This week I am writing about the Ruth Borchard Self Portrait Prize at the Piano Nobile Gallery in Kings Place. I was tempted there by the presence of work my this man (above). He teaches me art you see. Kings Place is the building where the Guardian Squat. There is a theatre/venue complex there as well as a couple of galleries. It sits across York Way from the new St Pancras development and has a restaurant called the Rotunda which overlooks the Regents canal as it chugs it's way slowly East through Islington.
One of the galleries there is Piano Nobile and it is an odd space in that it is isn't really a space at all. It occupies the mezzanine and the lowest floor of the King's place building (as you can see above). Sharing the space with stairs, elevators, doors to offices and theaters. As well as loos. There is no one around who tends to the gallery. It is like they just decided to hang their art here. Quite a few of the paintings had sold and I vaguely wondered who you buy them off. Visiting it is easy though. The building is basically open all the time so you just wander in and down the stairs. The paintings are hung in various clusters in strategic spots around the place. You could (and indeed I have before) go round the place and not realise these were the wares of a commercial gallery.
Another type of self portrait that I like is one that seems to give you a narrative and you certainly seem to get that from the delightfully named Cherry Pickles (above right). From this we can deduce she likes drinking, smoking and getting her tits out. Its funny though right? Or at least wry. Its kind of anonymous though as her face if pretty much obscured by that hat. The pose is interesting and I like the style of painting. I particularly like the car door, although of course its difficult to focus on it.
would have like to have been able to see it better. This is rather the problem with the handing scheme for this show but I suppose it is a product of space restrictions.
Artist at easel is fairly classic but I don't mind classic if it is done well. I think James Lloyd (above left) has done it well. I like the trailing wires everywhere, the odd frozen pose, particularly the way he holds the brush. The style, which am not sure if there is a word to it, has a roughness to it, matches quite well the muted tone of the composition. He does very much feel both that he is about to move, and that he is about to speak.
There are in this show (and I will feature one of them quite a few paintings of women with children. Only one of a man with a child and that is Titus Agbara (above left). With the empty white space and the floral wreath curving under the figures it does have a remembrance feel to it (like Mendes' picture at the top of the blog). I like the detail with which the setting is depicted, the loving gaze and the way both figures are linked by their white tops. I also like the way the flowers morph into symbols and designs instead of roots, and the way the bricks of the houses do the same. Children, particularly babies are really difficult to paint and he has done his (I assume it's his) really well, with a depth of feeling and character. All of these features avoid this piece becoming cheesy which it could well have done.
Above left we have David Dawson (the top figure in the three) who won the prize itself. It's a perfectly nice painting. It is quite interesting stylistically and there are some nice touches like the highlights to the leg and hand, and the strange highlight on the torso. I include it because it won and although it has grown on me a little since I first saw it, I can't really see what moved the judges to award it first prize. This is of course the problem of all such prizes they are a matter of taste.
Very classic, right down to the wooden palette in her right hand (our left) is Ruth Smith (above right). It is difficult to make a happy self portrait if you do it in the classical style of painting from a mirror (as Smith seems to have done) as a glum miserable face is easier to hold. It is often also people's concentration face. She also seems to have stabbed through her canvas which is interesting. It is the red jumper, her mum's apparently that really intrigues me. It is painted at least so it seams in much more loving detail than the actual person.
Leni Dothan's picture (above left) literally shines at you from across the room as it is back lit. It is a photo of her and her son. I like this allot, the idea, the composition, the way its presented, the intimate family quality to it, the indication of strength. There is a lot you can read into this one. The primary image if you like is photography, which I usually rate less than painting, but this was one of the strongest pieces in the show.
It took me a long time to see all three faces in Joyce Moloney's gothic self portrait. Image within image . It is quite moody and teenage but then I like that in this piece.
There were many other excellent pieces but the one I will leave on is Margaret Scott's piece (above right). The use of the folding over page gives a clear nod to the revealing of identify. The odd stormy background and lines over the face, and the whole tone and feel of the painting make you wonder vaguely at what is going on here. Of all the painters this Scott is the one, whose work having seen, I now most want to meet.
Next week - not sure yet, maybe the British Library.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.