I have very fond memories of in the early 2000s seeing Gormley's figures standing like extras from City of Angels on the top of various buildings across London, some of them were at street level. I was looking forward to seeing them and see them I did at a exhibition of his work at the Royal Academy. We might as well start with them. They were assembled in the middle room, all of them the same dimensions, varying in amounts of rust on them. They face in different directions, some of them perched on the wall (as seen above), some standing on the ceiling. It is oddly calming and there was one brilliant period of time when a man was standing next to a statue in exactly the pose of the statue. I suspect the statues are hollow. Incidentally when Gormley portrays figures, he only portrays men. Why is that? I suspect in fact he only portrays himself.
There is then a room of early work,. You are greeted as you enter this room by a long rectangular plank, on which in slowly increasing sizes are chesnut like pieces made of metal. It is very pleasing. There were two other pieces in this room I also really liked. Once called mothers pride was the outline of a figure made out of cut pieces of white bread, preserved in wax. A powerful and humorous image. However my favourite piece was this bowl (above right). It is called Filled Bowl, or something like that and as you can see it is just a series of concentric bowls, made out of a lead like material. It appeals to me. I wanted to pick it up, sadly you cannot. I like its solidity, its uniformity and its decreasing size.
Then you turn left and the madness starts. Occupying almost the entire inside of one room, with just enough space around the side for the squeemish to avoid it is a tangle of metal rods (above). They are in fact a series of metal circles, arranged like the orbits of electrons in several colliding atoms. You have if you wish, and I suggest that you do, to scramble through the assemblage. The metal makes a clanging sound if you hit it, and this cacophany resounds throughout the room. I choose to treat it like the scene from Entrapment where they are avoiding the lasers, and tried to get through with no bongs being sounded. You can if you are suitable nubile, which it appears I am.
Your reward is a far room, with one sculpture, a figure of a man seemingly made of metal jenga bricks. He is a very huncy man. After a few minutes of contemplation/recovery you can make your way back out through the maze.
Sitting mostly alone in a room is a very large series of metal square fencing (above left). What is that horizontal wire you ask. Well that you will have to go and find out for yourself. As with many of this show, this sculpture which I believe is called Matriz rewards viewing from many angles. As you can perhaps see, there are different densities of fencing arranged in interlocking squares. Differing lights and density of wire.
Now a word about drawings. There is a room of lots of drawings. Intriguingly there are four glass cases showing, suspiciously neat pages from many, many of Gormley's note and sketch books. Some of them are very good art in their own right, but all of them are interesting in terms of his process. There is what appears to be an early idea for what became the Angel of the North. Anyway as light digression. There are a series of intriguing black and white paintings (above right). They are done using Charcoal and Casein (what is casein, please tell us). They are quite simple pieces but riff on Gormley familiar themes of what is a man/figure of me.
Other more subtle pictures make an appearance (above left) and I like the more shadowy blurred figures. Particularly creepy is the sort of flying man in the top picture and the one below and to the right of that has a distinct resemblance to the angel of the north. It is nice seeing the genesis of an idea knocking around in someones brain.
Just off this room , in a circular room, are two giant rusted metal conkers, one larger than the other, gently oscillating on the end of stout ropes. It is very pleasing.
Following this are a series of cement slabs with hand or foot prints, impressed into the cement. These were a bit dull to be frank, probably the weakest thing in the show and made me want to see Rachael Whiteread who is much more interesting with her cement casting. They while away the time though while you briefly queue.
What are you briefly queening for you ask. Well occupying the next room is a large series of metal square tubes, arranged like some slumbering transformer. Again you can skirt around the outside, or you can if you wish choose to crouch down and enter the tubes.
It is like being in the film alien and it brings you into a large cathedral like atrium, with light streaming down from high up apertures. The atrium is not regularly shaped and some of the angular protuberances resound with different tones if you strike them. After you have had your fill of this you can emerge into the final room.
More paintings with strange materials. There are a series of red and black paintings like the one above left. The red is made by a combination of earth and rabbit skin glue (and yes it is made from rabbits). Some of them are very disturbing and the red earth produces a very striking effect.
My favourite paintings though were these two of cream and black (above right). The black is just black pigment, but the cream is rendered with the return of linseed oil, which gives this stained cloud like effect. I like these very much and find them very calming.
Taking materials to more extreme now we have blood. Whose blood is not specified, or indeed the species that the blood is from. The immediate assumption I made is that it was Gormley's but of course it could simply be pigs blood from a passing kidney. The best of the blood paintings is the one above left. Brains! The shift in tones is very effective.
I have left until last, my favourite piece/installation of the whole show. There is a room. The floor is covered in earth and clay and then the room has been flooded with water up to a depth of about half a meter. A surprising cold seeps out of the room. I often have dreams of flooded buildings and this reminded me of that. It had a profound calming and mediative effect and I liked it very much. I may go back just to see this. It is worth going just to see this.
Not so much a review as a retrospective as it closed on 29th September, but this week I am talking about the Felix Vallotton exhibition that recently finished at the Royal Academy and had the slightly over ominous subtitle of a painter of disquiet. So who is Vallotton. Swiss, moved to France, 19th Century, part of a group of painters not cool enough to hand with the impressionists, or Matisse and those lot. On the surface Vallotton' paintings have the appearance of being boringly factual, if well done and highly colourful.
The above painting, a triptych of a department store is just such an example. As I was photographing it, I was altered by a guard that this was the one painting with a sign saying no photographs. Too late though, and I'm not sure why and I am fairly sure Mr Vallotton's copyright in this painting has lapsed so I present it for your view anyway. On one level this is a very pleasing highly coloured painting of a department store. It is slightly more interesting than that as triptych's are almost always religious in some way, and this is one of few examples I have seen that departs from that. I also like the way he has in the flanking paintings, extracted the individual, from the bustling crowd in the centre. This slightly off kilter way of depicting and looking at things makes Vallotton interesting, and if you were to stretch it, could justify the title of the show.
I don't think that a painter, to be good and interesting, has to be doing anything particularly radical or subversive. The very famous ones often are (Turner, Monet, Picasso etc) often are but sometimes you just have to be good (Constable) or have a slightly different way of looking at things to make it art worth seeing. Indeed I think the, I like that but I don't know why, or, that's pretty reactions are prime examples of art being successful. Which is a long winded way of saying that I like Vallotton's still life paintings (above) just because they are good.
Let me tell you why. With the peppers (above left), well they look delicious. They arranged well to get a nice negative space, and they are painted with strong vibrant colours, with a supreme level of accuracy. The way the light catches them is very effective. Putting them on the, by the way very detailed, marble table which slightly reflects back the colours, and the over the gray background really lifts them. The final touch though that makes this very good is the knife, with its slab of red on the end. This could be one of two things. It is either a reflection of the pepper above it, or it has been used as a pallette knife and has just been left, with a slab of paint, sitting in the picture. Of course it could be both.
The other purpose of still life is to show off. Traditionally how they were often used, and Vallotton does the classic, look at the surfaces I can do spiel with his carafe of water and box ensemble (above right). The way the different textures of light and shade are captured, particularly in the water is very impressive.
The show is arranged more or less chronological but I am not going, but now we deal with people. He does a good interior does Vallotton and he always put a slight spin on it. A prime example of this is the Sick Girl (top left) . Vallotton is quite good at doing in motion poses, which are not easy to do. He used photography to paint from later in life but I wonder if he did it here, or made it up. It gives a sense of dynamism, of a scene interrupted. And of course there is a bottle of water and elements from the still life that he does so well.
Much more staged and replete with classical illusion is this painting of women bathing (above right) it is very different in style to the other interior and has some very strange elements such a the central figure is holding a green shriveled head. The shaft of red across the centre makes for a good contrast to the greens and breaks up the foreground to the background. While I was there a very tall serious looking woman dressed all in white was taking close up shots of all of the boobs. It is, to a certain extent, that kind of painting. There are some very sexy nudes later in the show, but you can't include everything in a blog and a post mainly of boobs would be a bit weird.
Sexual mores appear frequently in this show. There is a whole series of prints dedicated to them, although I have to say I find the prints some what un-engaging. More interesting are these series of paintings, often with a dominating colour, with some dubious sexual encounter heavily implied. As in the one above left, where you have these shadowy figures, clutched in an awkward embrace, at the threshold to this clashing red room. It is very odd, made particularly so with the well placed flashes of other colour such as the yellow flowers in their blue post on the mantle piece. It is painted in distemper on cardboard. Now then, a note to curators. Instead of waffling on about what the picture shows us, we can see that by you know looking at the picture, perhaps tell us about how it was painted. I had never heard of distemper before. A quick google search revealed it is a canine disease, which is an odd thing to paint with.
In a similar style but going heavy on the shadow are a couple of by lamplight paintings which appear in the next room. They are beguiling but they are bit like too moody tv programmes in that you can see so little its a bit off putting. Nice lampshades though.
A nice trick with paintings is having the action framed by an internal device, and doorways are excellent at this. They give you the viewer more of the sense that you are there looking in on the action. There are two excellent examples of this, one bathed in light (above left) and the other darkness (above right). The fact that the figure has their back to us helps emphasise the peeping tom aspect of the whole thing. As does the dishevled sheets in the one on the left. As with the other paintings the level of detail and rendering is superb, and again you have people in motion.
It is however an interesting image. A much more delicate usage of gold is in these dancing figures (Above left). Swirling around in this field of gold. I particularly like the face in the bottom left. She gives the feeling that you are one of the dancers. There is a tremendous sense of motion, and I like the fading of the figures into the ground. I really like this painting.
Odd landscapes make a reappearance but these last two are much more effective. Again there is an apparent simplicity to them with these ribbons of colour, and having landscapes at night. You don't see them very much, dawn and dusk sure but not at night. This allows the two elements that I really like in these paintings. In the one above left it is the blossom on the tree, catching and reflecting the light. In the one on the right it is the golden glow on the clouds and reflected in the ribbon of water underneath. Very nice.
We are back in the RA next week for Anthony Gormley.
The excellent Mall Galleries is currently showing the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition. It is on until 13:00 on Sunday 22nd September so chances are you have missed it, but let me give you a run down on what was best in the show, at least what appealed to me most, which as our current political leaders have taught us, is the same thing. The prize itself has its own website where some of the exhibitors and their art is shown. Above we have the winners board. Of these I actually really like the one in the bottom left which is a picture of a small yellow plant growing out of the pavement. Primrose Pavement its called and is the work of Aidan Potts. The plant itself and the pavement itself is super detailed whereas the road that forms the upper half of the painting is almost abstract and river like.
I have as you may know a fondness for canals. Third prize, or Iron Mighty by Mark Elsmore as it is otherwise known (above right) fits right into the wheelhouse and there is a sense of weighty claustrophobia that entirely fits the brief. Technically impressive, I can see why it ranked but for me though, it is a little too constrained.
Having in a few sentences dispatched the winners I shall now do the same for the other highlights of the show starting with the excellent portrait of D - Day Veteran Lewis Trinder by Gideon Summerfield (above left). There is an excellent sense of fading heroism about the picture with that wonderful craggy face and the uniform and medals all slowly merging in a brownish red, the whole figure contrasting nicely with the blue and gray background. Maybe its projection by the dark blue shapes make me think of poppies.
One of the things you can do particularly effectively with watercolours is use the imperfections of washes of paint, the dripping of paint and having the white paper peeking through to create striking images. It works especially well in landscapes and Linda Saul has pulled it off marvelously in her work Pendeen Clifftops (above right). The result is a very cold feeling, wintery blustery landscape with a real sense of the craggy eroded nature of the cliffs.
What I also like is when people blend the abstract with the figurative, which is what appears to be happening in David Firmstone's Scottish Harbour (above left). This piece is actually more impressive in person. That emerging and expanding ribbon of water has much more colour depth to it, and much more of a glow to it than the picture suggests. What the painting does do very well is take your brain on a journey from the ordered straight lines of the harbour wall and the boat to the swirling chaose of the water running into the sea.
In watercolours I have a strong preference for pieces where you can see the paint, and the brush marks. It is a medium in which photo-realism works less wells and seems a bit pointless (other than in botanical art but that is a whole separate thing). There is a surreal dreamlike quality that watercolour lends itself well to and I respond well when an artist plays to these strengths, as with Julian Bray's piece (above right) which has an improbably long and unwieldly title. The strong use of orange and pinks, contrasting with the dark blues and grays is very good, as are the oversized flowers in the foreground.
Having now dismissed watercolour as a medium to avoid photorealism, I shall now subvert that point by having two paintings which are nearly there in presentation, but I shall forgive as being excellent and evocative. Firstly we have Aidan Potts again (above left) riffing further on his theme of urban, cheeky flowers. This one lacks the contrast between swirling and realism that the top one has but the colour contrast, between the wall and the flowers, and wall and the pavement is much stronger so it makes for a more eye catching piece.
You don't get much social realism in watercolour, you also don't get much monochrome (although there were a few examples in the show). A striking exemplar of both of these things is Kitchen by Peter Busa (above right). Credit to the curator for hanging it against a dark wall which makes it sing and glow in a way it might not of done otherwise. The different tones in this painting, like the way the coat is rendered is superb as is the attention to detail. There is real drama here to between the two figures.
They are not just spoons. You can't really see it in the photo and it takes a while looking at the painting until you realise but within each of the spoons of Patricia Rozental's I am Spoonfed (above left) is reflected the face of a person, motled and distorted by the surface of the spoon. Some of them are barely visible beneath the tarnish she has put on the spoons. An excellent idea well done.
Mark Entwistle's Primavera II (above right), plays to all of the strengths of watercolour that I was talking about previous. What is particularly impressive here, and is obviously a strength of his as he does it again in Primavera I which is also in the show, is the way he depicts people under water. It is very good. This painting has a nice, intimate, dreamlike quality that really sucked me in. The contrast between the solid dark wood, the pinkness of the skin and then the, frankly very cold looking, blues of the water. Very nice.
I have said it before and I will say it again until you listen is that comedy in art is very difficult to do and very effective when you pull it off. Punch Drunk in Love by Adam De Ville (above left) made me, and most other people at the show, laugh as soon s they saw it. The absurdity of the figures, the swim suit, the colours, their age, the overhyped highlighted tattoos all play off the sweetness and cuteness of the message. It is also very simple, just these two people against a white background, and the more effective for it. I like it.
Much more maximalist and repleat with symbolism is Claire Sparkes piece (above right) which has an unpronounceable German name. I like the way the various elements of the piece reflect and blend into each other. Foreshortening is difficult to day and I therefore really like the way her hand reaches out onto the board. Sometimes though art speaks to you simply because it sparks associations. I am very fond of the the Lewes Chessmen for reasons that are too long and difficult to explain now. This painting reminds me strongly of those chess pieces and therefore I like it, frankly, mainly for that.
Last two, well last three. Two though are by the same artist. They are by Rebecca Kunzi (above left). It is very difficult to see from this photo but they are food stuffs painted on tiny tickets. I particularly appreciate the bottom of the two, which is a picture of two prawns and is called Don't be Shellfish. You don't get nearly enough puns in art, or in life for that matter. Nice idea, done well.
Let us sign off with a celebration. Stephanie Forrest's piece (above right) is one of those pieces that is initially slightly baffling but the coalesces into something else one you know the title. Right so, look at it. Have you done that? It is called Fireworks. Now look at it a again. See? Once you know you can see that she has actually caught really well the smoke and light of a firework display.
The exhibition is on until Sunday. I am posting this on Saturday to partly make up for missing a blog post last week. Go if you can, enjoy it.
I was recently in Glasgow and despite it being August, perpetual and ferocious rain, which was swelling the river Kelvin at an alarming rate caused me to scurry into Kelvingrove Art Gallery. It is one of those high Victoria reddish buildings that are scattered around Glasgow with a sturdy solemnity. I think they have the function of stopping the city being washed away. I am being a bit mean, partly because getting soaked gave me a cold but it is a good gallery and worth a visit in its own right.
So lets get cracking. There is a non-part of the museum which includes dinosaurs, social history etc but the bit I enjoyed most was the pre-history part. Stone axes and so on. However onto the art. There is a fair collection of paintings by John Pringle. There was a particularly good selection of oil sketches in a glass case but the reflection off the glass rather ruined the picture. They were very interesting to see. Of the other paintings on display this one on the top left, the River Saint-Gertrude. It is charming. Charming can be something that some people use as damning with feint praise but I think it is difficult to make something charming. I like my river scenes and the sky and the river are excellent. I like the way he uses horizontal strokes of paint for the water, giving a different texture to the surface of the water. I am coming increasingly to the view that landscapes need a figure to make them really work, context and interest. Not all the time obviously but certainly the figure in this painting gives an idea of scale.
There were a couple of Lowry's on display and I will show you both of them but the first of them (above right) is extraordinary. I have never seen a Lowry without figures, without buildings before. It is just an empty seascape but I love it. Empty and mesmeric. It must have been difficult to overcome the urge to add something to it. The receding dark tones gives a great sense of perspective to the piece.
Constable and Turner sit next to each other in this gallery, the dark super detail and moodyness of Constable landscape and sky, a real autumnal scene. Then sitting next to it the golden light of a Turner ethrealness, a real summer view.
Portraiture now an a symphony in red and gold, firstly mainly red with an actually iconic Rossetti painting (above left) showing his classic red headed, ice maiden. Gold wall, gold frame, golden backdrop making the reds of the hair and shawl stand out from the backdrop. full of symbolism with all those flowers.
Then more red than gold, is Wyndham Lewis' wife Froanna (above right). I really like it when artists riff on one colour, as Lewis has done here with red, all different shades of red. She doesn't look very happy though does she? A feeling that is emphasised by the distorted slightly twisted figure. There make a great pair these two paintings and credit to the curators for putting them next to each other.
Buildings now and a Lowry and more what we come to think of as a Lowry (above left) a scampering of figures. The painting is called VE days and bunting scores across between the streets. There is never any greenery in Lowry paintings, it is all people and buildings, these odd perspectives and those very recognisable figures.
The other one I have failed to record either the name of the painting or the painter but I really like it. It is a large apartment block (above right). There are lots of buildings like this in Glasgow and it has an architectural drawing or painting. In a number of the rooms are different scenes from just solitary cats to a fat man holding court at a party. I like the fact that it is set in winter too.
Before we leave the gold room is a Ben Nicholson Still Life (above left) with is a deconstructed vase. I reminds me again of an architecture design or drawing. The colours are quite restrained and cooling, giving a scientific air to the whole thing. I would not be surprised to find out that there was some complex formula behind the whole thing.
Into the green room, which focuses on the Glasgow Boys. There were various paintings by the various members of that particular groupings but my favourite of them with this bitty barky style was E A Hornel. He seems to specialise in children in fairy type settings and my faovurite of those is the one above right. I particularly like the snow drops.
If you then ascend upstairs then there is a picture gallery running the length of the southern end of the Gallery, from it you can see the main hall (above right) which while I was there was being set up for an afternoon's organ recital. As well as paintings it contains a rather fine stained glass panel (above left).
In said picture gallery there were a number of pictures that peaked my interest. These three pictures of women piqued my interest (above left). They are in clockwise from the top, the Artist's wife by William Hutchinson, A Lady by John Godward and Chritsina Mitchell McNeill by Thomas Duncan. It is the first of these I like, her somehow relaxed and intimate smile. It's a very warm picture and placing her against the folded red curtain makes her stand out.
Pilot and Navigator Confer (above right) by Keith Henderson is an excellent war painting. Often the best war paintings don't actually show any violence. They show either the build up or the aftermath. The ones that actually show action tend to be far to propagandaish. Henderson's one is good. I like the intimacy between the two main figures.
An array of still lives makes for a fine conurbation of painting above left). A combination of classical and more abstract. The top right one and the one below are by S J Peploe, one of the Glasgow boys. The spray of yellow tulips is particularly fine. Intricate and detailed and very eye catching is by Leslie Hunter. The way the curtain pattern reflects the central flower picture works well.
As you circulate around the picture gallery you eventually end up in an impressive end gallery, packed full of Impressionists. Includes Monet, Pissaro, Matisse and various others. It is an eye catching bunch. I could do a whole post on just them, but they are also the kind of thing you could see in any gallery in the world. Instead I shall focus on one of my favourite and slightly lesser known Impressionists, Andre Dorain's Blackfriars Bridge (above right). The bridge itself barely features, instead you have that looming edifice in the foreground. I like that kind of thing and the way it plays against the luminous river is very good.
Is the figure waiting for someone to arrive or trying to muster the courage to go out. It is very good.
I have jumped ahead some what as there is a gallery of Dutch Masters (as well as a gallery of Scottish Colourists none of whom really grabbed me). This one (above left) is unusual for a Dutch Master being all light and interior. The arcs and the way they are rendered gives it an abstract air and the whole edifice dwarfs those tiny figures. It is called A Baptism in Saint Bavo's Haarlem by Pieter Saenredam, who I have to confess is a name new to me.
There is of course much much more to be seen. It is well worth a visit.
I talk a lot here about other people but I thought it was about time I spoke about me. Any suggestion that I have run out of exhibitions to talk about is a lie! It is a contistutional convention to take a break from exhibition reviews and there will be plenty of time to talk about them again.
Anyway the subject for the paiting was the newly refurbished Coal Drops yard at Kings Cross (above).
First off i tend to start with a sketch. In this case a pastel sketch. This tends to help with making a decision as to wether the paiting will work at all and if so what I should change or exclude. In this case it became apparent that the railings in the left foreground werre not going to work and shluld be excluded.
Then onto painting. I am painting on wood. 5 mm ply wood to be precise that i habe treated with 6 layers if gesso. I do not sand the gesso down as I lile the texture it gives. On the first session I block in the main shapes, add some texture and tone. A quick experiment confirmed that the railings would not work.
Then bulid it up. Bassically I work from the top down. Technically I work from the back of the image forward but this usually ends up being top down. I do several passes adding detail each time.
This continues until the major elements are all in place then I jump around the paintinf adding detail and changing things so it is a more balanced composition.
The finisjed version. An imagined left foreground which i like and reflects the boats that are accross the water. Flecks of orange have been added to the foliage and grey to the sky. I was paeticularly pleased with the houseboats in this one. What do you think?
In pleasing consistency one of the fine portraits on display at the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery is a magisterial Frank Bowling (above) whose show I recently wrote about and who also was exhibiting in the summer exhibition. There has been some disparaging reviews of the show in some quarters and while it is smaller than this show has been in the past, I really enjoyed it.
The Bowling portrait for example is excellent. The artist, Tedi Lena has superbly captured his appraising alpha gaze. Lena, got to hang out with Bowling in his studio. That must have been excellent. I particularly like the way the beard is rendered and the look over the top of the glasses.
A little on the prize winners. As always not everyone is going to agree but I can see why they won. Starting with the winner, Imra in her Winter Coat by Charlie Schaffer (above left). It is a good portrait. Soulful, slightly mornfull face, detailed and well rendered coat but I suspect the reason it won is that triangular shape, the whole thing in fact is reminiscent of the Rembrandt self portrait that you can see at Kenwood House. Art judges love this kind of nod.
The Crown by Carl-Martin Sandvold (Above right), is well different. The blurry presentation, well I can see how it is different and interesting but it doesn't work for me. Many people thought the same but you have to role with the judging on this case.
However I have to say the third prize and the youth prize are in my view excellent. I was particularly impressed by Sophia and Carla by Emma Hopkins (above left). It is painted on an interesting surface, possibly polyester, something like that, which gives it this ethreal glow. The composition is very strong and the level of detail on the skin, the fur, everything. I would have given this first place, it won Youth Art Prize, and a deserving winner it is.
I also really like the third prize winner (above right) by Massimiliano Pironti. It is called For Quo Vardis. What you don't quite get from the photo is the glow and the sheen to both the dress and the tiles. Those hands though. Aren't they great. The skill on display is quite breath-taking.
and the empty room beyond. There is a photo-realistic level of detail here with a very nice use of light and shadow. The central figure though, particularly her hair lifts it above photo realisim. She look like she is about to speak, or do something.
Regal. Tina Orsolic Dalessio's The Poet (above left) is regal. A strong meditative pose. IT is a take on those old Victorian portraits showing, almost always white men, at their profession. I like that reference. The sitter is a beautiful woman and the use of light and shadow on the face and neck helps empahsise that. The flashes of sliver, very well rendered, help the painting lift out at you. This would have been my choice for first prize.
Effective use of light and shadow can really lift a painting. Give it an extra depth and dynamism which is an element that the prize winners lack somewhat. These two don't though. Above left we have Aurelio by Ivan Chacon. Aurelio is the painters uncle if I remember correctly. It is very hard to capture someone in a painting mid movement. This Chacon has done superbly, like you are in the middle of a conversation with the sitter.
There are a few self portraits in the show (such as the Crown) but my favourite of them is the one above right by Steven Higginson. There a number of things I like. I like the sofft pastel shading of the paint. I like the effect of the Venetian blind shadows across his face. Most of all I think I like that he looks like Professor Green.
It gives a real felling of heat. You can tell it was hot wherever that it is. I like the details on the tiling too, the scratches and the stains.
Lastly is the distinctly odd Eden (protection) by David J EIchenberg. It is, if I recall correctly. painted on aluminium but the unusual pose, the superb way the gold and silver metal is presented, the way the light is reflected on the sitters jaw and her odd sidewise pose all really appealed to me. Also it reminded me of Billie Eilish.
So go along. It is free, it is on until October and there are many more paintings than the ones I have talked about here.
Natalia Goncharova was a name I'd not heard before I saw the posters for the show of her work at Tate Modern and went along. I enjoyed it. That's the headline. Russian impressionist moving into abstract impressionism that is the other headline. It is on until 8th September if this peeks (peaks?) your interest. She paints in a bold vivid style portraying a range of subject as you can see from the quartet above. Angular still life, amusing parrots, charming blossomed path and then an utterly intriguing pair of wrestlers reduced to fighting coloured monsters. My money is on green. This kind of range can be seen throughout the entire show.
I did have all sorts of notes on the woman herself, but I have lost them. All I can remember is that she was Russian, but must have at some point left Russia otherwise she would have never have got away with the religious paintings we see later. But part of the Russianness can be seen in paintings of peasant women dancing, their slightly luminous garments popping out from that green floor (above left) or working in a garden (above right). Goncharova is good at flowers. I like the way she exaggerates the size and makes them more geometric. I also like the way the ground is depicted, almost like a parquet floor.
As you amble through the show (assuming you do, I wonder how many people who read this will go/ have been) you will come across a self portrait of the lady in question, clutching a bunches of flowers (above left) presumably on the rather sensible basis that if you are good at something you should do it as often as possible. It is a surprisingly straightforward self portrait. Neither portentous, angsty or pretentious in the way that many self portraits are.
It is in this main room at the start of the show that one of my favourite paintings resides. It is a winter scene of people gathering wood, Wenceslas style (above right). She has managed to capture a real feeling of cold, with that oppressive stormy sky, and you can really fell the wind blowing. I especially like the over-large snowflakes. Exaggerating the size of things is a trick that Gonchorva does well and I like it. I also like the way the snow flakes are gathered round the tree, almost like they are ice wintery leaves.
Then into the far room and a selection of stunning paintings, all of them on a religious theme. There is a tendency for religious paintings to be, well dull. These are far from dull. It is a bit of a long shot but you can see from the painting of some saint other other (or possibly Jesus) behind a set of candles (above right) is fantastic . The arc of gold at the back echoing the candle of gold at the front, then this angular white robed figure, centre stage and commanding our attention. It is superb.
There are more in this room, and I think it was my favourite room in the whole show. It was certainly the one I spent the most time in. There was this glowing, iconic (literally) golden triptych with a christ like central figure flanked by two angels (above left). Here the use of different sized canvases is part of the composition and we have the return of what appears to be a theme of contrasting green (the robe of the angel on the left) and red (the wings of the angel on the right). This time my money is on red. I love the way those wings glow, as indeed does that halo.
Darker in texture, all the more so the large (empty? - better for being empty I think) scrolls can pop out at you are these four saintly figures (above right). There is a curious device at work here where their heads are all scrunched up at the top of the painting, like they are actually trapped in the frame. It is almost certainly deliberate but I like the idea that she started from the bottom, ran out of room and swearing to herself just decided to go with it. Of such mistake great art is made. I like particularly the highlights on the clothing that bring them out from the background. I am thinking of going again, just to see this room.
could be smoke rings or just holes in the picture, really caught my attention. It is difficult to explain why but it did. Busier, more colourful, more geometric is a picture of some kind of machine (above right). I forget what. The almost transparent lines, really connect this painting together and give it a feeling of motion. Also, and this is the same for all of her paintings, her colours are never just one block of colour, but muted and toned.
they are either dancing people or some kind of band. There is also a very find large hinged screen, standing opposite of this, made of 5 or 6 panels of a similar composition.
Having battered you with her talent in the final room Goncharova delivers a knockout blow with various prints and patterns including designs for costumes and stage backdrops for ballets (like the above left). Including Stravinsky's Fire Bird. I mean really. They are beautiful designs though and I particularly like the floral ones (above right) which reminded me of Japenese Block prints. The show is on until 8th September so you don't have long if you want to go. You should go, you will like it, or you know there is something wrong with you.
Next week I think I will give an oil company some much needed publicity by talking about their portrait award.
Let us be Frank for a few minutes. Frank Bowling has a picture in the RA. He has a major retrospective of his work at the Tate. He is one of Britain's prominent internationally renowned artists. He is still alive and painting at the age of 83. His work sells for a fortune. Yet not many people have heard of him and the show of his work at Tate Britain got precious little advertisement or promotion. I got given Tate membership for my 40th and it came with a list of current shows. This one wasn't on it. Bowling is also black. It is difficult not to be suspicious and see a link between these two facts. If I was that Tate I would be making a very big deal of this. The show is on until 26th August and you should totally go. Don't worry the show won't be busy. It will be good though as I shall hopefully now demonstrate.
It is the motif on the right that I particularly like with that flower like structure that has a whirlpool quality that draws you into the piece. Although there were nods and similar stylistic points to other artists I had never seen anything quite like these before. Quickly though you are into the next room and Bowling has developed a more singular style and iconography. He has Ghanaian roots and the family home there (depicted above right) and Ghanaian elements features quite heavily. There is a very neat combination of abstraction and figurative elements in these paintings, and again this high colour quality.
In the same room is one of the stars of the early part of the show and possibly my favourite painting of the whole thing. It shows a spiral staircase descending into a kitchen. It is a strangely familiar image and I do wonder if I had seen this painting somewhere before. The rails of the painting are highlighted in gold, the perspective distorted and the figures Baconesque and clownish. It is a powerful image.
From here on in things get a bit more abstract, although the high degree of colour remains, for the most part. The first expression of this abstraction, is a room of maps, swathed in different colour or mixes of colour, visually violent images often and the Africa drenched in red I am sure has another message
For me the more successful ones are the more sombre ones such as the one above, a vast canvas with eh earth merging from dark green in blue and almost black. It is like those images you see of the earth rotating from light into darkness. The one purple line at the end makes it look like an old fashioned photo negative. The deep colour gives it a aquatic more soulful feeling that I respond to.
Similar tonally, do a me tonally, well similar in feel is a mainly gray piece (above right). It feels like a close up of the moon. A mottled grey field, with pits and ridges and that broken swathe of orange arcing across the picture lifts the picture and give the grey more depth. It is possibly my favourite piece in the show, I love seeing more details and imagining it is a different thing. This was also my favourite room in the show.
This develops into a theme called cosmic space. It has the flowing current feel to it. And of course like all good abstract art you see what may or may not be there. So the one the left seems to me to be a wave exploding over rocks, with that golden spray, and the one on the right looks like a stream of muddy water flowing into the water.
Then Bowling gets all lumpy. A bit like Auerbach or a more cheerful Kiefer. Indeed if you pop back to my previous post or along to the Summer Exhibition you will see a very recent example. For me though, as interesting these one are, they are mainly only intellectually interesting. I like the colours but the ridges, as we Auerbach act as a barrier for me and stops me engaging.
This develops into two themes, at least two groups that the show puts them in and it seems to work. One is land and the other, and the one I prefer is water and light. Again, and this probably tells you more about me than the painting I prefer the water and light section of which the above left is an example. I like the subtle blue and greens. Again the lumps are not as intrusive.
Onto the next room and in this room, lots of colour, lots of lumps but for me the two best paintings of the room were these two pale, very indistinct paintings in the corner of the room. Just white and cream and soft yellow washed over each other.
Those lines in the middle really work. They are like scratches through the painting exposing something underneath. Beguiling isn't it. The other (above left) is a mess of blue, red, yellow, white etc, but that reductive description completely undersells this column of paint. The dark blue surrounding the colours gives that center piece a three dimensional feel, like a swirling portal.
Its a great show. It is open for another couple of weeks. Go along. See a less sung British great.
The Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition is back, as a coruscating assault on the sense. Once you have made your way into the main building and past the strange robot skeleton (above) you are greeted with the usual coloured walls and large array of paintings, prints, sculptures and things that fit into none of these categories. I have blogged about this extensively in the past but am only going to do one post this year.
There are large number of tips for seeing the Summer exhibition but my own way of doing it is as follows. Resign yourself to the fact that you cannot see everything. Firstly because there is just too much and secondly because not everything is worth seeing. If possible go on a weekday, it is less crowded. Tuesday's are good. Most people work Tuesday. Walk through the show, gently clocking those works that seem good. Either for later inspection or if you feel particularly drawn to them, straight away. Because of the way the show is hung, things are at odd positions, I therefore wander through in a number of different directions, and always notice something different. Finally, I select a few works before hand and try and find them. This is not as easy as it seems. Well the result of this year's trawl is as follows.
I shall start with the architecture. Often my favourite room. It is full of interesting ideas, brought to life with a high degree of skill and attention to detail. The architectural models, the good ones at least, are desirable both as artistic objects but also as concepts and the promise of something bigger. There were many I enjoyed but have decided to limit myself on this blog to just four.
There was a theme in this year's exhibition of environmentalism and sustainability and this was reflected in what was on offer such as Piers Gough's Arterial Road (above left) which is all about roof gardens. The little trees are made I think of wire and copper and look like little earrings or other jewelry. I like also the stacked nature of the building with the green, bronze and then glowing perspex intervening layers.
Suitably Jules Verne Sci-Fi esq in appearance is Katie Cunningham's design for a nuclear submarine reactor removal facility complete with public promenade (above right). It has that space station, battleship feel that appeals to me but I also enjoy the idea that there could be a public space in such a facility. The concept of trotting around above such delicate nuclear work creates a thrill but sadly, I suspect, one that will never come off.
I like London Zoo. I like the aviary that sits beside the canal. I always enjoy the few pigeons that have snuck in there and are hanging out with the exotic birds. I was therefore intrigued to see Lord Foster's proposal for it's re-purposing as a monkey sanctuary (above left). It is a pleasing looking design complete with delicate trees, people and tiny swinging monkeys. The strip across the bottom, where I think the canal would be, contains detailed information about the design which is a nice touch.. I looks like a good design and I found myself wanting it to be built and to go around it.
The next piece is not so much architecture as sculpture. It is made of a series of optic fibers arranged to give carved out interior. It is difficult to capture the shape and its effect properly in photography and I have not really succeeded (above right) but is has almost a cross between a spiritual and disco effect. It is apparently an idea for a seed bank by Thomas Heatherwick.
In a not to dissimilar style but much more steam-punk / dystopian future is Jason Hon Lun Ho's, The Pool of Tears (above right). The tears in this case being the both literal and metaphorical and the theme of climate change made very clear. I like the circularity of it. They way the elements of the picture lead into themselves. Anyway, enough architecture and affiliated ephemera. Onto the proper art.
touchingly and powerfully sets out the effect of Parkinsons. This is done both in the central figure but also the slightly distorted view of the whole thing. There is an excellent second touch. You can just about see in this picture an eye at the end of the corridor, looking through the door at us. There is a whole second picture behind, of a second female figure (presumably the mother) of which only the eye can be seen from the front. A nice innovation.
Triptychs and diptychs work really well. I keep thinking I should do some but I never seem to have an idea I think would work. Above left is a good example of a triptych in what appears to be an increasing abstracted selfie of a smug couple skiing. This assumption is supported by the name of the piece Graduation, its producer being Christopher Oldfield. It had sold, which is not a surprise. I like the blurry effect of the paint and the way that this is applied, the indistinct nature of the subjects and a good choice of dominate colours, blue and scarletty red.
Now these two pictures demonstrate the slight animal obsession that featured in this exhibit. Particular small pictures of animals which were in preponderance as you can see of the above left. The small sheep appeals to me as does the very tiny dachshund. Can you see it? I'll give you a clue, the elephant have looked at it.
Not just animals but birds too and I was particularly enamoured of, is it a wren, some kind of tit? anyway the one centre of the above right and is the work of Matt Collishaw. The muted colourful background is great, as is the slight fackout. The texture makes you think it is an oddly coloured tree whereas in fact you get closer (you have to be quite tall to do that) and then you see it is a nail hanging out of a graffitied wall.
Simpler, more minimal and monumental is this fine figure clutching an empty vase (above right). It is called the scarred one, presumably due to the gold line that diagonally bisects the head. It has a great solidity to it, assisted by it Limestone material. Grey and Gold is always an excellent combination, and you end up wondering what that vase is for. The artist is Benedict Byrne.
The way to really cash in as an artist on the Summer Exhibition is to sell prints. If you produce a good and interesting print you can sell multiple copies. You can come away with quite a lot of money. A print that sold well that I also like is Freja Lijia Bao's - Splendour - A Dream of Eastern Capital-Summer Bamboo (above left). It quite an unwieldy title for what is quite a beautiful piece. Those great towering bamboos striking up out of grey ground, with a classic Crane flying past, all dwarfing the tiny people. It is dreamlike, Bao has fulfilled her own brief.
I like little constructions. This one (above left) is by Stuart Wroe (with the unexciting name of untitled 1). It is a cityscape, presented as though you are looking through a constructed building, at least that how it appears to me. At the bottom are these tiny oil barrels. Every time I look at it I see more tiny details. The dark wood colour appeals to me.
I have managed to capture a number of works in the other picture (above right). There is a Bill Jacklin snowscape in the left hand corer. These two matching sail like sculptures and one horizontal piece. I like them all and they work of Ann Christopher. Simple lines, elegant constructed.
Nice to be in the show but unless you knew they were there I imagine most people would miss them. Also you cannot see the detail, which is a shame because the detail is superb on Alastair's work. Those elements are all painting on by the way, nothing is stuck on the pieces. Hugh was easier to find, excellent and primly displayed with two founders of the RA gazing out of us . I have spent many weeks seeing these two paintings produced so it was thrill to see them in such a show.
Another successful print comes to us courtesy of Cathie Pilkington with her Lady Garden (above left). It is elegant piece and I like the sort of blotchy texture on the background as well as the fir tree geometric construction of the tree, with the female faces hanging off the branches like Christmas baubles (presumably purposely).
Two big paintings now. Big paintings can make quite an impact but then when you get closer they can be disappointing. These did not fall into that trap. Calum McClure's appropriately Fissure in Blue (above left) is wonderfully calming. I like the way there are blocks different blue tones, especially in the water, the way the cliffs stand out and the little sparks of colour in the trees.
The other one is from Michael Porter (above left). It reminds me a little of Michael Andrews. I am not sure exactly what it is, possibly it is a seascape. The neuron like top half of the painting, that bleeds into the dark bottom half. An almost one colour dominant part of a painting is something I've never had the confidence to do. I should, but what you need to do, is as Porter does, is with little pockets to break and subtle tones withing the colour.
You are unlikely to be able to see the art featured in this week's post. Why? Well two reasons, the first is that I am fairly sure the exhibitions they were a part of has finished and second, they are on display in the Korundi Art Gallery in Rovaniemi, Finland. So unless I have readership in those parts (which strikes me as unlikely) then you will have to content yourself with this review. Rovaniemi sits on the Southern edge of the arctic circle. I was there during June so there was 24 hour sunlight, and I mean strong, bright, sunburn levels of sunlight. It was quite something. The countryside round there is fairly special. Why was I there. Well my wife (who you can see above, I'm the idiot with the camera, the pig is part of the art.) was competing in the European Masters Weightlifting Championship. She did quite well. I realise all of this is a very unlikely opening paragraph for a blog about art, but that's life I suppose.
Onto the art. The Korundi art gallery houses a concert hall and is home to the Rovaniemi chamber orchestra. It is also houses changing displays of contemporary art. My Finish is not great (it is limited to "hey" - hello "hey hey" - goodbye and "kiitos"- thankyou) but I don't think they have a permanent exhibition. They had 3 or 4 different shows on when we were there but I have just picked out my favourite from each. The piglet looking into the distorting mirror (above) I enjoyed immensely and is the work of Pekka Jylha (a note on names, many of the artists name have umlauts and other markings which I cannot work out how to produce, I have left them out). It is called What is life anyway, and the answer presented is as good as any.
This rather suggestive scratchy affair (above left) is in fact not pen but oil and charcoal and the work of Stig Baumgartner. I am not sure exactly what it shows with these muscular intertwining forms. I think I can spot a rabbits head in there? I also like the different sized canvases combined together.
Much calmer is this almost monochrome affair by Reino Hietanen (above right). Its a simple composition in some ways, this bisected black line in front of what looks like a wall but doubt spread about this by those orbiting planatoids. This causes you look closer and then you see the splashes on the wall are a city sky line and those scratchy white things are trees. It's nice, I like it.
Susanne Gottberg (above left) another purveyor of calm introspective like paintings. Again simple idea, taken just that little bit further and done well. A lonely rural house pictured in concentric squares. It draws you in, which is presumably the intention, and the washy grass gives a dream like effect.
Tapia Junna (above right, for whom I cannot find an internet link), seems to be a collection of bronze hooves morphing together and this strange alien like conglomeration. It is odd but strangely appealing.
There are also couple of moving sculptures. The first called Continuity by Lauri Astala (above left) is faintly disturbing. It consists of a plastic beach ball like globe, that it is slowly inflated and then deflated again by a 70's looking iron long machine. The whole thing is accompanied by a wheezing sound, making you feel like your in the presences of an aging invalid, but presumably that is the point.
Much more relaxing is the kinetic art of Osmo Valtonen (above right). It reminds me of the kinetic sand art of Mona Hatoum. This one is very soothing though. It functions as a coffee table and the hypnotic swirling of that pendulum as it scythes looping around across the sand. The gentle scraping sound of the sand being parted is all part of the effect.
The gallery continues on the floor above, and indeed the floor above that and this time at least that for me was where the quality was. Toni R. Toivonen's rather magnificent piece dominates the northern first floor gallery (above). The room itself with a nice gentle vaulted, the strong arctic summery light gentle filtered for a calmer feel. A very good setting for this piece. Its wooden tones, sometimes appearing to be a horse, sometimes a womblike structure. Its soft glow is due to the fact it is made of brass and dead animal. I subtle memento-mori.
Then you turn round and dominating the floor of the next gallery along is the super fun dancing bear (Above) being the work of Kimmo Schroderus. It is joyous and lifts the spirits from some of the more somber works. It is consists of stainless steel words wrapped around to form the shape. I cannot remember what the words say but given the piece is called Insulter, probably nothing pleasant.
The Giacommeti like figure standing next to is, gaunt and imperious, sadly my photo of the label is so blurred I cannot identify the name of the artist so apologies for this. Standing elsewhere in the gallery the almost bomb-blasted appearing landscape, rendered I think more appealing by the monochrome palette (above right). It is the work of Mikko Paakkola. I like the scrabby sky and the way in which the foliage stretches and mingles with the sky.
Very different is the work of Alma Heikkila with Trillions become one (above left). I cannot decide if it is an undersea sea, muscles and cockles adhering to the side of some rock, all alternatively fungi marching up the side of a tree. The jut out from the piece, going from white to black and grey (you have to peer closely to see the darker ones. It works better in person. It pleased me much and is high in contention to my favourite piece of the gallery. I like also the swirling charcoal and blue grey surface on which the Trillions sit.
Jouna Karsi also greatly entertained me with floating islands, suspended in the middle of the gallery, flood lit so their shadows for part of the piece. I have given you two above. They are quite different in tone. One, I think my preferred one is the above left and the decaying roller-coaster. The detail is impressive and the way the pieces (like in the house above right) peter into nothingness. I enjoyed it very much and circled them a number of times taking them all in.
Finally a violent colourful piece (above left), with red and orange, and scraps of green and black. I am afraid once more I must disappoint you as to the identity of the artist. The colours are immediately appealing and then you move past that and you see a sort of pastoral scene with flying birds. The tone of the painting fighting with the subject. Nice.
Next week back in the UK. Probably the Summer exhibition.
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