Back in 2013 I exhibited a group of five oval ‘portraits’ of Scandinavian literary detectives that I titled Black North. They accompanied the wall of viruses, my Epidemic series, in the show in the Angear Room at Lakeside Arts in Nottingham. I cannot say I was entirely happy with them at the time and subsequently they’ve been a reminder of doomed projects lurking up a corner of the studio! No matter. As it happens there were a few smaller ovals (they were all aluminium sheet) that never made the ‘epidemic’ cut. Occasionally it’s crossed my mind to make a complementary group of Italian tecs… the other group of fictional sleuths I love to read (alongside several of our homegrown. So I’m now wrestling with Hot South (I’m reworking those from the north too…and will re-title them Cold North). To pad out the five I’m augmenting the three remaining aluminium panels with two in…papier mache. Why not – it goes with the aesthetic of the place after all. The contrast is interesting and challenging.
Whilst I’m mulling (rather, agonising at the mo) it over and as a bit of light relief the Paintings Standing Up continue to provide a distraction…
Away from the actual painting for quite a while it’s good to get back to it.An old colleague (and staff member) of mine once mildly rebuked me for chuntering on about the time they were spending away from the teaching saying “to be a good artist you have to put in the hours” and he’s right of course.Leaving aside all the high fallutin’ nonsense we all spout about making work that has something to say, it is just plain laborious some of, if not most of, the time.Imagine then how much tougher an activity like painting must be if sight fails you?More of that in a moment.
But it’s also important to see work and to reflect on one’s practice away from it – and to recharge the batteries in congenial surroundings.These come along in many forms.So it was rather excellent that my absence from this blog has been occasioned by just such variety.Firstly an old pal of mine came up from London to spend a few days with us.We hightailed it straight from the rail station to Lakeside in Nottingham to take in the Ivon Hitchens show, beautifully curated by Anne Goodchild and mounted by Neil Walker.Hitchens late works in particular a bit of a revelation – their wonderful colour singing out in what is our region’s best gallery.
Day two we were off to Birmingham to view the John Walker exhibition at the Ikon Gallery.We studied together at Brum, not long after Walker had left the city, his work having left an indelible mark on the art scene there, so not only had we gone to view the show but also to take a trip down memory lane looking over at a studio we had rented on Broad Street, then a pigeon shit invested loft – now an upmarket Indian restaurant. John is a proper painter’s painter and so any show he mounts starts from a high water mark – however this was a tad of a let down.For starters it consisted of just the upper gallery spaces and John’s work needs space – lots of it.Although most of the 8 x 6 ft.(ish) canvases sat comfortably enough the two real biggies (at least 8 by 12 feet if not more) were lacking room.And for another matter these two biggest works seemed to be pushing for that easy elegance that the late paper cutouts of Matisse have.Gone was the hard won push and pull of paint that characterise most Walker canvasses replaced by thinner washes and canvas collage, not to my eyes entirely successfully.Overall the body of paintings riffed off a variety of Walker tropes (the truncated lozenges harking back to the early 1970’s), an over reliance on stripes and the grid and the suggested references to the Maine coastline hard to see?
Day three took us to the Attenborough in Leicester.Although my colleague Stuart knew of him I’d only the sketchiest knowledge of Sargy Mann (gathered from a recollection of his involvement with a Bonnard show years back).But the substantial exhibition that Attenborough had mounted was a tour de force.Both as an example of how to celebrate a career (something the Ikon show signally failed to do for John Walker) and give the artist a proper outing but also for the quality of what was on show. as if that were not enough Sargy progressively lost his sight over his career so that the last canvasses were made – well from what? – not simply memory but knowledge and experience and a heightened awareness of other senses.Sadly the show is now ended but you can get an idea of the late works from this Youtube video.We topped off a great trip with a brief outing to the Tarpey Gallery where the latest crop of gallery artists showing included favourites such as Richard Perry, Jackie Berridge & the Richard’s Devereux & Thornton too.
Secondly news reached me of work ‘on the road’ again.Opportunities to have works seen in public are thin on the ground nowadays so always welcome.And so another outing for the estimable Andrew Bracey’s Enough Is Definitely Enough exhibition where a small and modest offering from me is part of the mix.Andrew is boundless in his energy and he’s produced a rather nifty gif to accompany this outing that I’m happy to reproduce here.
Thirdly another very dear pal of mine issued an invitation to me and my wife to accompany him and his partner to their Civil Partnership signing, and to a very grand and indulgent ‘Partnership breakfast’ shall we call it that?stretching over lunch, dinner and overnight stay at the wonderful Lympstone Manor.Although very upmarket (Michelin Star) it was a wonderfully relaxed and inspiring location: a Georgian mansion overlooking a vineyard sloping down to the Exe estuary.And although the artwas variable, quite a lot of it was very accomplished and some rather provoking for such a location.We were very privileged to be able to share the occasion with our friends and it was an experience that will live long in the memory (and I dare say feed into the work in some way).
Next up out of the blue a few weeks back I received an email from a painter for whose work I have the highest regard.Now resident in the Far East Laurence Wood wanted to send me a copy of his recent catalogue of paintings made over the past six or so years since his move to Hong Kong.
I have a small painting of Laurence’s, an oil on board, made during his brief time in Leicester.It was obvious to me then that here was a fine painter (and printmaker) in the making and though I haven’t had the opportunity to see his recent paintings in the flesh it seems that after all these years I wasn’t wrong.
And finally I took the opportunity of a trip down to Swindon Museum (to present a talk on the work of the painter Charles Howard of which more in my next post) to visit Avebury, a site I last took a look around sometime in the 1970’s! I got lucky for in the midst of this soggy winter I chose a day of bright sunshine to revisit this wonderful place.
So by way of explanation for my lengthy absence that’s been what’s been happening.I’m back at it now.Nothing completed yet bar this addition to Box Three of Wonky Geometrybut three or four new pictures that should be up on here soon!
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.
Though its a while back now and sadly one of the two is about to close I wanted to write a little about two shows recently viewed. Both of them feature painters hereabouts – serious practices that intrigue and occasionally slightly baffle me, mostly I suspect, because of the thirty plus year generational differences between them and me.
Tristram Aver‘s display in the Angear space at Nottingham’s Lakeside entitled ‘There is a pleasure in the pathless woods’ is deliberately difficult to read, both in terms of content but also in the form. These oval pictures (for the most part) have an intense LED neon light band that acts as frame and visual tease obscuring the painting content through the relative darkness that these garish glows create around the imagery within. It’s a novel way of using neon…I saw something similar a few years back in a late show of work by the renowned COBRA artist Karel Appel where pornographic images were disrupted by shards of neon over them. In Appel’s works however the disruption was blatant, a way of posting a disjoint from the potentially shocking and offensive imagery deployed. [They must be quite controversial still as the above link is the only reference or image I could find on the web!] Aver seems more subtle, aiming I guess to draw you into the gloom the better to explore the imagery within. I’m (probably wrongly) detecting a trend developing with the neon…the current painting show at MOMA in NYC features works by Mary Weatherford that have it splashed over the surfaces of her atmospheric and gauzy abstractions. But with many (most) painters nowadays drawing on the legacy of screen based digital imagery perhaps its not surprising they want to get a glow going on in the finished work too? As for Tristram’s imagery there’s a heck of a lot of deliberate elision at work…so that field sports of the 1800’s sit cheek by jowl with riot cops and cheerleaders, baying hounds trade blows with logo explosions and much more besides. Maybe for my taste a little too much though the resulting melange is unified in part through pattern imposed here and there in largish doses. One worth seeing and still time to do so…though accessing the venue is no mean feat whilst the Tram works continue!
Also on show (though you’ll have to be damn quick unfortunately) is another worth a viewing. In ‘Harlequin’ at Gallery No.1 in Repton, South Derbyshire another painter –Louisa Chambers– is flirting with patterns. But here they take centre stage unencumbered by overt references to imagery obviously from the ‘real’ world mediated through a plundering of the internet. Though thats maybe a little wide of the mark too…given that two of the core sources of ideas in these paintings are modernist architecture and the history of non-representational paintings and that its likely? that the origin of these in the main might be the internet. Wherever the sources (and one suspects there are a host of others from the vast world of pattern, both as ‘art’ and as decoration) the resulting works are oddities…there’s a wonky and deliberately handmade aesthetic here with elements either juxtaposed in clanky and curious ways or left suspended in space as in the digitally printed work, a large blow up of a small work on paper, Harlequin that forms the exhibition’s centrepiece. Is there another trend at work here…earlier in the year we chanced across Jeff Elrod’s solo show ‘Rabbit Ears’ at Luhring Augustine where he too was blowing up small sketches, doodles and very provisional collages. I like the notion of these pictures being oddities – too much of the smaller scale contemporary abstraction by those under forty is either tasteful or deliberately ‘zombie’ in idea and execution. Chambers, in her best pictures treads a fine line twixt these two polarities. Louisa gets about a bit…we’ve actually shown in four mixed shows together this year…so even if you’ve missed this one no doubt there will be a chance to see her work again soon.
Both shows use aspects of contemporary painting practice in many ways not so dissimilar to my own…but I think if there is a significant difference it has to be buried in the context from which we emerged. I’ve done my fair share of digital exploration (see my Extracting Digits for a summary) but I come at it from a foreign land, I am, as Lauren Laverne suggested recently an immigrant, whilst Tristram & Louisa were born and brought up in this place.
So two artists, within a few miles of here both pushing hard at careers as painters with a proper practice…heartening at a time when a lot of current activity is flim flam bricolage more often than not produced only to state subsidised command…but enough of my mardy prejudice it’s Xmas…a time of good will to all so I’m off to savour Sarah’s tastefully decorated trio of trees…
I mentioned here a few months back that I’d been invited alongside many others to be a part of this show (detail) that opens soon in Bangkok, an intriguing idea that may well be more revealing of current painting practice than most. The exhaustingly energetic Andrew Bracey is the curatorial brains behind it and deserves considerable plaudits for pulling something of this complexity together. If you’ve seen any of his other projects you’ll be familiar with his indefatigable commitment to seeing through work schemes that would make most of us blanche but that often result in quite startlingly original and delightful outcomes.
(detail) was in my mind last evening when looking at Jackie Berridge‘s exhibition at the Lakeside in Nottingham. Indeed its hard not to be drawn into the myriad details in these large new canvases that take her (now) familiar (to those of us who know her previous work) creatures into a host of new adventures in a fabricated landscape quite unlike any other I can think of in current figuration.
There’s a lot of painting about that deploys the full gamut of painting tropes and techniques (indeed there’s quite a bit of it in Nottingham at present) and some of it is very good indeed. What there is less of is open ended narratives around figuration that are wedded to the same sets of conventions and it is here that these paintings really make their presence felt. I struggled as did my good friend David to think of any recent or current work that was mining the same seam and (without being too immodest) we have seen a lot of stuff between us. I eventually came up with some thoughts around the 70’s and 80’s School of London where Hockney was constructing brightly coloured canvases of the Californian landscape or RB Kitaj was compacting space in a brilliant picture such as If Not, Not. But neither of these are precedents for these new paintings with their incidents and adventures of a cast of curious characters in a landscape where the teletubbies are as likely to come over a hillock as anyone we might recognise from our own worldscape.
I’m always drawn back to the playground of my early childhood with these pictures (I like others have been more familiar with these images as large scale drawings up until now) but with the painterly elements of colour and handling we seem to have moved into another even more dreamlike (and sometimes nightmarish) vision. The colour palette is especially rich and in a warm early evening spring sunlight it was set off to particularly good effect but it only serves to lure the viewer into an initial security that is entirely disturbed by the content, both formal and narrative. What is really strong in this work too is the knack of knowing when to leave well alone so that painterly incident and the author’s handwriting shines through.
This is good stuff and shows Jackie’s work reaching a maturity not just as the excellent draughts person she has always been but as a painter of real authority. I’d say you should go see it. And as mentioned above there is plenty of marvellous detail here that would have sat nicely in (detail)…and if you can’t make it to Bangkok (!) then fear not as it returns to the UK later in the year and Andrew is also putting a website up shortly that I’ll signpost here when available. Is God in the details?..well we’ll get another chance to make up our minds then.
In stitches this morning…listening to William Shatner‘s take on Bohemian Rhapsody etc. But whilst painting it has to be (mainly) instrumental so taking a leaf out of my wife’s book it’s been Eno for the past hour or two. Am cracking on today after a few days teaching or prep for it. In winter it’s good to have some smaller works to work on at home…not that (so far) it’s been a bad one – for me the jet stream is a blessing keeping the far colder easterlies away (and thus the snow). So I’m making hay with this Cornish Coast series and starting in on a new body of work that is picking up on a set of boards I began working on back in 2009 but abandoned and stored until earlier in the year.
Last Thursday was very helpful too…not least with these current pictures. Though I was disappointed not to be at the opening of Painted Thought in Cardiff (a journey too far this week past) it was great to be able to attend the discussion and opening of Landscapes of Space, Paintings and Prints by Tess Jaray. The artist was in conversation with Richard Davey and this well structured event provided plenty of food for thought about the differing ways in which picture making come about and how the past fifty (!) years has impacted on both the ideas and practice behind them. My first encounter with her work was in the book ‘Private View’ that I poured over in Wheaton’s bookshop in Exeter in 1965 (as a 14 year old there was no way I could buy it) and it made quite an impression…the painting illustrated, St. Stephen’s Way, is in the gallery now.
And for me it was this earlier work that had thoughtfully been assembled in the smaller of the two main gallery spaces (at the Djanogly Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre, University Park, Nottingham) that resonated most strongly. These paintings made in the early 1960’s were crafted imperfectly (acknowledged by Jaray in the discussion) but it was the minor imperfections (or more likely the deliberate and/or ‘happy’ accidents) from the occasionally slightly wonky symmetry to the blips on the taped edges to the imperfections in the canvas weave that added a real ‘kick’ to these works. It is these hand crafted and registered modulations alongside an unerring eye for perfectly balanced colour decisions and the obvious delight in Italian architecture as an imagery source that made these really delightful paintings that pretty well stand the test of time. In the bigger main space we were treated to a large body of recent work that whilst showing the same faultless judgment for colour and a continuing fascination for spacial enquiry was for me less forceful – in the main because of their construction. This came up in the discussion, in that these new works utilise laser cutting technology, and whilst the artist herself acknowledged that new technology is a ‘two edged sword’, these pictures had a smoothness that I can’t get over-excited about.
The large and cavernous third gallery (a most welcome additional space in this, the best of our regional venues I think) was given over to the prints that were the result of a fascinating and rewarding collaboration that the artist had with the writer W.G. Sebald. Let me declare myself here – like many artists nowadays I am a Sebald obsessive so anything I say is slathered in rather uncritical admiration. And in this instance green with envy (like many others I suspect) as I came late to the work (courtesy of my friend the very talented Christopher Matthews) in 2008 some time after Sebald’s untimely death. The book that resulted works really well, the ‘poems’ (that are rather more akin to short text extracts or aphorisms or haiku’s – you can never define his work as anything other than ‘Sebaldian’ really) are juxtaposed with Jaray’s images selected impeccably and arranged with immense sensitivity that offer a purely visual counterpoint to text that is somehow both indexical and narrative at the same time as very abstract. They offer quiet and complementary spaces to ponder both image and text. In the gallery framed and given ‘landscapes of space’ they looked elegant and sober but maybe just lacked a little of the intimacy of the book though when I go back (away from a preview) I may feel differently. In any event I was made up when the artist very kindly signed my copy that I had taken along! A very rewarding night out – cut along there if you can by 27th April.
And so another year is past…and although it was a reasonably busy one I’ve always the feeling I could have done more. I’ve have liked to won the opportunity to make the table top works I proposed for a local museum competition for one thing – I was taken with the idea of stripping down the imagery of the viruses in Epidemic! with imagery taken from bacterial cultures…like Salmonella (above)…they would have been different and I suspect more challenging pictures to make but fun nonetheless. The project called for work to sit inside glass table tops and I thought to jolly to put salmonella right under patron’s noses. But later this year our merry band of creatives at Harrington Mill are taking over the local hospital art programme so maybe I can take a shot at the idea then!
I am happy with the work that will be titled Full Metal Jacket that I’m being invited to put into a show in Cardiff in February (I think)…that calls for paintings that draw inspiration from other cultural contexts. These pictures are as always with me pretty resolutely non-figurative but do take the work of Vietnam War reportage photographers as a starting point.
Those are but two things I know are on the horizon but other than that it’s pretty much a blank canvas, both literally and metaphorically. Good – it’s fun when you really don’t know how it will pan out…I’m looking forward to it with some relish which is how it should be.
Having had a little time to reflect on my work – Epidemic! – now on show at the Lakeside in Nottingham I’m thinking about the idea of spectacle in contemporary art practice. Of course spectacle has been around for a fair old while…Michelangelo up on that ceiling and all those baroque and rococo carry ons…and coming nearer to now there are plenty more examples…the Tate Turbine Hall has seen plenty too. And before anyone points out the obvious, I’m aware that my work doesn’t have that much spectacle to it other than its a pretty big wall and the manner in which the 26 pieces are arrayed across it suggests it should be read (at least on one level) as a whole. Nonetheless I’m intrigued by the idea of spectacle and this was pointed up recently when we made a trip to Waddeston Manor in Bucks. Now the Prof doesn’t really do Christmas but if he did he’d do a Waddeston Christmas…
And very much part of the festive offer is a show of outdoor light pieces by Bruce Munro. My instinctive response to these was to be rather sniffy…after all this kind of ‘obvious’ spectacle in the setting of a grand country manor is likely to infuriate the art cognoscenti. Rather in the same manner that the UK art elite has done with Andy Goldsworthy. But the distance of travel involved in consideration of – say – a Richard Long in relation to AG is no greater than the distance further out to a Munro. What exactly makes a stone circle less obvious than a pile of plexiglass balls? I imagine the answer would be part context and intention. But of course for all those viewers outside of the ‘know’ merely passing by this counts for very little, after all they only have their eyes and instant response to go on. Its making me think again…not just about Epidemic! but also about my future activity…I may be wrong but I think there’s some juice in spectacle for my painting right now.
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!
From arriving home from Portugal to hanging my exhibit at Lakeside there doesn’t seem to have been time to breathe! Or to reflect….and cogitation is a much undervalued commodity in modern life it seems. It was often something I complained about whilst working in Higher Education where a deal more cogitation would have often saved us from numerous cock ups and contra temps. Anyway today is an opportunity to sit back a little and savour what we saw on our all too brief trip and to contemplate a little now that Epidemic!/Black North is on the walls in the Angear space at Lakeside. I need to pay tribute to Neil and his staff who were highly professional, smoothly efficient and helpful in a way that a lot of other bigger art spaces in our region could learn from (and further afield for that matter). In particular Freddy & Luke got the pieces up quick smart.
I’m happy with the way it looks and relieved it worked out pretty much as I had intended. I just hope to get some positive feedback on a project that, one way and another, has dominated the past twelve months and more. If you don’t know already it runs from now until 2nd February 2014 and there’s a viewing evening on Friday 22nd November from 7pm.
I have been to the Porto area of Portugal six or seven times now and it is always a pleasure. Fresh insights occur every time and this time around was no exception. I made a project several years back on the extraordinary (to me at least) space between the beach on the Atlantic and the lagoon. The photo here shows the toilet block (!) near the beach at just about the narrowest strip (less than a couple hundred yards) of it at Costa Nova. I am always fascinated by the way in which the salt air affects everything on the one side and the lagoon seems to protect everything on the other. Another trip took us up into the mountains around Arouca…I’d been up there further north before but this time the terrain was more rugged and exposed (reminding me a little of Dartmoor in Devon).
On the way up we saw some lovely landscape and on top it was glorious until the mists and rain came in…just in time to prevent me from photographing the largest waterfall in the country…I got these shots, one of which shows the information board…!