Ravelling and Unravelling

It’s over a year since I last posted on this site. To be precise, 54 weeks. My husband died back in January after a very long illness and during the final months, and after his death, many friends suggested that I must be, or they hoped I was, or I should try,  throwing myself into art. This is in no way a complaint; these were positive and sensible suggestions. I thought so too. The only problem was, I didn’t want to.  I didn’t want to go to galleries; I didn’t want go up into the studio;  I didn’t want to pick up a paintbrush or make something; watching Netflix and eating chocolate biscuits seemed way more appealing. Even though I suggested to Patrick Jones who runs the amazing Project 78 gallery in St Leonard’s that I might do something there; when the time came to start, I didn’t really feel like that either. But I was committed, so something had to happen.

Project 78 is a space which allows experiments to take place; unlike many galleries, there is the opportunity to develop something rather than just display a finished product. I showed  my floating sculptures there back in 2016; this time I had a different starting point – Black Hole; New Beginning which I had made last summer.

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This piece was inspired by an article I read in New Scientist that it was possible that black holes sucked in matter, and maybe pumped them out into a different dimension. I find that thought appealing.  In case you wondered the blue gassy bits are being pumped out, the swirly bits on the right are being sucked in.

On  Monday I put it on the wall. It seemed small. It in no way filled the space, far less met the brief to respond to it.  More was clearly needed. I pulled out Fault in the Fabric of Time from under the eaves of the studio; previously it had been wrapped round the wall in the Murmurations Gallery. This time I set it up as a free standing version. This is also about time; the stripey bit are rock strata; the multi coloured bits represent the Anthropocene, the era in which we live. They all eventually get pulled through the funnel of time and end up, with a nod to string theory, as deconstructed matter.

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Still the space seemed to require more. More stuff on the floor, I decided. The strings are created from unravelling hessian. I feel this works in several ways; the act of unravelling seems appropriate as the whole piece is about time and change;  it produces these wonderfully sinuous fibres. Unravelling is in itself a restful, relaxing activity. So Wednesday saw me with a growing heap of hessian strands. Then it struck me that the half unravelled  piece I was working on resembled a prayer shawl.  Maybe it should go on the wall. It appeared human; I made it more so. From there six hessian figures, or,  possibly, shrouds, appeared; all partly unravelled as will happen to all of us one day.

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Somehow the space still demanded more. Black Hole; New Beginning still seemed too small and insufficiently complex. I added more material both being sucked in and being pumped out.

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I was happier now that this work was interacting with the space but it seemed curiously detached from Fault in the Fabric of Time. We pushed that piece into the far corner; they both had more room to breathe.

Clearly they needed joining up as well. It was only then that the thought occurred to me, which should have been obvious all along, that the unravelled matter should also be sucked towards the black hole. It could then start the process afresh in a different universe. Ravelings, unravellings in infinite space and infinite time. And so the hessian heap stop being random and gained a sense of direction.

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It all comes down later today but visitors who watched the process seemed to like it. More important to me is that I think I now might, just might,  start work on something else.

 

 

Beware the (dangerous) Orange at Pace

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.

Joel Shapiro: Really Blue (after all) and Orange

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

 

Through the letterbox at Lubomirov Angus Hughes

I’ve always thought that restraints were an admirable aide to creativity. This view was reinforced by Antennae at Lubomirov Angus Hughes.The gallery held an open call for works which responded to the current climate of increasing instability and uncertainty. There was the promise that virtually everything submitted would be exhibited in London and from that exhibition, the curators would select works which they believed contextualised the mood of the time. Selected works would then be exhibited at Platform Projects in Athens. There was one big catch – works had to be delivered through their letter box – a mere 24.5 cm x 6 cm.

The challenge oddly appealed to me: I have become interested in soft sculptures and I wondered whether it might be possible to post a person through the letter box. The idea was to create a kind of self portrait reflecting how I felt first thing in the morning thinking about the folly of Brexit and the horror of Trump. I even acted it out, lying on the floor but the sculpture had its own ideas and the first head shape I made reminded me of Munch’s scream. I finally decided to go with it and make a female scream. Here she is. Brexit! Trump! Aaagh! or B!T!A! for short She is nearly 5ft tall,  and is actually quite a bit more than  24.5cm wide. However, with her elbows compressed into her chest and wrapped tightly in clingfilm she just squeezed in.

Before I arrived in Hackney, I had been pretty certain she would was slender enough. I had rigged up a model letter box out of polystyrene sheeting and had made sure she would go through. When I saw the real thing on the day of the deadline, when it was too late to change anything,  I wasn’t at all sure she would make it.

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Helpfully, she breathed in, no doubt screaming a little more because it must have been uncomfortable. Once she was gone I worried how she would decompress and whether the good people at Lubomirov Angus Hughes would plump her up. I also wondered who else would respond to the challenge and what the standard would be like.

At the Private View on Friday, I was relieved to see that B!T!A! had been unscathed by her journey and the general standard of the works was remarkably high.

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With over 100 works on show there was some incredibly imaginative entries, far too many to show. I particularly liked the clever machine-sewn drawings by Matt Siwerski.IMG_0602

I have always felt that the art world tended to neglect the sense of smell, but olfactory artist Lady Michaelle St Vincent had produced the Smell of Brexit – four little boxes representing the stages of grief each containing a different scent. I reflected I hadn’t got to ‘acceptance’ yet.IMG_0613

The Map of Nowhere seemed to sum things up pretty well.

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Poppy Whatmore was even more direct. You Made a Mess of Things, We Made a Mess of Things; They Made a Mess of Things.

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I also liked Maria Kaleta’s Underworld Faces.

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The curators will make their choice this week on the works that will go to Athens. I hope T!B!A! makes it. She would like the trip. I hope the works I have shown here make it too. But whatever the outcome, it was tremendous fun taking part.

Antennae is open in London at 26 Clapton Road E50PD on Sunday 14 May and moves to Athens at the Platform Project 20-25 May

What a difference a clay makes

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

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.

 

Ken Price at Hauser & Wirth

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.

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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

 

Inspiration from the abstract at the Royal Academy

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.

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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.

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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.