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24 June 2012

Heaven nor Hell

In an introduction to Dante's Inferno, T S Eliot comments that,
 'Hell is a place where nothing connects to nothing.'
 Well, what an opening, you're thinking, for a post that's supposed to be about SCAT's graduate Fine Art show. I know, but I recently read that quote in a book about creativity which got me thinking why Fine Art/Art at times is and/or at other times strives to be heavenly, because unlike Eliot's definition of 'hell', Art is all about connections. Connections of how an idea connects with a material, a process, a feeling, a decision. Connections that are visual, censorial, audio and kinetic to name but a few as well as connections between people, audiences, places and times. Certainly, I think its safe to say from my own experience (and I'm certain I am not alone in thinking this) that at times the searching for and making those connections can feel like hell, it is not an easy process. Although undoubtedly once those connections are found the result(s) can indeed be something divine. In reality I think a lot of the time art sits somewhere between the two, neither being heavenly nor hell, stuck in limbo or grounded in the reality of the everyday, that doesn't, however stop us from venturing elsewhere... When idea/intention and process and material all come together and work seamlessly that is when you know the connections are right (which in practise is always easier said than done). But anyway, whether its heavenly or someplace in-between, you can make up your own minds, one thing is for sure is that there is no lack of connections here, in this years (bump-ba-da-na!) Somerset College, Fine Art end of year Exhibition!    
Its all about the 'end of year shows' at the moment. Caught Bristol's UWE exhibitions around a week ago, Somerset College's last week (and the subject of this post) and planning on perusing Plymouth's offerings Tuesday this week. Wonderful! Please excuse the dodgy photography in these images, they are a flavour of what to expect, when I can assure you the real things in all cases are much better. Anyway, now that's all out the way, what of this year's Fine Art degree show? I think, its the biggest one yet (in terms of  student numbers), titled 'Thirty Eight' and (as normal) is split between two venues, The Brewhouse and Somerset College featuring as ever an eclectic variety of different mediums, materials and ideas. For me, personally I thought there was lots of really great painters this year and it was also good to see some more installation pieces, someone using performance in their work and another using what I think were projectors in contexts outside the gallery space. Good stuff, glad that the non 'house style' ethos of scat has been maintained (for those of you not regular visitors to this blog-and why wouldn't you be!- I graduated from Fine Art at SCAT in 2009). Overall it is an excellent degree show, and yes, whilst of course I am bias, I have also seen a lot of other degree shows from other universities so I think I have some experience to make a good enough comparative judgement (coincidentally Bristol UWE's Drawing and applied arts degree show was great). I think for me, what makes a degree show 'excellent' is if it has things which inspire me, make me think, 'I'd like to try that' and if it surprises me in terms of that feeling you get when you've never seen something like it before, if it is original and inventive. This graduate show definitely had those things, there was an animation made from knitting, for example. The works which most strike a chord with me are often the ones which, going back to what I said at the start, have a connection with either elements of my own work or my friends practises (looking at the images below those of you who know me will know who I am referring to). A natural observation there, but also an honest one and something I have talked about on this blog many times before and a reminder that the saying, 'there is no such thing as art...only artists'. That's all for this post this week, well done to all graduating this summer and thank you for some fantastic work in this year's graduate shows. I'll end with a quote that nicely connects us back to what I said at the beginning with this from Nietzsche,
'Artists have a vested interest in our believing in the flash of revelation, the so-called inspiration...shining down from heavens as a ray of grace. In reality, the imagination of the good artist or thinker produces continuously good, mediocre, or bad things, but his judgement, trained and sharpened to a fine point, rejects, selects, connects...All great artists and thinkers are great workers, indefatigable not only in inventing, but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering.'
(above) David Mead

(above) Sian Lewis

(above) Barbara White

(above) Lorraine Tuck
(above) Leah Hislop
Watch this space for 'Art Book review of the Month' next  week here on the SAW blog! What will it be?....

You can check out 'Thirty Eight' at The Brewhouse until 4th July and at Somerset College until 30th June

10 June 2012

Back to Jamaica Street Studios! 2012

Where has the year gone? How deja vu, every time I write on this blog it seems like its about Jamaica Street Open Studios! Well, like it or not, its that time again when I embark on my usual trip to what remains one of my favourite annual art highlights of the year.
Three floors, over 42 artists and everything from painting, print making, illustration (from comics to graphics), craft, stage set design, animation, sculpture and more. It was great to go back and see how the artists whose work I have seen the previous year have since developed their work, as well as seeing the new artists to the studios, for example, Anouck Mercier (whose drawings are exceptional). Compared to my recent disappointment of the Spike Island Open Studios
Jamaica Street did not disappoint me, and so far in my three years of visiting them, it never has. The reason for this I think is that Jamaica Street is what you'd imagine art studios to be, to be blunt, it 'does what it says on the tin'. You'd imagine to find art, which it has in abundance and well, (obviously) artists, and they're there working, making mess and doing what artists do, making art!! Horaa! No revelations there, but so pleasing to see so much great work on the walls in their studios and with the artists on hand to talk to if you want to. Its a real 'working' space, lively and always inspiring. At the risk of repeating myself for the third time, it is my pleasure to say, 'I look forward to seeing it again next year!'

Brilliant paintings from Karin Krommes depicting aeroplane engines/ejector seats but presented with titles like 'Reign' (not a reference to the Jubilee but still convenient timing) the seats take on different meaning and context (side by side, as shown above they act almost like his/her portraits). Whilst I stick by my opinion that a lot of photo realistic style painting leaves me feeling a bit cold, (despite admiring its technical abilities) I think that Krommes does use it in a different way, where she takes what is a fairly unfamiliar subject matter (as plane engines are) and puts it out of context in a way that reminds me of some of Magritte's paintings. It is for that reason that I personally really enjoy her work.

In situ on my own bookshelf, my very own 'from little seeds' owl. Hand made by Helen Williams and each one is completely different. It looks a little lonely on my bookcase away from its larger owl family at Jamaica Street Studios still at least its in good company (sort of) with Iain Banks, Bukowski, Papillon and Salinger amongst others.
Sculpture from Jan Blake. I think this is made from pulling apart the inner layer in cardboard boxes (the bit in-between that's kind of full of holes) Anyway, I admire that someone noticed it as a material and has turned it into something that is a lot more visually interesting than the original cardboard box it came from.

Intriguing surfaces in the work by Vera Boele Keimer. It was a friend of mine that introduced me to her work, and I find the experimentation and inventiveness in the techniques and painterly processes that Vera uses to be really inspiring in showing the sheer versatility of paint as a medium.

3 June 2012

They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy fun, fun, fun, fun, fun....

But the most wonderful thing about inflatable, site specific sculptures in a glove factory isss...that this is the only one!

Yippie! Weeee! So exciting! Who says art cannot be fun anymore?....Something I know that, at least in my own work of late, has (uncharacteristically for me) been lacking. But enough of all that, let's go loose ourselves and have a bounce on a giant inflatable glove in, what has been a very contemporarily transformed ex-glove factory in Yeovil! Boing!

Forgive me, when it isn't all about the bouncing there is actually much good to be said and insight to be gleaned from this very different exhibition. Titled 'One to Twenty' and created by Barber Swindells (a collaborative artist partnership between artists Claire Barber and Steve Swindells) the exhibition is set and was created in response to a pair of Fireman's gloves from Southcombe Brothers of Stoke-sub-Hamdon. The history and context of the Glove Factory in Yeovil and its archive of gloves, cutters, materials and lived experiences of the people who worked there made an excellent resource and opportunity to expand the idea of taking the Fireman's gloves and engage in Yeovil's 160 years of glove making history in a way that, I think is both celebrating it and preserving it. 

Eat you heart out Claes Oldenburg! This inflatable glove has a 1:20 ratio and is over 13metres long! I personally liked the way it squashed up against the (comparatively) small space of what was the original glove factory, whilst being contained it was also seemingly trying to burst its way out of the windows and be noticed. It should be too, because whilst it is all too seductive to get caught up in the spectacle of what is essentially a giant sophisticated bouncy castle in a large room, I equally enjoyed looking over all the gloves and cutters and scraps of leather that told the story of how this place was used. I mean, 'I never knew Yeovil was known for glove making?' and 'What's so special about gloves anyway?' Well, coming from someone that draws hammers and saws all day I don't need much convincing in the latter question, but at the same time, it is for that reason that I KNOW other people should know or should be invited to stop and think about gloves, hammers, saws once in a while. As objects, how they are made and how they are then used has a lot to say about us as people, individuals and as a society. Particularly gloves. How we use our hands, and how gloves are a second skin, to either protect or to allure as a fashion statement. The images below show some of the artefacts that were in the exhibition alongside the Fireman's glove. I liked the contrast from the playfulness and loudness of the inflatable glove to the thoughtful and reflective nature of the artefacts room then particularly noticing how the green leather offcuts from the glove making process where used on the inflatable piece and how the significance of the amount of skill and detailed engineering that goes into say, making a 'life size' glove has then been translated into a much larger version that still requires a sizable amount of engineering as well. Making a 20 times larger version of anything can be no small feat.

Art should not be about preaching to the converted all of the time, if any of the time! So, in my mind it is all too important to have work like this which is both engaging on an excitement level and on a thought provoking one. Which is not to say all art has to be 'singing, dancing and entertaining' or even a dumbing down, but I think there is something in the spectacle of being to create something that has never been seen before as a way of communicating a message-it doesn't have to be big and bold, sometimes it can be quiet and unassuming, but the things that work best are always the ones that have that sense of wonder that ignite curiosity and beckon you to come closer and find out what they have to say (although I am very aware it is a subjective thing). If all art could do that then we wouldn't need to be worried about preaching to the converted because we would all already be converted.

This was the most fun art installation I'd been to (on) since the Cartsen Holler 'slide' at the Tate Modern. Except I was never sure there was much substance to that other than, 'slides are fun and can be beautiful too' whereas this exhibition certainly did not lack substance in fact it could be seen everywhere, I was jumping right on top of it!

Check it out!
Launch Date: 8th June 6-8pm, Foundry House, Glove Factory, Yeovil
Exhibition Date: 30th May - 10th June (Free admission, Booking essential: 01458 253800 Closed 2nd - 5th June
Please visit the link below for more details:

Drawing Breath -Bow Wharf, Langport

This week you're going to get two posts for the price of one! Had a fantastic day viewing art this week, visiting two exhibitions in one day: namely, 'Drawing Breath' in Bow Wharf, Langport and 'One to Twenty' in the Glove Factory, Yeovil.
So, firstly, may I present: 'Drawing Breath' in Langport. 'Seven artists reassess their relationship with the great outdoors' Featuring work by, Sara Dudman, Alice Crane, Simon Lee Dicker, Jon England, Debbie Locke, Michael Fairfax and Tracey Hatton.
I've included a few photos that present a taste of the work in the exhibition and a little summary of each of the pieces (although I would strongly encourage you to view it in person as it is well worth a look). What was the most reassuring and interesting aspect for me was the way that the theme of 'drawing' was approached in many different aspects, from the more traditional and exquisitely executed pictorial drawings by Tracey Hatton, the more painterly, personal and mixed media drawing styles of Alice Crane and Sara Dudman and then the less conventional ways of drawing like Michael Fairfax's use of the elements, such as the sun to burn onto wood or light to reflect which creates miniature camera obscuras in glass beads (still a form of drawing I would argue). That idea of 'drawing' as mark making continues, in true inventiveness with Jon England's use of boot polish as an indexical reference to traces of history and his research into WW2 narratives, people, places and events and even more so in Debbie Locke's rucksack drawings (not pictured here) which are essentially abstract inky traces, but are an honest and spontaneous account of the 'action' and moment of being in a place outside. If drawing is a form of mark making, then it seems only logical to question, 'what is a mark?' And although it would seem to me that all the artists here are creating a mark or marks in some way, I think what is interesting about that process is the range of what 'marks' can be and the even greater number of potential ways in which they can be made, of which a good variety of examples can be seen here. It got me thinking that in a way all forms of art are in some way concerned with mark making of some kind. In turn, it makes me think of what the first ever 'mark' that was made would have been, I speculate it must have been mankind's hand/footprint on the Earth, which in a full circle kind of way is quite a humbling reason for going back in an exhibition that focuses not just on the potential for drawing and mark making but looks at those in relation to our roots and origins of mark making history, through the relationship we have with the great outdoors and the landscape.

Debbie Locke creates drawings in true 'Heath Robinson' style using a rucksack and ink to create drawings that are not so much about creating a pictorial image of the landscape but instead are concerned with exploring our relationship with our surroundings and ways of recording people's journeys. In the piece here, she has created a kinetic drawing installation using GPS and adapted children's toys to map the data.  

(Close up of the same drawing) Ok, so the GPS element of Locke's work might not be 'Heath Robinson', but the principle of using an object of play, in this case, lego as a means of creating a map does allow for chance and a certain degree of spontaneity that is quite low-tech and, as Locke herself puts it, "challenges the notion of the infallibility of machines".

Sara Dudman's paintings are "expressive interpretations of memories of places and times triggered by close connection and knowledge of the subject" The act of drawing as a kind of 'drawing out' was the impression I had.

"Simon's art explores contemporary notions of landscape with a focus on the "tension between proximity and distance, body and mind sensuous immersion and detached observation."

Jon England uses WW2 boot polish and parachute silk to create this image. His work is known for its use of unexpected materials with a resonance that relates them back to their subject matter, with the work he has produced focusing on WW2 as his subject matter and research enquiry where everything from pillboxes, abandoned airfields, the great escape and more. Most recently a site specific piece working with The Fleet Air Arm Museum. I like the use of a tree canopy in relation to the kind of canopy created in under a parachute and how those two things work together in terms of creating a sense of place.

'Drawing Breath' is on until the 28th June. Please visit: for more details.