin was doing pretty well too with some small and moderately priced etchings. They have probably all sold out by now.

I suddenly realised that rather than survey the exhibition as a whole, you could get a pretty good impression of what was popular with the public by looking at the greetings cards. So here they are; the cards of the 2014 Exhibtion.


You can see on the bottom row that the robin is present and correct; oh, sorry it is Spare Stonechat.  There is the questionable sentiment that All schools should be art schools; there is a cat; there is a horse. What is that? There on the second row up is the Frank Bowling I admired. It does admittedly make rather a nice greeting card. Of well; it is still a very fine painting.

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition runs until Sunday August 17.


Brighton MA Fine Art Exhibition 2014

The MA fine Art Exhibition is now showing at Grand Parade until July 10. I think we have put on a pretty good show. What is fascinating is seeing it come all together after seeing the work develop during the year. Suddenly people’s different obsessions make sense. Take this stunning piece by Soohyun Kim A Monstrous Child, during the year I had seen Kim’s smaller doll sculptures and had not liked them very much; suddenly there was this piece in the gallery and I saw the point of it, and found that I actually liked the smaller pieces as well.



Another work which I think works wonderfully well in the exhibition is Caroline Pick’s piece in latex. Caroline made small latex work earlier in the year but it is only when they get to this scale that they become quite so fascinating. I really like the textures she has achieved.



 Helen Acklam’s work arose out of a residency she undertook a residency at the Royal Sussex County Hospital at the time the site was closed for redevelopment.  I particularly like the feeling of light and the sense of the open doors, leading to what? A ward? An operating room? Or perhaps, as the name Limbo suggests, to another world.




Look out too for Mima Chovankova her painting, bright, striking and hugely skilled in the way that she manipulates the paint, are up on the second floor. One of her influences is the Russian painter Kazimir Malevitch; you can see that in the black square; what would he have thought of the fluorescent pink? Personally I think he would have loved it.



Mercedes Ferrari’s work is always interesting and distinctive; these hands are no exception; walk past and they spring into action.


Another painter whose work I admire is Lucy Marks; in this exhibition she has moved away from the colour that characterised her work in the past; I loved her coloured work but the black and white pieces are hugely striking.




Also working black and white is James Dean Diamond, with his series of photographs in which he manipulates light to create the most fascinating effects.




 Rose Waterson uses light in a completely novel way; she combines her drawing with projected images or effects which bring them to life.



These are just a small selection of the works on show. If you do come along, do drop in and see my floating sculptures on the second floor; to tempt you, there is also a dead snakey thing. What more could anybody want?


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The MA Fine Art Show is open every day except Sunday till July 10 at Grand Parade Brighton

Coming Round to Cardboard

I have never been keen on artworks made of cardboard. It seems strange to me quite how often somebody gets some cardboard boxes together, does something minimal to them and then tells you it is art. That is all very well when you are eight, or, at a push, twelve, but if you are older than that, I always feel like saying, “why not get some decent materials and do it properly?” So, when I saw a flyer in Paris for an exhibition that featured quite a large amount of cardboard and, what is more, it looked interesting, I just had to go.

I took the metro out to Riquet which is quite some way out from the centre in the 19th arrondissement and arrived at 104 (Cent Quatre). Set up in 2010, Cent Quatre  is a huge and also hugely entertaining community arts complex that seems to have every conceivable artistic activity going on under the rather elegant steel and glass roof.

A view of the Cent Quatre Arts Centre in Paris
Cent Quatre – much livelier now it is an Arts Centre and not a morgue

It was formerly a municipal morgue but now everybody seems very much alive; there are dancers practicing their routines, children playing, people skateboarding, artists’ studios, a book exchange, a bookshop, several eateries, an antique shop, photographic exhibitions and on the day I visited a labyrinth made exclusively of cardboard. It was as simple as that: rolls of corrugated cardboard had been loosely unfurled so that they retained a coiled appearance and formed undulating waves through which you could make out paths,which, as in all good labyrinths, led you to the centre.

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The installation is the work of Michelangelo Pistoletto, who is eighty and is a leading member of the Italian movement, l’Arte Povera, a movement that was started in the 1960s. Ironically, seeing its members claim to value simplicity, when they come to explain its principles, they favour very long, very wordy sentences and few if any paragraphs.

With my poor Italian and the help of Google translate I took from the movement’s website that works are  “characterized by the use of simple and natural materials that are evidenced by its banality and poverty, as is the case with plants, food, paper, felt, metal, earth. These materials are used in order to overcome the distinctions between art and everyday life, between nature and culture.”  There was a lot more but that seemed to be the gist.

Certainly Pistoletto’s cardboard work was quite unlike other gallery exhibits. What I found interesting  was that it was that it had been organised rather than made. There were no joins, no supports, no other materials, no cut-outs, no mark making. It was simply unfurled rolls of cardboard. It seemed more akin to land art than to anything else, as if material from the immediate environment had simply been rearranged.

Far from having notices not to touch, touching was unavoidable. The cardboard walls were about shoulder height but the paths through it quite narrow, so it felt somewhat like pushing through undergrowth. It was fun and I imagine small children would adore it. In some places the cardboard looked a bit worse for wear, where people must have fallen against it but it didn’t matter. A path led you to the centre where, on the inside of cardboard arranged in a circle, there was one of Pistoletto’s trademark mirrored sculptures. Looking down over the cardboard barrier which surrounded it, it appeared almost like a deep pool in the floor, and as the cardboard wobbled, it was hard not to fear falling into it.

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The mirrored pool at the centre of Michelagelo Pistoletto’s Labyrinthe

The pool was essential, it gave the labyrinth a purpose,  but it was the cardboard that I found so interesting. Just as in the old adage, there is no unsuitable weather, only unsuitable clothes, I realized that in art there are no unsuitable materials. In the right hands good art can be produced from anything.