The trip to Gdansk was exceptional for many reasons. Chiefly perhaps that it was so unexpected and unplanned. The marvellous and enterprising Robert Priseman must take the credit for organising the Made In Britain show drawn from his (and Ally Seabrook‘s) collection that propelled the decision to take a visit to the city. Although I only have a very modest ‘walk on’ part in the event going over seemed like a no brainer.
The show itself looked very handsome. And hopefully my picture didn’t let the side down, settled on the wall, between Lucy Cox and Stephen Snoddy – so at the least it was in good quality company. The collection is full of excellent work, both figurative and abstract, with both a smattering of famous names (I doubt my work will ever be nestled so near to Alan Davie‘s, one of my teenage idols!) and good representation from many of us regionally based painters as well as, inevitably, many from the capital). There are many that I rate very highly and several I know well.
On the floor above there was a smaller grouping of artists from the collection, where a grouping of works allowed more in depth study. Robert was amongst them with a group of portrait studies that looked very handsome, their meticulous considered style suiting the juxtaposition with the Judith Tucker works opposite; both in black and white but showing how material, handling, and facture as well as subject matter can provide figuration with many moods and responses.
David Ainley, is a friend (disclaimer) but his fastidious and controlled abstractions build over time to something quite transcendental and luminous that I believe show immense quality. James Quin is an artist I’d not previously seen but I loved both his picture in the collection and his reflections on Las Meninas that made up his contribution to the upper floor show. A different approach to Ainley but an equally intense luminosity to the work. I’m guessing that – perhaps – James will be represented in the forthcoming Enough Is Definitely Enough if not he jolly well ought to be!
What of Gdansk itself? Well it was one of the worst hit places in WW2, indeed it was the location of the commencement of that ghastly conflict and is now home to the huge and monumental museum dedicated to it. As a consequence much of the centre of the city is rebuilt but contrary to what might be expected of somewhere that has spent much of its post war within the ‘Iron Curtain’ it has been (and as far as one could deduce continues to be) done with great sympathy for its longer term heritage – particularly its role in the Hanseatic League.
Of course driving out to the coast (Gdansk is the south side of the ‘Tri-City’ that also comprises Sopot and Gdynia) the soviet era concrete apartment blocks begin to appear but then they too are subsumed into a more vernacular architecture that in Sopot spoke to me at least of seaside grandeur across much of Europe (though here much less faded than to the west).
So Gdansk turns out to be quite an experience – the centre a thriving and bustling place with many interesting and lively tourist attractions and an excellent cuisine (our particular recommendation is Bowke) but of course Poland is still a relatively poor central European country. Perhaps it was that aspect that led me to choose to photograph it in B&W so here is the centre of Old Town in full colour that I imagine is how the tourist industry wants it to be seen!
It was a busy Friday evening…first the Lakeside for the opening of the Victor Pasmore show – and also my friend Richard Perry‘s excellent work in the Angear space. I’ll be reviewing the Pasmore later but suffice to say it’s very much up to the impeccable standards we’ve come to expect there. Richard’s show I’ve already written about here.
So then onto Salon 9 where the energetic and talented Rachael Pinks (aided and abetted by the equally so, Clay Smith) have assembled a significant cast list for another of their highly enjoyable weekend shows. Sadly you’ve now missed it but (and I say this with due humility given I was represented there) it was full of terrific stuff.
I’m picking out Stephen Snoddy‘s beautifully crafted small colour panels not only because they were new to me in the flesh (I’d only seen images on screen previously) but also in solidarity with the travails he’s currently suffering as Director of Walsall’s New Art Gallery. It is seriously under threat from the current round of local authority cuts – a bizarre and nonsensical manoeuvre – given the international significance of its collection. I first visited in in the latter part of the 1970’s…when it was housed in the old Museum & Art Gallery. It became something of a beacon of accessible and important works to admire at close hand and is all the more so now housed in its magnificent and award winning premises and the additions of the Beardsmore collection and the excellent temporary exhibitions programme. If you haven’t be quick about adding your voice to those who have already cried foul!
Amongst the other works were strong offerings from Rachael herself, from the always immaculate Peter Cartwright & David Ainley as well as Geoff Machin, myself and Clay, whose small inscribed plaster panels showed a lovely sensibility in what is a new direction for him.
is the first of two abstract painting shows that are a part of my year of curation for Harrington Mill Studios. I am very excited at the opportunity to put some of the very best artists working in non-figurative painting on display in our modest exhibition space. Not least from the purely selfish point of view that I will be able to study them up close for several weeks! One of the many joys of being able to mount these shows is to bring together work by artists I have met and in some cases know well with those I have admired but never yet had the pleasure of meeting. It also gives me an opportunity to place a single work of mine from a particular point in my life as an artist in the company of artists that, in all honesty, I’d never have had the opportunity to do otherwise.
Alongside the show itself I am creating a small display made up of a few single works as a kind of ‘control group’ borrowing a bit of scientific jargon*. In my control groups I am putting myself in some very elevated company indeed…but then again it’s my show so it’s only me to blame if I make a fool of myself.
I’m gradually gathering together information on the first show – entitled ‘The Discipline Of Painting’ here. And in a week or two I’ll be fleshing out detail for ‘Painting Too’ the second of the shows on the 2013 Harrington Mill programme blog.
* A control group in a scientific experiment is a group separated from the rest of the experiment where the independent variable being tested cannot influence the results. This isolates the independent variable’s effects on the experiment and can help rule out alternate explanations of the experimental results.
This weekend my wife bought a copy of the Guardian, a rare event nowadays…we get most of our news online…and she must have been prescient for it was with great delight that the review section revealed an extract from a new collection of essays by W.G. Sebald. I came to him quite late in life through a colleague on my Masters course at DMU in Leicester only five years ago and had one of those wonderful, rare moments when you discover something that simply has to be a cultural touchstone (rare that is in later life I think) for your view of what the world comprises, how it operates and what on earth it means for us to be briefly a part of it. If you don’t know his work I would urge you to drop everything and go find one of the four great prose works (Austerlitz, The Emigrants, Vertigo and the simply sublime The Rings Of Saturn) and sit and read it. In one of four commentaries on the published extract (the book of four essays is being published in the UK on 2nd May I think) it is suggested that nowadays it is impossible to write about place and memory without being in a sense ‘Sebaldian’, and I’d share that view about the making of artworks, certainly those that retain some vestige of the idea of narrative or the use of indexicality in its most evanescent form (most often, though not exclusively, through Photography) and that draw upon ideas and images from history.
Of course for someone whose core activity and interest is in abstract painting all this might seem a long distance to travel and I guess that, perhaps, one’s being drawn into such a literary context suggests a certain failure of focus (most of those artists for whom Sebald holds the greatest fascination have tended to be more ‘literary’ in their chosen forms of expression – you might want to look at the book Searching For Sebald for superb examples of how much influence he has had on photography, drawing, installation etc.) and a desire to move towards a more discursive and loaded form of art making than that which non-figurative painting offers. I’ve mused on this before – and it might well be the accounting of why my own practice has oscillated wildly over the years – and yet always come back to thinking that some way has to be found that can encompass these thoughts and ideas and yet remain both resolutely abstract in conception and also have both formal and material integrity as a painting. I suspect however that I’ll not find a way, but maybe others will…I’ve yet to see works that I am totally convinced have taken on the task and completely succeeded though the works of my artist friend David Ainley make a pretty good fist of trying.
Sebald was very fond of simple, modest, b&w images that acted as visual interruptions as much as anything else to his texts…so I’ve chosen one of the many small photographs that get taken (nowadays on the mobile of course) as I go about the place myself. This one was taken on a trip out to Calke Abbey, a place I visit pretty regularly and for which I have a great affection, that is both a fairly typical English Country House and surrounding lands and at the same time a curious and eccentric ‘one off’. Part of the charm of it comes from the fact that time was, in a sense, ‘stilled’ for several generations before it became a part of the National Trust and as a consequence (and through the Trust’s good sense) there are many examples of things that reflect the passing of time, the enduring quality of the landscape through decay and renewal and the ways in which objects can speak to us through the years…all things that Sebald’s genius and legacy brings back to us time and again.