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27 February 2012

London calling!

I feel culturally restored this week after a jam-packed two day visit to London. Five exhibitions and one conference (to end all conferences!) and a bag containing enough croissants and cheese to sustain me through it all.

First art exhibition stop of the day, was the 'Gesamtkunstwerk' exhibition at the Saatchi gallery featuring the work of over 24 'new' German artists. What can I say, it is difficult to be too critical about an exhibition that is on the scale and ambition of this one (that the Saatchi always does so well), and that is free entry to all. There was a reassuring mix of painters and sculptors in this exhibition, but might have been let down with little photography and no video (from what I can remember) and the feel I always get from Saatchi exhibitions is that the work on show is sometimes no more or less imaginative than what art students produce its just that the Saatchi artists' work is always on a much more ambitious and on a greater scale with huge paintings on even huger walls than what most art establishments would have no choice but to hang an entire end of year show on. But that's probably because I'm actually a bit jealous. What of the work though? I think that there was a lot of emphasis on recycled materials in particularly the sculptures and use of natural materials and the overall exhibition seemed really colourful, I mean that literally, there was a lot of colour, quite kitsch but I think that also ties in with my comment on the use of recycled materials and re-using the old to make the new. All this colour left me feeling that German art is a lot more 'playful' than the more 'serious' Germanic Expressionist stuff that art history has raised me on.

Somewhere after this exhibition I went to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, once I got through the crowds that is! Have to say that it was definitely not a disappointment, despite it being so crowded (and there's a whole blog post in there somewhere waiting to come out about art and experience) I managed to see it all which included my favourite Hockney painting of all time, 'St Nichols Canyon'. You have no idea how many times, how long I have looked and painted that painting prior to seeing the real thing. It meant a lot.

Isa Genzken

Gert and Uwe Tobias

Yayoi Kusama (above)
Now, next on the agenda was the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey. You're not allowed to take photos so please look on the link below, This was my first visit to any White Cube gallery and the one at Bermondsey was truly something very special. I will leave you with that rather ambiguous statement and encourage you to visit the gallery yourself. Out of all the work I saw during my trip this was by far the best, the most moving and dramatic at creating a genuine sense of awe. Which was also helped by having one of the biggest doors into a gallery that I have ever seen!
As for the Kusama exhibition at the Tate Modern, the next visit on my whistle-stop-tour of London, I was really disappointed. The whole exhibition seemed a lot less installation based and fun than I had thought it would be, with so much of the work on show being Kusama's repetitive pattern/shape/dot paintings which I just thought were really boring. The surfaces weren't interesting and I can't think of anything that excited me about any of her 2D works at all. I know its harsh, but it should be, compared to the lush, intense painting feasts I'd seen prior from Kiefer and Hockney this was just so dull and I felt duped by all the hype that surrounded it. Even the best piece of hers, an installation 'The infinity mirror room' was displayed badly by the Tate and did not do the work justice. In the set-up I first saw in Liverpool the work was experienced individually, so that one person had to take off their shoes and enter a cube that housed the work whereas the Tate show had it set up so that viewers walked through the space (like a corridor) which really made the whole thing more like a tourist attraction than the imersive 'experience' that, I believe, Kusama had originally intended it to be. Ok, I know practically speaking for the kind of numbers of people visiting the Tate there's no way the 'one person at a time alone in the box' would work, but I guess I am just frustrated that the experience a viewer has on a work seems to be severely compromised by practicalities that it is better to have 'as many people view the work as possible' over offering a more authentic experience of the work based on how the artist intended it to be seen. Do you agree?
I think there is debate later, possibly next week to be had about how viewers engage with art in galleries, what makes a good or bad experience? And the kind of pressures galleries have associated with footfall adding to the equation of how much or little potential money could then be on offer from arts funding.

Ahem. Anyway, the rest of my London trip was as equally fantastic as the start was and ended with the 'Making Space' conference at UCL (University College London) in which six speakers (three artists and three psychoanalysts) talked about their work/research. Another first, as this was my first ever conference and as far as first ones go, this was absolutely marvellous! With speakers like Grayson Perry, Sharon Kivland and Martin Creed talking about their practice alongside professional psychoanalysts, Valerie Sinason, Kenneth Wright and Lesley Caldwell it set itself up, even before it began, as being pretty exciting. And it was. For fear that this post is probably too long already and that anything I write now being over sentimentalised I'll leave it there for now, but there is a wealth of information and stuff I would love to share with you about this conference but will have to wait until another day. All that I will say is that it was really useful to have a dialogue between artist and psychoanalyst and how they both interpreted and discussed creative processes of making work. That and Martin Creed playing guitar for his 20 minute slot instead of presenting a 'paper' (it actually said a lot more than the theoretical stuff did, in my opinion). Fab!

Thanks for reading!

Illuminos! Press info

Stop press! Some more information about the Illuminos Project happening between now and until March 4th!

"Between 24 February – 4 March 2012 visual artists Illuminos are on a mission in Somerset. Travelling from North to South they will be creating a continually moving art happening, illuminating and projecting on ten pill boxes from the Taunton Stop Line each night. The work illuminates some of the 300 military bunkers built during World War II that create the Taunton Stop Line, designed to stop a potential German advance from the west. By the end of the ten days one hundred structures from the Stop Line will have been brought into the light drawing a historic line across the county."

19 February 2012

Art book of the month: February

Back by popular demand, ittsss the 'Art book of the month' review:


February's choice, 'The First Pop Age' by Hal Foster
Without realising it (when I first picked this book up) this was to be the second book I was going to read by Hal Foster within the last couple months. What drew me to reading this book wasn't, as I mentioned, because I recognised the author (and had I known, I might not have actually picked it up at all because the last book I read of his, 'The Return of the Real' was pretty heavy going) but because I've always been a fan of Pop Art/'the Pop Artists', despite my own practice not necessarily having too much of an obvious link to the Pop Art style or use of 'popular imagery'. I would like to argue that in fact, tools are pretty popular, in the sense that we all claim to use them, but that's probably best left for another day. So, whilst my own work isn't directly about mechanically produced imagery, collage, design and celebrity icons, I have always had an unashamed love for the stylistic, impact and sometimes heroic 'in your face' brashness to pop art making it one of my all time favourite periods in art history. Second to that Futurism and thirdly maybe Surrealism. I like Pop because out of it the everyday object wasn't just 'art' in the Dada or Duchampian 'ready-made' sort-of-sense but the everyday object in art could now also be cool. A toaster, a golf ball, a Brillo box could be attractive, desirable and more; that's 60's American consumerism for you! Whilst this celebration in the aesthetic and design of everyday images, advertising and mass-production printing techniques is actually quite exciting for the arts I suppose my problem with Pop Art was that alone it was almost too concerned with appearances and that actually what I liked about the 'toaster, the golf ball and the Brillo box' were that they had meaning and significance that was also outside the superficiality of what they 'look like'. You're probably aware that when you look at specific artists within Pop Art that it is in fact, actually a lot more complicated than even that, and I'm not going to hazard going into it in any more depth in what is supposed to be a book review, but it does set the scene for some of the things that this book discusses and why I was interested in it in the first place.

As I mentioned earlier, the previous book I'd read by Foster, 'The Return of the Real' was useful as there was some good stuff on indexical mark making and representation but overall I actually found the whole thing pretty challenging in its use of terminology in places and as a result it lost my attention. I'm pleased to say that 'The First Pop Age' is different and reads a lot more like individual essays, which are divided into five chapters; each one on a different artist; Richard Hamilton, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Ed Ruscha. Sadly no female Pop artists in this book (as in fact, the author acknowledges at the start due to reasons of female Pop artists receiving sustained attention much later in their careers as in Pop-another book to come out of that methinks) and artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenburg and Jim Dine rarely get a mention despite also being in the pop scene. Still, it would be impossible to cover it all at the cost of substituting in-depthly discussions on the five artists chosen. Also, if you're going to pick five pop artists then Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter and Ruscha seem at least pivotal ones to go for, also they are all painters. All of which poses the question, do we get tired of the same big names all the time? How much more is there to know, can we deconstruct about Warhol and Lichtenstein that hundreds of other books and essays haven't already told us? It is a fair question, I think and one that has no definitive answer, I only think that every individual book, no matter how popular the subject matter will always offer a different take and for some readers that 'take' or shall we say interpretation of a popular artist and their work might be the first time they've ever read/come across that work. So the whole thing is, as ever, very subjective; both to reader and author. 'Subjective' being the key word here and is actually how the five artists in, 'The First Pop Age' are untied in what Foster writes as he unravels the workings and decision makings in their paintings. Foster does take a different interpretation from the norm and chooses to discuss the formal qualities of Pop rather than subject matter. He also takes Pop further by debating how it has influenced images today, i.e screened and scanned images and whether we have moved on from Pop or do echoes of it still remain? I enjoyed reading what Foster had to say about works like '$he' by Hamilton and 'In the car' by Lichtenstein that are familiar to me and I can honestly say I never really knew anything much about Ruscha's work so that was also an eye opener. The good thing about the book was the breadth of work by each of the five artists (illustrated beautifully in colour!), as Foster discusses several important works by each of them making the whole thing a lot more paced and lively. All of which couldn't be more appropriate for a book on Pop Art. To speak generally again, I think I have always found books on pop art to be somewhat of a contradiction, the art in Pop is very often meant to be seen on impact and immediacy where as a book on Pop is always asking you to, 'stop' and 'reflect' and consider what it all might mean and I suppose whilst having the two together in the form of a book on Pop Art, like 'The First Pop Age' is somewhat of a contradiction what it is overall saying is that it doesn't matter if you're not interested in Gerhard Richter working from photographs, Richard Hamilton using collaged images or Andy Warhol reproducing food packaging what books like this do highlight is the complexity of our relationship to images and how we choose or are influenced to read into them or not. And that is interesting to every artist even if you don't like Pop.

12 February 2012

Can I have some more?

This last week has been topical, highly topical. When matters of art and life meet up and collide ever so nicely. Whilst I do write the occasional book review on this blog, I very often get the opportunity to make art that celebrates my interest in books and working in a bookshop (although undoubtedly it fuels and motivates aspects of my life anyway); so with the 200 years since Dickens's birth milestone rapidly approaching I wanted to acknowledge it in some way. That 'some way' is the way that I always celebrate or commemorate a special person, place, occasion or thing, in the form of art of course. So now was the opportunity to create 'art for art's sake' and art that is pure and simple in its intentions. As I mentioned in a post around two weeks ago I really liked the idea of a piece of street art created on the wall of Urban Outfitters in Exeter in which layers of plaster had been chipped off to reveal a portrait in the wall. I wanted to copy this process, but with a medium that is more pertinent and ready-to-hand. Surprisingly I don't have a spare wall and chisel going that I can just start hacking into. Hence I used pages from books that I stained different tones and then layered onto a board. The next step was to rip, pick and tear through the layers to create the face (easier said than done, believe me!). Arguably I should have used pages from Dickens's books but I couldn't bring myself to tearing one up so I used several book proofs that were lying in the staff room at work. In hindsight Dickens's books would have been a better choice, but its too late to go back now and whilst the work may lack the authenticity that real books would have provided the idea of books to create a portrait of an author is still the overriding idea.
Once I had finished by sheer and blissful coincidence it coincided with Dickens's real birthday, the 7th of February. Even more fortunate, the fact that the bookshop where I work were taking copies of Dickens's books to sell at The Brewhouse that very evening and took my portrait along with them! And if all these events leading up to the 7th weren't so coincidentally Dickensian enough then to top the list I was invited to go see the performance by Pip Utton playing Charles Dickens (of course, who else!) by my friend also that same evening. It was a good day and indeed it was a great show. The show was a one man performance, with Pip Utton playing Charles Dickens as he recalled the last 12 years of his life, recreating some of the readings from 'The Pickwick papers', 'A Christmas Carol' and 'Oliver Twist'. Imbedded in the show was plenty of biographical content, wit and humour which meant I learnt a lot of new things whilst being entertained at the same time, good stuff! Whilst at first all of this might seem slightly redundant for a SAW blog, I'd like to think that if anything it offers a brief insight into how art and art practice on a daily basis work by taking in the curiosities and day-to-day trivialities that sometimes pass us by. In the end all these experiences seem to mix and cook together to make up the bigger picture in defining what it is that 'makes ones art practice'. In true Dickensian fashion it left me hungry for more!

(above) My ticket from the evenings show

(above) Work in progress - The making of Charles Dickens, ripped through layers of collaged books on MDF

Those of you who may have visit regularly to the blog may have noticed the new 'In the studio' image on the right hand side of the blog. This is a new idea I thought I'd test out in which I upload a new image everyday/every other day that documents the progress of the current piece of work I'm making at the time. The first piece to be documented in this way was the portrait of Charles Dickens (shown here).

So, I will be posting some more works in progress from my work space at home, please visit regularly to check out and see what appears! I'm not really sure if the side bar on a blog is the 'best place' for this sort of thing, but I want to experiment with the idea for a while and see how it pans out. The opportunity (and slight trepidation) of posting unfinished work online is something I have never done before, bare in mind some of the pieces I start to make might not actually 'work' or turn out badly so I'm thinking I will have to be quite brave to try and fully resolve my work to the best of my abilities. It should be fun to see what happens!

(above) The finished portrait

If all this talk of Dickens has got you hungry for more then why not check out Simon Callow reading Charles Dickens at The Brewhouse this Wednesday 15th Feb.

6 February 2012

Come rain or snow, in sickness and in health,

Ok, so the last week has been pretty horrendous for me, Monday night got hit by what was to become the stomach bug/virus/flu abomination thing from Mars. It was awful. So in my state of not feeling up to doing much or going anywhere I thought I'd try and write something a little fun and creative. The following is the product of my mental state thinking about open studios, what its like to have a studio/and the assorted cliches and paraphernalia you find in there. I'm happy to post it on here and share it with you. Pleased to say I'm a million times better now, please look after yourselves until next week. Enjoy!

A bossy, instructional, optional, observational guide to open studios

Artists, artisans, walking paintings, creative practitioners, illustrious craftspeople and makers of Somerset,
Open your studios!
Oil the hinges to your doors, your hatches, and shutters,
Roll out the used carpet, the vinyl flooring the brown paper underlay,…
…Underlay ARIBA!

Stoke the fires of your wood burners,
Unfurl your rolls of canvas, stretch out your stretchers wide!
Awaken your retired paintings.
Hit the lights, switch the music on, move out onto the dance floor(or do whatever you have to do)
Assemble your tools, line up your saucepans, your mixing pots and cauldrons,
Brush the cobwebs off your rusty cans.
Shuffle your papers then re-shuffle them once more,
Cast any unnecessary paperwork to the wind.
'Clinkety-clink.' Gather together your screws, nails, pins,
Then heap them into ordered enough piles into drawers, jars and tins.
Unravel your string, your wire, your cotton, your wool,
Sweep out your saw dust and your real dust, there’ll always be time later to make more.
Round up the ‘thing-a-me-bobs’ and ‘what-nots’ you were saving for a rainy day,
Mix up your glue, your cement, your plaster, your poly primers.
Stir-up your turpentine, your yacht varnish, your waters!

Now, pour yourself a cup of tea, then a coffee for your artwork.
Repeat process three times or more if necessary.
Proceed to smash crockery and store for mosaic making at a later date.
Ink up a plate. Print off it, eat off it, create several and line them up in rows.
Inflate rubber gloves, cook yourself a portrait,
Go for a walk, bring back five interesting shapes.
Draw a cow, a hillside and three good looking trees (please be discerning)
Polish some glass, cut some stone, wield your hands wildly
For five minutes.
Prime yourself, your canvas and your board ready…
…and, relax.
Remove any clocks, time pieces or sundials.
Time has no meaning here.
Unwind the springs and cogs and wheels to your inventions,
Fix the dripping tap but not the cracks,
Give the spiders’ free roam of your domain.
Arrange assorted mismatch furniture accordingly,
But keep palette and easel as standard.
Colour co-ordinate your rags and your brushes,
Wash your weary windows; let the light come pouring in.
Throw away doubts of ifs or whens,
If symptoms persist consult the following advice,
Oil the hinges to your doors , your hatches, and shutters,
Open your studios.
And let the outside in.