Imagine its around 1420 and a ship is sailing north, away from the leading Hanseatic League port of Bergen, having left Bremen or Hamburg some time ago, and making for Hillswick, its destination to trade goods for salted fish, lamb and skins. Although on the last leg of its long journey it espies rough weather from the west and puts into the natural harbour of Schaldewage or Scalloway as we now know it. At that time the place is part of the Norse rule of the Islands, in fact it is only a couple miles south of Tingaholm, the Thing, where laws are debated and enforced. Until a century and a half later when Earl Robert Stewart moves it to the town, where twenty or so years on his son Patrick Stewart (presumably before becoming ‘Professor Charles Xavier’ or Jean Luc Picard – ha ha) builds his spanking new castle in the ‘town’ and the ‘ancient capital’ of the Islands. The town sits on the bottom end of the Nesting Fault, a splay of the Walls Boundary Fault, itself possibly connected to the great Glen Fault.
So The Booth is situated in an immensely rich and interesting location. Literally on the edge of the fault, the Castle a few yards away, the water of the harbour right below our window. Do learning about any of these things influence the production of abstract paintings I wonder? I’m just one of many artists who occasionally talk airily about ‘a sense of place’…but what does it actually mean? I’m ploughing my way, painfully slowly, through Mary Jacobus’s Reading Cy Twombly (its a very rich and rewarding book but requires a great deal of contextual understandings!) and she quotes from Shelley “Naught may endure but mutability” in regard to Twombly’s Letter of Resignation. The line has resonances for me every time I look up and out into the harbour and the ocean road beyond it…the sea and its ever changing moods and cadences. And perhaps its that, more than anything, that creates ‘a sense of place’.
on a day when I was hoping to put to bed one of my ‘Wonky Geometry‘ series up pops the most recent of the Jazz group of paintings and good ol’ Dexter Gordon furnishes the title. As it happens his Our Man In Paris album is an old favourite of mine. I even managed to get my own way with the name of my third child after it. And strangely enough he fetched up at the house at just the time when it finally resolved itself (like most young men he rarely shows up at home). Getting the picture to this point meant completely repainting the ground with this pale yellow green as the way in which the various elements could properly come together. Oddly enough my wife had furnished the critique that led to the decision and she had also pointed me in the direction of this useful text on painting, a small part of which seemed very relevant to the way in which these pictures have come together, for which I’m (as often) very grateful!
The text in case you haven’t followed the link contains a sentence that sure resonates with me in wrestling with this picture (and the Wonky ones yet to be resolved)…
“It is, as an artist I know has said, one semi-mistaken brushstroke after another applied until a kind of truce against the possibility of a perfect painting is reached.”
Shameless plug warning! Somewhere in the photo above is the small painting that my wife Sarah R Key has in the upcoming exhibition – we are hoping to be at the view party around 6pm on March 5th…along with a barrel load of good painters and others. Try and get along if you can!
The quote at the top of this post comes from a rather good review of ‘Forever Now’ (currently running at MOMA NYC) that I’ve devoured as glory be…I’m actually travelling to NYC to see in a few weeks time. Written by David Salle (a painter that I’ve not really ever investigated properly) it is generally positive about the show (or at least some of it) but his final words on the current status of what we do bear repeating…
“The real news from “The Forever Now,” the good news, is that painting didn’t die. The argument that tried to make painting obsolete was always a category mistake; that historically determinist line has itself expired, and painting is doing just fine. Painting may no longer be dominant, but that has had, if anything, a salutary effect: not everyone can paint, or needs to. While art audiences have gone their distracted way, painting, like a truffle growing under cover of leaves, has developed flavors both rich and deep, though perhaps not for everyone. Not having to spend so much energy defending one’s decision to paint has given painters the freedom to think about what painting can be. For those who make paintings, or who find in them a compass point, this is a time of enormous vitality.”
If those painters at the Container gallery I don’t know are half as decent as the dozen or so I do then that ‘enormous vitality’ is to be found here as well as over the pond.
What else has been going on…well…its not painting but we cut along to Walsall’s excellent New Art Gallery. I always enjoy a visit there given the excellence of the Garman Ryan collection but this time round I found a real gem…tucked away on Floor 2 of the collection.
This extraordinary display ‘The Raven’, created by artist Darren Banks shows once again that some lives you simply couldn’t make up…I’d say you really need to get along and experience this show…words of possible description or explanation much less a critique would do it justice…in any event Darren uses film as a kind of sculpture so its not work that can easily be represented without actually being experienced – so go take a look. The ‘big’ temporary show is ‘Found’…to be honest there was little that captured my attention here, and plenty of it seemed rather arch and repetitive. However there was one stunningly strong installation piece by an artist not previously known to me – Vesna Pavlovic. Search For Landscapes was both visually interesting but also conceptually compelling, its rhythmic and hypnotic clicking of the Kodak Carousel projectors making it another piece that can only really be experienced in person.
Finally we had actually fetched up to see one of Sarah’s best students of recent years – Sikander Pervez. His presence here was the result of winning one of the ‘prizes’ in New Art West Midlands a truly excellent project that celebrates the emerging talent in the West Midlands. Of the pieces he had created I felt the strongest and most inventive took a mundane flat pack chair and transformed into an elegant and original cultural object that looked terrific in the space.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Due to a last minute swerve away from the original plan…I find myself back at the Lion + Lamb for Enclosures, Elsewhere a painting show that takes a clip from a John Clare poem as its starting point. The intriguing thesis sketched out by artist and curator James Fisher in a discussion around the work elided Clare’s return from the asylum in High Beech near Epping to his home near Peterborough a deluded walk of four days with his interest in, and opposition to, the Enclosures Act that parcelled up the agricultural land and in another twist introduces the idea of Elsewhere in a fascination with the circumstances and contexts surrounding Schubert’s song cycle, Winterreise. Though these antecedents are important to the curator the works in the show can be considered outwith the thesis however at several junctures in examining the work some echoes of these hightide moments of the romantics do come back to haunt one’s consideration of the works on show.
None more so perhaps than in the case of Paula Kane. Her Copper Tree is amongst the most delicate of pictures on display with a deftness of handling and knowing references to the romantics that recall say Dahl for example. Her other piece in the show is a drawing that she described herself as a landscape we might feel we know but of course we cannot as it is entirely imagined…though the wan and watery light that filters through the trees and illuminates the space seems all too real.
If Kane’s Copper Tree exhibits considerable craft (an aspect of this exhibition that is underlined in much of the selection) then Andrew Cranston‘s Fair Is Foul might be taken for cack handed if one didn’t know of his pedigree. In this tree paint is essentially playing a role as proxy for itself. A big gloop is situated in his typically claustrophobic space though ostensibly it is a landscape (after all it has a clear horizon line, that as discussion convenor Juan Bolivar pointed out is rather a rarity in a show ostensibly devoted to landscapes). It is a picture that repays hard looking at and, despite it being so curiously fangled, a rather spectacularly good one.
The show as a whole is hard to fathom at many junctures with intriguing and elusive images that incorporate such diverse genres as portraiture in the case of Simon Burton‘s Divine to near total abstraction in Fisher’s own case. His Jenny Nettles suggests that MC Escher may have got himself organised a bit, tidied up his act and learnt his painting craft…the geometries meticulously and fastidiously played out on top of, and intermingled, in a gorgeous ground. This painting got at the ideas the artist articulated in his introduction to the show in an elegant and yet quite visceral manner. Quite how the picture plays out the story of the Scots lassie of the old fiddle tune or the daddy long legs that takes the title for its nickname or even whether the artist is making reference to these (a spider’s web?) is up for grabs though I doubt there is anything left to chance here. In Burton’s picture the subject, a miner, is emerging from the gloom (more claustrophobia) in a wraithlike manner, with tentative, sensitive handling akin, I felt, to much of Leonard McComb‘s work (in my book quite a compliment!).
Elusive is a good epithet too when considering Sarah R Key‘s painting The Second Novelty At Square Pier in which a structure that might be taken for a watchtower owes as much to a medieval torture device (as the artist explained) and is situated in another spectacularly rendered ground that also contains what might or might not be a portal to another place…the ‘elsewhere’ of the show’s title perhaps.
Amongst the other pictures here Peter Ashton-Jones particularly intrigues with The Edge , a painting with yet more dark, gloomy claustrophobic space… Though miraculously as one moves away from the canvas there is a hint of light…that promises maybe some redemption if we can just take those few steps further away from the thicket depicted. His other canvas Paper Aeroplane is just plain wacky though Fisher suggested a kind of parallel with a Bonnard in which the artist’s hands appear holding the sketchbook in which the picture beyond is being created, the space between the subject and its creator compacted…but then again here we are talking paper aeroplane that conceals the landscape beyond and may or may not be the artists hands that made or even are holding it.
Great grounds are a feature too of Paul Rosenbloom‘s contributions to this exhibition, though in his case the four Trace canvases repeat a set of motifs that are far removed, at least for this viewer, from their origins that I imagine may be rooted in geological material of some sort. In these paintings I felt that they might be models for larger works…a different kind of ‘elsewhere’ maybe? Joe Fan‘s two inclusions were an interesting counterpoint to most of the rest of the exhibit. One a drawing, the other ‘a sculpture’, and the parentheses are important here for this curious little tower of oil paint entitled Midnight In Jerusalem we discovered is a process object, quite literally the remnant scrapings from the palette (and not ‘normally’ considered a work by the artist himself). Apparently inspiration occasionally to Cranston the work was an enigmatic offering that sits alone and adrift in the space reminding us of the act of painting perhaps, those solitary hours wrestling with the ‘stuff’. Rosebud, Fan’s small drawing showed us a figure floating in that most constrained of ‘landscape’ spaces, a snowglobe. Laden with references and allusions to Kane, Welles, and the film and its myriad of interpretations this modest little conte drawing is another delight.
I struggled a little with the one other work in the exhibition Kate Belton‘s Mutation. Not for quality but rather because this piece had for me something of a post pop sensibility and mixed photographic and cut out and collaged elements that used silhouettes and graphic devices in a more decorative way. Perhaps the intention was to play with, and privilege, a very different kind of making, in which case it certainly succeeded, but for me the work seemed a little out of place in this selection. But then again as the curator suggests in his press statement “the works in this show aim to exploit tensions between two territories – the painting and the site, which are not always landscapes per se”…
nor paintings, drawings, sculptures, figurative or abstract per se either…or elsewhere…
Enclosures, Elsewhere runs till next Saturday 19th April…pub opening hours…cut along and have a drink and check it out!
Its not that often that I’m really rushing about in the day nowadays…I try to organise my time around a single substantive activity in the working day…the studio or teaching or occasionally a trip out with my pal usually. But today activities were a little more rushed but most interesting. It started at Deda, our Dance centre in Derby where I had been asked by the Morph Creatives, a group of mainly Derby based artists and makers to help curate their group exhibition that opens tomorrow. Diverse groups of this kind can sometimes make for ragbag shows but on this occasion there were several serendipitous connections across and through the work and it pretty much sorted itself out and everybody had (whether by accident or careful consideration) brought just enough pieces to fill the exhibition space available. I thought everybody had made some pretty solid work and it seems a wee bit invidious to pick stuff out of the bunch but as simply an example of what you might see if you can make it along (and I’d certainly say it would be worth it) this striking and rather clever collage by Del Coombs looked great hanging in the stairwell.
Then it was back to the Tarpey Gallery to see how the hang was going for my wife’s upcoming show (see the picture above – and this will be a bit of a departure for those who haven’t seen her work for while so be sure to go along and see what one of the Midlands best painters has been up to recently) and to take in a piece for the mixed selection that Luke keeps in the back space that wasn’t at all like the work of mine that had just come down. Not too difficult as those who’ve seen the twists and turns in my practice can testify! On this occasion I pulled out a large work on paper that came back from the show I had touring in Portugal back in 2005/6. One of a group of three titled Tuscan Garden. Only issue – that when we unwrapped it somehow a speck or two of something (paper, timber, varnish?) had come away and was sitting over one of the washes of colour. It really couldn’t go up in a commercial space as it was.
I decamped to home (the wife’s work was sorted and already half displayed) for a spot of lunch. I normally refrain from comment on wider issues at large in the world in this space, and certainly steer away from politics but… on our so called ‘serious’ national lunchtime radio news programme (Radio 4’s The World At One) I could barely believe my ears with the appallingly dire level of debate emanating from the three spokesperson’s of our leading parties nor the asinine line of questioning from the presenter on the Syrian topic. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation (and goodness knows it is seriously complicated) it deserves to be better served than by this low level of squabbling. As an aside it is interesting to note that three of the four of them were products of our public school system and all four had degree level education in politics or the dreaded PPE and naturally have never worked outside of the broad political/journalistic domain. This trend now so dominant in UK politics coupled with the seeming impossibility of anyone over 55 having anything worthwhile to offer to frontline party service (I know Ken Clarke is hanging in there but…) actually means that this disgracefully poor level of debate and decision making is with this for far into the future. Its just as well that (in this issue at least) UK plc’s opinions and actions (or inactions) mean diddly squat to the rest of the world (though the USA seems equally afflicted sadly…). Anyway rant over – ‘normal’ service resumed!
So after lunch back to the studio to retrieve the other Tuscan Garden (one is still in Portugal in a collection now) that mercifully wasn’t afflicted with any rogue dust. Back to the gallery and onto Deda (again) for a lively Finance meeting (we are wrestling with cutbacks in funding…again!). On the way to which I caught a part of one of Radio 4’s better programme offerings – the excellent Thinking Allowed with Lawrie Taylor. In the last of three programmes on leading thinkers Lawrie and his guests reexamined the work of Erving Goffman. To my shame I didn’t know of his work (I suspect because he was a sociologist rather than, as in the case of the two previous episodes, a philosopher- Foucault and Benjamin since you ask) but I’m going to follow it up now. The meeting lasted a fair while – we had quite a lot to mull over and I arrived home quite late…for me nowadays at least! Blimey I thought as I pulled up at the house and dragged the speck ridden picture into the house…that was a bit too much like working for a living!
Not of the picture above – I wish! My feeling is this one has a way to go… But rather of another youthful ambition to go see all the ‘greats’ of painting. My wonderful wife, the painter Sarah R Key is taking me off to Madrid as a kind of extended Valentine’s Day treat for a long weekend so I get to see Guernica, Goya and Velasquez as well as plenty of other painters whose work I’ve admired or been intrigued by for years. So no posts until midweek now.