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Beware the (dangerous) Orange at Pace

12 Jun

New York artist Joel Shapiro’s sculptures suspended in mid-air at Pace London appear to defy gravity creating an unsettling effect which, as it turns out, is not entirely unmerited. Geometric in strong but subtle colours, they form striking and exhilarating combinations in the gallery.

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A visitor contemplates Joel Shapiro’s OK Green at Pace London

Each time you look at one, it will tend to provide the foreground or background for another. But they are nonetheless separate. There is nothing human about these objects; their corners are sharp; their lines are hard. Their names provide little enlightenment about their meaning. Really Blue (after all), shown below I suspected was a reference to the process. Perhaps earlier it had been slightly blue.  I liked it really blue. Yellow May seemed more bile green but I don’t think this had political allusions.They were in place before the election!

OK Green was a pleasant but indeterminate colour, but wasn’t it pale blue?  No, perhaps not, and again such a debate must have resulted in the name it was given.

One of the pieces had a rather plain name – Orange. There was no debate about it. And Orange it certainly was. But perhaps that should change. By and large the wires that suspended the hanging pieces were unobtrusive yet visible. The eye took note that they were there and ignored them. Orange was different it was low hanging and, as it is positioned in a bizarre and intriguing angle, naturally, you are tempted to walk round it.

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Joel Shapiro: Orange and OK Green

I did so and suddenly tripped but recovered; there was a wire about knee-height tethering it to the floor;  the wires that are plain to see in the air,  fail to show up against the parquet.  About ten minutes later my companion also attempted to walk round Orange, tripped and fell headlong on the floor. Orange wobbled alarmingly as though laughing. Perhaps there was a human element to them after all. It needed, we decided a less plain name, Dangerous Orange? or Trickster Orange. On the way out we noticed a small sign cautioning trip hazard. Tripster Orange would be perfect.

Joel Shapiro will be at Pace London, 6 Burlington Gardens, London W1S,  until 17 June

 

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. 

 

 

Pokemon Go and finding the man who fell off a horse

19 Dec

The Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg was recently photographed playing Pokemon Go in the Norwegian Parliament, apparently whilst her political opponent Trine Skei Grande, leader of Norway’s Liberal Party, was speaking.  This might be taken as an indication that Pokemon Go is very interesting or,  quite possibly, that Trine Shei Grande is not. It got me wondering how Erna Solberg was doing and what level she had got to and whether she felt as stupid as I do when I stop in the street because my phone has vibrated to alert me that some little cartoon monster is in the vicinity.

I have never had any interest in computer games before this, and have only taken to Pokemon Go under the influence of younger members of the family  and in the hope that it will get me to to walk more. Even though I am predictably hopeless at capturing gyms, I have managed to catch a fair number of pokemon which has taken me to an almost respectable level 18. Unexpectedly, Pokemon Go has also led me to two quite different works of art.

For those very few who don’t know the rules of Pokemon Go, you use your smart phone to try to catch pokemon, pocket sized monsters, with cute names like a wild Meowth, with poke balls and you get poke balls at local landmarks, which were identified and photographed by players in a game called Ingress back in the mists of time in game terms, or about three years ago.

Hastings, it turns out, is rich in pokestops as the good folks who live here, as well as visitors obviously, did a lot of photographing.  So there I was, walking along the front towards St Leonard’s, trying to hatch an egg, (you hatch eggs through walking;) when the phone vibrated and I was alerted that there was a Banksy nearby. I knew that one existed but as it is unmarked and you can only see it from the beach, I had never found it, but I was delighted to do so;  here it is and the council obviously accept that it is a Banksy as they have put a piece of Perspex over it rather than tried to rub it off.

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The other artwork was more of a challenge. That happened in London; I was near Soho square when the phone told me of a pokestop marked by”a man falling off a horse”. It looked from the picture like a very fine statue but it was nowhere to be seen.

One of the oddities of Pokemon Go is that it can claim landmarks in places where they don’t exist, either because the original player wasn’t too good at the geo-coordinates or because, sometimes, as in this case, landmarks move. After making enquiries I did manage to track down the “man falling off a horse”  though it is more properly known as the conversion of St Paul. It now stands near the actor’s church of St Paul’s in Covent Garden, img_0393-2

The statue is by the artist Bruce Denny and although it takes a traditional form, it was created only in 2010 and unveiled by  Judy Dench just last year. On the plinth are the words from Acts 26  13 , “I saw a light from Heaven brighter than the sun.” It is a very fine statue but it is particularly striking at night when excellent lighting becomes part of it and emphasises that the Saint is portrayed at the moment of his blinding.

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

 

Sculpture for Eastbourne Pier

21 Jun

Soon the judges will decide which of the four finalists will be commissioned to  make their sculpture to commemorate the fire on Eastbourne Pier. Yesterday we all set up our displays at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. They were very different.

Phoenix Vane is the sculpture I designed with Caroline Pick who was a fellow student on the Brighton MA course. We have roped in James Price who is a blacksmith designer who lives near Lewes.

Phoenix Vane utilises girder from the pier as well as burnt wood and was inspired by the photographs of the enormous billow of smoke which the fire produced. The bird is a weather vane and the smokey tail will move in the wind while the beak of the bird will point out the wind direction.fire

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Phoenix Vane: Sue McDougall and Caroline Pick with the Time and Tide Bell display in the background

Devon artist Marcus Vergette had a display of Time and Tide Bell;  Marcus is aiming to install twelve bells around the country and a number of these are already in place  including at Appledore, Devon, Bosta beach in the Outer Hebrides, Trinity Buoy Wharf in London and in  Aberdyfi, Wales, July 2011. The idea would be for it to hang under the pier. You could listen to the sound effect as the waves caused the bell to toll.

Certainly a strange and mournful sound and an exciting project, wonderful in an unpopulated part of the coast, but which might possibly become annoying to those living in the vicinity or even for holiday makers on a sunny but breezy afternoon.

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Gulls by Cynthia de Wolf

Cynthia de Wolf had been inspired by the seagulls surrounding the pier and produced a striking seagull sculpture Gulls.

Finally, the London firm George King Architects produced Forged by Flame a sculpture which would be made out of the burnt twopenny pieces which were salvaged from the amusement arcade where the fire started. They hope that it would be a meeting point for people on the beach. The mystery hand which has somehow got itself in the photograph is not included.

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Forged by Fire: George King Architects

The four sculptures will be on display  near the cafe at the Towner Gallery.  Devonshire Park, College Road, Eastbourne,BN21 4JJ until June 29

Members of the public are invited to comment to Sculpture@eastbourne.gov.uk  

If you felt moved to support Phoenix Vane – that would be very nice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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