Up…

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It’s always gratifying when you plan something out and it pretty much comes together in the way you hoped.  There was a plan of sorts that emerged over several months, starting with an almost whimsical experiment utilising torn pieces of failed works on paper collaged onto larger sheets, and then very gradually coalescing into a group of pictures around the loose idea of woodlands egged on by a careful reading of Simon Schama’s Wood section from his Landscape & Memory book from 1995.  The form is a tight grouping of images – something I’ve done a lot of over the past few years –  and here it reflects the notion of ancient woodlands as dark and enclosed spaces of the kind that have all but disappeared from the contemporary landscape.   Installing them was easier that I’d imagined, in the main down to the hard work of my wife who did most of the heavy labour, and they pretty much fit the space as I’d intended.  Ideally they would be viewable from a greater distance though that would dissipate the density idea so I’ll go along with Barnett Newman‘s initial rationale for Vir Heroicus Sublimis at Betty Parsons – its meant to be that way!

It sits on the long wall at Harrington Mill (where I’m showing till October 2nd) and faces off against several paintings from my Very Like Jazz series that have evolved over roughly the same period.  How can I make such different pictures?  Well its just the way I roll – I don’t have a specific style, brand if you like, never have and never will.  For me very different subjects require very different treatments out of a creative mind that can think very differently at different sessions.  The critique of this includes the accusation of dilettantism to which I’ll happily plead guilty as charged.

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Take for example the Cornish Coast series, reworked from the small ten centimetre blocks, to a bigger format of 30 x 30 cm. by 7.8 cm. deep. These are quieter, more straightjacketed pictures operating within a constrained format where only colour operates loudly.  But for me it is important that the experiences of the specific locations are enabled through the surface modulations and the colour juxtapositions, both sympathetic and jarring.

IMG_9578.JPGAnother wall features a selection of paintings from yet another sequence, ongoing for two or three years now, entitled Wonky Geometry.  These operate pretty much exclusively within the realm of ‘pure’ abstraction whereby a predetermined open structure is put through its paces by the intuitive operation of gesture and colour within it.  In my mind its a kind of Mondriaan on acid(not that I take acid nor have any delusions that I’m in the same ball park as Piet)…I simply operate in the same manner!

Anyway all these paintings can be seen at the Mill from 2pm on Sunday till Sunday 2nd October.  It’s best to check on access – better still get in touch on 07808 938349 – to be sure of viewing. But I’ll be in attendance from 2 to 4pm.on Tuesday 13th Sept., Friday 30th  and Saturday 1st Oct. if you want to come along and see the work and have a chat about it.

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Beautiful Benglis! Wonderful Wakefield!

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There are few better pleasures than a day out at a really top notch gallery with plenty to see.  When the Hepworth opened in Wakefield I had my reservations, after all a whole Museum devoted to a single artist albeit a very distinguished one might struggle to reinvent itself sufficiently to keep bringing me back, but I needn’t have worried.  Some places just seem very sure footed and everything at the Hepworth is really spot on.  The staff are friendly and open from the moment you set foot inside the building, the cafe is excellent (yesterdays cakes included a delicious elderflower and lemon sponge!), the programme changes always seem to make for interesting and arresting visual experiences and conjunctions and keep the place fresh and vital.

We just made it to the current temporary show that sadly closed 1 July evening so there’s no chance for me to recommend a visit but you missed a treat.  Lynda Benglis is an artist really only known to me as a young art student for her poured pieces, that I’d bunched at the time into the same rough category as artists like Sam Gilliam, Alan Shields, Ron Davis etc. as part of explosion of alternative ways of making colourfield ‘paintings’ in the late sixties/early seventies, but after her notorious appearance in Artforum magazine (with that big strap on dildo) she disappeared off my radar.  But this show opens up the richness and diversity of an artist who has continued to experiment and, on the evidence presented, delight audiences for the succeeding five decades.

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The poured pieces are represented by several first class examples and added to them are several that were then cast into aluminium and lead.  In another room is an installation piece from the early seventies that acts as a kind of riposte to the male ‘machismo’ of minimalist sculpture at that time but these lead pieces that flop and ‘laurop’ in corners or off walls must have also made an amusing and instructive riposte to Richard Serra‘s now seeming absurdist posturing with his chucking about boiling lead.

Twisting and knotting and kneading are Benglis’s preferred procedures in the main, though she’s not averse to a bit of chucking (of a sort) too.  Using expanded polyurethane that is then cast creates huge works in glass, bronze and aluminium that exploit to the full these techniques.  However, strong and powerful work (and there’s plenty on display here) relies not on techniques and materials but on the strength of the visual ideas behind them.   The show clearly delineates how the artist uses an intense and deeply resonant sense of place to inform and shape the form and imbue content in the work.  She has over the years spent time in New York, Santa Fe, Greece and India and though never overt or obvious, these places and her experience of them has filtered the forms, colours and textures of the pieces on show.  The result is a dazzling and joyous and occasionally very witty show of great art.

But as always the Hepworth has been ringing the changes in four of its six other spaces too so that there’s always something fresh and surprising wherever you look. For example here’s something I’ve never seen before; a curious but delightful small work by Stanley Hayter that is carved out of a plaster.

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This features in a room display of sculptors and their prints. Yet another excellent curatorial idea from the team here that mixes up aspects of Hepworth’s practice with that of her near contemporaries. The Hayter piece is an odd little hybrid work (so hybridity isn’t just a 21st Century idea after all!) a plaster painted piece that might just have been made for this years RCA degree show…  Another room takes up the plaster theme with a vengeance, pulling out plaster life casts (of the sort that adorned art schools everywhere till the sixties) and mixing them with contemporary work that has taken up the theme.  Theres a series of Thomas Schutte’s imps along one wall but the real surprise for me were three pieces by Daniel Silver, someone whose work I’ve not previously experienced, but whose take on bodily figuration is both intellectually and technically inventive.  His partially erased faces echoed the poignant Medardo Rosso piece on loan from the Tate that sits in the adjacent space that features an utterly captivating single form plaster by Hepworth (another work I’m fairly sure I’ve never seen before) and a delightful little piece by Schwitters and a beautiful white relief of Nicholson’s…and more besides.

Enough…but a visit to this gallery is never less than a joy…get along there sometime!

Blinky and you’ll not miss him…

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Frozen Hudson at Beacon – winter reluctant to loosen its grip…

So what else did we see in New York this time around? Well our first move was a trip out to DIA:Beacon. Most impressive but it all seemed a little quaint now…the whole ‘greed is good’ ,over the top, size of it all, of the 70’s and 80’s…massive industrial halls in which singular (and to my mind intimate) ideas are stretched thin across oceans of space.  As Ad said memorably “less is more” and here that’s definitely the case for me.  So I’ll pass over Heizer, Le Witt, Sandback and, even Serra (though admittedly his use of the space to sculpt it has real menace) in favour of Agnes Martin and…Blinky Palermo.  Who, for an artist who died nearly forty years back, is making a real splash in NY right now with strong showing in MOMA and a big event at David Zwirner’s gallery in Chelsea.

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There’s a suite of three rooms devoted to Agnes and consequently an opportunity to look at her output in depth. The best of them sing off the walls in a quiet modulation but equally quite a few others, to my eyes, just don’t take off and in those cases the minimalist touch and form runs the real risk of inertia. Again maybe the sheer volume here is the culprit…I could have found six or eight amongst the group that if shown together in a single setting would have been spellbinding.

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The Palermo showing is fascinating. There were two rooms one with an early piece – a kind of painted “object” and the other larger room dedicated to the suite of paintings on aluminium (everybody’s at it!) ‘To The People of New York City’. These relatively modest scale paintings on aluminium riff off of the German flag and a host of other sources, I immediately thought of Barnett Newman’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Red Yellow & Blue‘ pictures and those early Brice Marden panels…but there are plenty more.

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Yet wherever Palermo plundered the work as a whole (forty pieces arranged in fifteen groups) the fact is they pull off that almost impossible feat of being strangely entirely their own thing despite the wealth of evident sources. Who knows where the artist may have gone had his life not been tragically cut short at 34?  But whatever might have happened subsequently this body of work raises endless questions and possibilities for abstraction right up to the present and, I suspect, well into the future.

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Nearing completion of the Squad…

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Above is Cowboy and below Doc Jay…only Animal Mother to go now and I’ve got all eight of the guys on those two fateful missions.  It’s been good to discipline oneself through the deadline of the opportunity to show.  I’ve always been sluggish in seeking opportunities to show work and rather relied on what’s come up fairly naturally through contacts, work etc. as I move into old age I’m beginning to see that it’s not just ambition that drives some artists but these deadlines that force you to resolve things that might otherwise simply kick around the studio.  Of course the converse can be true too…with stuff being pushed out before it’s good and ready…but if you get it right it increasingly strikes me as a positive rather than a negative.

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(Detail)

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I’ve been invited to be one of 118 artists from across the globe (including some quite hefty names in the painting field amongst them) to participate in a project entitled (Detail).  Each of us is being asked to supply a detail from a recent work, the work and what we decide is a relevant ‘detail’ is up to us.  One of the drawbacks of a studio in a large Victorian Mill is that when the temperature drops it is all too easy to convince oneself to retreat to home and the warm study area…well at least today I had an excuse…

So I got out the camera and fixed the macro lens and shot several details from the two “Full Metal Jacket” pictures that are completed.  Its also easy to get seduced by the detail shots…and on the big screen they look pretty lively.

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So choosing the ‘right’ detail is quite hard…and does one go for something that is visually dynamic in its own right – or something that ‘represents’ the painting more accurately?  And does that matter in a context where each artist is ‘represented’ by a single photographic image of a detail.  It will also be quite fascinating to see what 118 ‘details’ shown together on a single wall will look like.

Anyway…I didn’t go for those above that seemed a wee bit too ‘theatrical’ for my taste but this one…

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New Beginnings (of sorts)

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Now that my show at Lakeside is up and running (til 3rd February) I can side those projects and move on.  Of course I have several ongoing projects that I keep coming back to but it’s an opportunity to start over with something new as well.  So here’s the aluminium shapes that I had made quite a few months back coming into play and for reasons I can’t entirely fathom this cross floated to the surface when I put paint to the surfaces earlier today.  I’ve written before about how imagery emerges in abstraction so I don’t want to repeat the thoughts I had back then but thinking specifically about this work it may have something to do with residual memory of photographs from the Vietnam War (the actual shape is derived from a famous Don McCullin photo of a US Marine) and bandages about heads…or maybe it comes out of the near acquaintance with some images from the painter Terry Greene (they are currently on show in our studio)…or then again I thought as I rolled the paint across the form that this simple sign of negation spoke to my ‘idea’ for these works – to be collectively titled ‘Full Metal Jacket’.  Then again the cross may disappear altogether as the series develops!