The rise of the nutters…

Its been too long since I made a posting and sadly I’m too busy right now to do the kind of detailed discussion of several of the things I’d wish.  So it’s a brief round up instead.  Of course the way the western world is turning right now is a wee bit distracting too.  I try to refrain from comment on these matters here but sometimes it seems that the craziness out there is getting worse at the moment.  My good friend Simon has put the UK insanity over the ‘European’ question down well so go read him if needs be.  And looking across the pond it looks equally bizarre…so we watched again the other evening the classic ‘The Thick of It’ that puts it all into some kind of perspective I guess.  Another friend of mine has, with much admiration from here, put his boots on the ground in the cause of the refugee crisis that the antics of the UK government succeeding in knocking off the European leaders agenda when surely they ought to have been focussed on that (see his blog for details).  But enough of that from hereabouts…it’s hard not to feel powerless in all this.

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But carrying on painting does occasionally feel very indulgent and a bit futile in the face of all the mayhem.  Still its what I do I keep telling myself.  And taking an idea from the excellent Andrew Bracey I keep tweeting a detail a day of whats cooking so in this blog there’s a couple of them.

Besides working there’s been some trips out…one to the Harley Gallery in Welbeck, North Notts.  Here artists Craig Fisher, Louisa Chambers and Rob Flint have been jazzing up the space using the notion of the ‘dazzle camouflage’ – that got quite an airing a couple years back at the centenary of it’s ‘invention’ with Carlos Cruz-Dias redoing one in Liverpool, Tobias Rehberger doing it in London and with the most media coverage Peter Blake knocking one out on the Mersey Ferry.  I’m pretty sure the idea behind this show was more the eliding of their three various and varied approaches to abstraction and the use of pattern and geometry and ‘seeing’ where it might take them and the space they occupied over the show period (sadly it ends tomorrow).  When I saw it a goodly portion of the show were the various readymade works installed and the additions were still very much on progress.

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But you still got an idea of way in which the collision of particular pieces, pattern and colour throws up new and surprising visual tropes and how this broad field of abstraction still holds a fascination for a much younger generation of painters than those of us who grew up with the geometry of Vasarely or Riley or Stella and Noland and so on.  If we do now live in the post-factual world (as I heard a commentator on the rise of Trump say a few days ago – Prof.Larry Sabato,Newsnight BBC, 24 Feb) then ideas of what ‘works’ in abstraction are as irrelevant to a consideration of a show of this kind as facts are to the likely GOP candidate this coming Fall.  One of the most interesting aspects of the show here was the way in which each artist privileges process and material.  Chambers use of folded paper models as subject matter in what might otherwise be quite traditional modern paintings, Flint’s use of washing up cloths as ground and figure and Fisher’s OHP projections.  All in all it was intriguing and visually compelling and even in this relatively early stage, commanded and shaped the space oddly – not least with the willingness to use lively – even sickly – colour combinations.  I’d say, and its meant as a compliment here – all a bit nutty…but here in a good way!

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Coming more up to date Simon and myself did the Mayfair Gallery circuit earlier this week…and took in as a centrepiece the RA Garden show.  Its a pot boiler and I’m sure on the evidence of our visit going to fill the coffers.  But overall it seemed messy and sloppy with way too much ‘filler’ getting in the way of the best and most intriguing works.  We took in Albert Oehlen’s new work at Gagosian that, if nothing else, was an intriguing departure from his usual schtick that I’d applaud.  There’s a lovely show of Simon Hantai paintings at Timothy Taylor and a fair bit of minimalist allover type stuff about (Manzoni Chromes at Mazzoleni and Park Seo-Bo at White Cube in Masons Yard.  The latter giving me pause for thought about paintings I made and abandoned back in 1972!  However one of the most intriguing things of the day for me was a visit to Waterhouse & Dodd where refreshing they stick the prices on the wall next to the work.  In this instance revealing that a modest sized Paul Feiler at £160k beats a large Terry Frost by £100k…I bet that ratio would have been at least reversed 10 years back and probably then some.  Whether it says more about the demise in Frost’s reputation or the rise in Feiler’s or a bit of both who can say…what it does tell us is that its a very fickle business indeed…

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Away from the bright lights (and the money sadly) my work – in a modest way – is out on the gallery wall at present at Repton’s New Court, where I showed the Winter Cycle a few months back.  The show is titled ‘View Of Delft: The World In Art‘ and is curated by Charmaine Tam, currently at Repton School but shortly off to Cambridge to read Art History.  She interestingly mixed student work with five artists, myself, Jackie Berridge, Lisa McKendrick, Melanie Russell and Ruth Solomons.  Wisely and modestly she didn’t show herself but her curatorial eye was good and the range of work covered a lot of ground with the diversity of material offset by sound judgments about what would line up intelligently against one another.  Overall I am very pleased to be part of this project that shows off the department’s sixth form work well and suggests that Charmaine may be somebody to watch in the future.  Besides Jackie’s work that I know well and have great affection for (full disclosure: we have been friends and sometime studio sharers for many years) I was much taken with Ruth’s small informal drawings on envelopes and Melanie’s small panels (see one below: Box Head & Shoulders Portrait II) accompanied by Hannah Walker’s Map II.

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But enough…I think I’ve caught up…so back to the painting…another detail below – all this makes me wonder – Am I a nutter too!:

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Journey’s End

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At the New Court Gallery in Repton (incidentally probably the finest space in Derbyshire) the Winter Cycle gets an airing less than nine months after the journey began.  All in all I am delighted with the outcome and last evening it opened with a pretty good turnout (especially considering that quite a few of my oldest and dearest friends and family couldn’t make the event) though some others (they know who they are!) had made quite a considerable effort to put in an appearance.  I was most pleased.  I owe a debt of gratitude to Louisa Chambers (and the rest of the Repton crew) for the opportunity not only to exhibit but to do so in this space and at a location near to both my own home and studio and that of poet Reg Keeling (whose work partially inspired the project).

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Here’s a cheesy picture of me, Reg and on the right Julian Broadhurst whose recording of Reg’s poems first drew my attention to them.  We are standing in front of the three pictures that are dedicated to the two of them and to the Flute Interlude that divides the reading of the poems from the interview between Julian & Reg on his recording. From the top of this blog follow The Winter Suites link to see all the works with the poems.

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And whilst on the subject of cheesy here’s one of me standing in the space looking pretty pleased with myself…perhaps a little too pleased as there are at least a dozen of the works that – now they are on the walls – I feel need a little (or in one or two cases quite a lot of) revision!  But I guess many of us often feel that way.

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However overall its turned out decently and looks – I hope – pretty solid.  I’m just now working on getting the whole sequence of the actual Cycle onto my website with the full text of the accompanying poems.

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So pretty much sorted and on to my next project – the prep for the trip to Cape Cornwall – courtesy of the Brisons Veor Trust.  Its less than two weeks away and I’m really looking forward to it!

Technology defeat…best stick to painting?

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I’ve been trying for over an hour or more to convert the jpg above into a readable but quickly downloadable pdf so I can invite people to the forthcoming exhibition of my Winter Cycle paintings.  I’ve just conceded defeat!  I like to think I’m outside the ‘silver surfer’/’don’t understand this new fangled stuff’ group of older citizens but it seems no…once I get past the absolute basics of the technology… I’m fairly clueless!

However the gist of it all (and given what I’ve just said I imagine that maybe the image above cannot be easily read!) is that the series of 27 small panel paintings that have monopolised much of my painting time in the first half of 2015 will get their first airing from the 10th to the 30th October at the lovely New Court Gallery in Repton, South Derbyshire.  There will be an opening on Saturday 10th October from 6 to 8pm. and it would be lovely to see you there.  Alongside the painting cycle we will have a proof copy of a small publication that matches the paintings with the series of 27 poems written by Derby based Reg Keeling – entitled A Winter’s Journey – and that I discovered shortly after setting out on my own journey.  I am very grateful for my friend, and fellow painter, Louisa Chambers for facilitating this exhibition and to Julian Broadhurst whose contribution was bringing Reg’s work to my attention.

Here is the text of a press release that tells a little more about the Cycle:

In this exhibition, artist David Manley offers new abstract paintings informed by his reflections on the passing of a season.

The Winter Cycle is the result of moving studio from an artists’ complex in an old industrial building shared with 16 others to his home. In the process of shifting his work he rediscovered a set of small panel pictures began and abandoned several years earlier. The move also saw the establishing of a working space facing a large plate glass window into the garden. He fell to thinking about the relative solitude of working from home, often alone for long stretches and the immediate presence of the changing climate. The notion of a group of works loosely based around the seasonal journey from winter to spring occurred with the initial thought of Schubert’s Die Winterreise as a possible connection.

However shortly after starting he fortuitously chanced upon Julian Broadhurst’s recording of Derby based Reg Keeling’s reading of his set of poems entitled A Winter’s Journey. The local connection appealed to him and the more he listened he felt (maybe fell) into an empathetic relationship with the text. The relationship of the work to the Japanese form Haiku, and to the use of Renku, (linked verse) and Kiru, the ‘cutting’ or juxtaposition of two images or ideas as well as the underlying principles of capturing moments in time and simplicity of language appealed to the painter. As the individual works in his Winter Cycle developed he found himself reflecting on how these ideas might work visually.

The Winter Cycle is comprised of 27 small panels each taking a cue (and a title) from a poem in the collection.  In addition, and in keeping with Julian’s recording (available online), three larger works, two dedicated to Reg & Julian and one entitled Flute Interlude (a portion of a work by Julian that he uses on the recording as a marker between the readings of the poems and the interview between the two of them) make up the project. There are no literal readings between pictures and texts or any explicit connectivity.  Both can and do standalone, but there are sympathetic relationships that run between the two and extend outwards to Schubert and many others who have derived meaning from the cycle of seasons and the metaphor of the journey.

In praise of delicacy and craft

Lots of what I’ve been looking at painting wise lately has had large doses of ‘wham bam’ and plenty of it has been pretty decent. But sometimes you crave a fix of something with a bit more of a delicate touch, maybe a bit quieter and considered, and maybe with just a touch of craft. Luckily Margaret Orrell’s ‘Romola’ currently at Repton’s New Court Gallery is just what the connoisseur ordered.

This body of work is suffused with light that sings out of pictures offering a visual commentary on George Eliot’s novel Romola. I confess that other than a few passages and a synopsis of Adam Bede I haven’t read any of Eliot’s work (and I doubt I’m alone in this).  Set around the turn of fifteenth to sixteenth century Florence the novel intertwines the personal with the epic struggles around power in the city.  Orrell has a light touch, physically and metaphorically on both the picture surfaces and on the narrative.  She offers a range of images, both figurative and abstract, that poignantly reflect the interior aspects of the novel’s charcters and exterior glimpses of the context in which they operate.  This opens out in the very first canvas where one of the key characters stares out at us every inch a Renaissance noble and yet somehow also such a very contemporary portrait.

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Tito, Margaret Orrell

 

The richness of the muted palette is first evidenced here and right through the exhibition there is a sureness to the colour relationships that bind together the formal elements of images that incorporate blunt passages of flat colour set against delicate flower and figure drawing.

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Artist’s caption; “Small abstract on a new surface. Aluminium. Playing with floral imagery, suspended in a pleasing grey”.

 

The freshness of many of the paintings, especially in the later images where the artist has permitted herself greatest license with the narrative source (and at the very last departs from it altogether), is a real visual pleasure and suggests more quality to come.  Surprisingly the artist confides the fact that she has never visited Florence, so these pictures reveal a visual idea of a city, a place in time filtered through the imaginations of both author and artist, in such a way as to give insights into both and also allow access to the painters own sensibilities.  Now I have been fortunate to walk those streets, to stand in Santa Croce gazing at Massacio’s Trinita, and despite the filtration process it is surprising to see the place, the ambience and it’s history  so accurately and sensitively rendered.  This is an exhibition that offers both content and painterly form, delicacy and craft.  I’d urge you to go and take a good look…the show will continue until Friday 6th February and will be open to the public from 2.30 – 5.30 pm, Monday to Sunday, closed on Fridays.

Busy Installation work…

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It doesn’t look too hard but there was quite a bit of work getting the Conversation series installed in Bartons for The Carnival Of Monsters (opening this very evening).  There is a solid contingent of us from Harrington Mill Studios showing and alongside my own there were several others to be hung.  However we are quite pleased with how its turned out and the big open space suits the canvases pretty well.  During daylight hours it looks well and it will be interesting to see how the lighting effects the work this evening.  Alongside this my wife (painter Sarah R Key) and myself had conspired to be showing simultaneously…or at least installing at the same time (her show opens next Tuesday evening).  It saved van hire costs but meant we had quite a solid two days activity!

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As it turned out we managed to make both trips on day one so yesterday was rather more pleasurable…simply putting the work up in the lovely and rather elegant New Court Gallery at Repton School.  So two busy days but both of us happy with the way it has all turned out.  But both of us have foresworn too much more exhibition activity (at least of our own work) for the next few months.

Moving along…

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So despite all the patronising blather the Westminster elite can breathe a sigh of relief and get back to their core business of placating and sustaining the international financiers and no doubt ignore the Scots and the rest of us… Moving right along I’m looking forward to being a part of Salon 6 in a couple weeks time…and although I know a fair few of the artists showing there will be new pieces that will surprise and delight.  Coincidently the selection of works that Rachael made of mine comprised the Full Metal Jacket series…though we both acknowledged that she couldn’t show all eight…and it is one of the images from that series that I took my detail for (detail) that opens tonight at Transition Gallery in London.

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I’d have been there but for the really nasty cold that has settled on my chest and, since my heart bypass seven years back, I tend to take these things quite carefully nowadays.  So at home for me I’m afraid.  It’s a triple blow really as I had hoped that my wife and myself could have taken in Late Turner and also showed up if only for a few minutes at the last ever Lion + Lamb opening.

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The loss of any gallery is sad of course but for us painters the Lion + Lamb is particularly devastating…it has been a beacon of light for painting over the past two years and the curation (and I use the term advisedly unlike as is often the case nowadays) has been of the highest order.  It will be very sorely missed.

So…moving on again…with Salon 6 and (detail) my wife Sarah R Key and myself will have shown together twice recently.  Now its Sarah’s turn to have another solo show – at the New Court Gallery at Repton.

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This opens in October so we are full on with preparations for this now.  The New Court is a smashing space so it should prove to be quite a show. Also coming up fast is Beeston’s Carnival of Monsters…where I’m hoping to show several of the large Conversation pieces…though I haven’t as yet managed to resolve all of them (note to self best get my finger out!). And of course following on not so far ahead from all this will be the Happy Little Fat Man show featuring the work of Kevin Coyne.  As I type this I’m also thinking that I’m feeling a little better today…and when I think of all the foregoing its probably just as well!

 

 

Unfinished business and a Show worth seeing…

It struck me this morning that I was pretty much doing exactly the same thing on this day as I might have been forty years ago…  After all I’d put on headphones to listen to the new Caravan album Paradise Filter (enterprisingly done through online pledges) and got stuck into work on my Cornish Coast paintings that, broadly speaking, reprise those hard edge pictures from my student days.  In that way it very occasionally does, a forgotten memory of a conversation from all that time ago came back to me.  It was my personal tutor suggesting that the paintings of that period in my student days were a bit ‘old fashioned’ and this hit home hard as a twenty year old who was determined to be at the cutting edge of what was going on at the time.  So I changed tack completely, something that it’s true has hounded me ever since, but not particularly something I either wanted, or needed, to do at that moment.  And maybe that’s why I’ve started these (alongside the ‘prompt’ from Terry)…unfinished business after four decades have passed!

Of course something else that was more or less ‘beyond the pail’ back then was figuration, it simply got panned by most of us, especially my student colleagues, if not by the staff (though curiously they rarely revealed their work or their passions, that in several cases I now know were for a kind of impressionistic figuration).  But for us youngsters it had to be big, aggressive and strident and if it were painting it had to be abstraction.  As I got older I came round to figurative work (even dallied with it myself for a brief period) especially the more crafted and painterly (I still struggle a fair bit with the illustrative and academic) and nowadays take in painting more or less as it comes, regardless of that particular distinction.

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Mauds Transmitter – 2012 , 141cm x 210cm , Acrylics & Enamels, Pen on Canvas

And that brings me to  Ill-Tricklit, new paintings by Nicola Williams, currently showing at the New Court Gallery in Repton, one of our region’s better kept secrets, being a modest but one of the most beautifully presented exhibition spaces we have hereabouts.  I’m fascinated by the resurgence of painting amongst younger generation artists and by the breadth of practice in the medium.  It seems as if the freedoms that have been accorded these artists by the demise of the ‘Canon’, that was having it grip on us wrested away around the time of my student days and has accelerated over the period, has allowed the exploration of form, process and content to be thoroughly mixed up and chaotically articulated (a contradiction in terms I know but…).  The work on show had all of these characteristics in abundance.  In the bigger paintings especially there was a hazy, undefined space in which painterly devices of all kinds (though often with an emphasis on the inherent properties of gloss) were cheek by jowl with misty narratives plundered from a host of sources from 70’s children’s safety films to modernist architecture.  Inter alia what a profound effect those old safety films had on that generation of children!

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The Railway Tracks- 2011 Household Gloss Paint , Enamels on Canvas. (152cm x152cm)

In viewing several of Williams’ pictures I was in part reminded of the kind of space that Ron Kitaj was fond of creating in his larger narrative paintings and that prompted a remembrance of the Narrative Paintings show that Timothy Hyman curated at the Arnolfini, Bristol back in 1979 (and that toured to London, Stoke and Edinburgh). I think that Williams’ pictures would be a good ‘fit’ for a later generational selection to join the two that Hyman had identified as having “a figure, or several figures caught up in some kind of story”.  In that show the older generation were essentially ‘the School of London’ team (besides Kitaj, there was Hockney, Andrews and Paolozzi) whilst the younger generation were made up of painters who had – at the time – not much had their due, such as Jeffrey Camp and Ken Kiff (who went on to get theirs) and those such as Andy Jackowski who never have had the recognition they deserve.  Two of the younger painters Peter’s Darach and Sylviere were cooking up space and imagery in a similar way (as was Hyman himself) to Nicola’s but down all these years the knowing use of pure painterly tropes is something they would never have dreamed of adopting at that time.

My two penn’orth on the show at New Court is that where the larger pictures begin to really breathe is in a work like Maud’s Transmitter where the more fiddly gloss tricks are very much subservient to the picture content and where the object dominates the space so that some of the drawing issues that I felt cropped up in some of the figure work are pushed aside.  That said in a set piece like Railway Tracks the two figures seem to be drawn almost as quotations and have an illustrative function so that they shoulder less of a burden in the mix so that there is plenty to admire in the work.  It’s curious (and somewhat crazy juxtapositions) made it for me the strongest and most compelling of the larger pieces in which materials float in a flat colour ground punctuated by all manner of both paint incidents and odd objects ranging from traffic cones to two crows (or ravens?) perched in a tree several sizes too small for them and surveying the scenes below.  In this work and in passages in several others I found myself thinking of my old friend the Glaswegian turned Leicestershire based painter Peter Wilson whose canvases from the 70’s and 80’s share some characteristics with those here (and for me at least, that’s quite a compliment).

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The Finishing Line, 2014, household gloss and enamels on canvas, 20 x 30 cm.

Perhaps one of the strongest works, as well as being the most chilling, was also one of the most recent, presaging a bright future for an artist of substantial ability. In The Finishing Line the figure is gruesomely well realised (what’s left of it) and there’s a curious and distinctive light cast over the closely cropped scene. Painterly tricks have all but been abandoned, or at least tamed, in favour of getting the mood just frighteningly right. Process, form, colour, facture are conjoined with idea and title to good effect.  I mentioned Kitaj earlier and Hyman used a quote of his from 1976 to conclude his own text in the Narrative Paintings catalogue…”the seam never really gave out…it’s not as if an instinct which lies in the race of men from way before Sassetta and Giotto has run it’s course. It won’t. Don’t listen to the fools who say that pictures of people can be of no consequence…there is much to be done.” And there still is, as this show suggests.  Get along to it if you can…  (Thanks to Louisa Chambers and the artist for allowing the use of the photographs)