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.

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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.

 

Painting the soul

28 Dec

Go back a relatively short time and souls, angels and demons appeared regularly in art; Stanley Spencer, William Blake, Titian, Hieronymus Bosch, Fra Angelico: the list could go on and on. Angels appeared on mighty wings; demons had tails and teeth; souls were sometimes in paradise; sometimes tormented. But their appearance in paintings was so frequent as to be unremarkable. These days, despite surveys showing that 70% of people in Britain believe in the soul, spiritual paintings are something of a rarity.

I myself fall into the sceptical 30%.  The scientific evidence suggests that there is no little person dwelling inside our heads. Read of neuro-psychologist Michael Gazzaniga’s split brain experiments conducted on subjects where the connections between the left and right cortexes of the brain had been severed, and the single self becomes unconvincing. The scientists appeared to be able to communicate with each half of the brain separately. The experiments done by Benjamin Libet suggest that free will could be limited to the power of veto. He showed that subjects believed they had initiated actions such as switching a switch after their brains had demonstrated an electrical surge known as the readiness potential a full half-second earlier. It was the unconscious brain which had started the action, not the conscious self.   In the introduction to her excellent book Consciousness, an introduction, Susan Blackmore warns readers, as she had warned her students, that those of a religious persuasion could find their beliefs challenged.

Even those of us who side with the scientists have to admit, it still feels as if the soul is in there somewhere.  It is a distinctly reluctant siding.  So it was with a sense of delight that I came across De Anima, paintings and sculptures by the Belgian artist Johan Van Mullem at Unit London in Wardour Street. Van Mullem does not question the existence of the human soul but simply paints it. I enjoyed his certainty and I enjoyed the way that the spirits did not appear medieval but thoroughly 21st century.

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If there is an afterlife, how would you recognise your loved ones? It could be a problem. Van Mullem’s spirits are largely disembodied; the sculptures reveal that where bodies exist, they tend to peter out at the feet. You might catch a familiar expression or it could be too fleeting.

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For the most part the spirits peer out at you through a puff of multi-coloured smoke or an indistinct landscape. They look as though they could melt back into the vapours. Some are apparently caught in a force-field of digital dots. I spied one that looked like Mrs Thatcher, perhaps it was the hooded eye. Indeed, eyes are a feature of many of the paintings but in some cases the journey to the spirit world allows the survival of the mouth, an ear and hair.

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A few unfortunate spirits turn out to be nearly all mouth, while some, the bland or the woolly perhaps, find that their features have been obliterated and their surviving essence boils down to something which looks uncomfortably like a ball of yarn.

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None of the paintings has a title to help viewers discern influences;  they have reference numbers instead.  Titles are not needed as Van Mullen does not use a model or apparently have a set destination in mind. Instead, painting with inks on canvas, he works intuitively allowing his subconscious to capture what he perceives as the essential human. Just as I do not like all people, I did not like all his works but I am intrigued by them. If I am wrong and the soul survives, and Van Mullem has captured something of it, we can look forward to eccentricity, to variety, to colour, to chaos, to beauty and, because what is left is derived from the human, to cruelty as well. But at least it will be interesting.

De Anima is showing at Unit London 147 – 149 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 8WD until 6 January.

Pokemon Go and finding the man who fell off a horse

19 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Editions Show at Project 78

16 Dec

Still looking for Christmas presents and hoping to find something arty but affordable? The current exhibition at Project 78 in St Leonards might provide the answer. The gallery is selling limited edition pieces from the artists who have exhibited there during the past two years. I admit that I am biased as two of my works are included, but it makes for a fascinating show. There is such variety: sculpture, prints, a single record, a memory stick, a small bag of rice, even a table and in prices, which range from £25 to £2000.

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Here are a few of them; they will be on sale in the gallery until the second week of January and on line at www.project78gallery.com/

I wrote about Neil Ayling’s work back in November last year and for this exhibition he has produced is this small but intriguing aluminium sculpture in a limited edition of eight at £85 each.

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Izabela Brudkiewicz is a performance artist who spent a week last summer counting grains of rice; 21,780 of them. For this exhibition she has produced seven mysterious little hand-made bags each one representing an hour of her time and costing £60. Brudkiewicz will be returning to Project 78 and again counting rice in the New Year.

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I was impressed by the recent exhibition from Anne Marie Watson whose flow of consciousness writing took the form of a meticulous circle. She has produced seven much smaller ones, all diffferent but still mind-blowing in their precision. They cost £100 each, £120 framed

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Anybody must love Martin Symons‘ chickens in a limited edition of 10 at £75.p1000842

Or if you are feeling flush there may still be a chance to acquire one of Patrick Adam Jones‘ large and dramatic “I am” pictures at £2000; four of the edition of five have already sold.

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Or how about one of mine? They  relate to the floating sculptures Nostalgia for the Body  which was shown back in May and are part digital prints, part collage using material from the original installation which was itself hand-painted. They are each in an edition of ten, but all slightly different and cost £60 unframed, £100 framed.

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The little purple table, in a limited edition of ten is by Becky Beasley and Marc Camille Charmonicz and relates to the summer show A House of Life. It could well prove a profitable investment Marc Carmille Charmonicz’ exhibition, an Autumn Lexicon, has just finished at the Serpentine Gallery in London. The price of the table goes up by £100 every time one is purchased.

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A very popular item at the Private View was a memory stick containing the video of the haunting Trees and Keys by Overlap;

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they are £56 each, or if you prefer old technology for £80 you can buy one of an edition of ten singles of the work Bass Superstructure  by Caleb Madden which was recorded in the project space. p1000867

Editions 16 is showing at Project 78, until 7 January  78 Norman Road, St. Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, TN38 0EJ 

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.

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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

 

A chat with the Jens

5 Dec

Jennifer Binnie and Jenifer Corker are two artists who are coming soon to the Blackshed Gallery in Robertsbridge. I visited them at Jenifer Corker’s idyllic beachside home in Normans Bay, where in a cosy sitting room with their two whippets lounging companionably on the sofa, they told me about their work and passions.

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Photograph by Phoebe Corker-Marin

 Did you know each other before this exhibition?

Corker: We were involved in similar groups in London in the 1980s, so we vaguely knew of each other. Jenn’s sister Christine was a life model when I studied at Ravensbourne Art College.

Binnie: We were both part of a very vibrant Art and Fashion scene in 1980’s London and had some of the same friends in that world, people like David Holah and Stevie Stewart from ‘Bodymap’, the dancer Michael Clark, Nick Knight from SHOWstudio, Andrew Logan, Cerith Wyn Evans, John Mabury  and Grayson Perry, but we hadn’t actually met – we met when my dog ran off with you…much later, when I had moved to Jevington, East Sussex.

Corker: That’s right; I went for a walk on the South Downs and this spooky looking dog with wild wolf-like eyes attached himself to us and wouldn’t go away. But I found a number on his collar and I phoned up and asked have you lost a dog?

Binnie: We started to be friends after that; this was in the late 80’s/ early 90’s so we have known each other for nearly 30 years but we didn’t see a lot of each other until about five years ago when we met up again after a long break.

Corker: I had been living mainly in London and Sweden but when I started spending more time in Norman’s Bay we got to know each other better. I introduced Jen to Kenton because I admired her work and thought he might be interested in it too. Jen had a show of her paintings at The Blackshed in 2013 and then, last year, he asked us to do an exhibition together.

Do you think you have influenced each other?

Corker: We talk about the things that interest us both – about nature, about dogs, about spirituality and about women’s energy. We’ve both read Women Who Run With The Wolves. We walk; we talk and then we go away and dive into our own little worlds. The threads come together but not in a conscious way.

Binnie: I like to work on my own; I get in the zone; I find it hard to have the radio on let alone another person. But we have a lot of connections, for instance there is the Swedish connection; Jen lived there; I have been to Sweden twice in the last two years and found it a very inspiring place, both times I have come back and made art about it.

Corker: I love the snow and ice-skating on frozen lakes in winter and swimming in them in the summer. Then there is our interest in animals – we both have the same kind of dog.

Binnie: Except yours is a proper whippet while mine is a mongrel lurcher; the dogs are the same but different, like us. They are great friends too.

Corker: When I say, ‘Roxy is coming,’ Ransome goes all tail-waggy

Binnie: When we started working on this show we focussed a lot more on talking about work and I think it made us realise how different we were, rather than how similar; our execution is very different.

Tell me a bit more about that.

Binnie: We both engage very strongly in the actual process of making things, we enjoy making.

Corker: I was introduced to stitching by my aunt while I was at school and I started to use it as a medium. I call my approach ‘Corsutura’ (Corker-sewing) I have taken the beginning of my surname ‘Cor’ and added ‘sutura’, which is the Latin for sewing. It also is a Sanskrit word for string or thread,and I use it as a tool, just in the same way that Jen uses paint as a tool.

Binnie: I’m interested in painting on different surfaces, canvas, wood and found objects. I’m interested in the transformative power of colour and paint. Some of my work is on canvas hung from or framed by branches, I have always enjoyed finding alternative ways of framing and presenting my work. It sometimes seems a shame to box things in.

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Binnie: Lady and Unicorn

Corker: Jen works on these solid, thick, lumps of wood, while, I’m going finer and finer working on silk and silk organza. Someone described my work as ‘controlled energy’. Even though I work with very fine materials, silk has an incredible strength.

Binnie: I’m more into layers; I like lots of layers. I also like pattern and colour.

I almost hate to ask the question but to what extent do you consider being women has influenced your art and do you regard yourselves as feminist artists?

Corker:  All Artist’s works are expressions of how the world impacts on them, so, of course, being female and mother, that will inform our work in some capacity. At college I was asked to do a self-portrait and I started with a question to myself ‘Can One Ever Be A Good Mother And A Great Artist?’ and here I have put it in the form of a word-search.

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Corker: Wordsearch

Binnie: I had some success with my painting in the 1980’s when I lived in London, soon after leaving Art College but I always longed to live in the country and moved to Jevington to have a different kind of life with a child, a husband and lots of animals. It was very idyllic at the time and I always carried on with my painting and art making but I discovered that it was hard to sustain the success with galleries and art dealers once I was out of London. Now I am focussed once more on my work and spend a lot more time in London and things are starting to happen again.

Corker: I have hope with the generations coming up, I see more respect in people towards the feminine and masculine sides to personalities and an opening up of celebration of the differences.

 Jennifer Binnie and Jenifer Corker are showing at the Blackshed Gallery from December 10 until the end of January. Russet Farm Redlands Lane, Robertsbridge East Sussex,  TN32 5NG

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.

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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.

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