Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

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.

anya-gallaccio-beautiful-minds-2015-17-installation-view-2015-1

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.

P1020015.JPG

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.

 

p1020016

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.

devils_tower_crop

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.

p1000959

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.

p1000958

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.

p1000949

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.

 

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
Graphite on Paper

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.

img_0359

img_0368

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

 

Inspiration from the abstract at the Royal Academy

11 Oct

It is strange to think that when I first started my art course in the autumn of 2011, people were seriously having debates about whether painting had a future. Of course, in truth, artists had never stopped painting but students seemed to be doing it in rather an apologetic way.  I met people who worried that painting pictures of recognisable things was not really contemporary.  Equally, abstract art was not seen as the answer either;  why that had had its heyday with the Abstract Expressionists and was well and truly over. There was nothing more to say, it was implied. Conceptual art ruled.

I was not convinced.  In the summer of 2012 I wrote a post about my disappointment that in one Art and Design Degree Show, there was not a single painting to be seen; it was at the same time as cave paintings were being attributed to  Neanderthals and I argued that if painting had been around for approximately 41,000 years it was unlikely to stop any time soon. Just as in the financial markets, at the very point that people are saying that the price of shares or  oil, or cotton or houses will never go up again or, conversely, never fall, the change is already happening. It turns out that, four years later, painters of all kinds are doing well and are decidedly less apologetic. More paintings are appearing in degree shows. My friend Jesse Waugh appears to be making headway with his declared movement Pulchrism . A contemporary gallerist told me  recently that there was strong demand for paintings with a representational element. So paintings of things or people are now ok.

What about abstract art? Is that thriving too in the art college?. Of course it too has never entirely gone away but has been simmering on the back burner.  Thanks to the Abstract Expressionist Exhibition at the Royal Academy, new and young artists could be inspired afresh; I predict that in a reaction to the recent popularity of representational and semi-representational works there will soon be an explosion of new abstract paintings appearing in galleries. Indeed,  Cass Art and the Royal Academy have launched a competition for those who  make contemporary abstract works inspired by the Abstract Expressionist movement for an exhibition that will take place this November in Islington.

blue-poles

Jackson Pollock: Blue Poles

Having visited the exhibition twice I find it hard to believe that artists could not be inspired. It is always interesting to see paintings that one has previously known from reproductions and in this exhibition there were so many -including the drip paintings  by Jackson Pollock, extraordinary colour studies by Rothco and the enormous and dramatic works of Clifford Still . What I found particularly fascinating was the way that the RA arranged the exhibition so that you could see the sources and roots of the movement arising from cubism and surrealism, the innovation and energy that was current in the 40s and 50s when the movement loose enough for artists explore very different avenues but at the same time united by some common principles that came to have a political dimension of their own. It was also evident that the later works were less impressive, so that they became almost pastiche on themselves. Enough time has passed now that artists today can feed on that excitement without feeling constrained by the sense that the movement is over.

clifford-still

Clifford Still: PH -950

For entrants in the RA/Cass art competition creating the perfect response will of course be difficult, particularly as the competition limits the size of 2D works to 1 metre on the longest side. Size was certainly a dominant characteristic but then so was colour, so was vigour and in some works so was violence. Abstract Expressionism was a response to the horrors of the period, two devastating world wars, the atomic bomb and the cold war. In this new millennium we have dark days of our own. It will be interesting to see how a new generation of artists use the abstract to express their own emotions about the state of the world.

Abstract Expressionism is running at the Royal Academy until January 2 2017.

The deadline for submissions to the Royal Academy and Cass Art competition is October 16.

A conversation at the Black Shed

19 Jul

I had been aware for some time that there was a contemporary art gallery near Robertsbridge; friends have recommended it; I follow it on Twitter; fellow MA student Jenny Edbroke, whose work I wrote about in July 2015, exhibited there last summer; Susan Fynes who graduated this summer, see last week’s post, is to exhibit there soon. I had even thought I had noticed a discreet sign to it on the A21. But Robertsbridge is about half an hour’s drive away, not a particularly onerous journey admittedly, but still not next door. So, it was not until a couple of days ago that I finally decided to investigate. I ignored the Robertsbridge turning, found that I had been right about the sign and drove up narrow country lanes and finally arrived at what looked at first sight like a group of farmyard buildings. All most improbable.

What is perhaps even more improbable, as many people dream of starting a gallery, is that owner and director Kenton Lowe has clearly made it a huge success. His eye for interesting and collectable artists mean that buyers are prepared to make the journey to find London quality work in the heart of the country. Look up Black Shed on a map and the red place marker is in the middle of sea of green, but the number of red dots on the corners of paintings, suggest that those who come keep their credit cards at the ready.

The current exhibition was certainly worth the drive. Artists Bent Holstein and Alan Rankle are described as having a conversation about landscape painting. I am not usually convinced by this idea of a conversation between artists. Too often it is used loosely to justify grouping together people who have only the most tenuous links. In this case I really felt it worked; the approaches were very different yet there was a genuine connection; the colour palettes of the two artists complemented each other. While Danish artist Holstein had a more abstract style, Rankle’s work also included an abstract element. Indeed, you could imagine the paintings discussing the place of abstraction.

Before going I was not acquainted with either artist. At first it was Holstein’s work which attracted my attention. I liked the subtle tones and the gentle impressionistic style that takes you into his mysterious landscapes so that you imagine more than you can actually see.

Bent-Holstein-As-if-Standing-on-FishesBlue-2016

Bent Holstein: As if standing on Fishes Blue 2016

But as I looked round the exhibition, it was the works of Rankle that grew on me. When commentators talk about works being semi abstract they normally mean that you can kind of make out what it is that the artist is painting. Indeed I would have described Holstein’s works as being just that.

Many of Rankle’s paintings are semi abstract in a completely different way. In part they are very precise;  in his working of trees, he reminded me of Constable. Originally educated at Goldsmiths, it turns out that he had gone on to study classical techniques, particularly the Dutch Old Masters. So here you can have a tree as well-painted as as the most ardent fans of realism could desire; you can make out the leaves; if you are good at that kind of thing, you could identify the species. But in the piece below you also have the bold splash of yellow providing mood and emotion. The two elements could almost have come from different paintings but Rankle’s skill is demonstrated by the fact that they worked as one.

Alan-Rankle-Patricia-Kalitzca-2016

Alan Rankle: Enigma Patricia Kalitzca + the Object

Contemporary art should challenge our ideas and see help us to see things afresh. If my first reaction to these unexpected explosions of paint was “I’m not sure about that”,  it quickly gave way to admiration and wanting to see more.

The Black Shed Gallery   is open on from Tuesday to Friday 10.00 am-4.00 pm and on Saturdays 10 am to 4.30 pm.

Great space: great show – MA students suceed at Brighton

12 Jul

Jealousy is to be deplored  but I couldn’t help feeling a twinge to see the space that this year’s MA graduates at the University of Brighton had been allocated to show their work. There was a whole new exhibition area devoted to sculpture and the downstairs gallery was not interrupted by partitions as it has been when I was showing a year ago. This year the works had room to breathe and the graduating students made the very best of it. It was interesting to see how those who were first  years in 2014-15 had developed and it was also fascinating to see works from people whom I did not know, who had decided to go for the gruelling route of taking an MA in just a year.  In a varied and imaginative show here are a few of the pieces that caught my eye.

MA2

Kyunmin Kim: Traces of Time

I was particularly impressed by this work by full timer Kyunmin Kim, Traces of Time in the downstairs gallery,  it is beautifully embroidered, not on fabric but on wire mesh, which is torn in the middle. Writing about the work Kyuhmin explained that “even memories become faint with traces of time. The memory is still alive and is ready to come up to us at any time.“The statement seems a contradiction but then maybe that is the point of the work – the gaps in memory and the unexpected recall.

Doreen Munro started the MA at the same time as me but had a year out for family reasons. That year appears to have served her well.

MA4

Doreen Munro

I remember that Munro’s work often featured pieces being wrapped, or in some way concealed, but none, I felt,  had worked as successfully as the juxtaposition of the corrugated iron and the paper in this piece here. The newness, crispness and fragility of the paper was the perfect foil to the rusting iron.

MA6

Ruijong Hang: Non Linear Existence

Ruijing Hang another full timer’s work is hard to photograph; Non Linear Existence is constructed from white paint on clear acrylic. I particularly enjoyed its lyricism and dream-like quality. Among many showier pieces it demonstrated a quiet authority.

In marked contrast to Ruijing’s restraint was this playful piece by Yanting Li , You In. It was the first work I noticed on entering the sculpture exhibition and the humour and colour were particularly appealing

 

MA5

Yanting Li: You In

Caleb Madden’s works are hard to miss as his sound sculptures permeate both the main exhibition hall and performances in the sculpture exhibition. I particularly enjoyed Hot Fizz an ingenious work in which a bag of water was allowed to drip onto  a hot cooking hob making a satisfying hiss every time it did so, the sound of which was then amplified so that you did not at first understand its origins.

MA7

Caleb Madden: Hot Fizz

Among many excellent paintings I like this little one by Tori Day of a gimlet. Day specialises in celebrating common objects which might otherwise go unnoticed. It is painted on piece of 19th century floorboard. I liked the cleverness of the painted nails holding the painted paper on which the gimlet rests.

MA1

Tori Day: Gimlet

Susan Fynes polished and intricate geometric abstracts are always interesting. They take months to complete and I am just amazed at the patience and dedication that is involved. This one Hope is typical of her work – eye-bending but beautiful.

hope 1 edit (2)

Susan Fynes: Hope

The University of Brighton MA show is open until July 16, 10.00 – 5.00 at University of Brighton, Grand Parade, Brighton BN2 0JY  

Doppelgänger at the Eagle Gallery

19 Jun

I often feel that artists should keep quiet about their works. I know that the concept is important and in some works the concept is everything but particularly with paintings you can sometimes see something marvellous on the wall and then read what it means and either find it is about something completely different from what you had imagined, or sounds so pretentious that it diminishes the work. Painters can often express complicated multi layered ideas in paint better than they can in words: that is why they are painters.

Explanations are not a problem with James Fisher, whose exhibition has just opened at the Eagle Gallery in the Farringdon Road. He believes in giving very little information, allowing the paintings to speak for themselves.We have the title of the exhibition: Doppelgänger which suggests an exploration of  identity and there are titles which in some cases are people’s names – Thomas Bernhard – Sophia Jex Blake, though there is no information about the people and no obvious link to the subject.

In other cases the names are ambiguous; Eiko could be referencing a Japanese born choreographer and dancer an illustrator or even a playable figure in Final Fantasy IV. Okiku is Japanese for doll and indeed looking it up I find there is an story of a supposedly haunted okiku where its hair is supposed to keep growing. Is that relevant? I liked the painting; do I need to know what it means?

Not even gallery owner Emma Hill knew quite how to interpret them  We discussed Thomas Bernhard shown below. “There is clearly a hat;” I said, “Are those rabbit ears? But what is the shape above the hat?”WP_20160617_16_12_02_Pro (2)

She too was unsure; “I don’t know; I’ve been trying to work it out. He will tell me eventually,” she said.

I rather liked the mystery; it made one look more closely at the paintings which are highly skilled. The paint is built up in layers, has been sanded and repainted so that elements of the original marks are evident. The geometric shapes add  complexity; whereas the recognisable representational shapes tend, as in this painting, to appear two dimensional, in some the geometric areas have a 3d effect that suggest flex and provide solidity.

Birds and cats are a reoccurring theme. In Margaret Morse Nice, the birds are apparent while in  Althea R, you realise that the bird is half hidden; the geometric patterns are in the shape of a cat’s head.JAMES-FISHER-Althea-R-2016-oil-on-linen-81-x-71cm-

But the painting I liked the best, Neko, which is the Japanese for cat, had, I thought at first, portrayed no cats at all.

WP_20160617_16_09_49_Pro (2)

Then looking at the photographs later, I wondered whether the projections at the top were ears and the geometric part was a cat’s head. I hope not: I preferred to think of it as representing the brain or multi-faceted thought. That is the way with interpretation: sometimes you prefer your own.

James Fisher, Doppelgänger is at the Eagle Gallery, 159 Farringdon Road from 16 June to 16 July

 

%d bloggers like this: