A conversation at the Black Shed

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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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

 

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.

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.

 

On Klint not Klimt

The other day, I mentioned to a former tutor how I wanted to see the works of Hilma af Klint, the Swedish artist whose abstract works are being shown at the Serpentine Gallery. He asked me whether I thought there was a difference between art by male artists and that of female artists.

It was a reasonable question for this is the first time that a major exhibition of Klint’s abstract  works have been on show to the public, as she decided not to exhibit them during her lifetime and stipulated in her will that they could not be exhibited for twenty years after her death. But my response was a knee-jerk ‘no’, a bit as though he had asked me whether male drivers were better than female drivers. Of course the right answer in both cases is, ‘ it all depends …’

Take Phyllida Barlow, her work has all the attributes that are commonly associated with male art; strong, large, impressive. Furthermore she often uses materials that might be found in a builder’s yard. Other artists such as Tracey Emin have built their practice around their role as a women whether it is by  innovating with stereotypically female art- forms such as embroidery or by drawing on their own experiences; the famous bed and tent would have been very different in their impact if they had been made by a man.

As it turned out, I would have found it hard to believe that a male artist could have produced the majority of Klint’s  paintings.

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Hilma af Klint, the Ten Largest Youth Group IV, 1907

There is something about the choice of colours, the pinks and oranges, the recurring motives, the organic shapes and the flowers that seemed female. They were also exciting, bold, grand and  remarkably fresh.

 

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Hilma af Klint: Altarpiece No 2, 1915

Even as I write that, I reflect that Damien Hirst has repeatedly used that feminine motif the butterfly, so appearances can be misleading, but I  cannot imagine that a man would ever have been so reticent about exhibiting.

For my MA thesis which I completed last summer,  I set out to discover why, despite being by far in the majority on art courses, women still fare less well than men in terms of gallery exposure, competitions and critical acclaim. It turned out to be complicated; and not all down to sexism, though that played a part. One factor appeared to be confidence; in fields where it could be measured, women tended to underestimate their abilities, men to overestimate .

So here she was,  this little known Swedish woman, turning out these large beautiful works in 1908 in a style that was completely original, possibly making her rather than Kandinsky, or Mondrian the first pioneer in abstraction.  Furthermore,  in her investigation of pure minimalist form, she also pre-dated Malevitch. And she decided to keep it all to herself and a few female friends.

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Hilma af Klint: Starting Picture No 1, 1920

 

I left the exhibition wanting to go back in time and shake her and ask her what she thought she was doing. Women artists need role models; there were far too few in the early years of the last century. She could have been a major influence on the avant garde. She could have ben recognised as starting a new movement. It was not that she was afraid of exhibiting per se. She was known as a landscape artist and portrait painter. Her work in these genres appears competent but conventional,

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Hilma Af Klint: Flowering Fruit Trees

It cannot really have been cherry blossom that excited her; such works  were surely the day job. Perhaps it was the nature of her inspiration that she felt to be intensely private: she and her friends who called themselves the Five (de Fem) gathered in her studio in  northern Stockholm  to commune with  group of mystic beings, which they called the High Masters.She believed they directly influenced her work

If I had known her I would have found this hocus pocus annoying despite the splendid results.  I wonder whether there had been ridicule at any point which might have made her shy about exhibiting what she had done. But then maybe not; spiritualism was in vogue and many of the male contemporary artists including Kadinsky and Mondrian, were also interested in the occult.

She might have been concerned about possible criticism.  In truth, they were not all good. There is a series, the Evolution Group, where the lettering tends to be crude and uneven and which includes a rather ridiculous pair of dogs, which have a certain charm but lack gravitas.  But these are the exceptions: most of the works are skilled and appear superbly confident in their execution. It has been suggested that Klint was dismayed by the reaction of Rudolf Steiner, whom she greatly admired,  but she had the self-belief to go on painting. Possibly she might have been concerned that the subject matter would have been considered unsuitable for a woman; much of the imagery appears sexual, revealing the influence of Freud.

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Helma af Klint: the Ten Largest, No 1 and No 2, Childhood, Group IV, 1907

 

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be recognised; her writings suggested that her work might influence future generations and so it might. Apart from appreciating the form, the colour and the harmony,  women artists should look on her works and encourage themselves to put themselves forward.  It is hard for any artist to judge his or her own work;  these paintings are a clarion call for women to be braver.

Hilma af Klint, Painting the Unseen, is showing at the Serpentine Gallery till Sunday May 15.

 

 

The grass is greener…

One of the inevitabilities of writing an art blog is that one is always on the look-out for works that are not just interesting but will also provide a good photograph.   But they are not necessarily the same. Sometimes really interesting works don’t photograph well at all; sometimes photographs jack up a piece of work a few notches higher than you feel it strictly deserves. And sometimes, the knowledge that the photograph is likely to be striking can make it difficult to decide what you think of the real thing.

One of the things I like to do from time to time is to concentrate on an area and visit as many galleries as I can without any plan other than to see what is there. Recently, after wandering around ten in the Shoreditch area, I discovered Raze Bloom by Rachael Champion in the Hales Gallery. After seeing various paintings of varying shapes and sizes, some good, some to my mind not good at all, it came as both a surprise and a relief. Too many paintings in one morning can be indigestible.  I could see at once that Raze Bloom would make an interesting photographs. But was I actually convinced by it as a work?

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To start with, I wasn’t sure. Although a surprise to find healthy green grass in a gallery room without windows, and realise that the artist has created a synthetic eco system,  you are still left with a display that would not turn heads in the local garden centre. Coming to think of it, if you knew where to look, you would, no doubt, find healthy  grass of an entirely different kind growing under artificial lights in other windowless rooms across the capital. So perhaps it was not particularly remarkable.

But despite this initial scepticism, the work continued to stay with me as did the exhibition as a whole. Cleverly curated, it brings together the works of three artists and explores the relationship we have with the environment, the natural and the artificial. The utilitarian nature of Raze Bloom was surely  part of the point; created out of industrial materials, it is a commentary on the way that neighbourhoods are razed to make way for new rapidly built construction. It reminded me of the Joni Mitchell song, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot… hey took all the trees. Put ’em in a tree museum. And they charged the people. A dollar and a half just to see ’em”

Raze Bloom was central but needed the other works to highlight the changes that happen over quite a short period of time. On the wall is a video by Rachel Pimm, Rubber,  showing the harvesting and creation of rubber as it turns from a plant to a product. The film is beautifully shot and the soundtrack, which you hear through a headset, amplifies the sounds of production so that you notice the drips and sloshes as the liquid latex is harvested and eventually turned into sheets of rubber. It appears quite romantic but it would not always have been so; this was once industry but the natural product is now increasingly replaced by the synthetic.

Also included in the exhibition are beautiful and poignant photographs of Agnes Denes’  Wheatfield Project. This took place in 1982 when Denes with the help of volunteers cleared a site in the centre of the city, bringing in topsoil to create  a two acre wheat-field in the heart of Manhattan. Her stated aim at the time was “to call people’s attention to having to rethink their priorities.” and she explained that the project grew “out of a long-standing concern and need to call attention to our misplaced priorities and deteriorating human values.”

Deane succeeded in harvesting a thousand pounds of the grain. In the photographs you can see the crop ripening in the middle of the busy city. In the back ground the twin towers are still standing. At the time it must have seemed near miraculous to have succeeded. Now looking back at those photographs taken thirty three years ago, it already feels as though we are looking at a gentler and more optimistic time. Meanwhile, Raze Bloom seems to be looking towards a harsher future.

This exhibition at Hales Gallery has now ended