Welcome to touch

I have a friend (you know who you are) who occasionally accompanies me to art exhibitions who is a complete menace when it comes to touching stuff. I am always on tenterhooks, ready to hiss ‘don’t touch it’ and fearing that we will be told to leave in disgrace. Of course I understand the temptation; if a work is intriguing you want to feel the texture as well as look at it, so it was refreshing to be invited to touch Jill Rock’s small sculptures at her open studio in St Leonard’s on Sea.

Rock who has exhibited widely, in the US, South America, China and Australia as well as in the UK and many other European countries, works with found objects, pieces of bark, roots and  the odd kind of object that can get washed up on the beach, a dead bird, a child’s sandal. She manipulates them, adding colour or arranging them in different juxtapositions so that they are transformed. “I see them like puppets, ” she said; “they can be used in different ways.”

Originally a painter, her interest in the objects that people disregard dates back to 1997, when she spent time in the Australian outback and got to know some Aboriginal artists. On her return to London she found herself re-connecting with nature and on finding some birch bark decided to paint it. While the Australian experience was an influence, her works could not be confused with indigenous Australian artefacts; “after all” she told me, “I am not an Aborigine.” There are other influences there too – Buddhism for instance, maps and manuscripts as well as the very different climate of northern Europe.

Showing in the studio were a selection of small works seductively laid out on pink cloth. The blue and yellow bark paintings were originally created for an exhibition at the Royal College of Pathologists and were titled Evidence of the Death of Krishna at the age of 125 in a Hunting Incident. According to legend, Krishna was seated under a tree when a hunter saw his legs move and thinking it was deer let loose an arrow. Rock explained that the bark is painted Indian Yellow, a colour which was traditionally created from the urine of cows fed on mango leaves, and in these paintings signifies Krishna’s yellow trousers while the indigo parts reference his blue skin. All the pieces are anthropomorphised; they could be a finger, an elbow, a piece of forearm, a breast plate or an eye.



Elsewhere on the table the works had different colours  like this piece below which is fascinatingly and intricately painted and represents a map. Rock explains that the earliest maps were created on birch bark and in this one the flatter parts are the paths where you walk, while ridges and indentations represent the contours of the land.


On the wall, the map stopped being one of the mind and became real – fittingly a map of St Leonard’s where Rock has recently bought a small seaside retreat. Attached to the map were bramble roots, partially painted white giving the impression of chaotic human activity.


I told Rock how much I liked being able to handle the pieces. “I let people touch, whenever I can,” she told me, “whenever I visit exhibitions; I want to touch and have to keep my hands firmly behind my back. But my practice is based on touching; I find pieces on the ground; I pick them up and clean them and then I paint them and all the time I am touching them. Touch communicates so much.” My friend would have approved.

Jill Rock’s studio is also open next weekend. 10th and 11th September from 11am to 6pm as part of Coastal Currents  and is at 56 Warrior Square, but the entrance is through the green garden door from Church Road. Her website is http://cargocollective.com/JillRock

Floating sculptures

In art it is surely good sometimes to turn everything on its head just to see what happens.  A year ago I was working in plaster. I was quite pleased with some of the results but they had one big drawback – they were so, so heavy. I could just about shift the smaller ones by myself but with the larger ones I definitely needed another person to get on the other end and the person volunteered for that task invariably moaned a  bit. They, the sculptures, not the people, were awkward  to store and virtually impossible to get up stairs even with a volunteer. There was one that sat in the hall at home for some time bumping me on the shins whenever I passed. So, when I started the MA at Brighton in October, I decided to work lightweight.

Over the last nine month I have been experimenting. First, I tried suspending things from the ceiling with fishing line, But then I got to thinking how great it would be to dispense with the support and I started wondering about floating sculptures. Here is the result. This piece is called Nostalgia for the Body. In a way these things are an argument for the unlikeness of an after-life. They represent continuing consciousness but while pure thought has some attractions, without a body my beings lack agency, and without agency would not thought alone begin to pall? Without a body they cannot enjoy the sun on their backs, nor food, nor music, nor sex, not even the comfort of touch and so they float in space and try with their minds to imagine the body they have lost.

Sue McDougall: Nostalgia for the Body 2014 (Mixed Media)

What I feel works well with these pieces is the way that they move. In still air they are motionless but a slight draft sets them moving very gently.  For some reason they seem to drift towards people. There is also another piece Untitled.

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Sue McDougall. Untitled. 2014 (Mixed Media)

If you would like to see them, you can do so at the Brighton University MA Fine Art Show. It opens on July 3  till July 10. They are on the second floor at Marine Parade.






Ana Mendieta at the Hayward

The power of repetition is a well-known phenomenon in art; just think of  Antony Gormley’s casts of himself, Warhol’s screen prints of Mao,  the works of Eva Hesse, or even Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII. A single brick would hardly have had the same impact.

With Ana Mendieta’s works, now showing at the Hayward Gallery, the power of repetition acts in a different way.  Mendieta, who was born in Havana in 1948, moved to America in 1967 where she studied painting at the University of Iowa before going on to study mixed media and performance in the Intermedia Department of the university. There she became diligent in documenting her work, a habit to which she adhered for the rest of her life. Across the hundreds of photographs, films of her performances, prints and sculptures, many of which are on show at the Hayward, the same kind of themes and images keep appearing and the effect collectively is progressively to draw you into her strange,  ritualistic, magical, disturbing world.

The exhibition begins with her early work; photographs of her naked body distorted by the way that she pressed a sheet of glass against herself. Mendieta was of course a student at this stage but this seemed to me very much student stuff. I remember photographer and artist Andy Moran telling me, perhaps in a less than politically correct way; ” in every year there is a fat girl, who ties pieces of string around her thighs and photographs that; it is supposed to be a statement about society’s views on obesity.”

ana mendieta glass

In 1973 shocked by the brutal murder of a student nurse  she set out to draw attention to violence against women. The reconstruction of the murder scene in Rape Scene, in which she created a tableau of the crime in her own apartment using her own body, I found  distasteful and, in a way, almost exploitative. While her intention  was  to heighten awareness of the problem, I wondered how the victim’s family would have felt about the way that their daughter’s death was appropriated to become an artistic statement. Similarly, I felt there was a gratuitous grotesqueness about Chicken Piece in which a dying cockerel sprayed her naked body with blood .

These misgivings gave way to admiration when Mendieta moved on to use her body in more symbolic ways.  Body Tracks is a simple concept in which she dipped her arms in blood and then slowly sank to the floor leaving the red stains on the walls or on paper. The images themselves, though created in  a matter of minutes,  are powerful and in a way beautiful.

Ana_Mendieta,_Body_Tracks_(Rastros_Corporales),_1982,_blood_and_t Her obsession with blood continued with portraits of herself  as though the victim of violent assault but I found myself really engaged when she started  on her land work pieces, the Siluetas, in which, like Gormley, she used the shape of her own body.Whereas Gormley produced a solid enduring image of himself, with many of Mendieta’s  works the  body itself is absent; it is outlined in water, by mud,  or in grass; the impressions can be  created by fire and  fireworks. The work itself would have been fragile and transitory, so reflecting life. Any single one of these photographs would have been interesting but the accumulation, suggesting ritual, magic and obsession is fascinating.


 The hollows and mounds she created cannot help but remind you of graves, but you are also conscious of her vibrancy; she herself while recognising the importance of death also saw her work as life affirming, “through my art,” she wrote, ” I want to express the immediacy of life and the eternity of nature.”

A recurring theme  among her works is a simplified female figures which she created over and over again, on bark, on mud, on leaves,  once again referring to birth and death.

Although the majority of Mendeita’s works were made outside, they differ greatly from the land art of artists such as Richard Long; they are far more personal and introverted; they are often small-scale giving the impression that she created them primarily for herself.

By 1984 Mendeita was changing direction making works in the studio from wood, often carved by the use of gunpowder to create powerful totem-like sculptures.


Where her work would have developed from here we will not know. In 1985 she fell from the 34th floor of her Manhattan apartment which she shared with her husband Carl Andre. Andre was tried but acquitted of her murder. Her friends said at the time that suicide would have been impossible; her career was just taking off. Strangely the Hayward provides no information about the circumstances of her death. Clearly,  they want visitors to focus on what she achieved, rather than speculate about how she died. Even so, that knowledge gives an almost unbearable poignancy to some of her early work, which appears strangely prescient. Mendieta is already well-known among  aficionados of performance art.  This major exhibition must have the effect of bringing her work to a wider public. Maybe it marks the beginning of a process that will see her name as well recognised as that of Andre who still survives her.

Traces is showing at the Hayward Gallery until December 15 2013

The Top-up degree show at Sussex Coast College

It seems extraordinary that is was a year ago that I wrote about the Sussex Coast College Degree Show. This is the exhibition that shows the work done by the top-up students who have completed the Foundation Degree that I have just finished and work for another year to get a full BA Hons. It brings together students who are studying Fine Art, Craft, Illustration and Design.

Last year I was stuck by the absence of paintings and again it was noticeable that the people who produced things that looked like pictures were more likely to be studying such things as illustration than Fine Art. However there was one outstanding painting by David Wright whose work has developed in a most interesting way over the last year. It was  difficult to photograph because of the dim lighting in the Printworks where the exhibition was held. Note to organisers – next year consider investing in a few more light bulbs.

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David is interested in the way that materials react with each other and what you see has been created by what  is in effect a chemical process. I saw the work in progress as it was being made or to some extent while it was making itself.  The end result is both beautiful  and dramatic- it must be at least five foot square – what you see in the photograph is the middle not the whole thing and the colours as reproduced don’t really do it justice.

Another person whose work I feel has developed hugely is Lyn Dale pictured below. Last year she offered the Lucky Bears her installation this year is most intriguing.


The pages you see behind her are all torn from autobiographies; only the chapter titles remain visible as Lyn has machine stitched out all the words.

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The chapter titles are extraordinary and include – Destroyed , Crisis, out of the Darkness, A Night to Remember, Call me Madam, and my favourite, A Policeman in the Attic. We can only speculate about these unknown lives.

From the craft students I was also impressed again by Gilles Buxton’s ceramic heads.

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And among the Visual Communication Design students, by Julie Plantecoste’s drawings of tormented hands.

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Growing to like performance art

I have never been absolutely sure about performance art. Until recently I rather felt that performances worked best in the domain of the theatre and the Turner Prize offering by Spartacus Chetwynd did little to change my mind. I am beginning to feel differently thanks to the work of Izabela Brudkeiwicz who has just completed the Brighton University FDA in Fine Art (Contemporary Practice) at Sussex Coast College and is pictured below.

Izabela’s performances are hard to watch because she drives herself to the absolute limit of endurance in what almost seems like a self-imposed punishment.  Although the pictures give some kind of impression, watching her live is very different. A year ago she painstakingly glued rice to the wall grain by grain for a whole week until she could hardly stand and the rows of rice, which had started in neat parallels dipped towards the floor. In her current performance she utters a cry or wail in a code of her own devising. Izabela is Polish and the work is about the problems of communication.

izzy standing compressed

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Izabela has performed this ritual around a dozen times over the last few months. Dressed in a simple white shift  and with bare feet , or on occasions, white socks – a kind of sacrificial garb – she maintains the performance for two or more hours until she sinks with exhaustion.  It is simple but it is also extremely powerful.

Izabela will be performing at the Sussex Coast College Degree Show Private view on June 21 at Station Plaza Hastings.

Degree show at K College

At a time when those of us at Sussex Coast College are preparing our final exhibition work for the FDA Fine Art (Contemporary Practice) degree show, it is interesting to see what other students are up to. On Friday I visited the FDA Fine Art Degree Show at K College, part of the University of Kent. When you have been working with people for two years you know a lot about them and about their work. Visiting the University of Kent show, there was none of that. All you knew was what you saw and the brief artist statements provided in the programme. I wondered whether I would have viewed the work differently had I known the artists personally. For me three artists really stood out.

I was extremely impressed by the photography and imagery in Maeve Buckenham’s strange and enigmatic films, though they were hard to follow. I liked the way she showed different images simultaneously and by her kaleidoscope effects and by the music and narration and yet I had very little understanding of what the films were about. Reading about them in the booklet accompanying the show, I see that they investigate Jacques Lacan’s split subject and the mirror stage theories whereby a child first perceives him or herself as individual subject. All this  is somewhat indigestible stuff; even so they were fascinating to watch – for a time.

A split scene showing the face and the back of a girl in the film by Maeve Buckenham
Split screen in Maeve Buckenham’s film
A split screen effect showing the same girl across the double screen
A scene from Maeve Buckenam’s film

Very different and far more accessible were Kate Linforth’s highly decorative pieces. Linforth’s practice appears to be at the border between fine art and craft. She uses wax to create both works that can be hung on the wall as in the picture below as well as highly desirable  bowls and organic looking objects which have a translucency.  One of these had been cast into bronze which, she showed me made a satisfying noise if you stroked the little finger like protuberances at its centre.

A red painting created in wax by Kate Linforth
Wax painting by Kate Linforth
Spongelike and translucent wax object by Kate Linforth
Translucent wax object by Kate Linforth

Also interesting and also with a professional looking finish were Sarah Rilot’s meticulous drawings  set on spheres and circular perspex. The numerous tiny circles must have taken hours to complete. In the exhibition booklet she explains that she is fascinated by small hidden places and that the painstaking repetition becomes meditative and an important element of the artwork itself – which considering the number of circles she must have drawn is probably just as well!

Three spheres are shown, part of of te work by Sarah Rilot
Sarah Rilot’s spheres

Tom Hammick and Patrick Adam Jones’s Map

About a year ago, Julian Bell, Tom Hammick and Andre Jackowski held what was billed as a joint exhibition  – Dreams of Here at Brighton Museum. In the event the result was more like three separate exhibitions; not only were the three artists in separate rooms but even of the colour of the walls of the rooms were different. So when Hammick and Patrick Adam Jones were invited hold an exhibition together at the Baker Mamonova Gallery  in St Leonards, the two artists were keen that the exhibition should be a dialogue. When I visited Map this weekend, the paintings in the window gave an initial impression that they might have succeeded. Inside  it was clear that whilst the pair might have arrived at the party together, once there, they merely nodded politely at each across the room rather than engaged in deep discussion.

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Paintings by Tom Hammick and Patrick Adam Jones in the window of the Baker Mamonova Gallery

It was hardly surprising; their styles are very different. Tom Hammick’s are the more representational; shacks, gardens and people, particularly his wife and daughter, frequently feature in his works and while the viewer may not immediately understand all the thinking that goes into the painting, they will have a fair idea of what it that they are looking at. In contrast, Patrick Adam Jones works are often layered and the details may be partly obscured so that the complexity only becomes apparent through study.  Hammick chooses bright, bold, vibrant colours – he achieves some wonderful blues and purples; Adam Jones frequently favours shades of white and near white and works in wax which give the works an extraordinary translucency. They come together to some extent in the size of the works and, in this exhibition, there was supposedly the link of the map, though it was somehow rather hard to spot: Adam Jones sometimes uses maps as a base for his works and with  Hammick the works are – well – loosely connected to places – but then aren’t most things?

It was interesting to see how the artists had developed over the last year. Hammick’s works were familiar;  the subject matter and colours were those one has come to expect. They included the woodcut of the Exon filling station and the painting Compound which both appeared at Brighton last year and an extremely desirable print Edgelands, which has also appeared before in different colour combinations – all classic Hammick works. There were also some new paintings, on a smaller scale than I had seen hitherto, including Orchard a simple but beautifully coloured painting of a ladder against a tree and Island Study.

Tom Hammick: Compound
Tom Hammick: Compound
Tom Hammick: Island Study
Tom Hammick: Island Study

Adam Jones had a number of his wax based paintings in the exhibition, such as Inside, shown below. I like the way with these works that you can see different elements in different lights.

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Patrick Adam Jones:Inside

There was  a departure in the highly complex piece,  Of Course, a large mixed media piece, involving a collection of works on paper behind glass on which he had applied a series of digits.

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Patrick Adam Jones: of Course

It was interesting and I was intrigued by the way the digits were more evident against some of the backgrounds than against others; this was a work which needed time appreciate the different elements. I particularly liked the way that the numbers gave the impression of the passing of time.  But, probably annoyingly since it must have taken  ages to create, some of the water colours impressed me as much – there was a  series of nine that worked extraordinarily well together.

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Patrick Adam Jones: Watercolours

There were some of the familiar words which Adam Jones has used in many of his paintings – I could have been a farmer but these little paintings which had clearly been done quickly had a freshness and somehow a sense of mystery which made you want to study them and which I really liked. So it appears do other people; three had been bought already; I predict it will not take long before the others are gone as well.

Map is showing at the Baker Mamonova Gallery in  43-53 Norman Road, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex  until June 1.