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.
If you do go to see him, don’t expect him to talk. Wolves are notoriously silent animals when they are drawing.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ok – you have two days. The assignment is to think about the nature of clothing, and turn a garment or garments into a different sculptural form. This was the challenge given to 60 Foundation Diploma students at Sussex Coast College. Then, unexpectedly, Katy Oxborrow and I were given a challenge ourselves. We were asked to consider the resulting art works and choose from them to set up the first exhibition in the Room – the mobile gallery standing outside the college. This was yesterday lunchtime; by the evening the exhibition was set up. We do things fast in Hastings. It was difficult making a choice; so many of the works were excellent; we had to consider not only what we thought was good but also what would fit and what would work well together. Here are the works we chose in no particular order.
Next week there will be a new exhibition in the Room
This week over at the Tate Gallery some idiot took it into his mind to deface a Mark Rothko painting with black ink. Fortunately curators at the Tate are optimistic that the work can be restored and will suffer no lasting damage. Sometimes things cannot so easily be put right. When Tracey Emin’s famous work Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, a tent in which the eponymous names had been appliquéd, was burnt in the Momart fire in 2004, it was impossible to repair. Emin decided that it could not be recreated despite a reputed £1m offer from Charles Saatchi.
“To recreate it would have been morally wrong. It wouldn’t have that emotional input to it,” she explained at the time. “It wasn’t simply the names of everyone I’d ever slept with. It was about intimacy.”
So when does a restoration become a copy and lose artistic integrity? How much of a work has to survive to remain an original after restoration? Is it 50%? 70%? More? Less? This week Julia Mitchell, whose work is signed simply Jules, faced that decision.
Jules is in my year group at Hastings College undertaking the course in Fine Art Contemporary Practice. Last summer her study 20 Polaroid Photographs earned her a distinction and was widely recognized as one of the most outstanding works of the year. She was invited to display it in the Corridor Gallery at the college and also in Sharon Haward’s Underground Studio Exhibition Out of the Frame as part of the Brighton Photo-Fringe festival in Hastings and St Leonards.
20 Polaroid Photographs was an intensely personal work which Jules created as a memorial to a close friend who died early in 2012. It comprised, as the name suggests, of twenty Polaroid photographs each one covered in paper clay and fired, creating, fragile biscuit-like objects that were both beautiful and enigmatic. Each one was different; the way that Jules had applied the clay and the firing process produced effects that were subtly intricate. Displayed in a Perspex box, on top of a plinth, they appeared, as in fact they were, precious and unique.
Covering photographs with clay might seem bizarre but it was in fact a logical progression of Jules’ earlier work. In February she had been responsible for clearing her friend’s possessions and had been struck by the way that when someone dies what remains are their shoes. She created an installation that was also in her memory, covering shoes with clay to signify the way that each of us returns to the earth.
It was later in the spring when looking at photographs of her friend, Jules realized that they did not reflect her memory of the time that they were taken. “They just seemed to be a record,” she said and so she began to experiment with materials to create something that better captured the moment. The result was striking because it reminded the viewer how impossible it is for any of us truly to capture memories and so, as well as being a memorial, the work became an exploration both of the nature of memories and of photography.
Last week there was an accident, the box was knocked from its plinth and a number of the Polaroids were destroyed. They will not be showing at the Photo-Fringe and you will not be able to see them, which is a shame as they were remarkable. Jules says she cannot recreate them; she currently believes there was too much emotion bound up in them. My personal view is that enough is left for the work to remain an original even if she were to create a few more of the strange clay Polaroids to take the number back to 20. I understand why she feels she cannot do it, but I hope she changes her mind.
Students up and down the land starting the new academic year with a large loan, a call on the Bank of Mum and Dad and the prospect of flipping burgers to make ends meet would be forgiven for casting an envious eye at Laurence Poole who is managing to fund his art course by selling his art works. I went to Laurence’s Private View of A Congress of Curiosities last night at the Trinity Gallery, Hastings, which incidentally is rapidly establishing itself as a major player on the East Sussex arts scene. I was lured in by the beguiling little video they sent me of one of his creations a robot based on a Marshall speaker; not only does it have all kinds of things going on its head but its globular hands appear to spark electricity.
Laurence specializes in assemblage and I was most impressed by his jokey, quirky creations which included marbles set in acrylic gel, a daisy of recycled carbon dioxide bulbs, several masterfully constructed collections of small vehicles, a chess game where the king had been overturned and you could see the blood.
I was even more impressed to learn that Laurence had only become a practising artist about a year ago but had already sold in a gallery in London. And to my surprise he was starting a foundation degree in Fine Art Contemporary Practice at Sussex Coast College where I myself am a student.
“Why go to college when he already was managing to support himself from his art?” He explained that he had left school at 18 and really wanted to get a degree. Previously he had been employed doing a boring office job which turned out to sound a little less boring than he initially made out: he had been advising companies how to make best use of their office space. “Most people just glaze over when I explain,” he said.
He had started at Sussex Coast College only the day before “I think the first assignment looks quite challenging” he told me. I was able to confirm that I found the course both challenging and satisfying. With some of his art work selling at over £3,000, I also thought he might have a thing or two to teach us.
The secret he said was in the finish. “If you want to sell you have to ensure that the finish is really good and that works are properly framed. If work is not finished well, people won’t buy; they think, ‘oh I could do that myself.’”
I looked at the assemblage of cars – I certainly didn’t think I could do it myself. Just finding the cars alone looked as if it would be a major challenge. Heavens, there must have been little cars in the house at some point – I seem to remember their wheels fell off and they got crunched underfoot before going in the bin with other bottom of the toy cupboard detritus.
I’m just not that good at keeping stuff – I liked his record player clock – selling for just £250.I think there might have been a record player like that knocking around at some point as well. That probably went into a bin maybe on the same day as the broken cars got cleared out. I think that is one of the reasons why Laurence’s art is so appealing. You recognise stuff that you had forgotten and he gives it a new lease of life. That and of course the fact that it is finished really, really well.
A Congress of Curiosities is running at the Trinity Art Gallery from Thursday 27 September 2012 till 10 October; 8 Trinity Street, Hastings,TN34 1HG. More of Lawrence’s work can be seen at http://www.laurencepoole.com
This week there was a report that the earliest paintings may have been made not by human hands but by Neanderthals. Scientists are now thinking that cave paintings in Altemira were made between 37,000 and 41,000 years ago. I know nothing lasts forever but I have a feeling that if something has been going on for 41,000 years give or take a few months, 2012 is unlikely to be the year that it finally goes out of fashion.
So I was disappointed not to see any paintings at all at the Sussex Coast College Art and Design Degree Show held at the PrintWorks in Hastings. Not one – there were graphics, installation, film, sculpture, a book, photographs, including an embroidered photograph, but nobody had got out a paint brush, or emulating the Neanderthals, a painty hand or stick and daubed it over something. I suspect the third year students felt real mucky, oozy paint wasn’t contemporary enough. I think they are mistaken. The Constructionists back in 1920 also believed that easel painting was non revolutionary and had outlived its time.
Painting is a bit like denim – fashion magazines say about every three years it’s finished and nobody takes any notice and continue to wear it. The desire to paint things and, equally, to live side by side with paintings is hardwired into the human brain. The challenge for us as artists is to find new and interesting ways to do it.
That being said there were still some interesting works there. I particularly liked David Sullivan’s film. At first sight it appears to be completely incomprehensible though visually intriguing. I caught up with Sullivan; he explained that it was inspired by the 2011 summer riots and the way that rioters communicated through Blackberries. He started looking at the language they used. The result was Babel Babes; moving lips that interpret the emoticons used in text messaging. The film, Sullivan told me, is a conversation in pictures about someone being angry and heartbroken and friends wanting to cheer her by going out for a beer and dance.
Sullivan made the film and edited it using After Effects, Premier Pro and Photoshop. For those people who are Neanderthals when it comes to using this kind of language, >:O >:O>:O means angry, angry angry. Wikapedia very helpfully provides a full list which will help you interpret.
Another artist who has changed images digitally is Colin Hemingway. His work Fun and Games centres around a hard backed book apparently by the author SK Bebete. Hemingway’s work was inspired by Nobel prize winning author Julian Barnes in his acceptance speech thanking the book designers and emphasizing the need for physical objects. The art is an exploration of what is real. It also examines the way that these days anybody can publish anything no matter whether it is of value or not. Hemingway took the 1966 Ladybird book and digitally altered each page, so that they are unrecognisable. The words of the book are rearranged to make a different text. People can have their own signed version by ordering a book on line and adding a label which already bears Bebete’s signature.
Lydia Moon’s work commemorates deaths in Afghanistan. She has constructed a number of white paper bricks; each brick represents a single life lost; each pile the number of casualties lost during a month. There are hundreds of them and they are stacked down the stairs. I didn’t count them but they must only represent British lives, 419 as of yesterday: if they included Afghani lives and American lives they would need more stairwells.