Don’t step backwards

I have been suffering from flashbacks ever since my visit  a couple of days ago to the Project 78 Gallery in St Leonard’s on Sea. The gallery was set up by Patrick Jones who heads the Contemporary Fine Art Course at Sussex Coast College. He sets out to show works of a standard and originality that you would normally only find in a London gallery. But it was not the art that has been giving me the flashbacks, though it was good,  but the fact that I nearly,  inadvertently, destroyed it.

I am not normally particularly clumsy in galleries; I associate that with my husband who, a few years back, managed to trip over a little pile of stones which unaccountably had got into the final of the Jerwood Drawing Prize. He did it not once, but twice.  In his defence, if you put a little pile of stones in the middle of a wall-based exhibition, you have to expect somebody will trip over it, though you might hope that having done it once, he or she would not do it again.

But Neil Ayling’s exhibition, Facet, was exemplarily displayed; no trip hazards at all.  Ayling’s work is inspired by the details of architecture that are so easy to overlook. His works involve photography but are, nonetheless, three dimensional. Imagine you had a photographic image on paper and then folded it into origami type forms or cut it up and and repositioned the pieces. His sculptures work like that, only they are made not from paper but from a variety of materials: bronze, plywood and concrete.  I was just trying to photograph the work below which is cast in bronze but is still reminiscent of folded paper, when I stepped backwards to get a better shot.


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Neil Ayling: Facet

My shoulder just nudged the piece behind me, which was made of plywood. To my horror, it detached itself from the wall. Amazingly and fortunately it did not go crashing to the ground; my reflexes are apparently in pretty good shape because I managed a rapid half twist and was left supporting it with my shoulder until help arrived and we put it back.

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Regular readers of this blog will know my lack of sympathy with the photo police you find in many galleries and that I have often been guilty of trying to sneak a shot from under their noses. On this occasion, my photography was fortunately authorised.  That has not prevented my imaginings of an alternative universe, in which I see Ayling’s work splintered and wrecked.

I am so glad that it did not happen like that because apart from the appalling embarrassment that would have ensued,  it is an interesting piece.  Even having been there and seen it and taken the photograph, I still can’t quite see how he achieves the effect of this composite image of the capitals of a classic column from plywood.

Ayling’s apparently attributes his multi faceted take on architecture  to his youthful love of skateboarding. As he sped, twisting and turning along pavements, he would view his surroundings in a series of short bursts, when details, often at unexpected angles, would come briefly into focus, blur and then change to the next sharp snapshot. As an adult, he has continued to walk through the city searching out those angles.

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In the plywood work, the capitals of the columns are clear enough but with other pieces, such as this work in concrete and polystyrene, you feel you are close to identifying just what it is, but can’t quite put your finger on it. I want to go back and have another look. Next time I will be careful not to step backwards.

Facet runs until 5 December at Project 78 Gallery in Norman Road, St Leonard’s on Sea, TN38 OEJ. The gallery is open from Thursday to Saturday between 12.00 – 17.00 or by appointment Monday – Wednesday.

The Drawing Machine

Anybody who has creative friends knows the feeling.Your friend shows you a poem, the first draft of a novel, a painting or even the proposed colour scheme for the living room and there is that small pang of panic when you realise you don’t like it. And because it happens, not all the time, but often enough,  most of us have found a polite enough way to deal with it. Mine is to put my head on one side and say, “mmm; that’s really interesting.”  The beauty of it is that I sometimes say it when I do like something and genuinely think it is interesting as well. I am sure that I am not alone in using this particular formula, as I have had it said to me on quite a few occasions too.

Because I was away most of the summer, I didn’t catch up with some of the local exhibitions; in particular I hadn’t seen the De La Warr’s pick of the best offerings from the graduate shows from the University of Brighton and Sussex Coast College. With only a few days left to run, the staff were even uncertain whether it was still showing but, eventually, they directed me to the back stairs and there on the first landing was this.

Naomi Holdbrook: Drawing Machine 2

My husband snorted on seeing it. “I think it might be her’s,” I said. “She told me that she had created a drawing machine with the idea of taking herself out of the mark-making process.”  The label showed that it was indeed Drawing Machine 2 by Naomi Holdbrook.

Drawing from Drawing Machine 2

The drawings the machine had made, suggested that artists need not worry just yet about having their role usurped by robots. Elephants have done better. Immediately, the formula, “that’s really interesting,” was going round in my mind. Then we turned and, behind us, up a few more stairs, were a pair of screens showing films of the machine in action. You could suddenly see how the various broken bits on the floor must have worked.  I can honestly to say that it was one of the best and funniest art videos that I have ever seen.

In the video, we see Holdbrook attempting to control her fantastical machine as it whirrs and clunks. The pendulums sway; it runs for a time and then the various elements get out of sync;  bits fall off; the paper breaks. It is the perfect metaphor for the frustrations of artistic creation. My husband loved it. The exhibition runs only till November 1. If you have a chance, do go and have a look. I now want to see it running for real.

Naomi Holdbrook: Video Still, Drawing Machine 2
Naomi Holdbrook: Video Still, Drawing Machine 2

Platform Graduate Showcase 2015 at the De La Warr Pavillion closes on November 1

Still time to see the Degree and Diploma Exhibition at Sussex Coast College

The Degree and Diploma Exhibition at Sussex Coast College finishes tomorrow. Come along. I will be invigilating between 4.00 and 6.00 today; it would be nice to meet you. We are on the 4th and 5th floor.  Sadly it is unlikely that you will be able to see Julia Mitchell’s  ice sculpture. It was doing fine on Friday, the night of the private view, but even though it must be one of the coldest June on record, not cold enough to keep it from melting.

Julia Mitchell: ice sculpture
Julia Mitchell: ice sculpture

This work was extraordinary because of the way it changed before your eyes. Opaque to begin with, as the melting process started you could see further and further into the ice cubes and see the memorial that she had set inside. I have written about performance art; this was an artwork that did its own performing.

But there is plenty more to see. I particularly like Adam Gibrelli’s drawings.

Adam Gibrelli: drawings
Adam Gibrelli: drawings

We have been blessed with two Adams on the course. I also liked the work by the other Adam,  Adam Fairbrother, a self-portrait.

Adam Fairbrother: self portrait
Adam Fairbrother: self-portrait

Katy Oxborrow’s painting on perspex is interesting in the way that it projects light on to the surrounding walls.

Katy Oxborrow: painting on perspex
Katy Oxborrow: painting on perspex

I really liked Alex Mills’ take on Grimm’s fairy tales; it would be nice to see more of them.

Alex Mills: Little Red Riding Hood
Alex Mills: Little Red Riding Hood

Among the craft students, I was impressed by Phillippa Haines’ strange manikins.

Phillips Haines:7 figures
Phillips Haines: 7 figures

and the glass sculptures by Isabelle Moriaty.

Isabelle Moriarty: glass sculptures
Isabelle Moriarty: glass sculptures

You might also have a look at my work,  shown here is the inside of Orifice 3; there is more about that in the last post.

Sue McDougall: Orifice 3 detail
Sue McDougall: Orifice 3 detail

The Degree and Diploma Exhibition is open to the public between 10.00 and 6.00  on Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 June at Station Plaza Hastings

Body Dysfunction

I have finished.  My two-year course undertaking an FDA in Fine Art (Contemporary Practice) at Sussex Coast College is over. I have been accepted by Brighton to do an MA in Fine Art and will be starting that in September. It all began in the summer of 2010 when I was complaining to Mary Jacobsen, herself an art teacher in the West Country, how I had been made to give up art at school in favour of Latin which I hated. She suggested that I should sign up for a Foundation Diploma. Until that point it had never occurred to me  to become an art student; I had done a bit of painting and a bit of sculpture over the years but oddly the idea of going back to school had not crossed my mind. I am so grateful to her. In the event I skipped the Diploma stage and went straight into the degree course. It has been an amazing two years; in one way the time has gone extremely quickly but also I find it had to believe that two years ago I had not heard of all sorts of artists whose work I can now recognise when I go into galleries.

Tonight is the Final Exhibition at Sussex Coast College. The exhibition is also open to the public next week.  Do come along if you are in Hastings. My work is Body Dysfunction. These three works Orifice 2, 3 and 4 are part of a study that examines our feelings about the way that our physical bodies are out of the control of our minds. They also relate to my earlier painting Brain Dysfunction

Orifice 2
Sue McDougall: Orifice 2 – part of the Body Dysfunction Series
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Sue McDougall: Orifice 4 – part of the Body Dysfunction Series
Orifice 2
Sue McDougall: Orifice 3 – part of the Body Dysfunction series

Art School in the Room

Readers of this blog will know that I have little patience with the “is this or is this not art” debate. I am quite happy to accept if an artist says, ‘it is art’ then that is what it it is – next question.  The real issue is whether it is good. Even so, when before Christmas, artist Annie Davey called for volunteers at Sussex Coast College  to help undertake a project about art schools, which would involve collecting  photographs of the old Hastings art college, I found, despite myself, that I was having the subversive thought,”this isn’t really art at all.” After going to a couple of meetings I dropped out. The results of the project are now on display in the Room Gallery outside the college. I went along to see the results.

The idea was t0 examine the way that 20th century art schools have been historicised and  romanticised through photographic images and stories. The team, who comprised Celeste Barker, Marie Ford, Barbara Mullen and Dan Dowling,  became interested in the move of the Hastings Art School from the old Victorian building to the current site in Station Plaza. They also looked at the way contemporary art schools combine freedom and experimentation with rules and bureaucracy.

Displayed on the wall were a series of found photographs from the old art school.

A series of photographs of the old Hasting Art College pinned to the wall
Found Photographs of the old Hastings Art School

They were not posed or artistically taken shots but included the mundane detritus that is left when a building is closed.

chairs are piled on desks at the old hastins Art College
Found Photograph of the old Hastings Art School
A filing cabinet in the old Hastings College
A filing cabinet in the old Hastings College

A slide projector showed images of the new building which had been made deliberately blurry to  distance the viewer from the present time.

A blurry photograph showing a bench with sink at Sussex Coast College
Slide Projection of studio space at Sussex Coast College – it has been deliberately blurred

On the walls, were a selection of the instructions that we receive, whilst on a loop, course leader Patrick Jone’s voice intoned the aims of the modules as set out in the student handbook.

A photograph of a sheet of paper with instructions to students at Sussex Coast College
Student instructions Sussex Coast College

Matching the modern instructions were actual notices from the old building.

A sign saying drive in thie bay only do not reverse at the old Hastins Art School
Signs from the old Hastings Art School

Strangely, and despite my misgivings, it all actually worked. I accepted it was even art. The photographs collectively were more interesting than you might have thought and pointing a spotlight on the mundane, particularly that which is separated by time has the effect of making it look special. Also, the instructions, which must be similar to those posted on many student notice boards,  looked unique and worthy of attention. The aim of the show was to “present a series of small gestures that cross wires and destabilise our perception of the past, whilst implicitly asking questions about what might be ideal for an art school now.”  Even so, I suspect that it would be of most interest to those people who experienced, which I did not, the old art college in Hastings.

Art School is on display in the Blue Room Gallery outside Sussex Coast College today 25 January 2013

It survived the night

Most artists are only too happy for their artwork to be kept within the relatively safe confines of a the walls of a gallery. While you might get some idiot with a can of spray paint or a Stanley knife decide to deface it, on the whole such attacks are pretty rare. But Hastings is not known to be the most art loving town in Britain so when Daniel Dowling decided to put his art work on the outside of the Blue Room rather than on the inside, none of us was absolutely certain it would be there in the morning. But it survived; thank you late night Hastings revellers for leaving it alone.

Dan, who is undertaking the third year of a BA Hons in Fine Art at Sussex Coast College, is fascinated by Britain’s industrial heritage. He created the work  specially  for the Blue Room by taking a rubbing  from a piece of rock from the site of the Workington Steel Works in Cumbria.  The few pieces of rock were all  that remained from what used to one of Britain’s major industrial sites. Dan has a personal connection with Workington because his great-grandfather used to be a boiler maker there.  Dan then used the rubbing to create a screen print on pieces of  linen which he has sown together to give the Blue Room its  brand new covering.

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The Blue Room with its new blue covering.
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Daniel and his grandmother Mildred Dowling , whose father used to work as a boiler maker at Workington.
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The repeated image allows for lots of variation

What is interesting about the work is the variety that Dan has created whilst repeating the same basic pattern. It certainly excited interest when he put it up yesterday. His grandmother Mildred Dowling who was there to see this unique memorial to her father also seemed to approve. Provided the work survives another night unguarded, you should still be able to see it tomorrow morning.


Artist in wolf’s clothing

If you are in Hastings tomorrow take a look in the Blue Room outside Sussex Coast College and see the Shaman the second day of a two day drawing performance by Adan Gibrelli. Adam uses the wolf as an icon to represent primal behaviour. He has developed a technique in which he goes into a kind of trance to create automatic drawings, using charcoal, ash, dirt and animal fat. The results have an extraordinary energy and vitality. When he is not being a wolf Adam is a second year student taking FDA Fine Art Contemporary Practice.

Adam Gibrelli;wolf with a clean sheet
Adam Gibrelli: getting going
Drawing detail
Danger wolf at work

If you do go to see him, don’t expect him to talk. Wolves are notoriously silent animals when they are drawing.