Keeping busy

It’s over a month since I have posted on Artelogical. I have been busy doing art rather than writing about it due to a series of commitments that were all bunched together. While it is wonderful to be busy, at times it all seemed a bit much and I found myself quite looking forward to getting to the end of it. But such is human nature, that now that it is over and I have no immediate exhibitions on the horizon, I am not exactly fretting today, but can see that I might start fretting in a week or two if nothing turns up.

The run started back in February when I had an exhibition of my floating sculptures, Nostalgia for the Body at Tom’s Etching Studio in Hackney Wick; then there was getting the maquette ready as one of the four finalists for the competition for a sculpture to commemorate the fire on Eastbourne Pier.  That will be showing at the Towner Gallery in June.

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Phoenixvane

I had arranged last summer to have an exhibition at the Olive Museum in Ano Gazea, near Volos in Greece to coincide with the Greek Easter which this year was on May 1. The Olive Museum is in the most perfect position overlooking the Pagasetic Gulf.

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The view from the Olive Museum, Ano Gazea

Apart from displays about the olive industry, the museum also has a small exhibition space for contemporary art. With hindsight it might have been sensible to postpone, but the prospect of setting up an exhibition in the sun was just too tempting. It did provide the perfect space for my installation Stone, Sea, Skin which is about the short span of human existence in the context of geological time.

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McDougall: Stone, Sea, Skin installation

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McDougall: Stone, Sea, Skin

At the same time I was trying to get my sculpture Flightpaths ready to be delivered to Broomhill for the finals of the National Sculpture Competition with a May 21st deadline. Flightpaths imagines the trajectory of birds and insects which have flown through the air at that spot in Broomhill in the past.

It is a huge honour to be one of the ten finalists. My sculpture will be in the park for a year. One of the ten will be chosen as overall winner by a panel of judges and the  public also have a chance to vote for their favourite.  Whilst winning either award would obviously be lovely, it was wonderful just to be part of it,  to see Flightpaths in place and also to meet other artists as well as the owners Rinus and Aniet and have a chance to look round the sculpture park and see the amazing works they have there.

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McDougall: Flightpaths

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You can read about the process and how it developed in my posts on the Broomhill competition blog here

It was then back to Hastings on Saturday and on Monday I was setting up for my exhibition at Project 78 in St Leonard’s. It was the floating sculptures again – more of them than ever before.  This  is my attempt to persuade myself that mortality is all for the best. For my beings are disembodied spirits, missing their time on earth; whilst they have consciousness they lack agency; they cannot feel the sun on their backs or enjoy a good meal.

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McDougall: Nostalgia for the Body

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Or that was the idea – at the Private View last night, people told me that my beings were not unhappy, that they were enjoying themselves.

So the beings, nostalgic or possibly partying, remain for a short time at Project 78  and I am left looking for a different project. It’s not that I don’t have lots of ideas rather that I am unsure at the moment which one to pursue; that brings its own problems; with no immediate deadline, it gives me absolutely no excuse not to tidy up the studio.

Maud Cotter – capturing the intangible

It was back at the beginning of 2014 that I came round to the possibilities of cardboard; I had previously been sceptical that anything interesting could be made from it but I was impressed by the work of  Michelangelo Pistoletto at the Cent Quatre Arts Complex in Paris. In that case the cardboard was left pretty much in its natural state but was looped around to form a complex internal maze. My conversion to cardboard has just taken another jump forward with a visit to the extraordinarily discreet Domobaal gallery in Bloomsbury to see Matter of Fact, a solo exhibition by the Irish artist Maud Cotter.

Unlike Pistoletto,  Cotter does not adapt cardboard, but uses it as a raw material and transforms it through painstaking work into a thing of beauty. Her creations, which can take months to complete, start with cardboard of the three ply corrugated variety, the kind from which sturdy boxes are made. She slices it into thin strips about half a centimetre wide, dips the pieces into resin and reassembles them to create structures that appear both light and fragile, they can be supported, as in the work below, solely by thin yellow hand-tied mason’s line. But they are in fact tougher than they look.  I know that to be true as, unexpectedly, in view of the normal don’t touch rule, I was invited to tap one by the gallery owner. It didn’t feel like cardboard at all, but was hard like an eggshell.

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Maud Cotter: Litter Bin

Look closely and you can see that the structure has been made up of panels, like some kind of three dimensional quilting. The photograph shows quite clearly how the strips of cardboard are teased into complex whorls and patterns.  For works which are so complex, they have surprisingly prosaic names: Litter Bin, for instance.  Writing about her work, Cotter explains that her aim is to hold on to intangible moments, which  I take to mean the very stuff of our everyday lives, which for most of us is prosaic enough. Although these creations involve a huge number of hours work, in their lightness of touch they resemble sketches in the air; there are the lines drawn in metal, delicate and intricate;  the cardboard forms are the shading.

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Maud Cotter: Matter of Fact

Whilst it is the central form which first attracts attention, the surrounding stand,  is equally important; its little swirls of metal reflect the cylinder it contains. You can line these circles up and squint through them; it’s like looking down a telescope.

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Maud Cotter: Matter of Fact

The exhibition also includes other smaller works, there were some things downstairs which looked a bit like beakers of cappuccino. I liked the way the lines of the larger work were referenced by this wall mounted piece, Falling into Many Pieces  and then made double through the shadows cast by clever lighting.

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Maud Cotter: Falling into Many Pieces

Unlike many successful artists Cotter believes in making her works herself rather than handing it over to assistants or a fabricator. She cuts and bonds the cardboard, bends the mild steel of the stands over her knee  and then welds the pieces together, only to cut them up once the construction is made to insert hand made joints which allow the works to be assembled and disassembled.

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Look carefully and you can see the irregularities that this method produces. I like that. There are some who argue that the concept is all, and you should never make what others can do for you;  but for me the thumbprint of the artist adds something, intangible even, but important

Matter of Fact is showing at the Domobaal Gallery, 3 John Street, London WC1N 2ES, till May 14

 

 

Up against the Wall

If I had seen the maquette of Luke Hart’s Wall before seeing the full-sized version currently showing at the William Benington Gallery, I would have thought the work demanded a wide open space.

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Luke Hart: Wall maquette

In fact, the way that this imposing flexible sculpture filled the gallery was really exciting. You couldn’t stand back to view it but had to edge round it but this was good because it gave visitors a chance to examine the strange rubbery joints which gave it flexibility.

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Luke Hart: Wall

It was clear that it had to have been assembled in situ: it was far too large to go through the door. Apparently building it up like a super sized Meccano took three days. But the construction of the piece as a whole took five months. It involved  welding the steel pieces and producing joints by a special injection system which forced rubber into specially created moulds, which somehow left the intriguing gaps and gave the structure a strange organic element.

The booklet that accompanies the exhibition includes a quote by Oscar Wilde  from the Picture of Dorian Gray – “all art is useless.” Indeed this is a wall which gives the impression of  only just being able to support itself; it does not divide or contain. You could walk round it – or indeed if you were so minded go through it. The point I felt was its precariousness; despite the pull of gravity, it twisted but did not fall.

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Luke Hart: Wall edition piece

The gallery owner told me that the whole thing can  be purchased for around £30,000 but small parts are available as an edition, a joint in its wooden box. You can even purchase part of it. But I very much hope someone buys the whole thing; it deserves to be kept together. It may be useless – you would have to stop the kids treating it as a climbing frame; it wouldn’t protect you from intruders or keep you warm but  it would give you a conversation piece. It could conceivably be mounted outside if it were laquered or the decision were made to let it rust, though I would be concerned how it would be pinned down. The exhibition proves you don’t  need a lot of space for it. I reckon it could fit in an even smaller area than the gallery. Just think, you could have your very own wall-room.

Wall is showing at the William Benington Gallery, 20 Arlington Way, London EC1R 1UY until 14 May 2016.

 

Delayed decisions at the Camden Arts Centre

“I make the decision to postpone decision making for as long as possible,” German born artist Florian Roithmayr explains in the video which accompanies his solo exhibition, with, and, or without at the Camden Arts Centre. This avoidance of decision making extends to how the works are displayed. He is keen on collaboration so that the arrangement of the sculptures is  a team effort and is not even final, for he encourages the invigilation staff to rearrange the works. I noted that in the video the work shown below (name unknown as the exhibition has no labels) was lying on the floor but  when I visited, it had been promoted to the wall. Elsewhere, the concrete form inside a window shaped surround had been changed from the vertical to the horizontal.

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These fruit like pieces, which according to the exhibition booklet are named Adoration, though previously exhibited as  Crustacean (another example of impermanence) are moved daily. It must be much better fun for the staff on duty than the more common gallery task of stopping people like me taking photographs. Last time I was at the Camden Arts Centre they were particularly fierce about this and I didn’t manage to sneak a single shot of my own, but refreshingly, yesterday there was no ban and they couldn’t have been more charming.

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Much of the work in this exhibition is in concrete – but concrete made vulnerable. At times it has been coaxed into shapes such as these coloured walking-stick like objects that appear unlikely and fragile.

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The desire for changeability drives the creative process but is harnessed by technical knowledge. Rothmayr spent some time learning the skills involved in industrial processes and in particular spent time as an apprentice to a ‘concrete beautician’ who specialised in smartening up and repairing concrete facades to buildings.

But it was not the smooth which attracted me the most, rather the structures which resembled something from the natural world, perhaps a lava flow or a segment of weathered coral. They are in fact created from a wholly unnatural process.

A wooden case is half filled with wet concrete which is then injected with expanding foam; Rothmayr explains how the nozzle judders and jumps as the foam penetrates the concrete under pressure. Each element then reacts with the other before equilibrium is reached and the concrete finally sets, riddled with the softer foam, which is then meticulously carved out using dental tools so that a honeycomb structure is left behind. Rothmayr does not even undertake the carving himself, that was undertaken by the Centre staff,  so that while he sets the process in motion the ultimate outcome is out of his control.

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The result if extraordinarily tactile; the surface of the concrete has a faint sheen;  I really wanted to run my fingers into the gullies and hollows.

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Rothmayr makes no promises that the work is stable. Indeed I notice a few hairline cracks in the surface which suggested that it might not be. It would be unlikely to trouble him. He never regards a piece as finished and likes to recycle parts of older works into the new. Elements of the work on show today may be destined for a reincarnation. I like the thought that in the future, his works could bear traces of successive workings and re-workings.

with, and, or without is showing at the Camden Arts Centre till March 6.

Don’t step backwards

I have been suffering from flashbacks ever since my visit  a couple of days ago to the Project 78 Gallery in St Leonard’s on Sea. The gallery was set up by Patrick Jones who heads the Contemporary Fine Art Course at Sussex Coast College. He sets out to show works of a standard and originality that you would normally only find in a London gallery. But it was not the art that has been giving me the flashbacks, though it was good,  but the fact that I nearly,  inadvertently, destroyed it.

I am not normally particularly clumsy in galleries; I associate that with my husband who, a few years back, managed to trip over a little pile of stones which unaccountably had got into the final of the Jerwood Drawing Prize. He did it not once, but twice.  In his defence, if you put a little pile of stones in the middle of a wall-based exhibition, you have to expect somebody will trip over it, though you might hope that having done it once, he or she would not do it again.

But Neil Ayling’s exhibition, Facet, was exemplarily displayed; no trip hazards at all.  Ayling’s work is inspired by the details of architecture that are so easy to overlook. His works involve photography but are, nonetheless, three dimensional. Imagine you had a photographic image on paper and then folded it into origami type forms or cut it up and and repositioned the pieces. His sculptures work like that, only they are made not from paper but from a variety of materials: bronze, plywood and concrete.  I was just trying to photograph the work below which is cast in bronze but is still reminiscent of folded paper, when I stepped backwards to get a better shot.

 

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Neil Ayling: Facet

My shoulder just nudged the piece behind me, which was made of plywood. To my horror, it detached itself from the wall. Amazingly and fortunately it did not go crashing to the ground; my reflexes are apparently in pretty good shape because I managed a rapid half twist and was left supporting it with my shoulder until help arrived and we put it back.

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Regular readers of this blog will know my lack of sympathy with the photo police you find in many galleries and that I have often been guilty of trying to sneak a shot from under their noses. On this occasion, my photography was fortunately authorised.  That has not prevented my imaginings of an alternative universe, in which I see Ayling’s work splintered and wrecked.

I am so glad that it did not happen like that because apart from the appalling embarrassment that would have ensued,  it is an interesting piece.  Even having been there and seen it and taken the photograph, I still can’t quite see how he achieves the effect of this composite image of the capitals of a classic column from plywood.

Ayling’s apparently attributes his multi faceted take on architecture  to his youthful love of skateboarding. As he sped, twisting and turning along pavements, he would view his surroundings in a series of short bursts, when details, often at unexpected angles, would come briefly into focus, blur and then change to the next sharp snapshot. As an adult, he has continued to walk through the city searching out those angles.

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In the plywood work, the capitals of the columns are clear enough but with other pieces, such as this work in concrete and polystyrene, you feel you are close to identifying just what it is, but can’t quite put your finger on it. I want to go back and have another look. Next time I will be careful not to step backwards.

Facet runs until 5 December at Project 78 Gallery in Norman Road, St Leonard’s on Sea, TN38 OEJ. The gallery is open from Thursday to Saturday between 12.00 – 17.00 or by appointment Monday – Wednesday.

Winning the Hackney Road Sculpture Prize

Of course, winning anything is nice but it is particularly pleasing when you know  that your fellow contestants were good.  So I was totally thrilled to learn this week that I had won the Hackney Road Sculpture Prize. On Thursday the three short-listed candidates, of which I was one, were brought together at the art charity Eastside Educational Trust, to hear the results,  meet the judges, Robert Suss, Simon de Friend and Chris Enticott as well as the Speaker of Hackney, Sade Etti. It was also a chance for us all to see each other’s work. It must have been a very hard decision for the judges; I thought Sam Neal’s design, Sedulus, and Katie Surridge’s Seeing Tree were both excellent.

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I show my design to Hackney Speaker, Sade Etti

It was Eastside that organised the competition for Regal Homes which is undertaking the redevelopment of the area in a project which will create 1,000 new local jobs and 200 new local homes as well as workshop spaces. The process started back June when artists were asked to offer a submission for a new and unique sculpture to be included in the regeneration plans.

The brief explained that the winning sculpture would be placed at the heart of the new development and would have the potential to become a future local landmark. It was to be no more than two metres high and have a footprint with no dimension greater than 1.5 metres and it should be on the theme of regeneration.

Approaching this challenge, I spent a lot of time thinking about regeneration, what it meant and what made it successful and I came up with three themes:

  • That it needed to involve the whole community
  • That it didn’t just happen at one point in time; it was a continuing process that could be likened to a living thing; and
  • That it linked the past with the future.

As the rules allowed you to put in three entries, I decided to create  designs round these themes. The community theme involved casts of hands of local residents; I designed a kind of plant cum flame thing in coloured ironwork but the design I liked the best of my three, and which the judges chose, was Regeneration takes the Past into the Future. It comprises 70 acrylic rods of different lengths set on a mirrored surface.  I have never thought drawing was my strong suit so I was particularly pleased that the judges could visualise the idea from the sketch which I did, shown below.

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Sue McDougall: Regeneration Takes the Past into the Future

I believe it will be striking. I like acrylic as a material.  It is basically the same stuff from which shop fronts are often made.   It’s tough and weatherproof. It can even be used for water features.  Acrylic rods can be clear like glass, translucent or opaque.  They can be coloured with varying degrees of transparency.  I am using  clear, blue, red and purple coloured transparent rods. I have had samples knocking round the place at home; I love the way they catch the light,  pick up reflections from their surroundings and glow in the sunshine. Putting the rods on a mirrored surface will give the impression that they not only reach up to the future but also come out of the ground, representing the past. The way they are arranged also resembles something living a reed-bed perhaps or a thicket, signifying the continuing and developing nature of regeneration.

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Acrylic rod samples

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While I was delighted to win the cash prize, the real prize for me is that the work will be made. This is something I could never have done speculatively. The materials would have been too expensive; the finished work, which will make full use of the allowed dimensions, would have been too large and putting them together requires chemical welding so it’s not a job for the studio; I will use a specialist fabricator. It will be some time before the sculpture can be put in place; a lot has to happen; Regal Homes has to get planning permission, and the development has to be built. But I will be working with Eastwood and Regal Homes over the next year to ensure that my contribution is as good as it possibly can be. I am greatly looking forward to it and I very much hope the new residents will like the finished result.

 

 

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.