Brighton MA Exhibition 2015

Yesterday, I wrote about the works I had put in the Brighton University 2015 MA exhibition. If you didn’t see it, do scroll down and have a look.  Today, I am concentrating on the work of fellow students. One of the exciting things about being on the MA course for the last two years has been watching everybody develop. The result has been an exhibition of extraordinary diversity, covering paintings, film, sculpture and live performance.  Such variety is, perhaps, unsurprising when you consider that the 13 students graduating this year come from six different countries and their ages span more than 40 years from twenty something to sixty something, with at least one representative of each decade in between.  Here is a small selection of what you will see if you visit.

My favourite work is actually by the youngest student in the group Liam Ronan and is not in the gallery but upstairs on the second floor, where there is a lot more art on show, mainly by the first year MA students. Liam creates strange works using branches, twigs and roots, weaving and sculpting them into extraordinary shapes. As many of them seem to come from thorny bushes and he cannot do it whilst wearing gloves, you can imagine how hard it is on his hands. In the work in the photograph, I think it is particularly interesting the way that the suspended shape is balanced by the carpet of twigs and leaves on the floor and the fact that, though the interior is chaotic, the edges are so well defined. Look out too for a wonderful curved work by Liam in the gallery.

ma show 009I have liked Mima Chovancova’s paintings from the start of the course but I consider this one, Precious,  particularly successful.  Hung against a light background, it appears to flow out from the wall; the colours glow with a translucent quality. As with Liam’s work, edges are also important here;  uncertain in places, firm in others, you get the impression that  the edge of the canvas is not the edge of the work.

Mima Chovancova: Precious

Xiolin Zhang comes from Shijiazhuang in China and is a most talented portraitist. Along with this work, there is also a portrait of fellow student Tiara. I particularly like the pose she has chosen with its emphasis on the enlarged hand and the reflection on the surface on which the girl is leaning.

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Xiolin Zhang: Girl, Stay Proud 2

Caroline Pick had concerns when she was making this piece that beds might somehow be forever off-limits because of Tracey Emin. She need not have worried; it in no way resembles Emin’s bed, and I think it is more interesting, The squares were made from casts taken from an eiderdown. It is disorientating,  looking inviting and cosy whilst at the same time being cold and hard.

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Caroline Pick

If you are in the mood self improvement that too is possible at the exhibition. You can listen to a lecture in which Cliff Stevenson has a debate with himself as an artist and as an economist, or you can ask Ashley Johnson (aka Bryony Bisset ) about feminism. If she is away from her seat, or you can’t make the exhibition, you can also send her a tweet  to @Feminartist1 on Twitter.

Bryony Bishop as Ashley Johnson

This rather fine camel is by Maryam Ghanem Al-Attiya. Maryam comes from Qatar and the painting is about nostalgia and longing for home. Next to it is a large painting of a pebble in the same kind of muted colours and, in the background of the painting, you can just make out a poem in Arabic.  Interestingly, the two paintings are linked; while the pebble was found on a beach in Shoreham-on-Sea, if you look really closely at the camel painting, you will see it has been placed in the right hand side among the other stones in the desert. You can just about make it out in the photograph if you run your eye down from the trunk of the tree; it is slightly to the right near a little mound. You can also read some of Maryam’s poetry in Arabic and in English translation and, in a display case near the entrance to the exhibition, you can see the pebble that she found.

Maryam Ghanem Al-Attiya: Nostalgic Road

Jenny Edbrooke is showing a series of four paintings Flora Supernova, one of which is shown before. They represent both the female cycle and the four seasons.  Made out of pressed flowers, resin and some mystery ingredients, Jenny has achieved an astonishing finish. When the light catches them, you can see interesting rainbow pattern and sparkles within them.  Visitors to the gallery were fascinated.

Flora SuperNova 1
Jenny Edbrooke: Flora SuperNova

Finally, if by the end of the exhibition you are feeling a little arted out, you could relax with Jesse Waugh’s relaxing film of Brighton sea, Beauty Sublime.

The Brighton University MA Exhibition runs from July 4 2015, to 12 July 2015 at Grand Parade BN2 OJY. The opening times at Monday to Saturday 10 – 5 and Sunday 10 – 4,

BP Portrait Prize 2014

Some 2,300 portraits were entered for this year’s B.P. Portrait award of which just 55 were selected to appear. Going round the exhibition today I wished I had been able to see a larger selection. In theory I like pictures with people in them but though, as always, I enjoyed the exhibition, there were surprisingly few that that I actually desired. Many of the portraits were of members of the artists’ families. We all know how family members, much as we love them, can be annoying or boring or both; some of the subjects seemed to have a lot of potential in both respects.

Would some of the rejected works been more exciting? The judges apparently make their selections over a two day period. Assuming they work a seven hour day, each entry submitted must have had about 20 seconds to make an impact. So possibly not; these would have been the portraits that stood out and begged to be noticed. Yet judges are human too and maybe also noticed paintings who reminded them of someone. For instance I liked Geoffrey Beasley’s work Eddy in the Morning because he looked a bit like my own son.

While all the works showed an extraordinary level of technical skill and there were none I thought dreadful, there were surprisingly few that I thought really interesting.There were the  inevitable portraits of topless women, one actually doing her hair for heaven’s sake, there were the usual successful men – Fergus Henderson of Nose to Tail Eating fame, he was holding a roast pig; there was Edward Lucie Smith, Simon Armitage and Timothy Spall and assorted people in armchairs. It has been said that big heads don’t generally do well in the BP portrait prize but this year there were several, notably Tony by Jelena Bulajic, massive at 2.7m x 2m and Yunsun Jang’s Mother, nearly as large at 2.4 x 2.1m.


Jelena Bulajic: Tony

I really liked Bulajoiv’s work; a small screen simply cannot do it justice, Yunsun Jang’s mother looked a tad on the moany side; that might be accurate and I do accept that it is a good portrait but could be hard to live with. I don’t want to live with Yunsun Jang’s moany mother.

Yunsung Jang: Mother

The competition is open internationally and is anonymous so one cannot accuse the selectors of choosing their mates, but given the international provenance the subjects were surprisingly non diverse.  Though the striking portrait of Engels by Patrick Graham was a notable exception, among the 55 there were just 6 non-white faces, whereas around 40% of Londoners, 13% for the UK as whole are black and minority ethnic.

Patrick Graham: Engels

As subjects, men out numbed women, excluding those in groups there were 30 to 19. There were only about 14 female artists. I think the reason for these figures was possibly the emphasis on classical technique which possibly favours Western educated artists and it can reasonably be argued that that is what the portrait prize is for. Yet surely the prize should also go to great paintings and not just be about technical skill. It would have been interesting to see some more entries from artists from the South.

The winner, Man with a Plaid Blanket by Thomas Ganter was a hugely skillful piece of work. Inspired by the classical paintings in the Stadel Museum, it was of a homeless man whom the artist noticed outside. It is about the contrast between wealth and poverty, all of which is splendidly worthy, but actually in practice somewhat clichéd compounded by the little rose in a paper cup at his feet. It was a brilliant picture of the rug; you could see every fibre, but the face, to my mind, played second fiddle.

Thomas Ganter: Man with a Plaid Blanket

On the other hand I did like the second prize winner Richard Twose’s portrait of Jean Woods, who has a splendidly dramatic face. Here in contrast to Ganter’s work, the painting draws one in to look her in the eye.

Richard Twose: Jean Woods

Also excellent was  Mama by Ingracio Estudillo Perez, which won the Young Artist Award  This mum looked tired rather than moany; I could live with that.

Gauthier Hubert: Portrait of Jean Yves

But my own personal favourite was a small painting  by Gauthier Hubert of Jean Yves, a man looking like Vincent Van Gogh. I am not sure who Jean Yves is, possibly the pianist Jean Yves Thibaudet, I don’t think the portrait makes him look especially like Van Gogh.  But as a painting I think it works exceptionally well; I like the way that the blue of the background and the blue of the man’s shirt are so close in colour and yet subtly differentiated. I like the way that the blue is also picked out in his eyes. It is possibly not the most technically accomplished painting in the exhibition, but it is a face and a picture you are not going to forget. Unlike many of the portraits in the exhibition, it looks as though it has been painted in this century not at any time over the last hundred years.

The 2014 BP Portrait Award is running at the National Portrait Gallery till 21 September. 

Painting with light

I defy even the most hardened hater of contemporary art not to enjoy Light Show now showing at the Hayward Gallery. It is like a theme park for adults, although, coming to think of it,  I’m sure most children would love it too. It has all the colour and all the fun of the fair and it doesn’t jiggle you about, except perhaps your eyes a bit, and it doesn’t turn you upside down, well only figuratively. There are over 20 works in the exhibition; these are just a few of them. Do go and see it and take an art hating friend.

Cylinfder II at the Hayward Gallery
Leo Villareal: Cylinder II

Leo Villareal’s Cylinder II does everything you want it to; the lights change in complex ways so that you are constantly seeing different patterns and combinations. As there are 19,000 of them, there is apparently no fixed sequence and no beginning or end. Satisfyingly they also reflect in the glass balustrades of the walkways turning them into artworks as well.

A splodge of light like paint from a tin is projected on the floor of the Hayward Gallery
Ceal Floyer: Throw

Ceal Floyer’s Throw is an extraordinarily simple concept but also hugely effective. A splodge of light is projected on the floor like fallen paint from a tin. If you can paint with light, it stands to reason you can spill it too.

Francois Morellet: Lamentable
Francois Morellet: Lamentable

Over recent years, neons have increasingly found their way into art galleries but too often they appear a lazy form of art and the wires detract from the overall effect, but Francoisy Morellet’s Lamentable is extraordinarily elegant. It is apparently lamentable because the segments could form a circle but are hanging instead from a single point. I suppose it would have been too immodest to call it Magnifique

Cerith Wyn Evans
Cerith Wyn Evans: Superstructure

I first saw Cerith Wyn Evans’ Superstructure at the De La Warr Pavilion on a freezing cold day when the fact that the pillars alternatively lit up and radiated heat was especially welcome. The only sculpture in the display that I noticed used heat, it made me wonder, as it had before, how else heat could be incorporated into artworks. I also wondered, rather prosaically perhaps, about the cost of the electricity bill.

People stand looking as Conrad Shawcross sculpture casts shadows in the Hayward Gallery
Conrad Shawcross: Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV
Shadows on the ceiling cast by Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV
Shadows on the ceiling cast by Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV

I mentioned that the exhibition was like a theme park and one of the effects of that, I found, was that my inner child increasingly wanted the artworks to do tricks – to move, to heat up or at least to flicker. This one, Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV by Conrad Shawcross, therefore really performed; a moving light revolving in this intricate grid casts ever-changing shadows on the walls, floor  ceiling and viewers. It is apparently about the process of mapping the molecular structure of insulin  by crystal radiography. You don’t need to know that to enjoy it; the changing patterns are themselves mesmerising.

Three figures stand in Carlos Crusz-Diez's Chromosaturation in the Hayward Gallery
Carlos Cruz-Diez: Chromosaturation

Carlos Cruz-Diez has created 84 Chromosaturation installations to date; about a year ago I saw one in Paris. I didn’t realise that time the way that it could cause visual disturbances I was just struck by the colours.  This time I gave it long enough and began to experience the colour in a different way and see it as more solid and somehow filling the space, like floaters in the eye – or perhaps I became aware of floaters that were there all the time. The effect was not totally pleasant but certainly interesting.

Olafur Eliasson: Model for a Timeless Garden - fountains under strobe lighting
Olafur Eliasson: Model for a Timeless Garden

When it came to disturbed perceptions it was Olafur Eliasson’s Model for a Timeless Garden which was the clear winner. For once visitors to the exhibition were on their own to touch or not touch the artwork as they chose. No attendant could stay in the room very long. Eliasson who also created the Weather Project at Tate Modern in 2oo3, has illuminated a series of fountains with strobe lighting. The effect was to create a series of sculptures as the water was momentarily frozen in time, creating a series of different forms. It was fascinating but for me it had the effect of giving me a strange sensation in my ears. This seemed to have no rational reason – my eyes I could have understood, but why the ears? Not only contemporary but surreal.

Light Show is showing at the Hayward Gallery until 28 April 2013

Studio visit: Patrick Adam Jones

Ever since I saw Patrick Jones’ small white painting at the Royal Academy exhibition last summer I have been angling for a visit to his studio. I liked the painting a lot, though it was poorly displayed among a wall of other small paintings. But Patrick had been quite dismissive, it wasn’t one of the better ones, he had insisted, not one he wouldn’t have chosen himself.  I was intrigued – I knew it was typical in one sense in that it was painted in wax; I understood they were normally far larger; I googled – using his full name of Patrick Adam Jones by which he signs his work, but there seemed to be remarkably few images.  I wanted to know more.

Patrick is head of course for the FDA Fine Art Contemporary Practice at Sussex Coast College but tends to avoid showing his work to students for entirely understandable reasons –  the first he did not express but can be surmised – he works far too hard anyway  and wants to get on with his painting in peace.  He is also afraid of influencing students’ style. “It has happened,” he said, “it is flattering in a way but I don’t want to create a whole load of mini mees – one is enough.”  I could relate to that one – when I was at school I always got excellent marks for RE by imitating the syntax of my sanctimonious RE teacher.  It read like a parody but she never twigged.  It worked with RE but you don’t want it in art.

Patrick Adam Jones in his studio

Last week, I finally wangled an invitation. The studio in St Leonards is almost exactly what a Hollywood Director would call for if making a film about an artist. That is to say it was perfect – a large room on the first floor it was stacked everywhere with paintings, there were paintings on the floor, in racks, leaning several deep against the wall; on every surface there were sketches and experiments and bits of things, cut outs of hands, of animals, of deconstructed trees and plenty of maps sometimes used as a base for paintings.

In the plan chests there were leaf plates from a residency in India, and wonderful notebooks with drawings and ideas that one day may be expanded.  It looks as though nothing is thrown away; it is all there waiting to be transformed or rediscovered. “Careful, the floor is slippery, “he warned me. I wasn’t worried about falling over and hurting myself, but I was seriously worried about stepping backwards and putting my foot through something.

The process starts on a start two ring stove

Many works were in the course of construction. It is a long process; any single painting can take five or more years to create.  They are built up over time by layers of wax – he uses a special recipe: damar varnish is mixed with refined linseed oil, wax and paint or pigment and is cooked up over a little two ring stove.  The wax is applied hot, straight from the melting pan. The canvas or paper has to be kept horizontal as the wax would otherwise run. Each brush stroke is made separately and carefully and in a specific direction but may then be partially scraped off again, so the canvases tend not to exceed 4ft square as that is the largest surface  he can work on and be sure of reaching the centre. When the wax finally sets it is quite hard and stays put even if the picture is placed in a hot room in the sun.  “The bending over is really hard on my back,” he tells me and I can believe it. In the middle of it all there are a couple of easy chairs in which to recover when it all becomes too much.

Patrick Adam Jones:wax painting showing the three dimensional effect
The same picture showing how the layers are built up

Although Patrick uses brushes, the effect is very different from what it would have been had he used traditional paint.  There is always an element of white in wax, so when pigments are added the colours are necessarily muted. Wax is translucent and reflects light quite differently from paint and depending on the a angle in which the light is cast reveal s different aspects of what lies beneath. Many of the works are geometric and suggest perhaps some kind of building or just the corner of a room; there is a deceptive simplicity to them.  The way the brush strokes are applied to the planes in different directions creates strange three dimensional effects

Many of Patrick Adam Jones paintings are white but when wax is used the colours are necessarily muted

Patrick is particularly concerned with words and how they limit communication and understanding by labelling an object and in so doing allowing people to avoid thinking about its nature. One painting bears the words – measure to avoid. I think he meant that by measuring something, people feel they have its nature somehow sown up.  There is superficiality to the precision of measurement.

Text is important but is often partly obscured

Many of the paintings appear to allude to possibilities of an alternative existence, “ I could have been a farmer” “I could have been an architect” These were not personal unfulfilled  fantasies but deliberate stereotypes; anybody could have been anything. The words nearly hidden lead the viewer to consider what might have been and the way that possibilities become closed down.

Along the side of one wall are a number of square white paintings

Alongside one wall there is a series of some 20 square white paintings designed to hang together. They are each done on paper; you can barely make out what they say; you move your head side to side so the light catches the letters in different ways. They are not paintings that you can take in immediately; they reward study. If hung in a room, the natural variation in light might reveal a shape or a shadow you had not noticed before. There seems to be a significance in the way that so much is concealed beneath layers and suggest  a far more introspective side to him than might be expected  from the cheerful, bossy extrovert exterior that Patrick uses to chivvy students to turn up on time, and generally  get on and produce .

Among the pale and textured wax based paintings there were also some more highly coloured works done in conventional paint, the deconstructed trees , which I personally did not like so much, so I was relieved to see just beginning a new wax painting – there was hardly anything there – a shape,  a stain of linseed oil and a few marks of wax. In another five years or so it should be fantastic.

The first strokes of a new painting

For the last two years Patrick has been concentrating on his role at the college; he only took over as head of course in 2010; there has been no time to put on an exhibition. This will change; next year he is having a show with University of Brighton lecturer and artist Tom Hammick. The idea is to arrange the work as a dialogue and it will be interesting to see how that turns out as they have radically different styles.  It will certainly be difficult for Patrick to choose which pieces to include. As he admitted, he has amassed enough work for at least three exhibitions.  Patrick, why not have three exhibitions? The series of square white paintings on paper would be perfect by themselves; I think I might do some chivvying myself – they deserve to be more widely seen.

Turner Prize 2012 . And the winner is ……The Comment Board!

If the public were given a vote about who should be the winner of the 2012 Turner Prize, then judging from the scribbled notes posted upon it, the comment board would be a strong contender. That and the Pre Raphaelites, whom the Tate, perhaps rather unkindly, from the point of view of this year’s shortlist,  had bundled into a double ticket. Of course comment boards can’t win art prizes – why this one is only a few days old and the Pre Raphelites are all dead and if they were alive would be over 150 years old, not under 50 as specified in the rules.

The Pre Raphaelite exhibition brought together works by Millais, Ford Maddox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones and a host of others. Not all of them were to my taste; some pictures such as the death of Chatterton or Ophelia were so familiar, that it was almost impossible to have any reaction other than, “oh yes, there it is”. Some of them to modern eyes were overly sentimental. I did not much care for the religious imagery in the Scapegoat; actually I didn’t like the goat itself.  But there were some wonderful works there. In Isabella, the painting inspired by Keats’ poem  Millais had captured such extraordinary expressions on the faces of the people round the room. Isabella herself is so sensitively portrayed as she submits to the interrogation and fondles her dog for comfort. The bully aims a kick at it; round the window grow herbs reminding us that her lover will be killed and that she will bury his head in a pot of basil. Millais was 19 when he painted it.

Lorenzo and Isabella – Millais completed this when he was just 19.

Virtually all of the paintings in the exhibition exhibited such an extraordinary degree of skill. Flesh looked lifelike, colours were vibrant, there was amazing detail; I was particularly impressed about how the quality and texture of cloth could be rendered in paint in paintings such as Burne Jones’ the Golden Stairs.  I wondered how many artists today would be capable of producing works of that quality. I was aware that going straight into the Turner Prize exhibition would bring an abrupt and probably uncomfortable jump into the 21st century. And so it proved.

The first work the visitor sees are the huge intricate graphite pencil drawings of Paul Noble. It was interesting to see the progression of his drawing from 1996, when there was still evidence of lines having been rubbed out and redrawn, to the work of the present day which is so meticulous it is hard to believe that it does not involve some degree of printing. The drawings are of the fictional city Nobson Newtown and include hands and abundant turd like objects. Most impressive are the way his drawings can portray transparent buildings. It is astonishing what can be done with just a pencil and an obsessive mind.

Looking at Paul Noble’s Nobson Newtown

Villa Joe (front view) detail

In the next room was showing Luke Fowler’s work All Divided Selfs a film about R.D. Laing, which looked interesting but where I was deterred by the 93 minute showing time. The other film work Elizabeth Price’s The Woolworth Choir of 1979 was hard to watch for reasons other than time. I don’t suffer from either epilepsy or migraines but my brain feels distinctly uncomfortable with flashing lights and the way that the narration was delivered by a red subtitles which juddered and went in and out of focus saw me move myself protectively on to the next room.

I had particularly wanted to see Spartacus Chetwynd’s performance. I was lucky that it was just starting. I sat down on a cushion near the front as members of the troupe capered in their elaborate tree like costumes trying not to rip the paper scenery, while music pounded. This was the performance where members of the audience are chosen to consult the oracle. Small children screamed a little if chosen whilst adults giggled. The oracle duly whispered something that even somebody sitting as close to the front as I, couldn’t hear.

Odd man out

In the end, I was not chosen though I was one of the last to be left into the room but was instead ushered into another room where a puppet show was in progress. It was hard to make out what was going on though it was apparently about Jesus and Barabbas. I decided I prefer theatre where you can actually hear the words.

The purpose of the Turner Prize is to encourage debate about developments in contemporary art. Year after year that debate seems to repeat itself and become a debate about what constitutes art. I can’t be alone in thinking that everything that there is to say on the subject has already been said. For my part I am prepared to accept that anything an artist declares to be art is art, provided that the artist makes that assertion is good faith. The far more interesting question is whether it is any good. One way of defining good is whether people will be queuing to see it in 100 years time as they are with the Pre Raphaelite exhibition.

Now I don’t for a minute think that any of the artists involved in this exhibition were not acting in good faith. And actually from what I could see all the work was good; Noble’s drawings were actually as skilled in their way as the pre Raphaelite paintings. But equally skill is not everything and while they had novelty value, and repaid time spent studying them, I still think it would be surprising if his or any other of the work on show will have people queuing to see it in 2112.

The Turner Committee seems to be redefining contemporary art to include anything in the arts.  In 2010 Susan Philipsz won for her work with folk songs. This year we see two films and a performance artist on the short list. I don’t have a problem with this. It is interesting when boundaries become blurred. But, and it is big but, where that is the case I also think the works should be judged not in isolation but should be considered along with the works of others who are doing similarly creative work in sound, or music, or theatre but who have not self-identified themselves as contemporary artists.   Of all the works there, I enjoyed the work of Spartacus the most (though I was more impressed by Noble’s). The costumes were fantastic; it was lively; I wanted to see what would happen next. But this is true of many, many theatrical works; I am genuinely puzzled why this one should be singled out as a contender for a major art prize. Major prizes should identify excellence. It was not excellent. On the comment board Spartacus and Noble appeared to be dueling for first place. “Spartacus because I like bouncy castles,” wrote one art lover, aged I would guess about 7. “Noble is cool” wrote another. ” I remember when I first learnt to do 3D writing.”But some people dismissed the lot. “I am taking the notepad as restitution ( a pencil and a pin too)” wrote another.

I didn’t want to do that. It was interesting. But if contemporary art now includes everything creative, there must be other people out there perhaps in the West End theatre, or making documentaries for television, that are doing more interesting work, perhaps even work  that will still stand up in 150 years time. There might even be some painters or sculptors.