It’s been quite a while since my last post…more pressing matters plus a short holiday has meant scant opportunity to do so. But I’m also increasingly aware that finding anything worthwhile (to me at least) to say gets harder over time especially as, several years back now, I decided that only painting matters would be discussed here (and I’ve managed to mostly stick to that). So here’s the thing…does time away in other environments affect the outturn of works initially influenced by other impulses and locations? Here’s a Wonky Geo picture (No. 47, if you’re keeping count) that, as regular readers will know, comes from an enormous stack of them that have been on the go, on & off, for several years now. But I just decided it complete, with additions of the past few days since a week in Italy…?
Ah what bliss!
With nowt worth watching on terrestrial telly nowadays I was drawn to The Trip to Italy last evening. On retiring my wife suggested I shouldn’t be so envious of funds as I’d expressed, quite forcibly, the desire to sample some of the venues visited in the programme…and I agreed that actually I was doing alright enough with our requiring 500+€ a night accommodation in the Med (not that it wouldn’t be fun…). This came back to me this morning with the Mediterranean weather of late having deserted us for ‘typical’ English summer (cold, wet and windy) and I decided to bring a small banner work into the kitchen where I can work on it in the warmth. Along with a pot of decent coffee and a soundtrack of Corrie Dick’s wonderful ‘Impossible Things’ album life doesn’t get any better…
As it happens Corrie turns up on the new Dinosaur album…notionally Laura Jurd’s band but I reckon now truly a collective effort with – certainly Corrie’s input – but also as intense a presence from the other two members, Elliot Galvin on synths and Conor Chaplin on bass. Together they have made some especially extraordinary music this time around, not that their first album wasn’t a great piece of work (recognised with a Mercury nomination). But this one is a peach mixing jazz with, well, just about everything, all sorts of influences from sixties UK jazz (think Gilles Peterson’s Impressed samplers), through roots folk, to heavy metal riffs all bound together with Laura’s superb trumpet work that has a fluency and lyricism blended with an edge that evidences her understanding of the very best contemporary jazz phrasing and technique.
Anyway enough of the music reviews (probably best left to better ears than mine) and back to the paintings. As it happens I’m less focussed on the pictures at present (they seem mercifully to be taking care of themselves both colour and structure wise at the moment) and more thinking about presentation. Originally they were to be proper scrolls with canvas backing and rollers but then I decided to go with framing, cropped to the edges in a white stain wood. But now I’m considering an even more expensive solution, plain oak with a mount – go figure! (and not so much bliss…)
Off for a few days…and now returned…from the Venice Biennale – here’s my thoughts.
Coming to the biennale is like putting on an old pair of shoes. They are really comfortable and fit snugly but you can’t help feeling you’d like to try something new that might put a spring in your step. We started in the Giardini at just after 10:30 & habitually began by trekking up the long avenue towards the very grand British pavilion by way of the Switz, Venezuelan, Russian, Japanese, Korean, German, & Canadian offerings. Thinking back this is the way we always do it & perhaps we should turn about in future – polish off Spain, Belgium & the Netherlands and head straight into the Italian pavilion with the multi national curated section. Where, not constrained by national considerations in the mix, a more eclectic offering results and the options are more intriguing. As it was by16:45 ones critical faculties are pretty stunted making appraisals of – say – McArthur Binnion or reappraisals of – say – John Latham difficult if not impossible.
Finnish art was aided and abetted by someone with Doncaster sensibilities with predictably whacky results. Whackism was generally big this year with Finland coming in ahead of Iceland and Hong Kong in Venice slipping in somewhere behind them. My old pal John Rimmer’s Nutglove would have given them all a run for their money. Of course the Korean pavilion was also whacky but that’s par for the course. Mark Bradford put on a class act for the US whilst the U.K went big and rather overblown and the French cool & classy. The Low Countries & the other Scandinavians just didn’t seem to have their hearts in it. And the Germans lost their way in sub- performance activity that was frankly a bit silly (and was rather surprising given that the ‘action’ takes place in a glass box beneath the feet of the audience). I enjoyed Russia (part 1) and Erwin Wurm was suitably entertaining for Austria with his ongoing series of One Minute Sculptures though I was sorry for t’other rep for them – Brigitte Kowanz – as her quite serious contribution to light art suffered as a result. On the rest of the back lot things were solid but a bit dull. Though I enjoyed Geta Bratescu’s (now 91 years young) survey show of sixty plus years of artistic endeavour (in the Romanian pavilion) – that very controversially – comprised painting and drawing.
Actually age was a theme running through a deal of the contributions in the national pavilions and even more so in Christine Macel’s curated section. I lost count of septuagenarians and octogenarians being given a run out. This started with works by UK artist Rasheed Araeen (82) a piece he originally conceived back in 1968. In the same space Juan Downey (born 1930 and sadly died 1994) showed an excerpt from a video work of the 1970’s. It was good to see Raymond Hains’ work being given enough room to spread out and the curator able to expand my understanding of an artist that certainly to UK audiences is little known. That the work included pieces directly related to the Biennales of the past was a valuable addition to the show. It was lovely to have some genuine quality in drawing from Kiki Smith, though to be honest her room didn’t have (at least to me in this context) quite the intensity of magical charm I’d usually expect. The UK artist John Latham (1921 – 2006) was accorded a ‘mini-retrospective’ too whilst David Medalla (aged 79) showed a piece involving embroidery that he first gave an outing in 1971.
Embroidery was a thread (apologies) running through a great deal of the show, especially in the Arsenale. Though carpets were in shorter supply than a few years back when they swept through a wave of major shows a few hadn’t got the memo that it was now a lighter touch on these materials that was required (to be fair to Petrit Halilaj a Kosovan refugee and one of the youngest exhibitors at 31 his pieces are performative works that inevitably lacked some of their poetry in this context). Someone who had was Lee Mingwei, a Taiwanese artist (though like many of those chosen by Macel, now resident in Paris) where he sat and sewed visitors garments for them. Other pieces in this vein included the Italian artist Maria Lai (1919 – 2013) whose works included fiddly but rather charming bits and pieces and the utterly solid and intelligent and thankfully cool and calm works from his 1980’s series Wallformation by Franz Erhard Walther (78). Rightly awarded the Golden Lion for best artist.
The bizarre whackist performance piece by Mariechen Danz was represented by a video within the space where it had taken place…a throw it all in work with much nonsensical tosh, by and about the artist, to absorb if you wished. At least its absurdist solemnity gave one a laugh, much needed if you had just made your way through the Pavilion of Shamans into the Dionysian Pavilion, the two most awful of the nine that made up the curated section.
Out beyond the long run of the Arsenale one of the very best (if not the best) national pavilion was that of New Zealand. I’ve not previously come across Lisa Reihana’s work, though it has been widely exhibited over recent years. But her In Pursuit Of Venus (Infected) work that forms the centrepiece of her show Emissaries is simply stunning, both conceptually and visually. It is impossible to do it justice in description but suffice to say it combines idea and execution with the very best use of new technologies to make something truly spellbinding.
If Whackism is in full flow then there was across the city an even more prominent display of Thwackism…the kind of absurdist work that is truly overblown and even more hideously vulgar. Leading from the front – naturally – was our very own Damien with his revolting and trashy Wreck of the Unbelievable schtick. Of course Venice loves this kind of thing…just take a peak in the Venice Pavilion in the middle of the back lot. Whether the old ‘epater le bourgeoisie’ routine can work when the whole edifice is an hermetically sealed game between obscenely wealthy artists and their even more disgustingly rich pals who can say. Perhaps we have to accept that poetry plays no part in contemporary practice but what is certain is that the lad Hirst has wrung every last drop out of it in his Disney meets Ray Harryhausen (on an off day) extravaganza. This kind of thing is just made for its two venues – Punta Della Dogana & Palazzo Grassi – owned by Francois Pinault (worth around 13 billion so Mr. Google reckons) making the two sites and their current contents the most vomit inducing sweetie jar in the contemporary art world – quite a feat. And it seemed that Damien had acted as a magnet for Thwackists of every nation…as represented by the odd displays at Palazzo Bembo and on the top floor of Coin, the city’s luxury Department store (admittedly neither of these officially sanctioned Biennale events).
By this point those shoes were well and truly beginning to pinch. But thats what makes a few days at the Biennale fascinating…every aspect of contemporary practice is present, often jostling for attention when it doesn’t merit that much and quite often getting it whether or not deserved. Every so often as you whizz by work that might or might not reward given more attention you suddenly see something that catches your eye and even more occasionally engages your brain. Just to list two more that took my attention – Julian Charrière and Thu Van Tran in the Arsenale. And both still under 40…so maybe the future is brighter after all.
on one can be a wee bit disorientating. One evening you may find yourself wandering along a track across a field in Northern France…less than a few hours since racing through the Alps (excepting the queue for the San Gotthard/Gottardo tunnel).
In his Anatomy of Melancholy Robert Burton writes that travel is one cure of it “for peregrination charmes our senses with such unspeakable and sweet variety, that some count him unhappy that never traveled, a kinde of prisoner”. Whether or not one subscribes to that rather extreme view it is undeniable that different perspectives emerge from moving about a bit. For example setting off from a small village in Pas De Calais this morning (the first round of the French Presidential Election) I was struck by the relative calm of it all. My straw poll of one elicited a response that it was “tres important” but it would have been easy to miss that fact of it at all. There was a single billboard in the town centre with a single poster for each of the eleven candidates and only one location in town where someone had fly posted three posters for Francois Asselineau (a hard line Frexiteer). Even those newspapers that I saw were treating the event with restraint, and though most TV channels at one point or another on Saturday night had coverage it certainly didn’t dominate the schedules as it does here. Indeed there isn’t a sense of hysteria but a sober responsible process at work. For what its worth though my sense of it is that Le Pen may well do better than expected in Round One and might just do enough overall to cause an upset.
She’ll certainly pick up Asselineau’s supporters with their very direct secondary slogan (above in yellow…’Frexit – Protection des Salaries’). And I guess that may well be a significant part of the reason that the Tories will romp home here with a stonking majority. I was going to follow up this observation with something incredibly rude and partisan about my fellow countrymen and women but I’ll let it be…I try not to do politics here! So instead some nice pictures of locations on our holidays instead!
over times long past. Many eons ago I was party to an explosion of public art across the United Kingdom…aiding and abetting a variety of schemes that, for better or worse, were intended to ‘beautify’ and ‘edify’ public enjoyment of the environment. It seems it wasn’t confined to the UK as here in the Lunigiana (wedged in the borderlands between Tuscany and Liguria in Italy) there’s a fair amount of it too. Including this rather splendid piece in Piazza Cavour in Aulla. It seems we are witness to a lively game of geometric footie…or calcio as its known here. Or perhaps, given the garb sported, a game of volleyball or some such. Whatever the occasion and the exercise there’s a deal to admire – I’m especially taken with the knees myself. It got me to thinking about who gets to make these works and who selects them…and that’s a topic on which I’ve quite a few stories from my involvement back in the UK (don’t get me started on the Shoe Last in the pedestrian precinct in Northampton…). Anyway I rather like this one though I doubt many people give it so much as a glance nowadays.
And a good holiday is an excuse to have a play about (as well as sit pondering) on projects that as yet maybe don’t make a deal of sense. I’m cutting out canvas letters to join my sewn canvas shapes using odd snippets of text that I wrote down from poems into a sketch book almost thirty years back. They are so obscure I cannot begin to recall what the texts were or why I chose them. But I did it here in Italy and I’m here again (courtesy of my chum Sue) where I’ve been shaping and sowing the canvas pieces over the past few years so there is a connection though what it is and why its significant to me I have no way of articulating as yet.
But of course time away from your usual haunts is mostly for the simple pleasures of experiencing other cultures and environments. This part of Italy is framed by the Appenines to the back of us and the Apuan Alps away to the south east, its quite rugged and hilly, and at this time of year looking its best, the blossoming of the vegetation in springtime before the more arid days of summer…though we’ve been blessed on this occasion by warm and sunny weather.
we were. My pal Simon and myself at the terrific Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Back on form and showing one of the UK’s finest cultural exports, Tony Cragg after a year or two of rather desperate material. I cannot recommend this show highly enough – it demonstrates that there is still a place for work that, in addition to being physically substantial , is also intellectually and – yes – spiritually strong enough to dominate both the cavernous galleries and the landscape in which they are located. I will review the show over on my Cloughie’s Eyes site after a second visit but go see for yourself it will be worth it.
And now I’m off…to spend some time in Northern Tuscany over Easter…and work on yet another of my various projects – Lavanderia – that has been entirely conceived and (so far at least) executed over there. So sadly I shall miss the opening of Colour: A Kind Of Bliss, showing now in the Crypt of St. Marylebone Parish Church. But if you can go and take a look! And if you cannot…here’s a sneak peek of it with one of my works far left…
I posted before on the subject of Italian food…and had more ‘hits’ than the artwork ever gets! But it is one of the joys of a trip over to the Lunigiana. I quoted too, from Marcella Hazan’s book and that went down well so…
“When Aristotle said that a work of art should imitate the motions of the mind and not an external arrangement of facts, he was anticipating a definition of the art of the Italian home cook. In Italy the source of the very best Italian food is the home kitchen.”
Marcella Hazan, The Classic Italian Cookbook, Macmillan London, 1980