I like to start the year with a bit of a plan. It’s a ‘bit of’ because I’m a fiddler at heart and can’t help hopping around the studio dealing with this and that. And, as always, there are (as it is disputed that Harold Macmillan may have or not said) “events, (my) dear boy, events”. This year of course we have the on-going saga of COVID to contend with but equally smaller things come up from time to time including the possibility of invitations to participate in shows that may (or may not!) happen.
So it is that I’m currently rethinking my plan to start a series of large canvases immediately and focus instead on the third part of The Heart Of Rural England (Painting The Town Red) [scroll back to Dec 3rd and 15th entries and more] and another previously abandoned project…I arrived at Art School ‘proper’ (my Diploma course at Falmouth) in the autumn of 1970 so 71 was my first year of being a ‘proper’ tyro artist. Reaching 70 (as I shall do this summer) brings a full fifty years of practice around. Back in 2012 I began a series of 1 foot square canvases to represent each year of painting that – at that time – I intended to be a set of 45 to culminate on my ’official’ retirement date. Moving studio kyboshed that and those to date in 2013 remained boxed up in my studio back at the Chapel till now. However with the impending date of my 70th it seems a good time to push on – as Primo Levi said “if not now, when” – so the project – now titled Fifty Year Itch – is underway again with the ambition to post an image of each in turn from April 17th through to June 6th. I thought a short commentary would be an idea for each picture so that will be posted on my blog through the same two months. Watch this space as they say.
I imagine there might be a few grumbles amongst the sculpture fraternity that Sean Scully is showing sculpture (with paintings, prints, drawings and photographs) up at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.After all his reputation rests mainly on his body of paintings made over the past half century.But its quite a coup for the place nonetheless as Scully is surely one of the biggest beasts to have shown there over the years.Its well worth a visit as it is showing concurrently with Giuseppe Penone, another ‘big beast’ of the Arte Povera group making YSP quite a classy destination at present.
And it gave me pause for thought that – by and large – the work as a whole showed off Scully’s talents and clear sighted approach to great effect.Its the latter characteristic that got me thinking.Right from the get go Scully has gone after his objective of making relevant abstract paintings for our time.His early work utilised grids at a time when they were much in vogue, but drawing upon observations and feelings of things seen in the world, progressed to a more closed, indeed sealed in, disposition whilst billeted (for the most part) in late seventies NYC before breaking out into an art that is abstract but routed so firmly in the emotional and geophysical that he can rightly claim that they are not abstract at all.Like most of us of pensionable age he is now in a furious race against time with so much to do aesthetically and inevitably a closing door in which to do it!The sculptures have come along in recent years and, as he was at pains to point out in his lecture, have been conceived and executed with the same lucidity as his other work.They are in effect paintings in three dimensions with the materiality being the main spring of their presence in the world.He also stressed the vital importance of truth to material in these works – that also got me thinking.Take Moor Shadow Stack – my pal Paul (who knows a thing or two about installing big works!) and myself were speculating earlier in the day that the piece must have been constructed of carefully engineered hollow slabs but his talk made such a play of the material quality being informed by its solidity that I’m now convinced that all the sculptures on show were solid objects (either that or he’s damn clever at convincing me!).
If I have minor concerns (and they are so) then it is firstly in the sighting of Crate Of Air, a monumental piece, that I felt was a little cramped in its placing.Ideally it would dominate the lower lawn facing the lake in my opinion.Mind that would have involved relocating the Caro that I suspect the heroic installation team might have cavilled at given the scale of the undertaking. My other niggle is the surface quality of the paintings.Like most I’ve seen in the past five or ten years they are made on sheet aluminium using (what I think) is a proprietary aluminium primer that allows the luscious quality of the oil to sit on top.This gives the work in some light (particularly pale grey Yorkshire autumn light) rather a pasty sheen that I’m not so sure about.
However these are very minor issues (for me, let alone anyone else) and the paintings looked wonderful in the big open space of the Longside Gallery.Several of those on show I’m fairly sure had come from his 2015 and 2017 Chaim & Read shows (that by good fortune I happened to see) – the big multi panel painting Blue Note certainly was central to the Wall Of Light Cubed exhibition.The opportunity to see it alongside other works and set against the sculptural works in a generous space (everything being a bit cramped in Chelsea) was a real treat!
well its been an interesting week…generally I make it a rule nowadays not to enter competitions. My only exceptions over the past decade has been the Moores (out of habituation, I’ve been doing it since the early 70’s) and the CBP because a goodly number of painters I respect have been party to this set up since it began around 2012. So it was something of a punt that I found myself entering and then – surprisingly – being short listed for the Threadneedle Prize for figurative art with a sculpture. Oh yes…quite a surprise for anyone who knows my work as being a) resolutely abstract and b) almost exclusively painting. It came about by capricious accident, my wife (a previous prizewinner in this same competition) was entering it one morning as the deadline approached and a tad mischievously suggested that one of my Paintings Standing Up (the series yet to be fully resolved) might pass muster as ‘figuration’. Well it was true that it was around the right height for a figure and that the violin mounted onto the ‘torso’ projected from it around the right angle for being played. Adding a dodecahedron on top and two boots below and…é viola you have The Fidler.
So being shortlisted required delivery to the Mall Galleries last Saturday morning, a round trip of 236 miles that went surprisingly well and, being a gloriously warm sunny day for late October, was augmented by a visit to Tate Modern. So far so good but, hey, not that surprisingly, a rejection followed on this past Thursday that, you’ve guessed it, meant another journey this Saturday. Not such a breeze as first the weather was wet, dark and greasy all the way down and secondly Regent Street was closed requiring a work around the centre of town to reach The Mall. This time we turned tail and headed back ‘ome straightaway. I’ve no complaints – you shouldn’t enter these things if you’re not prepared to be knocked back but, gawd, its been a bit knackering!
Oddly enough the trip to Tate was to take in the Ilya & Emilia Kabakov show – the central element of which (and that gives it the title) is Not Everyone Will Be Taken IntoThe Future…in this installation the ‘Art’ train is leaving the station carrying those works deemed ‘good enough’ whilst a heap of canvases etc. are left spilling over the platform…to which we might now add The Fidler!
As one gets older you begin to realise how quickly time passes and how much things change (shades of Dylan again…). One day (and it doesn’t seem so long ago) I accompanied the sculptor Paul Mason on a trip across to Clipsham just north of Rutland Water to see him finishing off a new work in stone – Leaf Fields.
This piece had been commissioned by Hertfordshire’s RIBA branch to be sited in the county – there were (I now have discovered) three potential locations for it but the one chosen was St. Albans and, specifically, adjacent to the Alban Arena (appropriately enough designed by Sir Freddie Gibberd, a long time supporter of Paul’s work). Like so much public art its life has been marked by both love & devotion and hostility & admonishment, and often just plain neglect. Luckily for this piece it has its protectors – in particular those pictured above, foremost among them Professor Chris McIntyre of Herts University (centre in picture) who was instrumental in having it relocated a short way from its original site.
Of course the passage of time has given the creamy Clipsham limestone a deal of patina, some mosses and lichen. Whether or not this ought to be removed when it is finally re-sited (due to happen in a few years when a new City Centre Museum & Visitor Centre, – an ambitious redevelopment of the Town Hall – will be completed is a debatable point. What it does prove beyond any doubt is that a relatively short passage of time, just over thirty years, and nature reasserts its primacy over culture.
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.