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

27 Mar

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.

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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.

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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

16 Mar

“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.

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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.

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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

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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

7 Mar

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a difference a clay makes

18 Feb

The photograph on Art Rabbit looked promising: it was of an installation, Beautiful Minds by Anya Gallaccio, at the Thomas Dane Gallery in London’s St James. It showed contorted clay layers which had apparently been made by a form of 3D printing. They reminded me of the ridges and furrows of the brain. But I was just as happy with the explanation that they were of a scaled effigy of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The layers then looked like rock strata, one of my current obsessions.

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When I visited, the reality was different in a small, but important, respect. Instead of white clay, the machine was disgorging from its nozzle terracotta red-brown clay. It was damp, viscous and slightly shiny and you did not need to have a mind with a particularly scatological bent to imagine that it was somehow in the process of evacuating  a series of fancy and intricate turds.

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Anya Gallaccio: Beautiful Minds: work in progress

 

It did not diminish my enjoyment of the achievement. This was, by a large margin, the most interesting demonstration of 3D printing that I have seen. So often this amazingly clever technology produces nothing more extraordinary that a little plastic figurine of the kind that you might buy in Woolworths if Woolworths still existed. This, in contrast, was large, noisy and impressive. Noisy is not a metaphor; the machine makes an enormous racket; my ears were ringing for a good ten minutes after I left. If you go, and you should, it would be worth bringing ear plugs.

Gallaccio  was born in Scotland but it is unlikely her practice would have developed this way had she remained. She now lives in California’s growing technological hub, San Diego, and  built the machine with a group of her recent graduates from the University’s Visual Arts Department.   The technology means she does not need to be present while the work is being produced. While there was an assistant, sensibly wearing ear protectors, overseeing the process, he was not directing the placement of the clay; his intervention was limited to starting or stopping the machine. The auto construct was determined by the program on the laptop which, presumably, had to take account of the changing properties of clay as it dries, ensuring that each part of the structure was sturdy enough to take additional weight before new layers were added.

 

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Anya Gallaccio: Beautiful Minds; work in progress

The work was not just fascinating to watch, it also raises intriguing questions  – whether the artwork was the process or the product and also about originality. While in theory the build could be repeated any number of times with a material as anarchic as clay, no version would be likely to be the same. It could also mimic the erosion process,  the clay could be re-hydrated and  the redistributed allowing an endless cycle of creation and destruction.

The accompanying blurb explained that the work was intended to highlight the potential slippage between artistic intent, the limits of materials and the struggle of communication in contemporary artistic practice. This left me wondering about the colour and why it was not as advertised.

If you look carefully at the bottom layer in the picture you can see a smidgen of white coloured clay. Was the colour change intentional?  Could Gallaccio have decided that terracotta would be more earth-like. Once dry, the bodily resonances would probably be less striking. Or was their a shortage? Or did the suppliers send the wrong consignment? It’s not just the limitations of the materials which can lead to slippage.

Then I looked up Devil’s Tower and all became clear. The exhibition runs until 25 March by which time the mountain, which is currently around two feet high, will have grown to around six feet.  Look at this picture and you see at once that the final round of construction will indeed be in white clay. That smidgen is just the start; the part of the base that would be among the trees. I must go back and see it complete.

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Devil’s Tower Wyoming; the model for Gallaccio’s work

Beautiful Minds is running at the Thomas Dane Gallery, 11 Duke Street, St James’s London SW1Y6BN until 25 March. 

 

 

Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern

6 Feb

In 1964 Robert Rauschenberg, whose works are currently on show at Tate Modern, became the first American to win the Gran Primeo at the Venice Biennale with his pioneering screen prints. It was the culmination of a highly successful 18 months. The previous year he had been given a major retrospective at the Jewish Museum in New York; it was followed by an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London which broke attendance records.  Whereas his contemporary, Warhol,  used his own popularity to feed the market, turning out thousands of screen prints, a strategy which even today sees him rank second after Picasso in auction revenue, Rauschenberg had a radically different attitude. The day after his Venice success, he phoned his assistant and asked him to destroy any silk-screens left in the studio so he would not have the temptation to repeat himself.

Only someone highly confident of his ability to come up with fresh ideas  would  make such a decision. Tate visitors  can see that this confidence was fully justified. Everywhere you look, you see how he tried things nobody had tried before and which led to avenues which are still being explored by artists today.  Perhaps even more important than this confidence was the desire to enjoy himself; repeating himself would have been work; what is abundantly clear is that Rauschenberg wanted his art to be fun.

He was one of the first artists to introduce objects into his works – the Combines. Some worked better than others.  I rather liked the fans in the painting shown below but was less keen on one which incorporated a small table light.p1000947

It was good to see the goat, correctly titled Monogram – lent  by the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm; it is fragile and rarely travels. Mounted on a horizontal canvas on the floor, it is,  fifty years later, still a striking piece – though somewhat pointless, though I suppose that is the point. But what fun he must have had with  it: –  finding it in a used furniture store, fixing it first to a vertical canvas, then to a horizontal one,   daubing its nose with paint, playing with the tyre, so that finally  in his words, they came to live happily ever after.

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Robert Rauschenberg: Monogram

But if tyre-wearing goats are not to your taste there is so much more to discover. One visit can hardly do the exhibition justice. I was intrigued by a small light-box, Shades, apparently a one-off as it was dedicated to his son Christopher. It contained six lithographs, only one of which was in a fixed position; the others could be re-ordered. Many artists would have created a practice around the concept; Rauschenberg was happy to make it and move on.

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Robert Rauschenberg: Shades

I loved the image of the tyre tread running along 20  of sheets of typing paper. Ruauschenberg had poured black house  paint in front of the back wheel of John Cage’s car and then got him to drive over the paper. There was the carboard scuplture which made me want to play around with cardboard myself.

p1000954 Most striking of his ‘art is fun’  works, must be  Mud Muse bubbling in a satisfying way with the sounds amplified so that it feels as if you are in the cauldron.

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Robert Rauschenberg: Mud Muse

All good art makes you see the world in a new light; I find myself pushing cardboard into new shapes, eyeing the table lamps and art now intrudes into breakfast; making porridge will never be quite the same.

Robert Rauschenberg is showing at Tate Modern until April 2.

 

Painting the soul

28 Dec

Go back a relatively short time and souls, angels and demons appeared regularly in art; Stanley Spencer, William Blake, Titian, Hieronymus Bosch, Fra Angelico: the list could go on and on. Angels appeared on mighty wings; demons had tails and teeth; souls were sometimes in paradise; sometimes tormented. But their appearance in paintings was so frequent as to be unremarkable. These days, despite surveys showing that 70% of people in Britain believe in the soul, spiritual paintings are something of a rarity.

I myself fall into the sceptical 30%.  The scientific evidence suggests that there is no little person dwelling inside our heads. Read of neuro-psychologist Michael Gazzaniga’s split brain experiments conducted on subjects where the connections between the left and right cortexes of the brain had been severed, and the single self becomes unconvincing. The scientists appeared to be able to communicate with each half of the brain separately. The experiments done by Benjamin Libet suggest that free will could be limited to the power of veto. He showed that subjects believed they had initiated actions such as switching a switch after their brains had demonstrated an electrical surge known as the readiness potential a full half-second earlier. It was the unconscious brain which had started the action, not the conscious self.   In the introduction to her excellent book Consciousness, an introduction, Susan Blackmore warns readers, as she had warned her students, that those of a religious persuasion could find their beliefs challenged.

Even those of us who side with the scientists have to admit, it still feels as if the soul is in there somewhere.  It is a distinctly reluctant siding.  So it was with a sense of delight that I came across De Anima, paintings and sculptures by the Belgian artist Johan Van Mullem at Unit London in Wardour Street. Van Mullem does not question the existence of the human soul but simply paints it. I enjoyed his certainty and I enjoyed the way that the spirits did not appear medieval but thoroughly 21st century.

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If there is an afterlife, how would you recognise your loved ones? It could be a problem. Van Mullem’s spirits are largely disembodied; the sculptures reveal that where bodies exist, they tend to peter out at the feet. You might catch a familiar expression or it could be too fleeting.

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For the most part the spirits peer out at you through a puff of multi-coloured smoke or an indistinct landscape. They look as though they could melt back into the vapours. Some are apparently caught in a force-field of digital dots. I spied one that looked like Mrs Thatcher, perhaps it was the hooded eye. Indeed, eyes are a feature of many of the paintings but in some cases the journey to the spirit world allows the survival of the mouth, an ear and hair.

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A few unfortunate spirits turn out to be nearly all mouth, while some, the bland or the woolly perhaps, find that their features have been obliterated and their surviving essence boils down to something which looks uncomfortably like a ball of yarn.

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None of the paintings has a title to help viewers discern influences;  they have reference numbers instead.  Titles are not needed as Van Mullen does not use a model or apparently have a set destination in mind. Instead, painting with inks on canvas, he works intuitively allowing his subconscious to capture what he perceives as the essential human. Just as I do not like all people, I did not like all his works but I am intrigued by them. If I am wrong and the soul survives, and Van Mullem has captured something of it, we can look forward to eccentricity, to variety, to colour, to chaos, to beauty and, because what is left is derived from the human, to cruelty as well. But at least it will be interesting.

De Anima is showing at Unit London 147 – 149 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 8WD until 6 January.

Ken Price at Hauser & Wirth

13 Dec

I’m always interested in the importance that sculptors attach to drawing; they seem such different skills: the hand eye coordination and precision needed to convey a three dimensional object on a flat surface compared with the physicality of moulding, building or carving. Google the subject and you find some sculptors claim only to draw in order to demonstrate ideas to potential purchasers and gain commissions whilst for others it is a vital and intrinsic part of the process. For Ken Price, the Los Angles ceramicist whose work is being shown by Hauser & Wirth in a major retrospective, it was essential. Price, who died in 2012, is quoted as saying that he was at his happiest when drawing but it was also the way he clarified his thinking. “I think sculptors learn to draw so that they can see what they have been visualising,” he said, “because if you can’t draw it, you can’t see it”

So strong is the tactility of his works that without this quotation I might have expected him to be more absorbed with how the works would feel in his hands.  But at Hauser & Wirth there is the proof that it was drawing which drove his creativity. The curators have divided his works between the two Savile Row galleries; in the first are the small pieces from his early career,  cups,  bowls and jugs, playful and colourful as well as paintings and drawings. Price was clearly an outstanding draftsman as shown in what are described as snail cups, though another adjective would have been equally applicable. But other drawings were the equivalent of notes, apparently quickly sketched, almost diagrammatical, with instructions to himself about colour or texture.

Ken Price (1935 - 2012) Von Bayros Snail Cups 1968 Graphite on Paper 40.6 x 32.4 cm / 16 x 12 3/4 inches PRICE72303

Ken Price (1935 – 2012) Von Bayros Snail Cups 1968
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Ken Price (1935 - 2012) (Blue Object Purple) 1987 Watercolour, c

In the second gallery you find the sculptures, larger pieces displayed on a series of plinths. They create a feeling of ambivalence in the viewer; in part one longs to run one’s fingers over them but they also evoke inhibition. Many have a strongly sexual quality so that it is not just the general gallery prohibition against touching artworks that keeps viewer’s hands at a distance, rather the feeling that the sculptures themselves are sentient and would regard it as unwanted intimacy.

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If the shapes suggest the human, or perhaps an alien body, the colours are far from natural. These subtle and extraordinary effects were achieved by layers of colour that Price alternatively applied and removed, so that it appears not so much a  created surface but part of the work’s fundamental structure. And often, as in this piece above, and suggested in one of the drawings, there appears a small strange black geometric shape – which tempts the observer to put out a cautious finger to discover if it is an indentation and to ponder its meaning.

Ken Price , A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings, 1959 -2006, is showing at Hauser & Wirth until 4 February at 23 Savile Row,London W1S 2ET

 

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